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Creating those New Year’s Resolutions

2023 is almost upon us which means many people will be creating some New Year’s Resolutions.  There are some who don’t quite “believe” in setting some resolutions for themselves.  I don’t blame them.  Estimates vary, with some statistics reporting that about only 75-80% of those who create resolutions for themselves are still committed to them two weeks into the New Year.  As the year goes by, the rate continues to decrease with approximately less than half still striving for them six months later.  

On the other hand, I am personally in favor of New Year’s Resolutions as I am a product of them myself.  In 2016, I committed to myself and identified three New Year’s Resolutions:  lose 25 pounds, complete the Spartan Beast (an obstacle course race) in Killington, Vermont, and get my first strict pull-up.  It took me till July of that year to lose my 25th pound, I completed my race in August that year, and it took till the week between Christmas and New Year’s of 2017 to get that first strict pull-up.  I also view 2016 as the year where my life/health made its biggest turnaround and therefore, I encourage others to establish goals for themselves too.  However, HOW we set those goals is just as important WHAT goals we set.

A great framework to use is that of the SMART Goal.  A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based.  Let’s go through each step!

Specific.  Be specific about your goal.  For example, “I will be healthier in 2023.”  Being “healthier” can really mean a lot of different things.  Instead, consider, “I will lose on average 1-2 pounds per month” or, “I will start walking 10,000 steps per day”, or “I will eat a fruit or a vegetable each day.”

Measurable.  Using the initial example of wanting to be healthier, it helps if there is some way to measure whether we have achieved our goal or not.  You can measure that through weight loss, if that is your goal.  You can measure that with accomplishing a step-count goal.  You can also measure that by checking off “yes” each day when you confirm that you have eaten a fruit or a vegetable.  

Attainable.  In setting a goal, you want to create one that is attainable, yet still does require some additional effort on your part to achieve.  However, not one soooo big that the chances are greater that you won’t.  Depending where you are on your weight loss journey, losing 1-2 pounds per month is an attainable goal.  Saying you will lose 10 pounds in the month of January, while perhaps attainable for some, likely involves a great deal of restriction and is probably not sustainable, meaning those 10 pounds will likely come back. 

Relevant.  Make sure the goal is relevant to you and what is important to YOU, not important to your family or someone else.  

Time-based.  Having a date in mind gives you something to focus on.  Maybe you are striving to achieve a certain weight by a special event.  Maybe you have a goal of increasing your number of steps each day till you are achieving your goal on the regular by July.  Maybe you eat a fruit or vegetable 3 days/week in January, and increase it by one day each week until you accomplish your goal, let’s say 80-90% of the time in June.  

Regardless of what goal you set for yourself, I also want you to keep some things in mind.  The first is, you will not always see signs of progress and that doesn’t mean that you aren’t making any.  With my weight loss goal, there was at least one month in there (and at that time I usually weighed about once a month), where the number on the scale didn’t move.  If you experience the same with your goal, be patient and continue to put in the work and trust the process.  Sometimes our breakthrough is just on the other side of such “plateaus”.  Unfortunately, too many people give up or throw in the towel here…don’t be one of those people.  

Next, you won’t always feel motivated to work towards your goal.  Even I, one who enjoys exercising, do not ALWAYS feel like exercising.  However, I have those goals off in the distance to help provide some motivation.  For example when I had the goal of that obstacle course race, it motivated me to make sure I got to the gym to work on my fitness so I could have a successful race.  

Lastly, be OK with it taking longer than you think.  Too many times today people are expecting things to happen so fast and in many cases, that is unrealistic.  For example, with my goal of a pull-up…for many, especially women, they can take a while to be able to develop the ability to do.  To expect that I would accomplish that in 8 weeks or less would likely be very unrealistic.  We don’t always have control over when the results will come, but we have control over the process that helps you achieve those results.    

If you are feeling stuck on what would be an appropriate goal for yourself, or maybe you have a goal and don’t quite know how to break it down into small steps, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me!  I am happy to help and provide some guidance.  

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their November issue.

The Best Diet for You!

We all want the best for ourselves, right?!  We take the time to research the best car or the best school to send our kids to.  We look at reviews on websites before committing to purchasing a particular product.  Similarly, there is no shortage of information suggesting “the best diet” for people.  Oftentimes, this is followed by the tag line “lose 10 pounds in 10 days.” 

