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Quick or Gradual Weight Loss , Which is Best?

For weight loss to happen we all know that the key is to find a method that works for us to eat less calories than we are burning and to stick to that plan for a long enough time to see results. There are lots of options out there for achieving this goal whether it’s following a specific diet program, changing the way you eat in a more flexible way, getting to the gym more, walking more or a combination of two or more of these in any number of various options. Any diet you follow to lose weight inherently requires restricting calories at an amount that is less than what your body needs for your weight to stay the same. To eat less calories, you will have to make some changes in your eating patterns that can include eating different types of foods such as,

  • selecting lower energy-dense foods more often (for example eating more fruits, vegetables, leaner meats and lower-fat dairy products),
  • limiting snacking in between meals,
  • setting boundaries on the times you eat each day, or
  • even removing foods that are specifically challenging for you (can anyone else NOT stick to one serving size from a gallon container?!).

There is always the option for some flexibility in food choices and eating patterns during weight loss BUT you will have to follow some guidance that results in eating less calories if weight loss is your goal. 

When deciding on a plan for weight loss, another thing to consider is how quickly you want to lose weight. While most people will, of course, say they want to hit their goals tomorrow :), realistically there will be at least a few weeks or months of commitment required to achieve any goal related to changes in body composition or body weight. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding whether a quick or gradual approach to weight loss is best for you. 

What does a quick versus gradual weight loss mean?

There is no set definition and is truly dependent on your personal goals. You will see “gradual weight loss” sometimes defined as 1-2 pounds or a loss of 0.5 – 1% of body weight per week. However, this is a very general guideline that is not appropriate across the board. Someone who has over 50 pounds to lose will have different expectations of weight loss per week than another person who would like to lose 10. As such, I prefer a more flexible definition that considers what is required to achieve each option versus a definition based on the resultant weight loss on the scale. 

To me, a quick weight loss can be defined as requiring a larger calorie deficit (you are eating much less calorie that you are expending) and a gradual weight loss is defined as a more moderate calorie deficit (a small reduction in calories consumed compared to calories burned). To follow, I will outline some of the pros and cons of aiming for a quick versus more gradual weight loss approach according to what insights research has for us as well as my personal experience as a registered dietitian and nutrition coach.       

Benefits of Aiming for Quick Weight Loss

As I described above, a “quick weight loss” is one that requires sticking to a larger calorie deficit. This means eating significantly fewer calories than you are burning per day, consistently over a period of time (can be weeks or a few months). One of the biggest benefits of this approach to achieving more rapid weight loss is that you get the dieting phase done! If you commit to a deeper deficit for a few weeks and hit your weight loss goals, you can more quickly start to add calories back into your diet and return to eating more daily. Following a diet to lose weight is not typically considered to be fun – no one likes to feel hungry, tired or irritable so the quicker you can push through that phase, the better off you may be.   

There is also some research that suggests that people who lose weight more quickly, especially at the beginning of a diet, tend to lose more weight overall, may keep that weight off for a longer period of time (Astrup A & Rossner S, 2000; Nackers L, et al., 2010). Other research has also found some enhanced benefits related to changes in metabolic factors with a rapid versus gradual approach. For example, one study that compared a rapid versus gradual weight loss program where participants were support to lose 5% of their body weight over either 5 weeks or 15 weeks found that the participants in the rapid, 5 week, weight loss program saw greater reductions in LDL and fasting blood sugar and better improvements in insulin resistance (Ashtaey-Larky D, et al., 2017).  

In my personal experience working with members, I also am well aware of the benefits associated with seeing weight loss on the scale. Helping someone lose weight quickly can feel really encouraging and can help with excitement to stay committed to the plan, however, there are many reasons that I do not support staying in a large calorie deficit or aiming for rapid weight loss for more than a short period of time (a few weeks at most).  

 

Challenges associated with quick weight loss

While losing weight quickly may sound great, there are, however, a few reasons that aiming for a more rapid weight loss is not the best fit for everyone. For one, this approach requires someone to be in a deep calorie deficit. This means you are eating much less than your body is expending. Some of the common feelings that people experience when dieting such as hunger, tiredness, moodiness, brain fog all may feel more intense and they also may impact your life in other ways too.

Behaviorally, you’re likely going to have to make choices during a deep deficit that do not transfer to long-term behaviors that you’ll need to keep up. Things such as no snacking, no alcohol, setting time limits for when you start or stop eating for a day can all assist with getting into a calorie deficit and may be necessary for rapid weight loss. Skipping meals, replacing meals with shakes, bulking meals up with some many veggies and protein to ward off hunger in such a way that is not maintainable long-term may be required. There’s also much less flexibility to fit in meals out with friends and you may feel low energy that could impact your desire to get your steps or workouts in. Overall this approach requires a high level of commitment without a lot of wiggle room for meals or days off.     

