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Weight Loss

  • The cause and cure for seasonal weight gain

    Many of us experience some degree of weight gain during the winter season. Some might argue that it is because we need to eat more during winter to keep warm (not true), some say it's because we do less outdoor activities in the cold. Myth or truth, this article explored the scientific findings behind the possible cause of seasonal weight gain and the ways to compact it. The information contained in this article is also relevant to people who have mood slumps or carb cravings due to a change of environment or weather. If you fall into any of the above categories, tune in.

    First thing first, yes, in general, some people are indeed more susceptible to weight gain during winter seasons. The cause of seasonal weight gain is mostly due to environmental factors, however, a possible genetic component has also been postulated. We do tend to eat more in winter, and especially crave for carbohydrate-rich foods, not because they can keep us warm, but they somehow can make us feel better. Does this sound like you? Here is why…

    SAD and Co.

    Yes, that's right, winter makes some of us SAD, acronym for Seasonal Affected Disorder, also known as seasonal depression. SAD is said to be "a combination of biologic and mood disturbances with a seasonal pattern", which usually occur in the autumn and winter and ends in spring and summer (Kurlansik and Ibay 2012, American Family Physician). The cause of SAD is largely due to the changes in lengths of days/nights and drop in temperatures in winter compared to summer. It's said that up to 10% of the population in the US has SAD, with a higher incidence in women than men (Miller 2005, Alternative Medicine Review). People with SAD can experience changes in mood, energy and appetite, which can result in depression, fatigue, carbohydrate consumption especially with cravings for sweats and starch-rich food and consequently result in weight gain. A study that analysed the eating habits of female SAD sufferers found that SAD patients are prone to emotional eating, thus leads to a higher chance of seasonal weight gain and a higher BMI compared to non-SAD sufferers (Krauchi 1997, Comprehensive Psychiatry).

    There are a number of possible explanations for the cause of SAD, including genetic predispositions, neurotransmitter abnormalities, both sound quite serious and a bit of gibberish to most people. However, neither really explains the seasonal rhythm of SAD. I'd go and seek professional medical help if your SAD is that serious. On a more relevant note, one of the most obvious differences between summer and winter seasons, other than the change in temperature, is the shortened daylight period, which will consequently affect a person's circadian rhythm (biological clock) (to learn about the circadian rhythm and BMI please read the Dec 2012 issue of Fit Lifestyle magazine). You don't really need to have clinical SAD to experience similar symptoms, and below are what I personally think is relevant to an average Joe like you and me that suffers seasonal mood and weight changes.

    The slight change in circadian rhythm will alter the production of melatonin, an endocrine hormone and a powerful antioxidant produced by the pineal gland into the blood. As the production of melatonin is kick-started by darkness and inhibited by light, it can be affected by the shortened daylight of winter. It was found that there is a delay in melatonin secretion in response to darkness in clinical SAD sufferers, and there is a difference in melatonin secretion pattern/levels in SAD patients as compared to normal people (Miller 2005, Alternative Medicine Review). A trial of 58 SAD patients were given high-dose of slow-release melatonin and a significant improvement in quality of sleep and vitality were observed, however melatonin therapy had no effect on mood (Leppamaki et al, 2003, European Neuropsychopharmacology). Go and see your doctor if you suspect you have melatonin issues.

    One cannot talk about mood changes without mentioning serotonin, a hormone that controls you mood, appetite and sleep. Inadequate levels of serotonin in the brain can cause carbohydrate cravings. Serotonin has also been found to be a controller of body weight by regulating the body's energy balance. Brain serotonin levels are relevant not only to SAD sufferers, but also to anyone who has mood swings associated with environmental or weather changes. For those who feel the cravings for carbs, it may be caused by inadequate serotonin levels in your brain. The best natural ways to increase serotonin levels, according to Young (2007, Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience) are:

    • Exposure to bright light. Uh-Huh! We live in a bright light-deprived society, where many people spend best part of their day indoors. The lights commonly used indoors do not have enough lux (luminous flux per unit area, a way to measure light intensity) to make you secrete enough serotonin. Whereas even the outdoor light on a cloudy day could make you happier. Get outdoors as much as possible without getting sun burnt, you could be happier and lighter in the process, kill two birds with one stone as they say.
    • Do exercise. It has been scientifically proven that the exercise can make you happy. It was hypothesized that the decline in vigorous physical exercise, in particular, effort based rewards compared to our ancestors may contribute to high levels of depression in the current society. Adequate exercise can increased serotonin levels and hence decrease carb cravings, and you can stay active and healthy in the process.
    • Diet. There is quite a bit of incorrect information floating around about this one. As serotonin is the metabolic product of tryptophan, ingestion of purified tryptophan has been found to increase brain serotonin levels. However, ingestion of food containing tryptophan does not, as the other amino acids contained in the food will compete with the tryptophan. The popular myth that is eating high protein food such as turkey can increase serotonin level, is false; similarly, the popular believe of eating bananas, which do indeed contain serotonin can improve mood, is also false, as the serotonin contained in bananas does not cross the blood-brain barrier to get into our brains to make us happy. In order for a food to increase brain serotonin levels, the tryptophan content of the food needs to be much higher than that of other amino acids, some example of those foods are specially cultivated chickpeas and alkali-processed corns.

    Vitamin D

    Some have stated that the reduced vitamin D synthesis caused by a reduction of sunlight (UV-B radiation) in winter compared to summer is one possible cause of seasonal weight gain and obesity (Foss 2009, Medical Hypothesis). This seems reasonable and indeed, low vitamin D status has been linked with an increased risk of weight gain and obesity. Vitamin D is thought to play a role in adipocyte (fat cell) death and genesis as well as lipid metabolism (Song and Sergeev 2012, Nutrition Research Reviews). However, taking vitamin D (often along with calcium) doesn't seem to make you thinner, as clinical intervention trials using vitamin D yielded controversial results. There is no concrete scientific evidence in humans to indicate supplementation of vitamin D can prevent obesity in real life situations, yet.

    Some may also argue that vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and can lead to "emotional eating" and hence weight gain. Well, believe it or not, that is also a myth, well, more like an exaggerated truth. Yes, there is an association between low vitamin D levels and depression however, there is currently insufficient evidence to say that vitamin D deficiency is the antecedent cause or consequence of depression (Parker and Brotchie 2011, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica). So can lower vitamin D synthesis in winter cause weight gain? Not sure about that, but in case it does, get into the sun more often and consume food or supplements that contain vitamin D will be sufficient.

    It's not me, blame the genes!

    There seems to be a gene linked to everything these days and weight gain is no exception. There is an established genetic component in weight related disorders such as obesity, where a percentage of people have the genes to allow them to gain weight more easily than others. This phenomenon has puzzled scientists as the survival of these weight gain genes in the human population defies the theory of "survival of fittest", there is nothing "fit" about been obese.

    Two main theories have been postulated in order to explain the presence of fat gaining genes, the "thrifty gene hypothesis" initially proposed by James Neel in 1962, and the "drifty gene hypothesis" first proposed by John Speakman in 2008. Scientists supporting each of the hypothesis argued with each other about the details of what kind of selection pressure required during the history of mankind to allow these genes to survive. Let's leave that part to the scientists, what is relevant, is that, scientists from both sides agreed that there is a genetic predisposition in a population of people so that some people are more prone to weight gain than others. This genetic predisposition is kept there because historically speaking, ancient humans faced famine, seasonal shortage of food and predation (or lack of), hence needed to store fat to have the energy required for survival during periods of abundance. In a developed modern society however, for instance, Australia, there is a perpetual abundance of food, and a lack of predators that feed on us humans. What was historically advantageous for survival became the culprit for causing widespread weight gain and obesity.

    So, some people are genetically prone to gain weight, big deal, because ultimately, weight management is all about calories in and calories out, the choice is yours. If you eat well and exercise adequately, there is really no reason for you to gain weight any more than other people. Think of the number of calories required per day as the speed limit, and to have the "fat gene" means you have a relatively faster car than the average shopping trollies found on roads. It's easier for you to speed if you put your foot down, but there's no excuse, watch the speedometer and exercise discretion, you are more than capable of staying within the limit. It may be is the genes, but it is definitely up to you.