Perhaps you saw the headline for this article and thought I would be writing to encourage you to do Keto, or to go plant-based, or to consider the cabbage soup diet (yes…that’s a thing).  I am here to tell you that the answer is none of those things necessarily.  My answer for what is the best diet:  the one that is most sustainable for you.  Unfortunately, that won’t make the front cover of a magazine…because it isn’t attached to a product that someone can make money off of…and it doesn’t have fancy rules and/or restrictions.

Personally, I am not even a fan of the word “diet”, as it has come to have a somewhat negative connotation.  For example, when you Google “diet defined”, the second part of the definition reads:  “a special course of food to which one restricts oneself, either to lose weight or for medical reasons.”  On the other hand, the first part of the definition reads, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” which is generally what I am referring to when I use the word “diet”.  However, since people often hear “diet” and think of the definition which suggests restriction, I instead prefer to use the term/phrase “nutritional approach”.  In this article, I will discuss some key principles you should have in mind when choosing a nutritional approach for yourself.  

What is the best diet for you? The answer might not be what you expect.

One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability.  Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime?  If you are a carb lover, don’t choose an eating pattern that is more Ketogenic.  If you love a good steak, don’t choose something that is primarily plant based.  By all means, if you love cabbage soup…have some…just don’t make that the only thing you eat all week.  If you can’t picture yourself eating that way forever, then don’t choose that nutritional approach.  You will likely find yourself to be more miserable.  

Another key principle to have in mind is don’t jump into something that requires you to change everything all at once.  This will likely lower your likelihood of success and possibly increase your chances of giving up.  On the other hand, embrace a more gradual approach where you can build on some early successes.  For some guidance, check out the Infographic I referred to in recent weeks in my articles on protein, carbohydrates, and fats (all now located in the blog section of my website).  Ideally, you would be selecting most of your foods from the “eat more” column, with less of what you eat coming from the “eat some”, and only on occasion eating the “eat less” foods.  Again, this is not something you even need to jump into full force with right away.  Start with even just three of your breakfasts during the week containing foods predominantly from the “eat more” column.  Maybe you even start with just trading out your usual carbohydrate at supper with one from the “eat more” column.  Don’t underestimate the value of making even small changes and the positive impact they can have on your overall health.  

Something that should cause you to question the healthiness of a particular nutritional approach is if it is overly restrictive, or cuts out food groups entirely.  For example, the Keto diet is commonly associated with cutting out carbs, including fruit and certain vegetables.  In doing so, you are also cutting out valuable sources of vitamins and minerals that are important to our body functioning at its best.  A challenge commonly associated with those who choose a more plant-based approach is ensuring enough protein variety is consumed so as not to miss out on important amino acids.  I understand people may take this approach for reasons that are very personal to them and I am OK with that.  It is just important that if one is going to choose this nutritional approach for their life that they do the appropriate research to make sure they are consuming enough of what their body needs, namely protein.  Lastly, the cabbage diet…yes, cabbage and other fermented foods are good for our health, especially our gut health, however in large quantities, they can make you quite uncomfortable.  In addition, when you focus on consuming strictly one food, you are missing out on nutrients that are available in other foods.  

“One of the first key elements when choosing a nutritional approach is to consider sustainability.  Is this a way of eating that you can do for a lifetime?”

A key component to choosing the best nutritional approach for you is not necessarily looking at what you need to take out, but perhaps what you can add in.  Maybe you don’t make any modifications to what you are eating just yet, and instead you add in some activity such as walking.  Maybe you don’t swap out your fried chicken for supper, but you add in a serving of veggies or two.  Maybe you aren’t ready to modify your activity level or your nutrition, but strive to improve your hydration and drink more water.  Or, maybe you focus on going from 5-6 hours of sleep per night to getting 7-9 hours.  

One last suggestion I will make is to focus on the long game.  Stop looking for the next “4 week” or “8 week” fix.  Generally speaking, the faster you lose the weight, the more likely it is to come back.  On the other hand, those that play the long game, often experience long-term, lasting results.  Put simply…would you rather lose 10 pounds quickly?  Or, would you rather lose 10 pounds that stays off forever?  Case in point…look at those on the Biggest Loser who were placed on restrictive, aggressive plans and yes, they lost a tremendous amount of weight in a very short time.  However, only very few were able to keep it off and many rebounded and gained some (if not all) of the weight back.  

In closing, there is no one best nutritional approach out there except the one that works for you.  One key element it does require is the willingness to change.  If you want something different for yourself, you have to do something different.  Notice I didn’t say “completely alter who you are.”  I love pizza…it’s one of my favorite food groups.  I still enjoy it pretty much weekly, just in a smaller portion.  I also love ice cream…another one of my favorite food groups!  I still enjoy it often but in smaller portions.  However, because I want my body and mind to function at its best, I have added in more nutrient dense foods that support those goals.  Eating well a great majority of the time means that the small portions of pizza and/or ice cream that I eat during the week don’t take away from me accomplishing my goals and actually help me get closer to them because I never feel like I am missing out.  