It’s also important to note that rapid weight loss is associated with an increased risk for some medical complications. For example, in patients undergoing bariatric surgery where very rapid weight loss occurs, there is a high rate of cholecystitis that may require a cholecystectomy in some cases (Manatsathit W, et al., 2016). While this is an extreme level of rapid weight loss, it is important to understand that risk is increased under a rapid weight loss situation. 

I typically only consider a rapid weight loss approach for a short period of time (a few weeks at most) and with members who I know will be dedicated to sticking to a strict plan. If someone has a lot of weight to lose, there may be short periods of time that a deeper deficit can be incorporated for a boost in weight loss but this is not something I recommend too often or to be followed long term.  

 

Benefits of aiming for a more gradual weight loss

Approaching weight loss at a more gradual pace requires a more moderate calorie deficit. One of the most important benefits of this approach is that you can likely eat and exercise in a way that the structure will be more transferable to behaviors you will want to sustain long-term. Ultimately, my goal is not to help people just lose weight but to also approach their eating and activity differently and a moderate approach to weight loss is more supportive of that. You will still have to make some changes to your diet to eat a little bit less such as reducing snacking and alcoholic drinks, selecting more low energy-dense foods or whatever method you chose but there is also space for some treats or a drink here and there while still sticking to your plan. 

This approach overall is more supportive of making small, sustainable changes and also will be easier to transition to your long-term eating lifestyle. Once you have hit your weight loss goals, rather than making huge changes to your eating, you can simply increase the volume of what you are already eating or make room for some additional splurges every so often.  

Additionally, because you may not feel quite as hungry and tired with a gradual weight loss approach, this can leave you feeling like you have more energy to workout and move your body. During weight loss, it is very likely that you will lose some fat free muscle mass along with body fat but including adequate protein and strength training to your plan can help reduce the loss of muscle. With a moderate calorie deficit, you also have more room to fit in more protein. Consuming adequate protein and lifting weights are two of the most important factors you can manage to help reduce loss of muscle mass during weight loss (Trouwborst, et al., 2018; Willoughby D, et al., 2018). In the study mentioned above where participants achieved the same amount of weight loss over either a 5 or 15 week period, while there were benefits to the rapid weight loss program for metabolic health markers, this study found better markers of body composition change in the slower weight loss program (Ashtaey-Larky D, et al., 2017). The participants with the slower approach lost more inches off their waist and hips, more fat mass and less lean body mass then the rapid weight loss program. As a result of the body composition changes, the slower weight loss group also saw less of a decrease in their resting metabolic rate than the rapid loss group. Other research supports similar findings with participants eating more during a weight loss program losing less fat free mass than those eating less (Vink R, et al., 2016).      

 

Challenges with a gradual weight loss

The biggest challenge with a slower weight loss plan is that weight loss will take a longer period of time. It is hard to stick to a weight loss diet so extending the time period beyond weeks to many months or years can put you at higher risk for diet fatigue, falling off your plan and making it more challenging overall to reach your goals. For many people, hunger may be ok to manage in the short term but managing it daily for months at a time can be really tough!

One of the benefits of a rapid weight loss plan is that you see results more regularly. Seeing the scale move can feel encouraging and help motivate you to stick to your plan. Alternatively, putting in a lot of effort and not losing weight, can have the opposite result and be very discouraging. 

Research has also found that there may not be a benefit to a gradual approach as far as weight loss maintenance is concerned. In one randomized controlled trial that compared weight loss participants assigned to lose 15% of their body weight either through a rapid 12 week weight loss program or a gradual 36 week program found no differences between the groups in their ability to maintain the weight they lost (Purcell K et al, 2014). During this study, a larger percentage of the participants in the rapid program lost a significant amount of weight (81% of the participants in the rapid weight loss program lost at least 12.5% of their body weight while only 50% in the gradual weight loss participants lost that amount during the weight loss phase) and about 70% of participants in both groups regained most of the weight they lost 2.5 – 3 years later. Therefore in this study, the speed of the weight loss approach did not seem to impact the ability to sustain the changes to keep weight off long-term. 

 

Recommendations 

There is no one correct answer for whether you should aim to lose weight quickly or take a more gradual approach. Many many different factors need to be considered when deciding what is best for you. I recommend that you weigh all the pros and cons of each option, complete a deep reflection of your personal dedication to the process and decide what is best for you based on your goals and how close you are to them already. 