    Final words

    The purpose of this article is to show the scientific understandings behind seasonal weight gain, mood slumps and emotional eating. Not to succumb to the food cravings, instead, continue to eat healthy, spend more time outdoors and do adequate exercise, are probably the most effective natural cures to deal with these kinds of problems. It is all in your hands.

  • Targeted fat loss

    targeted fat loss Is Targeted fat loss possible?

    Targeted fat loss, also known as spot reduction, has long been an intense area of focus by infomercials, fitness and supplement companies and sports magazines. The idea of target fat loss where you lose fat more readily in areas you exercise more seems to be reasonable and intuitive. It also appeals to the general public, as most of us tend to gain fat in certain areas while not others, causing the prevalence of "love handles" and "beer bellies" among us. The reality though, it's that the basic physiology of the human body prevents targeted fat loss from happening no matter what form of exercise you do, and this is why: Fat is stored in the human body as triglycerides, they have to be broken down into glycerol and free fatty acids and then enter the blood stream before can be utilized by muscle cells. This means that the fat burnt from whatever you do can come from anywhere in the body, not just the area you've worked on. Scientific studies conducted on athletes have shown that prolonged, intense work-outs targeted at one part of the body does not reduced the amount of subcutaneous fat in the trained area compared to the rest of the body. Fat loss is universal.

    The most effective way of losing fat is through good calorie burning exercises, for instance, high intensity interval training. Sit-ups alone don't burn enough calories, and while they can indeed improving your core strength, they do almost nothing to get rid of the fat on your belly. Fat loss cannot be targeted, if you want to lose weight, do exercise that burn the most calories.

  • The best Russian training secrets: 5 Kettlebell exercises to get ripped!

    Simple old-school Russian training is making a come back. This ultimate workout focuses on the core and posterior chain. That includes the hamstrings, glutes, lower and upper back. The shoulders, calves, and entire core work as stabilizers throughout the movement. With one or two moderately weight kettlebells, you'll be amazed at the workout you can get!

    Imaging a wrecking ball. The principle with a kettle bell is generally the same. The force of the action comes from the base of the structure and not the lever (arms). The ball is attached to a chain (arms), which is attached to the machine. With the hips snapping to apply force, the kettlebell responds. There are several basic movements which you can use. This is ideal for those looking to improve overall fitness, muscle coordination, strength and condition of the back and core, and as a way to break up a typical workout once per week without resting! 2-arm swing: the Classic beginner movement Using two hands on the kb, let your hips fall back. Remember to keep your back in a tight straight line. Create a forward momentum on the bell by snapping your hips back into full extension. Remember not to hyperextend your back or hips during this movement. Try not to "dip" into a quarter or half squat. 1-arm swing: Classic Russian swing Start with the right side or your dominant arm to get comfortable swinging with one arm. Remember to hold on tight! Keep the other arm up at your side. Avoid twisting at your hips. Be sure to keep the kb moving down your center line, not to one side or the other. 1-Arm Clean If you are familiar with a clean, then you'll know where we want this one to finish. At the top of the swing, pull the kb in towards your upper chest. At the same moment, "catch" the bell with your arm, using the top of your elbow and forearm. Confused? Check out the video! Loop each clean by dropping the bell quickly into it's original swing path. You'll have to work on coordination with a lighter kettlebell before this becomes comfortable and natural. The Windmill Ideal for those with poor flexibility and weak abdominals. 10 of these beats 100 sit ups any day! With the kb in a fully extended position, keep your knuckles facing the ceiling. Reach out with the other arm for balance. Place your feet comfortably apart, then point your toes away from the arm with the kb. (If your right arm is in use, you'll be dipping to the left, so point your feet that way!) keep the elbow locked and slowly reach towards your opposite foot. Keep your eyes on the bell! Snatch Getting used to the kb snatch takes time. Starting with a classic 1-arm swing, the bell finishes fully extended, overhead. It should be resting on the back of the wrist, having flipped around at the last moment. Use a powerful high pull on the kb during the swing. In one sweeping motion: - Pull the elbow to bring the kb towards the side of the head - Open up the hand and elbow, extending the kb upwards - Allow your hand to travel the handle, placing the bell portion on the back of the wrist Pause for a moment at the top of the snatch as the kb stops its flight. Then resume the entire swing from the very top position again! Use these techniques to perfect your strength and conditioning. Expect a stronger back, glutes, hamstrings, and a tighter, stronger shoulder girdle. Master each technique with the help of my video examples!