If you would like some personalized guidance or direction, please don’t hesitate to reach out!

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their November issue.

Nutrition to Nourish Your Body – Fats Edition

There are three major macronutrients:  protein, carbohydrates, and fats.  In July, I wrote about protein and in August, I wrote about carbohydrates.  (If you missed those articles, you can find them in the Blog section of my website).  This month, I conclude that series with information on the importance of fats!

Maybe not to the degree in which carbs have come to develop a negative connotation, but fats unfortunately have earned themselves a negative reputation as well.  This is evident in the numerous products that have been developed and marketed for being “fat free” and/or “low fat”.  A point for thought and consideration…how many people do you see eating “fat free” or “low fat” options actually have a healthy body composition?  The engineering that contributed to them that reduced their fat content likely contributes to you eating more of them.  

Fats are essential for many functions within our bodies.  They can be utilized as a source of energy, they are essential for appropriate hormone function, they are important for the structure of our cells, and they support our brain and nervous system function.  In addition, certain vitamins (Vitamins A, D, E, and K) are fat-soluble meaning that they can’t dissolve in water.  Consuming fats also provides us with fats that our body cannot produce on its own such as Omega-6 and Omega-3.  

Cheese can be a source for healthy fats.

Similar to carbs and proteins, not all fats are created equal.  Please refer to a Precision Nutrition infographic that I have shared on my website (under Blogs & Resources) that provides guidance on fats we would benefit from “eating more” of, “eating some” of, or “eating less” of.  We can consume fats from a variety of sources including plants, dairy, meat, fish, and oils.  I always encourage people to strive to get a majority of their nutrition via real food.  However, for those who are challenged with consuming enough to support their health, there are some fat supplements available such as fish oil, krill oil, or algae oil.  

People may often fear consuming fat with the concern it will raise their cholesterol.  It is not the presence of a fat source that causes the negative health consequences, but more its presence in highly processed and refined foods that are overconsumed and therefore lead to obesity and increased inflammation in the body that cause the negative health outcomes.  Please note, cholesterol is vital for many functions within our body.  It is likely I could write a whole other lengthy article on the myths commonly associated with cholesterol.  The point I will reinforce is not to be hesitant about consuming healthy sources of fats. 

Just as we benefit from varying our sources of proteins and carbs to help ensure we are providing our body with adequate nutrition, it is just as important to consume fat from a variety of sources as well.  Fats come in various forms such as saturated, Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, and trans fats.  

It is important to balance out our sources of fats, similar to how we should balance out our carb and protein sources.  For example, we should strive to balance out our saturated fat intake with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties.  We should strive for more Omega-3s than Omega-6’s.  The ways we accomplish that are eating a varied diet with limited processed and refined foods.  

Be on guard: The engineering that contributes to a product being “Reduced Fat” likely encourages eating more of them.

Generally speaking, the fats we want to consume the least of are trans fats.  These are your full or partially hydrogenated fats.  These are the ones that have negative impacts on our cholesterol and overall health.  These are commonly found in fried foods like doughnuts and other baked goods (cakes, pies, cookies), crackers and some margarines and other spreads.  Does this mean you should never enjoy a piece of cake?  No.  However, it should make up a very small part of your nutritional intake (i.e. “eat less”).     

OK…so we know fats are good for us, but how much to eat?  There is no one answer that applies to everyone.  Some people do well with diets higher in fat, whereas others may do better with less.  As I mentioned in the previous article, there is no one right diet or nutritional approach that works best.  The best nutritional approach for you is the one you can be most consistent with and supports your overall health and personal goals.    

A way to informally measure your fat intake at a meal is to base it off the size of your thumb.  Many people benefit from a 1-2 thumb-size portions of fats in their meals.  There can be too much of a good thing and it is important to remember that fats are more calorie dense.  Fats have about 9 calories per gram, whereas carbs and protein each have 4 calories per gram.  Therefore, measuring can be helpful to ensure you are not overeating in excess of your body’s requirements.  

Some key takeaways from this series:  strive to eat foods from the “eat more” categories, strive to eat a variety, and balance your intake with your activity level.

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their September issue.