If you only have a few pounds to lose, it may be best to buckle down and grit through a quick, deep deficit to get in and get out of the dieting process as quickly as possible. It’s important that you recognize that the goal of this approach is not to do this long-term and you likely will not be building habits that you can or should continue in your lifestyle. 

If you have a larger amount of weight to lose, I generally recommend that you think about your long term goal and then break that goal up into segments. You may want to break your big goal into smaller segments that include short time periods where more rapid weight loss is the focus. However, most of your time should be spent with a more moderate approach that encourages following habits that you can translate to a long-term lifestyle change. 

With either of these options, it is my belief that you will be most successful and efficient in achieving your goals if you do two things;

  1. select a method for tracking and monitoring your behaviors and results (Burke et al., 2011)
  2. hire a coach to help you develop your plan and keep you accountable to doing what you need to do to achieve it (Kennel, 2018)

You, along with your coach, can determine the best approach to support you achieving your goals and get you out of the focus on a diet for weight loss and move on to other goals that excite you. 

 

References

Ashtary-Larky D, et al. (2017). Rapid Weight Loss vs. Slow Weight Loss: Which is More Effective on Body Composition and Metabolic Risk Factors?. International journal of endocrinology and metabolism, 15(3), e13249. https://doi.org/10.5812/ijem.13249

Astrup A, & Rössner S. (2000). Lessons from obesity management programmes: greater initial weight loss improves long-term maintenance. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 1(1), 17–19. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1467-789x.2000.00004.x

Burke L., et al.(2011).Self-Monitoring in Weight Loss: A Systematic Review of the Literature, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 111(1), 92-102, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2010.10.008.

Kennel J. (2018). Health and Wellness Coaching Improves Weight and Nutrition Behaviors. American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, 12(6):448-450. doi:10.1177/1559827618792846

Manatsathit W, et al. (2016).The incidence of cholelithiasis after sleeve gastrectomy and its association with weight loss: A two-centre retrospective cohort study. International Journal of Surgery, 30,13-18. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijsu.2016.03.060.

Nackers l, et al.. (2010). The association between rate of initial weight loss and long-term success in obesity treatment: does slow and steady win the race?. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 17(3), 161–167. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12529-010-9092-y

Purcell K, et al. (2014). The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight management: a randomised controlled trial, The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 2(12), 954-962, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2213-8587(14)70200-1.

Trouwborst I, et al. (2018). Exercise and Nutrition Strategies to Counteract Sarcopenic Obesity. Nutrients, 10(5), 605. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10050605

Vink R, et al. (2016), The effect of rate of weight loss on long-term weight regain in adults with overweight and obesity. Obesity, 24, 321-327. https://doi.org/10.1002/oby.21346

Willoughby D, et al. (2018). Body Composition Changes in Weight Loss: Strategies and Supplementation for Maintaining Lean Body Mass, a Brief Review. Nutrients, 10(12), 1876. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10121876

 

Seasonal Affect Disorder and Carb Cravings

If you are experiencing profound symptoms of depression, please seek help. This blog is focused on NUTRITION and not mental health. 

It’s that time of year again- the days are shorter, the weather is colder and depending on where you live it could be the start of grayer and rainier weather. For some people, it also brings on the onset of Seasonal Affect Disorder, or SAD. 

Did you know there is a real correlation between Seasonal Affect Disorder and carbohydrate cravings? When we experience a disruption to our serotonin synthesis, our body will look for ways to produce more and guess what? Carbs are a quick and accessible way for our brain to achieve that regulation. 

So, what do you do if you’re trying to stay consistent to a nutrition plan? 

SAD: What is it?

SAD is a marked increase in depressive symptoms that affects approximately 6% of the population during this time of year as our days shorten. 14% of the population experiences a milder version of SAD that is perhaps better known as “the Winter Blues”. Approximately 75% of people afflicted with SAD are women though it is not really understood why. What we do know, is that it is, in part, caused by the disruption of Serotonin production, a neurotransmitter that effects mood regulation. Because of this, people who have chronically low Serotonin may be more likely to be affected.

Symptoms: 

  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Difficulty finding motivation
  • Lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
  • Foggy headedness/difficulty with concentration
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Changes in blood pressure regulation
  • Difficulty with Mood regulation
  • Craving for carbohydrate-rich foods

Wait…what? Carb Cravings??

This is where nutrition fits in. 

Studies have found a direct correlation between reduced Serotonin syntheses and carbohydrate cravings namely because ingesting carbs actually increases Serotonin synthesis! It’s no wonder we crave it!

