Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Splenda: My Tummy & I Aren't Fans

Splenda is EVERYWHERE. I have a very hard time avoiding it. My favorite Starbucks concoction, the Mocha Frappuccino Light, is loaded with it. As is Danon Light yogurt and Diet Pepsi. And a lot of other so-called "diet" foods.

I genuinely try and keep Splenda out of our home except for my once-a-week splurge treat at Starbucks...the aforementioned Light Frappuccino. But lately, I've noticed that my super sweet, low calorie and highly caffeinated beverage has been giving me a very, very bad stomachache. So I decided to do a little more investigation into the wildly popular Splenda sweetener and figure out what the possible connection could be between it and my not-so-happy belly.

The first thing I found out is that Splenda has been basically feeding us a big 'ol line with the claim of "Splenda is just like sugar." Truth be told, Splenda has completely different molecules than sugar. Without getting too scientific, there are no natural compounds in Splenda while sugar is produced naturally. Note to the marketing department at Splenda: it's disingenuous (and downright wrong) to compare Splenda's properties to the properties of sugar, even at the atomic level!

But what really interested me is what happens once Splenda enters the body. I was disheartened to discover that Splenda is not easily absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract. Instead, it hangs out in the gut and keeps the intestinal tract from finishing up its work. In fact, as much as 85% of the sweetener ingested stays in the gut, which throws the normal bacteria off-balance and results in digestive upset.

One study fed adult male rats a "normal" dose of Splenda. The rats had significantly less digestive bacteria present in their GI tracts and they had increased weight gain.

While Splenda may look like a dieter's dream, this information underscores the fact that it is not a natural product, and, in turn, is not friendly to the body, overall. It's hard enough for the body to keep its "good" bacteria levels in balance, particularly given a typical American diet of empty calories, but it can be equally difficult to replace the good "bugs" in your gut considering the treacherous route Splenda must take through your digestive system.

My advice? Use "real" sugar, in moderation. Buy plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with honey, agave syrup, or organic fruit preserves. Ditch the diet soda. Use sugar and cream in your coffee, in smaller amounts. As for Starbucks? Avoid any "Light" or "Sugar Free" drink there. Once a week is not too frequent to enjoy a smaller version of your favorite coffee drink, even if it is a Frappuccino...I think I've even finally convinced myself!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I'm So Tired & Why Can't I Stop Eating?

It's no secret that I am an insomniac. I've struggled with sleep, or lack of sleep, for most of my adult life. Recently, I've been noticing a direct correlation between being tired and being hungry. And not just "normal" hungry, more like ravenous.

Take yesterday for example. I was going on just a few hours of sleep and running through my day at warp speed. I had clients at home, clients at the gym, and little clients in B's classroom (I teach the yoga segment on Fridays). Then there was the usual slew of errands...Trader Joe's, the bank, the grocery store, etc. I was also trying to squeeze a workout in and catch up on paperwork. Oh, and the house needed to be cleaned, as well. You get the point.

I noticed early on in the day that I was feeling more tired than usual. Not the yawn-a-few-times-an-hour-and -rub-your-eyes-kind of tired; more like the, "I keep calling this client by the wrong name" and "Oops, was that a stop sign?" kind of tired. Not good.

Sometime in the mid-morning hours, I realized that my high calorie breakfast had worn off completely. I started snacking and continued to be amazed all day long that despite eating high protein, "good" fat items, I was still hungry. I ate nearly a whole avocado and a cup of raw almonds. And that was after a big lunch. "What is going on?" I kept wondering, as my stomach continued to growl.

I decided to do a little research on the rumored connection between weight and sleep habits. And what I found was a bit unsettling.

Sleep deprivation can cause hunger and lower your metabolic rate, even if you are exercising regularly. This is because the body is trying to conserve energy. The hormone "cortisol' is released to counter the stress of being sleep deprived.

If your body is lacking sleep you may not be able to metabolize carbohydrates effectively. This results in more of your food being stored as fat. The level of sugar (glucose) in your blood stream may increase leading not only to weight gain but other diseases such as type 2 diabetes.

Also, when the total hours of sleep are decreased, the body spends less time in the deep sleep phase. Deep sleep is where the repair on the body takes place and growth hormone is released. Growth hormone is a protein which regulates fat and muscle proportion. A lack of growth hormone can lead to poor muscle development and an inability to shed fat.

So what's the answer? Obviously, to most people it would be simple: get more sleep. But if you're like me, and you're healthy on all fronts except for the sleeping, the solution is a bit more elusive.

I'd love to sleep more but until I actually do, I'm realizing that I have to be super conscious about what I eat. That is, if I want my clothes to continue to fit.

Knowing this, I had a new mindset for today. Yes, I am still tired. But I did get more sleep last night and feel better, overall, than I did yesterday. I made food selections based on what I know is filling for me: oatmeal with protein powder, sweet potato with walnuts and lentils, whole grain toast with peanut butter, and big pieces of fruit from the farmer's market.