Develop a Relationship with a Primary Care Provider

You would think as a Nurse, I always took good care of myself.  You might also think that as a Nurse and living a healthy lifestyle where I was working out and eating well a majority of the time, that I had no need to go to the Doctor.  It wasn’t till I was having some periodic episodes of chest pain and had to receive care urgently in a hospital observation unit, that I realized I really need to start following with a primary care provider (PCP).  (Please note:  a PCP can be a Physician, Physician Assistant, and/or a Nurse Practitioner).  

After the above instance occurred, I acknowledged to myself that I had no idea who my PCP was (my previous one had retired and I never made an appointment with the new one designated to me) and here I was, receiving care via emergency medicine.  It was then that I realized I should really connect with a PCP.    

After a stress test and some other lab work, it appeared that my chest pain was likely from a dietary source (let’s just say…I had a double serving of nachos with cheese at my daughter’s softball game the night before and it might have angered my gall bladder just a little bit!).  However, as a Nurse, I have had the unfortunate experience of seeing many others not be so lucky.  Many come in with chest pain and find out that they have experienced a heart attack or have some other serious cardiovascular issues brewing.  

Your PCP is more than just your physician and can include other medical staff, such as a Nurse Practitioner.

Many of the urgent issues people seek emergency care for are often chronic issues that have come to a boiling point.  Unfortunately, you find that some of these individuals haven’t been to a PCP in years.  This could be for a variety of reasons, some of which include financial, logistical, or sociocultural to name just a few.  

Want to connect with a PCP and don’t know where to start?  Ask your friends who they go to!  You likely know your friends’ general likes/dislikes when it comes to others and perhaps if they have connected with and like a particular PCP, you might also experience the same.  Likewise, they might also tell you who they dislike.  Always remember though…relationships are a two-way street.  Just because they didn’t like a particular PCP doesn’t mean you won’t like them.  You might also have to ask what kind of Patient they were.  At the end of the day, you aren’t going to marry your PCP…but you do need someone who makes you feel heard when you express your concerns, who takes the time to explain things in a way you understand, and that has your best interests in mind.  

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

There aren’t too many chronic conditions that you don’t generally have some early indicator of early on.  Having a relationship with your PCP, it is likely that you will be prompted for some annual blood work and/or other testing (mammograms, colonoscopies, etc.).  These tests may catch something early on enough to help prevent or minimize something later on.  For example, a hemoglobin A1C lab test may detect the risk for diabetes early on.  Or, a lipid profile may detect some early risks for cardiovascular issues.  While not absolutely true in every case, there are many instances where there is the opportunity for lifestyle modifications that may help delay the onset of chronic disease or minimize the negative impact of such conditions on your life.   

If you don’t make time for your health and wellness…you will be forced to make time for your illness.

A wait in the ER can be hours…worse yet…a stay in the hospital can last days to weeks.  If we could plan for it, we never would.  As a Nurse, I don’t know that I have ever heard someone say this was a good time for them to be in the hospital and how well it worked for their schedule!  I have definitely heard about the inconveniences though…missing time from work, missing a due date for the rent, missing an important family event, etc.  

Developing a relationship with your PCP allows for the treatment of many conditions outside of the hospital.  One of the worst places for you to be for a variety of reasons (many of which are outside the scope of this blog post) is the hospital.  Does it serve a purpose in some instances?  Absolutely.  However, when you have the opportunity to receive your care elsewhere, I believe you will have a much better experience.  

It is generally more conducive to schedule your testing and appointments at a time that works best with your schedule instead of vice versa.  Personally speaking, when I had COVID, I was able to do some lab work and an x-ray outpatient and receive direction on my care without having to wait hours in an ER waiting room and be exposed to even more sick people.  

In summary, I encourage you to take a more proactive rather than a reactive approach to your health…and having a relationship with a Primary Care Provider is a great place to start.  

Nutrition to Nourish Your Body – Carbohydrate Edition

In follow-up to the article I wrote last month on protein, this month, let’s talk carbs!  (If you missed last month’s article, you can find it here).

Unfortunately, carbs have acquired a negative connotation due to those that feel strongly towards a no-carb and/or low-carbohydrate nutritional approach.  Truth being, there is no one best nutritional approach and I am not suggesting one approach over the other.  Truly, the best nutritional approach is the one that is most sustainable to help one achieve their goals.

Carbohydrates (carbs) benefit us in that they are a great source of energy.  However, it is important to balance our carbohydrate intake with our activity levels.  If one is not very active, their carbohydrate requirements are likely lower compared to someone who is more active and exercises regularly.  Whereas last month I mentioned how many people are challenged with eating enough protein, that is generally not the same problem with carbs.  While I have met people who are not eating enough carbs to support their goals, I have observed many others that are eating more carbs than their current activity level requires.