For most, carb cravings grow stronger as the day goes on. This could be for a variety of reasons- we’re less busy so have fewer distractions, our resources are drained, we are just more tired. Imagine your day like video game lives. You start the day (beginning of game) with all your lives in tact. Your well-meaning kids don’t like what you made for breakfast and you have an early morning episode (there goes 1 life). You get in the car and realize your gas light is on and now you’ll be late (another life gone) and then you get to work and the meeting scheduled for noon just got moved to 10am and you have 5 minutes to prep (3rd life) and so on… it makes sense that we start the day feeling like we have all the resources in the world only to end the day feeling completely depleted. Even if we’re not talking about organically-driven food cravings, you can see how everything from frustration tolerance to impulsivity around food choice could be impacted.

So what can you do to stay consistent to your nutrition plan?

  1. It’s super important to plan your day to allow for more sweet and starchy carbs during the periods when your cravings are the highest. Studies show that approximately 30C (120 cal) has been associated with improved mood when ingested alone (without protein). Since most people do struggle later at night, making sure you are planning something that feels satisfying during those times is important.
  2. Be careful not to make high carb foods into high carb AND fat foods. 30g of cereal, pretzels, popcorn, etc may be effective. Don’t make this an excuse to eat all the Apple cider donuts!
  3. Think of foods/beverages that take a while to consume. Hot chocolate, for instance, can hit the spot and it’s really hard to guzzle it
  4. Plan for starchy carbs for dinner. Maybe add potatoes or rice to soups and stews. Again, it doesn’t have to be an enormous serving size!
  5. Limit temptation. Each time we open the pantry door, we’re basically testing our will power to the max. Especially if that’s where the crunchy, hyper-palatable snacks reside. If you can’t totally avoid having those foods in your house (hello, living with other people), then control how many times you actually confront the temptation. This can be done 2 ways: First, plan what snacks you are going to have. Have it in a serving size container, if possible; and second, put those highly tempting snacks out of view. Maybe it means putting them in a different shelf or a different container but create a small roadblock that makes an impulsive reach in almost impossible.

Other methods of Improving Serotonin Levels

While there may be an organic root for why you are feeling these cravings, it also doesn’t mean you HAVE to give in. There are other ways to improve Serotonin production that aren’t food related at all. Here are a few:

  1. Mood induction:  The amazing thing is just thinking about things you are grateful for, happy for, people you love etc. improves Serotonin levels.
  2. Exercise: Getting your heart rate up, at any level, is associated with improved mood and increased Serotonin.
  3. Light exposure: Try to get outside for 10-15 minutes each day while the sun is out.
  4. Massage therapy: Massages can boost both Serotonin and Dopamine levels. PS- it doesn’t have to be a professional massage!

Why is this important?

Serotonin is a critical neurotransmitter that effects everything from sleep to bowel movements to mood. While there are pharmacological methods of treating symptoms, not all cases of SAD require that level of intervention. It is also important to our well-being that we feel we have some control over how we feel! 

References

Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007;32(6):394–399. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Wurtman, RJ, Wurtman, JJ. Brain serotonin, carbohydrate-craving, obesity and depression. Obesity Research 1995; Nov (3):477S-480S.

7 Tips to Help Take the Scaries Out of Sober October

Oooooohhhh!  It’s that scary time of year!  Yes, of course, Halloween is just around the corner… but so are the holidays. The time of year when food and drink flow frighteningly fast and easy. Let’s let this year be different. How? One little step to a healthier, happier, and more vibrant Halloween and holiday season – embracing the boo’s… or more accurately… getting better at erasing the booze.

So, with that in mind, let’s talk tips and tricks – or really tricks and treats for a SU-worthy Halloween and upcoming holiday season when it comes to picking your poison. While it might seem scary – fear not, there are some nice little hacks that can help make navigating this booze-free zone a little easier. Try one or two or all of them and see if they can’t help you scare up a healthier and happier start to the holiday season.

Focus on the Glass

That’s right. There is more to a good holiday beverage than what’s inside the glass. Your beverage holder of choice is where it’s at. No red Solo cups for you… make sure when you are going booze-free that you choose the most beautiful wine goblet, or martini glass, or champagne flute. Fill it with a nonalcoholic beverage of your choice and sip away. Just the act of holding the glass helps trick your brain into thinking you are still part of the party… without partying too hard. Give it a try! It makes a bigger difference than you think!

Choose your Beverage Wisely

While diet soda is an easy choice when you are choosing to forgo the hard beverages…there are other options that can be more exciting and well, good for you too! There are several brands of ultra-tasty kombucha that make a perfect dupe when you decide not to drink. Not only do you get a delicious something-something to sip on… but your gut gets a nice little punch of healthy bacteria at the same time. Double bonus! Try GT’s Synergy Strawberry Passion or Gingerberry. Need a little extra sweetness? Add a splash of ginger beer for an extra explosion of flavor.

