“I’ve tried every diet and nothing worked.”

It is likely that many of us have heard someone say that…or even said it ourselves.  The New Year is upon us and there are many who will be trying some version of a “diet” in an attempt to make progress towards their New Year’s resolutions.  (In November, I wrote about “The Best Diet” and in December, I provided a guide to help you establish those New Year’s resolutions and you can now read those articles in the Blog portion of my website!).  

Unfortunately, some won’t make an attempt to change their health for the better, referencing their failed attempts in the past.  I am here to tell you that the only true failure is giving up altogether.

I have seen it pointed out that FAIL can also stand for “First Attempt in Learning.”  Social media often paints the picture that everything goes perfect the first time.  With any significant change, that couldn’t be further from the truth.  In my personal journey, I have lost as much as 60 pounds and have kept it off for years.  All too frequently it pops up in my “Facebook memories” how I posted about “rededicating myself for the 1387th time” because I had made an attempt to address my health/fitness/nutrition and it didn’t work out.

In a book that I have written that will come out in the New Year about failure, I wrote “failure doesn’t have to be final…even the best fail…it’s what you do in response to that failure that matters.”  One of the most important actions we can take when something doesn’t work out as we had planned is to reflect on what happened.  Questions to consider:  what went well?  What didn’t go well?  What could I have done differently?  What would I keep the same?

social media can lead to quick frustrations and poor health if we aren't mindful, especially when it comes to dieting efforts.
In the era of social media, it can be easy to forget not everything goes perfectly on the first try.

Even now, I still have periods where old habits resurface and I may fluctuate up in weight a bit.  When I go through those periods, I then reflect on what I could do or could have done differently.  I will help you out with this…you will not reach a point where you have learned it all…it is a continuous learning process.

Some common reasons people experience failure in their attempts to improve their nutrition is that they choose an approach that is too restrictive (reference my “Best Diet” article).  Last time, the “diet that didn’t work”, did it eliminate all of the things that you love/enjoy?  If so, how about this time, you choose an approach that still enables you to enjoy your favorite things, but in moderation?

Last time, the “diet that didn’t work”, did you really give it enough time?  In a time where people expect “6 Week Abs”, many expect their bodies/health to improve in that same time frame.  Tough love here…you didn’t gain the weight in 6 weeks and it is going to take you longer than 6 weeks to lose it.  I often go back to the question, “would you rather lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks or lose 10 pounds that you keep off forever?”  Building the habits that will help you keep the 10 pounds off forever will be far more beneficial than the actions you take to lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks.  I encourage you to be patient with the process because just when we think nothing is happening, we could be just on the other side of a major breakthrough.

With the “diet that didn’t work” the last time, how consistent were you?  Did you have a great breakfast and a decent lunch, and then “blow” it in the evening?  Or, were you good all week just to have a landslide on the weekend?  These can be signs that:   too restrictive of an approach has been taken during the week, meals weren’t balanced well enough, or that you are not eating enough (yes, even when people are trying to lose weight, it is possible for them to not eat enough).  This is why I preach sustainability and choosing an approach that works best for YOU…not what worked for a friend of yours, someone at work, or some celebrity.

What did your overall lifestyle look like with the “diet that didn’t work” the last time?  Were you trying to feel your best, but only sleeping 4-6 hours a day?  What did your stress management look like?  Were you drinking 4 cups of coffee a day and only 2 cups of water?  What did your fruit & vegetable consumption look like?  Were you exercising to burn as many calories as possible?  NO nutritional approach is going to overcome or balance out an unhealthy lifestyle.

Lastly, did you try to do it alone the last time the “diet didn’t work.”  I coach others and even I have a Coach to help me navigate the trouble areas.  Apps are a wonderful tool.  I use MyFitnessPal often.  However, they do not replace human connection and having someone to reach out to when you are facing a challenge.

In closing, I encourage you to do some deep reflection regarding the ways you feel an attempt to improve your health/fitness/nutrition didn’t work out in the past.  I can pose questions to you to initiate that reflection, but it is up to you to answer them honestly to yourself.  One of my mantras is “let it be possible.”  The moment we say “I’ve tried every diet and nothing worked,” we are closing ourselves off to the opportunity of ever being successful.  This time, you are attempting with experience in knowing what may not have worked the last time and can perhaps be just a bit more successful this time.  You are worth every attempt to improve your health and live this life to its fullest because we only get this one life to live…so why not get the most out of it?  You can do it.  I believe in you!

Author: Dr. Candice Dutko

This article was featured by Panorama in their January 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.  

Which is the best diet for your health food image.
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 to nourish your body.

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.  

Reduced fat projects are often engineered in a way to make you eat more of them.
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.

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 helps us feel fuller longer as a nutrition to nourish your body.
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.    

Proteins are an important source for different amino acids.
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

Written by Dr. Candice Dutko

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.  

Candice Dutko at the strongman competition.

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.  

Candice Dutko lifting at the strongman competition.

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.