It should be noted that not all carbs are created equal.  I encouraged readers to refer to a Precision Nutrition Infographic on my website (under Blogs & Resources) last month regarding protein…and I encourage readers this month to review recommended carb sources on that same infographic.  As with anything, there are foods we would benefit from “eating more” of, “eating some” of, and “eating less” of.  Whereas the quantity of carbs is a strong influence on your overall weight…the quality of carbs is a strong influence on your overall health.  In other words, consuming pop tarts regularly is going to yield a different body than one nourished by fruits and vegetables.  Please note, this is not to say you never eat a pop tart…but they should make up a very small part of what you regularly eat (i.e. “eat less”).

Carbs have a negative connotation for many, but they benefit us as an important source for energy.

Choosing carbs that are rich in fiber will help support feelings of satiety, or fullness.  (Last month, we also discussed how adequate protein helps us feel the same).  Someone who chooses carbs from the “eat more” such as beans, fresh or frozen fruit, or potatoes (white or sweet), are going to feel fuller longer versus those who eat from the “eat less” category.  These slower-digesting carbs also help promote more stable blood sugar management.  On the other hand, faster-digesting carbs (juices, soft drinks, cookies, cakes, muffins, i.e. “eat less” foods) will not help promote feelings of fullness and get a person started on an eating roller coaster throughout the day as they chase highs and lows with their blood sugar.

In addition, carbs (primarily those from the “eat more” category) are also a source of vitamins and minerals to support our body’s internal processes and overall health.  A general good rule of thumb is to choose your carbs from the outskirts of the supermarket.  Generally speaking, the least nourishing foods are those found in the interior aisles.  For example, an apple you buy from the produce section has 5 grams of fiber and is a natural source of calcium, iron, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C.  On the other hand, a serving of applesauce contains 1 gram of fiber, does have some potassium and calcium (often added in during processing), but does not contain iron or vitamin A.  Not to mention, because the applesauce requires far less chewing than an actual apple, you are also likely not going to feel the same satisfaction from eating it that you would from eating a nice, crunchy apple.

It is possible to eat too much of a good thing.  Even if you ate carbs only from the “eat more” list, you could still be eating beyond what your body requires.  That is why it is essential to eat according to your body’s activity demands.  Someone who sits at a desk 8 hours a day then goes home to sit on the couch and watch TV needs far less carbs than one who gets 10,000 steps a day and exercises 3-5 days per week.

Just as we discussed preparing protein in bulk to help us accomplish our goals, we can certainly prepare carbs that are healthier for us in bulk as well.  For example, you can wash your apples as soon as you bring them home from the store…this way, all you have to do is grab the apple from the fridge when you are ready and just enjoy!  Or, one of my favorites is to cut up some baby potatoes or some sweet potatoes and roast them up and then portion them out to enjoy with various meals throughout the week.  One of my go-to snacks are baby carrots and I like to even put them in some to-go containers or baggies ahead of time so that I always have a healthy snack ready and available.  Ultimately, anything you can do to help make healthier choices easier will help you in the long run!

In closing, the way we nourish our body says a lot about how much we love our body.  I encourage you to do more for yourself (and for others) coming from a place of love.  Making the effort to move our bodies purposefully is an act of love towards our body.  Making the conscious choice to nourish our bodies well is also an act of love towards our body.  Furthermore, these acts of love towards our bodies also demonstrate our love to the important people in our lives as we will be able to enjoy a more fulfilling and vibrant life with them when we strive to be the healthiest version of ourselves.

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their August issue.

Nutrition to Nourish Your Body – Protein Edition

This month, I appreciate the opportunity to write on the topic of protein!  I received some feedback from people that this was a topic they wanted to learn more about.  And, truth be told, it is an area where many people experience some challenges.  Let’s learn about the importance of protein and strategies to help you consume more of it!  

Protein is essential for many biological functions within our body.  There is not enough room within one article to discuss all the roles protein plays in our body; however, I will discuss just a few here.

One major function is muscle building and repair, as well as supporting our bones, tissues, ligaments, and immune system.  As I mentioned in last month’s article, strength/resistance training across our lifetime is essential for enhanced health outcomes.  (If you missed it, you can read it here).  Our goal across our lifetime is to preserve our muscle mass to help support greater function.  Therefore, it is essential we provide our body with the nutrition to do so.  The more muscle mass we have, the higher our Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR) is, especially at rest.  Why does this matter?  The more muscle mass we have, especially for those trying to lose weight, particularly through fat loss, is that it means we burn more calories just by merely existing.  In other words, when we have more muscle, we are burning more energy at rest compared to those who have less muscle mass.  Again, this is why I emphasized strength/resistance training over additional cardio in last month’s article for those who are striving for fat loss.  