Make it Beautiful

If you are going to go with a beautiful glass, don’t skimp on the beauty of what’s inside. We eat and drink with our eyes as much as our mouths… so make it count. Frozen berries are an easy way to beautify a simple glass of club soda with a splash of grapefruit. Frozen raspberries add flavor and beauty to some orange juice spiked Sprite and blackberries, blueberries, or even frozen strawberries make cranberry juice and club soda a real treat. They also keep your beverage cold without watering it down. A two-fer!

Make it Half Count

If booze-free isn’t your jam but cutting down is… try ½ strength drinks to take you a little further toward your goals. With white wine, creating a spritzer with half club soda still feels bubbly and special. With mixed drinks… asking for a ½ shot will allow you to enjoy two drinks for the macro cash of one. And with red wine… sometimes a ½ pour can be just as satisfying as a full pour. Then, you allow yourself a second ½ pour and it feels like you’re having 2 glasses of wine for the price of one. Boom!

Create Some Rules

As simple as it may sound, creating some rules around party time can actually be a really successful way to make it through the party season. Create a self-imposed limit. Perhaps 1 drink before switching to nonalcoholic drinks. Or, two drinks for the evening – total. Share your rules with a friend to help keep you accountable.

Visualize the End Game

Instead of focusing on the fact that you won’t be drinking for this year’s Halloween bash… take it into the future and instead visualize how you will feel the next day. Fabulous, well-rested, clear-headed, proud of yourself, and simply amazing are some words that may come to mind. Taking the time to remember WHY you want to do this and HOW you will feel when you’ve accomplished your goal can make it easier to stick to your guns when the rest of the group is getting their party on.

Plan Something New

Sometimes new traditions and a new group of people are in order. Mixing things up with a group where drinking isn’t the main game can be a powerful way to kick off your new booze-free holiday plan. Try some new places and some new faces. You might have more fun than you think.

While some of these tricks and treats may work for you, others may not. That’s okay… remember, this journey is about progress… not perfection. One less drink or one extra day booze-free is still a win when party season is on. Pick the tips that work for you and rock your choices with confidence. Remember, only you can make YOU a priority. Now go grab your pumpkin costume, your fake blood, and your favorite glass and party on – just not too hard!

 

The Impact of Alcohol on Weight Loss

Drinking alcohol is an integral part of our society’s norms. While we don’t have data to cite for 2020 just yet, based on previous responses to large scale societal stressors, it is likely that rates of alcohol consumption have only increased in the past year due to the current global crisis related to the Covid-19 pandemic (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)). Alcohol is used to celebrate milestones, big events, and even the end of the workday. It’s also often used as a means to handle uncomfortable experiences such as anxiety, depression, and stress. Alcohol is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world with surveys from 2019 showing that over 85% of people in the United States over 18 years old have consumed alcohol at some point in their lives and over 25% engaged in binge drinking (defined as 4 or more drinks in one sitting for women and 5 or more drinks for a man) over the previous month (NIAAA). Overall, drinking alcohol is common and it’s here to stay. 

With alcohol tightly woven within our society, as individuals with health, weight, body composition, and performance goals, it’s important that we understand the impact that alcohol can have on those goals. You will see in the paragraphs to come that it can be included, in moderation, with limited overall impact, however, it certainly does not aid your progress, especially if your goal is weight loss. 

Consuming alcohol can impact weight loss in a variety of ways and we are going to examine three of the most impactful; 1. alcohol’s impact on overall energy balance, 2. alcohol’s influence on appetite and food choice, and 3. alcohol’s impact on how we metabolize nutrients.  

 

Impact of alcohol on energy balance

Likely, the largest influence that drinking alcohol has on body weight is through its impact on overall energy balance. Energy balance is the comparison between the average amount of energy (calories) you consume and the amount of energy that you burn. The balance of these two factors, on average over time, is the biggest determinant of whether someone gains weight (this happens when the average amount of calories consumed are greater than the average amount of calories burned over time), losses weight (calories consumed are less then calories burned) or weights stays the same (on average, the two are balanced over time). 

The reality is that alcohol has calories and these calories count towards the energy you are consuming in the energy balance equation. For every gram of alcohol you consume, it provides your body with ~7 calories. A standard drink in the United States (other countries use different but similar definitions) is considered to contain 14 grams of alcohol (NIAA – What Is A Standard Drink?). This is the equivalent of a 5oz. glass of wine, 12oz. of beer or 1.5 oz. of liquor. 

