10 Weeks to a New You - Part 1
Sunday, January 16, 2011
LifeTime WeightLoss in Mindset, Tom Nikkola, sleep debt, vegetable

This nutrition and exercise thing can be really overwhelming. No gluten, perhaps no dairy, more protein and vegetables, drop the processed foods, limit sweets; it’s so much to take on that it can be hard to know where to start. Those who can jump in with both feet and completely change their nutrition, lifestyle and exercise habits can see some dramatic changes. For others, however, it’s too much change at one time. If you have a busy schedule, a full-time job and haven’t paid attention to your health in a while, trying to do everything right, and right now,  can be a recipe for disaster.

If you’re not ready to take on everything necessary for optimal health all at once, this article (and an upcoming one) are intended to make things a little easier. Each of the following habits are intended to provide a significant impact on your health and fitness levels with your focus placed on only one habit each week. We’ll start with five, not in any particular order, and then give you five more in our next article. You’ll pick one, and then another the following week. Of course, you don’t want to forget about the habit you started the week before. The goal is to make each of them a habit over the next ten weeks, but you can tackle them in any order you like.  

Eat Breakfast

Contrary to what is often said about breakfast, it doesn’t speed up metabolism, but it does affect what you eat later in the day. Eating breakfast has been shown to help reign in appetite and control blood-sugar during the day.[i] A 19-year study, which began with 9-15 year olds in 1985, looked at the same individuals in 2004 and showed those who skipped breakfast had a larger waist circumference, higher fasting insulin, total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol than those who ate breakfast.[ii] Did skipping breakfast do something bad to their bodies? More than likely, those who skipped breakfast simply made poorer dietary choices later in the day.

Now, before you run to the store and buy three boxes of cereal, the quality of your breakfast meal does make a difference. Cereal may be the easy route to eating breakfast, but the carb-heavy, low-protein choice isn’t going to provide the same benefits as a higher protein breakfast.[iii] Among other benefits, protein has a significant impact on controlling hunger and maintaining blood-sugar levels. Think about the last time you had a high-carb breakfast—like a bagel, scone, or a bowl of cereal. Were you hungry again a couple of hours later? How about the last time you had a big omelet, scrambled eggs, or leftovers from dinner the night before? Did it hold you over longer? Probably. Getting plenty of protein at breakfast can have a big effect on the rest of your day. Three to five eggs, three to five ounces of another protein source or a couple scoops of protein powder mixed in a shake make a great start to the day.

Eat More Vegetables

Notice that this doesn’t say “eat more fruit and vegetables.” Americans with their sweet tooths tend to lean toward fruit instead of vegetables, if and when they actually eat produce. According to the National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance 2010 Report Card, only 6% of individuals consume their recommended vegetable and 8% consume their recommended fruit intake on a daily basis![iv] Time and again, people realize how much better the rest of their diet becomes once they eat 9-11 servings of vegetables each day. With health benefits ranging from longer life,[v] to reduced cancer risk,[vi] to improved weight management, it’s unfortunate people don’t put more emphasis in eating more produce.

Try it for a week. Before lunch and dinner, eat a big salad with a little olive oil and vinegar dressing. A serving of greens is a cup, so a three-cup salad knocks off three servings of vegetables. You’ll likely be surprised at how your appetite changes. Of course, there are a variety of other vegetables you can try. It’s pretty easy to grill or sauté some eggplant, steam some Brussels sprouts, or bake some squash as well. A half cup of chopped vegetables usually equals a serving, so you can see how easy it is to actually hit the 9-11 servings each day.

Eat More Protein

Contrary to what many people think, most Americans don’t eat too much protein. In fact, when they begin dieting they may eat even less. With the perception that a low-fat diet is the best way to lose weight, people often choose low-fat, lower protein and higher-carb foods to fit in their nutrition plan. These may include low-fat snacks, microwaveable meals and low-fat cereals. However, protein has a significant impact on controlling cravings, so when people begin limiting their protein intake, they may find themselves unusually hungry.