Proteins help us feel fuller longer compared to fast-digesting carbs.

Protein intake also supports a greater sense of satiety.  In other words, it helps us feel fuller longer.  For example, those who have a breakfast composed mainly of carbs, particularly fast-digesting carbs, are likely to be hungry not too long after they just ate.  People often then choose another relatively unbalanced meal that is heavier on carbs…and this perpetuates the eating roller coaster throughout the day.  On the other hand, those who begin their day with a meal higher in protein, or who make the effort to add more protein to their meals, find their hunger much more manageable.  

Another benefit of protein intake is its thermogenic effects within the body.  It takes more energy on behalf of our body to digest and process protein which means our body “burns more calories” by simply going through the natural processes of digestion. 

What you might be thinking now is “great…we know protein is good for us…but how do we fit more of it into our nutrition?”  Let’s review some strategies for incorporating more into your daily nutrition.   

First, let’s look at what foods are generally considered higher in protein.  For the most part, there are no inherently “bad” foods.  On the other hand, there are foods we would benefit from eating “more” of, eating “some” of, and perhaps eating “less” of.  For the sake of space, I am not able to provide that list here; however, if you go to the Blog section of my website, I have posted the infographics from Precision Nutrition for you to review.  Use that list as a guide when planning out your meals each day or for the week.  Take it with you when you go to the store for some inspiration on what to choose!

Next, you may be wondering, “how much protein should I be eating?”.  It depends a lot on the individual and their current body composition, their age, and their activity level.  Protein needs will also be dependent potentially on certain medical conditions.  A broad guideline is anywhere from 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.  For example, with an average weight of 165 pounds, I eat anywhere from 160-170 grams of protein daily.  I recently posted on my social media pages (and you can find that in the gallery on my website as well) how I generally accomplish that on a given day.  One tip might be to plan out your protein first and once you have laid out the plan for that, everything else falls into place much easier.    

It’s important to vary your protein sources to access different amino acids.

One strategy I use to consume enough protein is to prepare it in bulk.  Each week, I pick two protein sources, such as chicken and beef, and I cook a big batch of it up and have one for lunch and the other for dinner.   Each protein source (beef, chicken, pork, fish, etc.) has a different amino acid makeup.  Therefore, to help ensure I do not become deficient in any one amino acid, I rotate through my proteins generally every other week.  If I do chicken and beef one week, I might switch to pork, turkey, or fish the following week.  Generally, I try to have fish 1-2 times per week each week. 

There is no reason for eating well to be boring and tasteless!  Just because you are having one key ingredient (for example, chicken) doesn’t mean you can’t still have variety!  On my social media pages, I recently provided information on how to prepare some protein in bulk and the variety of ways in which I enjoyed them throughout the week.  

Lastly, it helps to know our “why” behind why we do things.  I encourage you to shift from an outcome-based thinking (such as “I want to weigh x number of pounds”) and instead focus on the process (for example, “I am eating to nourish my body and support my goals”).  Personally, I tend to view my nutrition as “fueling my muscles” or “fueling my performance”.  When I fuel my muscles and/or fuel my performance, accomplishing my goals (body recomposition, getting stronger/fitter, etc) becomes the side effect of my efforts.

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their July issue.

I Focused on the Scale and Here is What Happened

It has been a little while since I have focused on the scale.  At different parts of my weight loss journey, I prioritized the scale differently.  I had moments where I allowed it to influence how I felt about myself.  Over time, I have moved further away from that and have placed the priority on how I feel in my day-to-day and how my training is going.  For example, how have my workouts been feeling?  Am I earning some PRs (personal records) in the gym?  I have devoted greater priority to those metrics versus the number on the scale.  As a result of focusing on fueling my performance, a difference in the scale has become a side effect of my efforts.  

During the month of June, I had to focus a bit more on the number on the scale because I had to be under a certain weight for when I was due to compete at United States Strongman Nationals at the end of the month.  Weigh-in day was Friday, June 24th, and competition day was Saturday, June 25th.  I had known since late Summer 2021 that I had qualified for competition in June 2022.  I had used the approximately 9 months prior to gradually start working on my weight and was more diligent about my nutrition.  

