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Eleven years ago, Shannon Hammer weighed 110 pounds more than she does today. Constantly tired, she slept long hours—earning the nickname “Sleeping Beauty”—and simply walking across her small apartment triggered ankle pain. “I was single and spent most of my time alone,” she recalls. “I hated the way I looked and felt, and was deeply ashamed of my body.”
Then, in January 2001, Christmas-party photos prompted a life-changing experience. “It looked like somebody had superimposed my face on a fat woman’s body,” Shannon says. “I couldn’t believe it was me.” Until that point, the numbers on her scale hadn’t registered. “I was in such denial that I didn’t see it when I looked in the mirror. I was shocked and horrified and knew that I had to do something.”
Shannon had struggled with her weight from age 4, when an aunt put her on a diet that sparked a 30-year food obsession. Change was difficult, but after some initial ups and downs, the pounds slowly started to drop.
Three years later, Shannon’s dress size had shrunk from 22/24 to 4/6. And since then, she’s maintained her svelte shape. “I’m happily married and live a rich, full life,” she says. “I work out six days a week, have a demanding job that I love, and come home full of enough energy to work at my ‘second
job’ of promoting my book, running my website, and contributing articles to weight loss and health publications.”
Shannon now shares her insights on healthy weight loss in The Positive Portions Food & Fitness Journal, and on her Web site (positiveportions.com).
Here are some strategies that worked for her:
* Aim to be healthy rather than skinny.
* Celebrate every victory, no matter how small, while keeping the bigger goal in sight.
* Measure and control portions; eliminate hidden sugars in foods; and eat a balanced diet that keeps blood-sugar levels stable.
* Exercise regularly.
* Keep a food and fitness journal.
* Find a fulfilling career.
* Get support—from a friend, trainer, organized support group, or other type of network that will inspire and motivate you when the going gets tough.
Slash Sugar: An Expert’s Take
When it comes to sustained weight loss, “the secret is avoiding sugar,” says Jorge Cruise, celebrity chef, fitness coach, and author of The Belly Fat Cure series of books. To do that, you have to be a smart sleuth, because sugar is abundant in just about every type of packaged and prepared food you can name. And it’s naturally present in fruit, which Cruise calls “nature’s dessert.” (That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat fruit—just not too much.)
Cruise doesn’t recommend dieting in the traditional sense, where food is ultra-controlled for a period of time followed by a “maintenance” phase. Instead, he offers a new way of eating that helps you gain control of your appetite, feel satiated, and enjoy the foods you love.
The complete plan is outlined in detail with dozens of recipes and “swaps” of popular foods in Cruise’s The Belly Fat Cure books—and free recipes and menus are available at thebellyfatcure.com—but these are the basic principles:
Eat Only a Little Sugar—Too much sugar elevates the hormone insulin, which leads to fat storage, especially around the belly. Aside from being cosmetically unappealing, belly fat is extremely dangerous because it increases the risks for diabetes, heart disease, infertility, and some cancers; weakens the immune system; and accelerates aging. Sugar also promotes an endless cycle of overeating and weight gain because it blunts release of the hormone leptin, which signals that we’ve eaten enough.
Researchers estimate that from the early days of civilization until about 200 years ago, humans ate no more than 15 grams of sugar per day, or about three teaspoons. In contrast, the average American now eats the equivalent of more than 47 teaspoons of sugar each day.
Cruise recommends returning to that 15-gram limit—about 5 grams for each major meal—as a realistic strategy that allows you to enjoy food while losing weight and keeping it off. But you have to pay attention to food labels. A single serving of flavored yogurt, for instance, can easily contain 25 grams of sugar. About 5 grams of that is lactose, a form of sugar naturally present in milk, and the rest comes from the flavoring. An unflavored Greek yogurt, on the other hand, comes in under the 5-gram limit. And it’s generally higher in protein than other varieties, which makes it more satiating.
Use Natural Sugar Alternatives—“I think artificial sweeteners are worse than white sugar,” says Cruise. For example, aspartame damages the neurological system. And sucralose, found in many “low carb” and “sugar free” foods, destroys good gut bacteria and contributes to bloating and irregularity. Instead, try natural sweeteners such as stevia and erythritol, as well as xylitol in small quantities.