If this is the habit you’re going to tackle, make it a point to eat a reasonable amount of protein with each meal or snack. “Reasonable” could mean 15 grams, or it could mean 50 grams depending on your goals, training program, current lean body mass, etc. If you’re not sure, it’s best to talk with a registered dietitian. Generally speaking, healthy people may find that 0.8-1.0 grams per pound body weight per day  is where they want to be. For those looking to lose weight, it is likely better to use the equation based on their goal weight, rather than their current weight to avoid excess protein intake.

Work Out at Least Four Times Per Week

Exercise must become a habit. Although people may lose weight without exercise, more of the weight lost will be lean body mass if working out isn’t part of the program. Maybe your goals aren’t about weight loss, but about longevity and health. Exercise is important for reducing the loss of bone density, maintaining strength and joint integrity, as well as managing stress and maintaining a positive outlook on life. Why the suggestion for four workouts per week instead of three? The four workouts each week means you’re getting a workout in more often than you’re taking time off.

Not sure where to start with your exercise program? Although it might seem like a magazine or video will teach you all you need to know, it isn’t true. Every person is different. We all have movement constraints, past injuries and postural issues that affect our ability to do certain movements. Connecting with a certified personal trainer, even for a couple of sessions, can make a dramatic difference. Resistance training is a critical part of any healthy way of life fitness program. Walking isn’t enough, although that could suffice once or twice a week, depending on your goals.  

Get Eight Hours of Sleep (Every Night)

Looking for an easy way to turn back the clock? At least in how you look? Get more sleep! A recent study published on the British Medical Journal website showed that getting enough sleep makes people look younger than when they’re deprived of sleep. You probably already knew you felt older when you missed out on sleep, but you may look that way as well.

Missing out on sleep is a major problem in a society of 50-60 hour workweeks, constant access to others, commutes, family responsibilities and late-night television. The health complications associated with lack of sleep are significant (see also: Sleep: It Does the Body Good). Getting more sleep may prove to be one of the most challenging habits to stick with. Adding an extra hour to your sleep schedule may mean the sacrifice of something else. When you consider all the benefits of sufficient sleep, the sacrifice will be well worth it.

Getting to bed on time is a great first step. Falling asleep might be the next one. With so much going on in our lives, it can be difficult to relax enough to shut our brains down. Turning down the lights prior to bed can help. Reducing noise and excitement can as well. Nutritional supplements can be a great support to sleep as well. At Life Time, one of our most popular products is Relora-Plex from Douglas Labs.  


These are your first five habits to tackle. Next Sunday we’ll take a look at five more. Again, don’t try to take on more than you can handle. Pick one habit, stick with it for seven days (or until it becomes a habit), then focus on a new one.

Share comments and ask questions below.

Written by Tom Nikkola - Director of Nutrition and Weight Management


This article is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor as a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice. Use of recommendations in this and other articles is at the choice and risk of the reader.



[i] Pereira MA, Erickson E, McKee P, Schrankler K, Raatz S, Lytle L, Pellegrini A. Breakfast Frequency and Quality May Affect Glycemia and Appetite in Adults and Children. J Nutr. 2011;141(1):163-168

[ii] Smith KJ, Gall SL, McNaughton SA, Blizzard L, Dwyer T, Venn AJ. Skipping breakfast: longitudinal associations with cardiometabolic risk factors in the Childhood Determinants of Adult Health Study. Am J Clin Nutr. 2010;92(6):1316-1325

[iii] Leidy HJ, Racki EM. The addition of a protein-rich breakfast and its effects on acute appetite control and food intake in ‘breakfast-skipping’ adolescents. Int J Ob. 2010;34:1125-1133

[iv] National Fruit & Vegetable Alliance. National Action Plan To Promote Health Through Increased Fruit and Vegetable Consumption. 2010 Report Card.

[v] Reuters. Eating orange and dark green vegetables linked to longer life. Nov 23 2010 Health on msnbc.com

[vi] Christian Nordqvist. Plentiful and Varied Vegetable Consumption Lowers Lung Cancer Risk Considerably. Medical News Today. Sept 1 2010

Article originally appeared on LifeTime WeightLoss (http://www.lifetime-weightloss.com/).
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