From January 2022 to the end of May 2022, I had trickled down in weight from about 175 pounds to 165 pounds.  The goal for competition day was to be 165 or under.  My focus in June was to inch my way down another 2-3 pounds or so to give myself a buffer for weigh-in day.  As a woman, I have to consider the challenge of my monthly cycle impacting my weight and low-and-behold…my next cycle was going to fall in-and-around that time.  Therefore, I wanted to have a little wiggle room.  

Throughout the months of January through May, I weighed myself periodically.  Sometimes Tuesday and Friday, and as the months got closer, usually Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I did this to keep tabs on where my weight was so that I could allow myself enough time to make an adjustment if need be.  I didn’t want to find myself in a situation like if I were to wait until say May or early June to check-in on that and have to severely “diet down” to achieve my goal.  Although I was weighing myself and collecting that data, I still ultimately prioritized my performance in the gym.  In the past few months, I have had a good string of PRs…some things I haven’t PR’d in a long time.  My workouts were feeling better and better.  

As of about June 2nd, I started weighing myself every morning.  I viewed the process as time limited as I only need to be this extremely focused for about three (3) weeks.  Initially, I stuck to my current macro goals.  If I didn’t see the number on the scale go down over the course of the next 2-3 days, I adjusted my macros slightly.  

Fortunately, for the most part, I wasn’t really hungry.  In the morning, I would carefully plan out my day to ensure my workout was still supported, but not leave me so short the rest of the day that would lead to me potentially wanting to snack.  For the most part, I did well with that.  However, I found myself thinking about food way more often than I usually would.  During months where the scale was not my main focus, if I thought about food, it was about new recipes or meals I wanted to try.  It is usually a positive experience where I feel like I was enjoying the opportunity to be creative and try new things.  During this time however, I felt like I was always just thinking about food, period.  I might not have been hungry for it, but I was thinking about it.   

Typically, I enjoy the flexibility of my nutritional approach and I ensure that I make sure to enjoy some things I don’t always have the opportunity to eat.  For example, at my daughter’s softball games, I enjoy some nachos with cheese.  Or, at another field we play at, I enjoy their funnel cake sticks.  With a stronger focus on the scale, I found myself not taking the time to enjoy some special treats…even if they were something I would really only have once a week.  During the month of June, I said “no” to those things and reminded myself of my goal.  

Speaking of treats, I had a big internal debate on whether to forgo my weekly Friday pizza or not.  I questioned whether I should give up something I enjoy in pursuit of my goal.  I ended up developing a strategy to still incorporate it into my nutrition…but, there was a part of me that wondered whether my failure to make this sacrifice would compromise me achieving my goal for weigh-in day.  

I found myself more aware of the calendar than usual…I was counting down the days.  Whenever I found myself struggling, I just reminded myself of how many more days I had to go.  

Especially in the last week or so prior to weigh-in day, I found my sleep becoming more and more disturbed.  More often than not, I get anywhere from 7-9 hours of sleep a night, usually uninterrupted.  During that last week or so, sleeping through the night became a rarity and I started waking up in the middle of the night more frequently.  I would notice my thoughts drifting to wondering what the scale would say in the morning.  

In trying to search for the positives for this experience with focusing on the scale, I found maybe two.  One was I am proud of myself for being able to dial things in more tightly in order to achieve a goal.  Back in 2019 when I competed at the same competition, I struggled to dial in my nutrition and I did not meet my weigh-in goal and had to compete in a higher weight class.  Although I kept trying to “re-dedicate” myself over and over leading up to that competition, I couldn’t manage to stay focused.  As I pursue other meaningful performance goals for myself, I have this experience to fall back on, that when it truly mattered, I was able to focus and make some compromises to achieve that goal. 

The second possible benefit was that I learned a bit about my body’s response to food and other activities that will help me coach others through the process.  For me, the negatives of dwelling on the number on the scale outweigh (no pun intended!) the positives.   

I am proud of myself for accomplishing my weigh-in goal; however, I have no desire to weigh myself for at least a month.  I feel like I need time away.  I am fortunate that I don’t have any upcoming competitions where that will be a factor and I can return to letting my training performance be the main indicator of progress and utilizing my fueling to support improvements in that area.  I live for the moments in the gym where I do something I never thought possible and/or I grow stronger in a particular lift or movement.  Those are way more meaningful to me than a number on the scale.  When I focus on those things, I have greater enjoyment in eating to fuel my body and I am happier in my day-to-day.  

