Aging Gracefully Blog

Posts Tagged ‘weight loss’

Weighing in for the Holidays

Monday, October 31st, 2016

If you are typical of most Americans, your weight was probably at an annual low at the beginning of October. It is likely to creep up with the approaching holidays, peaking around New Year’s Day with an increase of about 0.7 percent. According to a study by Cornell University, those extra holiday pounds that happen in the next ten weeks take about five months to come off – that’s late April for us!

How can we resist this trend?  The Cornell study (conducted with data from a company called Withings that sells wireless scales) showed that participants who weighed themselves four or more times per week gained less weight and dropped it more quickly, by the end of January. Personally, I believe in the benefits of daily weighing, a habit that will work for you too!

Weighing in can be an effective tool of feedback.  By establishing your average daily weight within a narrow range of several pounds, it’s easy to recognize when you start gaining.   Your weight normally fluctuates from day to day within a few pounds, depending on fluid levels, salt intake and hormonal changes.  Damage control is most effective at an early stage, as you start to exceed this range, rather than waiting until you have a major project of losing ten or more pounds.

How you lose weight matters. Crash diets usually backfire because if you don't eat enough your metabolism switches to slow-mo as your body adapts to sustain itself with fewer calories when faced with potential starvation. Clinging to those calories makes it harder to take weight off. A more effective strategy is to eat a well-rounded diet of healthy foods in moderation. Portion control is key, as is limiting sugar, fat and alcohol. Exercise restraint when confronted with temptation and keep track of your party-time indulgences.

In a similar fashion, if you are always doing the same steady pace cardio workout at the same moderate intensity for days, weeks, months on end, your body will adapt to the training stress after 4-8 weeks.  As you continue this type of training, you’ll actually burn fewer calories, not more, even as you add more workouts.  To trigger fat loss, shorten the length of your exercise session and increase the intensity by adding sprint intervals.  For more on this, see my recent blog post Beat Belly Fat with Burst Training.

Stress also contributes to weight gain. The holiday season can wreak havoc with your best intentions to stay calm, cool and collected.  Stress levels rise along with hectic schedules, parties, travel and general disruption to your normal routines.  When you are in a stressful situation, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, meant to give you a quick boost of energy.

But if you’re stuck in a stressed-out zone, the body thinks you still need to fight, so it keeps making cortisol. High levels of this hormone make it harder for your body to use insulin which slows your metabolism and fuels weight gain. Helpful tips to stay calm and carry on include:

  • manage your time; keep track of your commitments
  • pace yourself to avoid over-booking throughout the month
  • make sure you get enough sleep
  • practice mindful techniques like meditative minutes and deep breathing

So prepare yourself to sail through the holidays with a minimum of overload by using simple steps to track your weight, moderate your diet, intensify your cardio workouts and manage stress.  Here’s looking to late January for being back to normal!

For more about how to beat belly fat, please see Joan Pagano’s video program “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues:  Simple Steps to a Better You

© Copyright – Joan L. Pagano.  All Rights Reserved Worldwide.

The Dumbbell Diet

Sunday, January 24th, 2016

Digital scale with blue tape measureTo slim down and shape up, should you focus on losing inches or losing pounds? The scale cannot differentiate between fat pounds and muscle pounds, so while your scale weight may not budge as you lose body fat and gain lean muscle, the proof will be in the fit of your clothing.

Your weight is composed of two separate elements: fat and lean body mass (muscle, bone, organs, and fluids). Body composition is the "quality" of your weight as opposed to the "quantity" of your weight as measured by the scale. You can gauge your body-fat status roughly by the fit of a favorite pair of jeans. One pound of fat takes up more space than one pound of muscle, so as you lose fat you literally shrink. (Think of meat on display at the butcher's: a 3-pound roast is small compared to 3 pounds of fat).

Some people who appear to be lean and are of normal weight according to the charts can be qualitatively measured as overfat or "skinny fat." For example, a 20-year-old woman who does not lift weights will gain about five pounds of fat and lose five pounds of muscle by the time she's 50. This means that even if you maintain your scale weight perfectly over time, subtle changes are occurring in your body composition that can affect your health and appearance.

Lifting weights will sculpt the contours of your body. You will have a flatter belly, shapelier arms, firmer legs, and you'll look great in a little black dress.  But body composition and body shape are about more than just looking good: they are also closely related to your health. With optimal body composition, including a high ratio of lean body mass to fat, you minimize your risk of developing diseases that are related to obesity, like heart disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, gout, and some cancers.

Weight loss from exercise is primarily fat loss. As you exercise regularly, you will reduce fat stores from the whole body, and you will develop leaner, toned muscles instead. The gain in lean muscle tissue and loss of excess fat will result in trimmer contours and smaller circumferences regardless of the number of pounds lost.

(c) Copyright - Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.



Can You Beat Belly Fat?

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

Woman measuring her waistlineIf you are frustrated by stubborn belly fat, you're not alone!  It's a common aspect of menopause, affecting not only the way we feel and look in clothing, but also our health risk profile.  So what is the story:  Is there any way we can defeat it?

First, the facts.  In 2012 the International Menopause Society conducted a large review of decades of research and concluded that the hormonal shifts of menopause trigger a redistribution of body fat, causing it to accumulate in the abdomen.  Last year, researchers at the Mayo Clinic compared fat tissue in pre- and postmenopausal women and found that at the cellular level two enzymes that work to store fat were more active in the postmenopausal women, primarily because of the drop in estrogen.