  • Aspartame

    Aspartame (additive no. 951) is a non-nutritious, low calorie artificial sweetener used in over 6000 food products. It is commonly found in diet sodas, Equal®, sweetened low fat yogurt, sugar free deserts, some condiments, certain sweets and sugar-free gums. The use of aspartame is approved by the US (FDA), European Union (EFSA) and Australia/New Zealand (FSANZ) food safety authorities and is considered safe for human consumption by over 90 countries in the world (Acceptable daily intake at up to 40mg/kg/day of body weight as of 2006).

    A survey conducted by the Cancer Council of Australia in 2003 found that most Australians consume 6-15% of the established acceptable daily intake of aspartame per day, which was well below the level where adverse health effect could occur. To put this into perspective, Diet Coke contains around 0.52mg/mL of aspartame. This means, a 60kg person would need to drink around 4.6L of Diet Coke per day to reach the upper limit of the acceptable daily intake for aspartame. If you prefer Coke Zero, which contains approximately 0.24mg/mL aspartame, then one 60kg will have to drink 10L of that stuff a day to be considered unsafe. That is quite a lot of liquid and it's very unlikely for anyone to consume that much fluid in a day.

    What was generally agreed on by most food safety governing bodies, is that aspartame, even though can be damaging to human health when consumed in high doses, is safe for normal human consumption as the average aspartame ingested daily per person falls well within the upper limit of its acceptable daily intake quantity. That sounds quite harmless, I mean, too much of anything can be damaging to health, even drinking too much water can cause hypernatremia (water intoxication) and may potentially lead to death, no kidding. So where did all these controversies surrounding aspartame come from?

    Historically, there has always been controversy surrounding the use of aspartame, the head of FDA was fired in 1981, allegedly after refusing to approve the legalization of aspartame (Cancer Council of Western Australia, 2010, accessed on 10th December 2012). Since the legalization of aspartame, there have been a number of reviews by food safety authorities over the safety of its consumption, and each time the reviewing organization maintained the position that aspartame is safe for human consumption.

    The most recent controversy over the safety of aspartame consumption that lead to a new round of reviewing and re-evaluation appeared to sprung from 2 independent studies published in 2010. One study investigated the long-term carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects of aspartame in mice (Soffritti et al. 2010, American Journal of Industrial Nutrition) and concluded that the life-long consumption of aspartame can result in liver and lung cancers in the mice tested. The other study analysed 59,334 Danish pregnant women and made the association between artificially sweetened soft drink intake and the increased risk for preterm delivery (Halldorsson et al. 2010, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). In response, the EFSA conducted scientific evaluations on the above 2 studies and released its statement on February 2011. In the statement, EFTA pointed out the fatal experimental design flaws of both studies mentioned above, and rightfully concluded that neither provide sufficient evidence to demonstrate that aspartame is carcinogenic or can increase the risk of preterm delivery. Based on available scientific evidence at the time, the EFTA stated that aspartame is safe for human consumption.

    A number of studies regarding to the safety of consuming aspartame has been published since EFTA statement on February 2011. Below are snippets of some of the scientific literatures available since 2011 regarding the safety of aspartame:

    • It was found that the consumption of equal or greater than 1 daily serving of diet soda can slightly increase the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and multiple myeloma in men but not in women compared to those compared to caloric sugar-sweetened soda, the author concluded that the study results indicated the "possibility" of a detrimental effect of aspartame on the risk of cancers tested (Schernhammer et al, 2012, American Journal of Nutrition).
    • A study found that the long-term consumption of aspartame can lead to an imbalance of antioxidants and pro-oxidant status in the brain in rats (Abhilash et al, 2012, Drug and Chemical Toxicology).
    • Chronic exposure of aspartame can result in detectable methanol in blood and subsequently induces oxidative stress in rat brains (Iyyaswamy and Rathinasamy 2012, Journal of Biosciences).
    • A medical case report found that the consumption of aspartame caused systemic allergic dermatitis in a 37 year old woman (Veien and Lomholt 2012, Contact Dermatitis).