That means that you are getting about 100 calories from the alcohol alone in each of these drinks. Unless you are drinking straight liquor, most drinks have additional calories from other sources as well. The average glass of wine has 120-150 calories, average light beer has 100 -120 calories and average heavy/craft beer has 150-250 calories.  Mixed drinks vary quite a bit more because they have 100 calories from liquor plus all the calories from anything that you mix in with it. For example, a standard 2.25-ounce martini will have around 125 calories while a standard 4-ounce margarita has closer to 170 (and who drinks a 4oz margarita! Many restaurants don’t even serve sizes that small anymore!). 

People who are following a plan that includes tracking macronutrients (macros) need to develop a plan to account for the calories in alcohol that would otherwise not fall under the category of carbohydrate, fat, or protein. For example, a typical glass of wine has 150 calories and ~5 grams of carbs. If someone is tracking macros and only tracked the carbs, they would essentially only be accounting for 20 calories for each glass of wine. This is unfortunately not how the energy balance equation works – all calories consumed count. There are a variety of ways that you can account for the calories in alcohol using macros. With our Stronger U members, we ask them to add 10 grams of fat and 10 grams of carbs to each drink to account for the calories coming from alcohol in these beverages. Here are examples of how to track standard drinks using macros. 

 

It’s important to note that there’s a whole variety of alcoholic beverages on the market that vary in their alcohol content, the amount typically served, and the other components of the drink so please refer to information about the specific beverage you are consuming for a more accurate estimate of its calorie and macro content. 

Many factors such as your current goals, your age, weight, body size, activity, etc – determine your personal calorie needs and these can vary greatly between different people. For example, I work with some women who are trying to lose weight that need to eat 1500 calories per day to hit their goals and some men who want to gain muscle that consumes 3000+ calories per day. The impact of the calories from one drink therefore really varies by individual. For someone following a 1500 calorie diet, choosing to have a glass of wine with dinner requires making some fairly impactful reductions in the amount of food eaten elsewhere (150 calories can be an entire snack, a small dessert, or a HUGE salad) to fit that one drink into her day and stay within her calorie goals. However, if you have 3000 calories to eat each day, there is a lot more room to add in a drink with dinner without feeling much of an impact on overall eating plans (if you want to estimate your overall calorie intake from alcoholic beverages per week, here’s a link to a really eye-opening tool).   

Overall, what do I recommend? If you truly enjoy drinking alcohol, you can fit it into your calorie needs here and there, even when weight loss is a goal. But take a look at your overall day and if you plan to have a drink, you need to make other changes to your day to fit it in. You should eat a bit lighter earlier in the day and then also be sure to choose wisely while drinking (more on that to come next!). If you are eating a meal out and want to splurge a bit, I like to recommend choosing either an appetizer, a drink, OR a dessert as a simple rule to allow you to enjoy a special meal out but also balance the overall impact on your energy balance.        

 

Impact of alcohol on appetite and food consumed

Beyond the caloric impact of the actual drink, drinking alcohol can also impact energy balance through its effect on appetite and food choice. People tend to eat more and are drawn to select different types of food when drinking. It’s not only personal experiences that confirm this…. there is research to suggest this is true as well! Research has found that alcohol can stimulate appetite (makes you more hungry and makes eating food feel even more enjoyable), reduces your ability to recognize when you are full, and decreases your desire to say no to foods that you know don’t fit within your current diet plan. 

Alcohol impacts feelings of appetite and satiety differently than food. In fact, all beverages do. People often do not recognize the calories consumed in liquid form. What does that mean? Well, when we drink alcohol or sugary drinks, we don’t feel full or eat less later on even though these drinks contain calories. This is different than when we eat the food right before a meal  (like a side salad or bowl of soup) where people tend to eat less after eating these starters at the meal (Almiron-Roig et al., 2013). Therefore, with alcohol, we eat the normal amount of food we would usually eat and then add in the additional calories from the beverages on top of that (Suter et al., 1997). Eventually, over time this excess in energy intake could lead to weight gain. There are many proposed reasons we don’t respond to the calories from beverages the same way we respond to food. These sensory factors such as how they feel in your mouth and the taste, the effort it takes to chew food versus drink a beverage, and the total time required to consume those calories (Poppitt, 2015).    

Not only do we not decrease food intake after consuming alcohol but alcohol may also stimulate us to eat more (Yeomans, 2004)!  Individual research studies have examined this relationship in detail. In a study that closely weighed and measured the food intake of male adults in a laboratory setting, participants came to the lab 3 different times and were provided with either no alcohol or the amount of alcohol in 1 drink or 4 drinks. On the day they consumed 4 drinks, they ate more food and chose to eat more high-fat salty food items than on the other days (Caton et al., 2004). When trying to explain why this happened, they found that participants also reported being more hungry after 4 drinks. When we are feeling more hungry, we tend to eat more. Additional research confirms these findings showing an increase in appetite that lead to eating more food when alcohol was consumed (Caton et al., 2007; Yeomans, 2010; Rose et al, 2015). 