While it's been documented that women gain an average of ten pounds as the metabolism slows down around the time of menopause, studies also show they can lose weight through diet and exercise.  As published in the journal Menopause in 2012, one study randomly assigned 17,000 postmenopausal women to either a control group or one that was put on a healthy diet emphasizing foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.  After a year the healthy diet group had fewer hot flashes and was three times as likely to have lost weight.

Another study called the Women's Healthy Lifestyle Project followed 535 premenopausal women as they went through menopause.  About half of them were assigned to follow a low-calorie diet and to burn an extra 1000 to 1500 calories a week through physical activity.  After five years the women in the diet and exercise group saw greater reductions in their waist lines and were more likely to have remained at or below their starting weight.

So the proof is in the pudding!  We can beat belly fat by tightening our belts and increasing our exercise output.  Create a lifestyle routine to cut unnecessary calories, make healthy food choices, rev up your cardio in terms of both volume and intensity, and  lift weights to boost your metabolism.

(A reported by Anahad O'Connor in the Ask Well column of the NewYork Times, 4/1/14)

Mayor Bloomberg Strikes Out against Sugary Drinks

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

As a resident of NYC, I'm proud of the health initiatives that Mayor Bloomberg has successfully initiated over the past ten years. In addition to banning smoking in bars, restaurants, and city parks, plazas and beaches, he has taken a hard stance in the fight against obesity.

Our Mayor has outlawed the use of trans-fats in restaurant kitchens and enacted a law requiring that city restaurant chains post calorie counts on menus and menu boards. I look for them automatically now, and really miss comparing calorie counts when I travel out of the city!

Some of his measures have been a little hard to swallow, namely the proposed ban on large sugary drinks being served in containers bigger than 16 oz. A NY State Supreme Court judge struck down the proposal last week saying there were too many loopholes and it was too hard to enforce.

But consider this breath-taking statistic, which I read in the March issue of IDEA Fitness Journal: According to a recent study, there is a correlation between frequent use of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and high rates of type 2 diabetes. Forty percent of all caloric sweeteners in the U.S. are HFCS, with most of it appearing in soft drinks.

The U.S. has the highest consumption rate of HFCS, with 55 pounds ingested per person per year, followed by Hungary with 46 pounds per capita. By comparison, the U.K. has only 1.1 pounds per person.

This stunning statistic reflects so poorly on the American diet and our well-being. We are literally killing ourselves by making uneducated food choices, and the food industry is not helping. We need high profile public figures like Mayor Bloomberg to advocate for us by bringing these issues to light.

When a Midlife Crisis is a Physical Awakening

Sunday, February 24th, 2013

Here's a bold example of the life-changing power of exercise! I first met Dr. Alvin Jones a year ago when he interviewed me on his radio show about my book Strength Training for Women. Afterwards, he asked for my help in a weight loss program, and to date, he has lost 73 pounds. (Scroll back to see more posts about Dr. Alvin).

Alvin was 56 when we met over the air waves and began our "virtual relationship" by e-mail and phone. He recently told me that this past year has been "the first year of my life, of being an adult, of maturing. I look better, feel better and it's been the best year of my life."

The program I gave him is so elementary that anyone can do it, no fancy equipment or gym memberships required! You just need your body and commitment to your goals. Consistency and dedication are key. The formula is basic but well-established: daily exercise combined with better food choices equals dramatic benefits for your health, appearance and state of mind.

Beyond weight loss, the positive lifestyle approach has caused a "paradigm shift" for Alvin. Taking care of his body has improved his mental discipline, which extends to other areas of his life. The skill set he learned from our program - consistency, accountability, perseverance – is the baseline for high performance and the foundation for doing something great.

Coming of age can happen anytime in life!


The Simple Seven: Lifestyle Choices for a Healthy Heart

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Are you in the pink when it comes to that all important muscle, your heart? The American Heart Association has developed a simple assessment tool to find out if you are managing all seven lifestyle factors for a healthy heart.

  1. Get Active: Accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of high-intensity  physical activity per week. You can do it in 10-15 minute "doses". For some great ideas on how to fit more exercise into your day, check out these books and resources.
  2. Control Cholesterol: Give your arteries the best chance to stay free of plaque, blockages which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Keep your total cholesterol under 200 and learn how to increase the percentage of good cholesterol (HDL).
  3. Eat Better: Eat a heart-healthy diet: foods low in saturated and trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars, and foods high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, and a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables.
  4. Manage Blood Pressure: High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is called the silent killer because it has no symptoms - one in three American adults has it and may not know it. Normal blood pressure is 120/80.
  5. Lose Weight: If you have too much fat — especially if a lot of it is at your waist — you're at higher risk for such health problems as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. Measure your waist-to-hip ratio and learn your body mass index (BMI).
  6. Reduce Blood Sugar: Our bodies convert the foods we eat into glucose (or blood sugar) to use for energy. If your fasting blood sugar level is below 100, you are in the healthy range. If not, your results could indicate diabetes or pre-diabetes.
  7. Stop Smoking: Any and all smoking is a risk factor for heart disease; and the more you smoke the more you are at risk. If you smoke, quitting is the best thing you can do for your health. Your lungs can begin to heal as soon as you quit.

For more detailed information and to get your own personal assessment, go to and click on "Get Your Assessment."