It's also interesting to note that a hangover has the same effect on your body as lack of sleep, in terms of appetite (not that I would know this from personal experience!).

So the takeaway here is this: If you're trying to lose weight or just trying to maintain your current jean size, be cognizant of your level of fatigue and the food choices that you make when you are tired, or for that matter, hungover.

Monday, January 12, 2009

What Is Pilates & Why Is It So Darn Popular?

I get asked all the time: "What exactly is Pilates?"

The easy answer is that Pilates is an extremely popular way of exercising. Consider this recent tidbit from the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association: North American participation in Pilates has grown from 1.7 million in 2000 to 10.6 million in 2006. That's more than 600% growth in just a few short years. It's also a lot of job security.

What many people don't realize is that Pilates is a valuable therapeutic tool for many ailments. Since it is easy on the joints and can be modified to meet the needs of various populations, Pilates is now being used to help sufferers of a wide range of maladies including scoliosis, osteoporosis, autism, Parkinson's disease, and cancer.

Pilates is effective because it provides a "work around" when there is an injury or other condition (i.e. hip or knee replacement) in the body. It's the basic idea of homeostasis at work: The body is self healing and if you create a steady-state in the areas of the body that are not injured, you likely will support the healing within an injured area. Thus, an injured area can be re-integrated into a person's whole body.

But what if you're not injured? What can Pilates do for you?

Besides gaining improvement in muscular strength and endurance, most Pilates practitioners notice that their posture is enhanced (I hear people say, "I feel so much taller" after nearly every session), they also have increased range of motion and their body awareness is improved significantly.

But not all Pilates classes are created equally. Most classes are "mat based," meaning that no equipment, other than a yoga mat, is used. In a mat class, a participant's own gravity supplies the resistance. While this is great in theory, mat classes are generally held in a group setting and it's almost impossible for an instructor to correct form and offer individual guidance.

I teach exclusively on the Pilates Reformer because I believe that it is a much more effective way of working the body. The Reformer has a gliding carriage, attached to rails inside a rectangular frame. The carriage is connected to various springs, pulleys and ropes. Users can lie on the carriage, sit or kneel, and push and pull off the foot bar using the arms, legs, wrists and ankles. Participants truly get a full body work-out during a Reformer session.

Joseph Pilates, creator of the Reformer, said it best:

"After 10 Reformer sessions, you'll start to feel different. After 20 sessions, the people around you will notice a difference. After 30 sessions, you'll have a whole new body."

Need more convincing? Check out Faith Hill's new physique. At 40, she and her 6-pack abs graced the cover of Shape magazine in a revealing bikini. Her work-out of choice? You guessed it: the Reformer.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Yoga Class Added!

Effective THIS Sunday - 1/11/09 - I'll be adding another yoga class to my schedule. Please join me at My Yoga Lounge at 5pm for a 75-minute Vinyasa Flow class. All levels are welcome, including beginners.

My Yoga Lounge is a beautiful studio, located in Arden Park, at Watt and Fair Oaks. Unlike the gym environment, the space is distraction free, climate controlled and very much geared toward a peaceful and restorative yoga practice.

Complete details, including pricing and directions, can be accessed at the studio web site:

I'm excited to begin teaching on the studio circuit again and look forward to seeing you on Sundays.

As for other public classes, I'll continue to teach at Del Norte Club on Wednesdays at 7pm (this is a Level 2 class) and two Mondays a month, also at Del Norte, at 7pm (Mondays are Level 1). Guest passes for Del Norte are available for $10.

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to send me an email.


Sunday, January 4, 2009

Food Dye & Your Child's Behavior

I recently read that Americans consume five times as much food dye as they did 30 years ago. Even more shocking is this fact: while our consumption of food dye has increased, the British arms of General Mills, Kellogg, Kraft and McDonald's use few or no dyes.

The food dye trend in other countries is turning due to numerous studies abroad which have shown that dyes may have adverse effects on activity and attention in children. After the studies were conducted, the British Food Standards Agency began urging companies to voluntarily dump the dyes.

In our own country, the Center for Science in the Public Interest took note and is now petitioning the FDA to ban Yellow 5 and 6, Red 3 and 40, Blue 1 and 2 Green 3, and Orange B.

The question is simple: "Why should Americans continue to consume these synthetic dyes when many multinational companies are phasing them out elsewhere?"

Take a look in your kitchen. You might just be surprised which popular products contain dyes:

Frito-Lay Tostitos Hint of Lime
Colors: Blue 1, Red 40

Yoplait Light Red Raspberry Yogurt
Color: Red 40

Kraft Macaroni & Cheese
Colors: Yellow 5, 6

There really is no excuse to put these garbage dyes into your body or your family's when so many inexpensive and naturally colored products are available at Trader Joe's. Even the "O" organic line at Safeway is generally a safe bet.

If you are not convinced yet, consider this. If you go into a McDonald's for a strawberry sundae in the U.S., you'll get a nice helping of Red 40 with your ice cream. The same sundae - served up in the U.K. - gets its great red color from its contents: the strawberries.