Another study examined three common lifestyle factors that have consistently been found to be associated with an increased risk for obesity – watching television, not sleeping enough, and drinking alcohol. This review study compared and summarized experimental research on these three behaviors. The study found that not only were all three of these factors linked with obesity but they all also appear to contribute to weight gain specifically by encouraging overeating (Chapman et al, 2012).  Additionally, compared to the other two, alcohol intake was the most strongly related to eating more! The figure and description below from this study (Figure 3) show visually how alcohol had a greater impact on increasing food intake than the other variables.    

These studies give us really good insight into the immediate impacts of alcohol within a controlled laboratory environment but what about the impact of alcohol on food intake out in the real world? These results are a bit more mixed. In research examining alcohol intake over time in studies where participants are not in research labs, we see some suggestions that alcohol intake in high amounts is related to gaining more weight over time than if you didn’t drink (Sayon-Orea et al., 2011). However, others have shown that a moderate amount of alcohol drinking might actually be associated with a reduction in weight gain (Wang et al, 2010). So, that is a bit confusing!  

In summary, drinking alcohol does not register to our brains as calories being consumed, it seems to increase hunger and increases the desire to eat higher calorie and higher fat foods. This combination can easily lead to a night of consuming more calories than you planned. Whether this actually translates into having an effect on your weight depends on a lot of other factors that determine your overall energy balance. Sticking with only 1-2 drinks every once in a while and making adjustments to reduce calorie intake elsewhere will likely have a limited impact on your weight goals even if you eat a little bit more than you’d like on those rare occasions….just don’t do it every weekend!   

 

Impact of alcohol on nutrient metabolism

Alcohol is a drug (a central nervous system depressant). Since it is a non-essential (our bodies do not need it) toxin, when we consume alcohol, our body prioritizes removing it from our bodies as quickly as possible. When our bodies are focused on processing alcohol, our capacity to process other nutrients at the same time is reduced (Shelmet et al., 1988). 

Research examining the effects of how alcohol is metabolized in our body has found that drinking the amount of alcohol in just 2 standard beverages has some immediate impacts. That amount of alcohol upregulates the pathways that increase the amount of fat produced by the liver, reduces the amount of fat broken down in the body, and reduces how much fat is burned for fuel immediately after consuming it (Siler et al., 1999). The figure below shows the significant reduction in the amount of fat used for energy before and after consuming 2 drinks.

Additional research has shown that even when alcohol is included as a part of a meal, there is the same resulting decrease in using fat as fuel immediately afterward (Rabe et al, 2003). 

How meaningful are the impacts of these findings in your quest to lose weight and body fat? Likely quite minimal. The temporary reduction in fat burning and increase in fat production is small when compared to the impact of your overall energy balance throughout the rest of the day, however, it is clear that alcohol is certainly not beneficial for promoting weight and fat loss!         

So, should you drink?

If you enjoy alcohol and it’s an important part of your social life, you can continue to indulge a bit with your friends. Consuming moderate amounts of alcohol (up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men) will likely have a limited impact on your weight loss goals. If you are tracking your calories or macros to support weight loss, you will want to make sure you accurately count your drinks and ideally make them fit within your daily goals. Be mindful of the amount and enjoy it, in moderation. It wouldn’t hurt to drink some extra water in between drinks to stay hydrated as well 🙂 

 

References

Almiron-Roig E, Palla L, Guest K, Ricchiuti C, Vint N, Jebb SA, Drewnowski A. Factors that determine energy compensation: a systematic review of preload studies. Nutr Rev. 2013;71(7):458-73. doi: 10.1111/nure.12048. Epub 2013 Jun 10. PMID: 23815144; PMCID: PMC3746122.

 

Caton SJ, Bate L, Hetherington MM. Acute effects of an alcoholic drink on food intake: Aperitif versus co-ingestion. Physiol Behav. 2007;90(2-3):368-75. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2006.09.028. Epub 2006 Nov 14. PMID: 17107693.

Caton SJ, Ball M, Ahern A, Hetherington MM. Dose-dependent effects of alcohol on appetite and food intake. Physiol Behav. 2004;81(1):51-8. doi: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2003.12.017. PMID: 15059684.

Chapman CD, Benedict C, Brooks SJ, Schiöth HB. Lifestyle determinants of the drive to eat: a meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;96(3):492-7. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.039750. Epub 2012 Jul 25. PMID: 22836029; PMCID: PMC3417212.