My advice to my clients, as well as anyone who is on a weight loss (or gain!) journey, is DON’T dwell on the scale.  Find those other “metrics” in your daily life that you can observe improvement in.  For example, how is your energy day-to-day?  Are you growing stronger in the gym?  How do your workouts feel?  Have you been able to learn more skills?  Has your sleep improved?  How does your body feel each and every day?  Are you starting to achieve a more-defined body composition?  These are just some examples and you are really only limited by your imagination and your priorities.  Focus on the process supporting these goals…such as through proper fueling, rest, and recovery…and you will likely see progress with the scale.  There are very few instances where you benefit from solely focusing on the scale…so carefully consider whether that should be one of your goals anyways.

Strength Training Supports Health Across Your Lifespan

It’s almost summer, so “sun’s out, guns out” right?!  Truth being…we shouldn’t view strength training or weightlifting as something we do to prepare our “summer bodies”…or something only those who are young should do.  Strength training is something many, if not all of us would benefit from incorporating regularly into our weekly routines.  Furthermore, it is almost never too late to start as there are benefits to incorporating some form of strength training to our weekly wellness routines that have tremendous benefits across our lifetime.

Lifting dumbbells. Photo: Little Blossom Photography by BHL

Strength training, also known as resistance training, is an activity that helps to promote development of strength.  Many times, resistance training is associated with lifting actual barbells and dumbbells, but could also involve other forms of resistance such as bands, cables, and kettlebells.  

One does not need to be able to lift hundreds of pounds to experience the benefits of resistance training.  The challenge should be relative to the person.  However, it is important that you continuously challenge yourself.  As a particular exercise becomes easier, it would be of great benefit to challenge yourself with something slightly heavier.

Research abounds with evidence supporting the benefits of strength training for women and men across the lifespan.  Aside from the improvements that can be made in bone mineral density (BMD), resistance training also helps to improve function and stability, other key factors that help reduce fall risk.  Reducing fall risk through improving strength also helps to promote a fuller life as we enter our later years and may lead to a greater sense of independence.   

Given the statistics available regarding those at risk or who are living with osteoporosis, it becomes all the more important for women to pursue some form of resistance training.  According to the International Osteoporosis Foundation (IOF) (2022), approximately 21.2% of women over 50 globally are estimated to have osteoporosis compared to approximately 6.3% of men.  Of even greater concern, the IOF (2022) statistics reveal that 61% of the fractures that do occur related to osteoporosis, the patients are women.  Research has demonstrated that women who started resistance training in their 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s have experienced an improved BMD following initiation of a resistance training program at least 2-3 days per week.  

I cannot say it enough…it is never too late to start!  I started lifting weights at the age of 34 and now at the age of 41, it is one of my favorite activities in the gym! 

And, you don’t need to live at the gym 5+ days a week to see improvements.  As mentioned above, it has been shown that one can experience the benefits of resistance training in even at least 2 days a week.  I have clients that lift on average 3 days per week and have  experienced great results.    

All this information, but where to start?

I often see people overlook strength training when they begin their weight loss journey with the misconception that they should lose their desired weight first before considering a lifting or resistance training program.  Instead, they focus on doing more cardio.  Yes, it is beneficial to have some form of cardiovascular activity in your daily routine.  For example, last month I wrote about the benefits of walking as an excellent way to improve your overall health and well-being.  (Didn’t get a chance to read it?  You can find that article in the blog section of my website!).  However, to amplify your results, if you are already doing some form of cardiovascular activity, your time is better spent doing some resistance/weight training instead of another cardiovascular activity.  

All this information, but where to start?!  If you are fortunate enough to have a gym membership, there are likely a number of resistance training options available.  If just starting out and prefer to workout at home, dumbbells are a great way to get started…especially for those on a limited budget.  I posted a video on YouTube where I talk about my recommended strategies for starting your home gym with dumbbells (go to YouTube and type in the search words “Coach Candice Home Gym”).       

One key item to keep yourself safe would be to always lift within your capabilities and challenge yourself within reason.  Proper form and proper progression are some key practices to help minimize risk of injury.  In addition, it will always be important to gauge your performance and improvement against your own personal best, and not to the personal best of others.  We are all on our own journey and we should not compare our Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 10 or Chapter 20.  We all start where we start and getting started is the most important part!  

Lastly, when in doubt, seek the guidance of a professional.  A professional will properly assess you, discuss with you your goals, and develop a program customized to you.  Some people are able to implement resistance training programs with the direction of an app, online programs, and/or online videos.  As always, I am happy to answer any questions you might have!  Please don’t hesitate to reach out.  I’d love to hear about how weightlifting has enhanced your life!

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their June issue