Eat Smart Carbs—Cruise considers carbs from whole grains, vegetables, and fruits to be an integral part of healthy eating. But only in moderation. Specifically, The Belly Fat Cure includes 6 servings of carbs per day, and defines one serving as between 5–20 grams of carbohydrates (under 5 grams doesn’t count).
This amount of healthy carbs keeps the eating approach realistic and sustainable. And research has shown that this level of carb intake (without refined grains) is effective for weight loss.
Don’t Count Calories—There’s no calorie counting with this approach, and Cruise doesn’t limit protein or fat because neither of these triggers insulin or blunts leptin. Plus, these are the satisfying components of food rather than ones that provoke overeating. A day’s menu for fast-track weight loss could include:
- * Breakfast: 2 scrambled eggs with avocado and mushrooms, or fried eggs with bacon and cheese; coffee with half-and-half
* Snack: 1.5–2 oz. cheese or ¼ cup pecans
* Lunch: Lettuce-wrapped hamburger patty with avocado and cucumbers, or spinach salad (oil and vinegar dressing) with chicken breast and bell peppers
* Snack: Hard-boiled egg or deli meat (about 1 oz., uncured)
* Dinner: Sautéed pork chops with broccoli and mushrooms, or grilled salmon with asparagus
* Treat: Up to 1 oz. of dark chocolate (85 percent cacao).
Regardless of the specifics of your eating plan, without optimal amounts of essential nutrients, your metabolism won’t work at peak efficiency, making it more difficult to lose weight. These supplements can help:
Multivitamin/mineral—Often viewed as nutritional insurance to fill gaps in our diets, a multivitamin can set the stage for healthy metabolism. In a study of obese people in China, published in the International Journal of Obesity, those who took a multivitamin lost more weight than those who took only calcium or a placebo. In a multi, look for these ingredients:
- B complex: A combination of B vitamins is necessary for efficient conversion of carbohydrates into energy. Recommended amounts range from 25–100 mg per day, but in raw supplements, much lower dosages are equally effective.
- Chromium: This trace mineral helps reduce sugar cravings and keep blood sugar levels stable. Look for 200 mcg
per daily serving.
- Antioxidants: Each one works in a slightly different way to combat free radicals and inflammation. Look for a combination of carotenoids, a vitamin E complex, vitamin C, and other antioxidants such as lycopene.
- Vitamin D3—In addition to being necessary for calcium absorption, which promotes healthy bones, vitamin D3 supports a healthy heart, helps regulate blood pressure, and lowers risk for cancer, diabetes, and seasonal depression. In a study of obese people at the University of Minnesota, those with higher levels of vitamin D lost more weight than those with low levels—on the same low-calorie diet. Take 1,000-2,000 IU daily, an amount found in some multis.
Digestive Enzymes—Essential for the absorption of nutrients. Look for a variety of enzymes, as each one helps absorb different components of food, such as fats (lipase), starch (amylase), and protein (protease).
Fish Oil—The omega-3 fats in fish oil (EPA and DHA) are necessary for overall health, and they’re also key to weight loss. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fish oil plus exercise (45 minutes walking or running, 3X per week) burned more fat than exercise alone. Take 3 gm of fish oil daily.
Probiotics—These friendly gut bacteria help keep the colon healthy and prevent or relieve bloating, gas, and constipation—conditions that can hamper weight loss as well as overall well-being. Individual strains of probiotics perform unique functions, so look for a combination supplement. Try to take at least 10 billion CFUs (colony forming units) per day.
Protein powder—Protein powder naturally helps regulate blood sugar and reduce appetite.
MAKE A COMMITMENT
Stay motivated and win healthy prizes when you enter the Commit to Be Fit Summer Sweepstakes! Go to www.facebook.com/THEVITAMINSHOPPE. Every 2-3 weeks throughout the summer (May-August, 2012), a new prize will be unlocked and fans can enter to win a new prize pack full of products. You can also enter a monthly “Commit To” poll where you can select a healthy goal each month.
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