    Sound scary isn't it? Well only if the results of the studies are scientifically sound. Perhaps in response to the new studies emerged describing the possible adverse effects of consuming aspartame, on May 2011, EFTA was asked by the European Commission to conduct a full re-evaluation on the safety of aspartame. On June 2011, EFTA launched a public call for scientific data on aspartame and the re-evaluation is expected to be completed on May 2013.

    Many consume artificially sweetened food and drinks as part of their weight management regime. The intake of aspartame in place of caloric sugar does not cause weight loss if a person consumes the same amount of calories. Interestingly, it has been found that consuming aspartame without knowing can lead to reduced total calorie intake whereas knowingly ingesting aspartame can increase overall energy intake (Yang 2010, Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine). So if you want to lose weight, either ingest aspartame in place of caloric sugar without knowing it, or just simply eat healthy and restrict your overall daily energy intake. The long-term effect of artificial sweeteners on children and adolescents is unknown and its potential role in weight management in relatively unclear (Foreyt et al. 2012, The Journal of Nutrition). Additionally the American Heart Foundation and American Diabetes Foundation also issued a statement stating that there are insufficient data indicating that the use of artificial sweeteners in place of caloric sweeteners "reduced added sugars or carbohydrate intakes, or benefit appetite, energy balance, body weight, or cardiometabolic risk factors" (Gardner et al. 2012, Circulation). Thus, I suggest you to exercise caution when using artificial sweeteners such as aspartame as part of your weight management regime, until more concrete scientific data on the safety and efficacy of these sweeteners are available.

    So what's my position on aspartame? Well, I myself am guilty of consuming decent quantities of diet soda each week. After researching for this article, the can of diet soda that usually sits on the side of my computer when I'm having the writer's block was replaced by a glass of spring water. I am eager to see the final results of the EFTA re-evaluation and their soon-to-be updated recommendations regarding to aspartame consumption. Until then, I will be on an aspartame elimination diet.

  • BCAAs Protein Creatine

    BCAAs Protein Creatine - How and why we stack them:

    To get your results to go from average to enhanced, you must use the right supplements as a stack. A little BCAA and a little protein will still get you results. However, big changes can come from using the right portions in a stack.


    You can always count on BCAAs for... Essentially, BCAA's are just 3 of the essential amino acids you'll need to build muscle. However, they do play the biggest role in muscle growth and reparation. If you check out the label on your protein supplement, you'll find an amino acid profile listing milligrams of amino acids in each serving. This including the BCAAs (branched chain amino acids), valine, leucine and isoleucine. Protein synthesis occurs when there is both muscle energy (ATP) and bcaas ready and available. The muscle cells are then well equipped with enough energy to actually synthesize more protein, which is just what we want. Keeping your ATP level up will be hugely impacted by diet. We don't want to minimize the very important role that natural, whole foods play in your results. These stacks will simply play a fill- in role when something is missing! As mentioned before, most protein supplements do have small doses of bcaa's. We prefer a stand-alone BCAA supplement because it offers a targeted, concentrated version to be delivered directly to your muscles. You can take this throughout the day in smaller doses to keep your bcaa level up (particularly leucine) and keep the body actively synthesizing protein. Stacking BCAAs with Whey Whey protein isolate or concentrate is perfect for the post workout phase because it delivers a wide variety of amino acids at a rapid rate to the whole body. These are needed not just in the muscles, but also the tendons, ligaments, bone structure and other connective tissue to keep it recovering effectively. Stacking BCAAs with Creatine Since creatine is a non-essential amino acid, it means it is already produced by the body. As a result, your stack should be short term when adding creatine to the mix. A 4 week cycle with creatine is more than enough to see rapid results! Creatine works by increasing the amount of ATP in the system, both directly and indirectly. As we already know, the more ATP, the more energy during workouts. Plus, more ATP means more protein synthesis. As you're likely figuring out, it works as a sort of cycle. Continuing with your solid workouts and good nutrition, you'll see accelerated results. Tips to stack successfully: - Track progress with your training journal! Jot down when you start a new supplement to know how it has effected your results. - Drink a lot of water! This is especially true when supplementing with creatine! - Stay away from sugar and processed foods to decrease bloating and insulin highs and lows! Good luck and happy training!

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