 

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) – Director’s Blog: Alcohol poses different challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic

 

NIAAA – Alcohol Facts and Statistics

 

Poppitt SD. Beverage Consumption: Are Alcoholic and Sugary Drinks Tipping the Balance towards Overweight and Obesity? Nutrients. 2015;7(8):6700-18. doi: 10.3390/nu7085304. PMID: 26270675; PMCID: PMC4555143.

 

Raben A, Agerholm-Larsen L, Flint A, Holst JJ, Astrup A. Meals with similar energy densities but rich in protein, fat, carbohydrate, or alcohol have different effects on energy expenditure and substrate metabolism but not on appetite and energy intake. Am J Clin Nutr. 2003;77(1):91-100. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/77.1.91. PMID: 12499328.

 

Rose AK, Hardman CA, Christiansen P. The effects of a priming dose of alcohol and drinking environment on snack food intake. Appetite. 2015;95:341-8. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2015.07.016. Epub 2015 Jul 23. PMID: 26210606.

 

Sayon-Orea C, Martinez-Gonzalez M, Bes-Rastrollo M, Alcohol consumption and body weight: a systematic review, Nutrition Reviews, 2011;69(8),419–431, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2011.00403.x

 

Shelmet JJ, Reichard GA, Skutches CL, Hoeldtke RD, Owen OE, Boden G. Ethanol causes acute inhibition of carbohydrate, fat, and protein oxidation and insulin resistance. J Clin Invest. 1988;81(4):1137-45. doi: 10.1172/JCI113428. PMID: 3280601; PMCID: PMC329642.

 

Siler SQ, Neese RA, Hellerstein MK. De novo lipogenesis, lipid kinetics, and whole-body lipid balances in humans after acute alcohol consumption. Am J Clin Nutr. 1999 Nov;70(5):928-36. doi: 10.1093/ajcn/70.5.928. PMID: 10539756.

 

Suter PM, Häsler E, Vetter W. Effects of alcohol on energy metabolism and body weight regulation: is alcohol a risk factor for obesity? Nutr Rev. 1997;55(5):157-71. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.1997.tb06470.x. PMID: 9212692.

 

Wang L, Lee I, Manson JE, Buring JE, Sesso HD. Alcohol Consumption, Weight Gain, and Risk of Becoming Overweight in Middle-aged and Older Women. Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(5):453–461. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.527

 

Yeomans, M. Effects of alcohol on food and energy intake in human subjects: Evidence for passive and active over-consumption of energy. British Journal of Nutrition, 2004;92(S1), S31-S34. doi:10.1079/BJN20041139

Yeomans M. Short term effects of alcohol on appetite in humans. Effects of context and restrained eating. Appetite. 2010;55(3):565-73. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2010.09.005. Epub 2010 Sep 21. PMID: 20851724.

 

5 Signs that You’re Heading into Diet Burnout

The early days of a diet can often feel like the early days of dating. Our excitement is high and we’re super aware of our decisions throughout the day. The early days of dieting are filled with accurately weighing and measuring our foods, thoughtful reflections during daily logs to coaches, and exciting positive changes to our weight. But, just like dating, diets lose their shiny newness, and soon it can feel redundant and taxing. Some dieters will even find themselves stopping all of their practiced habits resulting in negative consequences. 

 

Diet burnout is incredibly common amongst all weight loss plans. It’s easy to see why. After the initial excitement wears off, diets can tend to feel restrictive, slow, and people may decide to quit rather than address the burnout to overcome it. 

 

If you have ever reached a point during a diet where you had no motivation to keep working, you most likely have experienced diet burnout. So we asked Stronger U coaches: how do you recommend overcoming burnout to your members? Is there a cure-all solution? As usual, our Stronger U coaches delivered easy-to-apply advice that will help overcome burnout obstacles. 

Are You Heading Towards Burnout? 

There are two types of burnout that our members experience. The obvious burnout and the not-so-obvious burnout (these are highly technical terms, wouldn’t you agree?). The obvious burnout is the type that a member can recognize. They are no longer feeling motivated and slowly have gone back to their old habits. They have seen the scale creep back up and while they might know they need to get back to tracking, they don’t want to. 

 

The not-so-obvious burnout is when members are still tracking, but they’ve detached from their journey. They might be logging their food, but they aren’t weighing it, opting for an eyeball measurement. They are filling out their daily logs, but they aren’t providing detail for coaches to help. Their mood is no longer chipper, but has been replaced with complacency. In short, these members are checking a box. 

 

We have news for you (and it’s really good news). Everybody experiences burnout. Isn’t that great? You’re not alone and you’re not a failure, because you’re feeling burned out. In fact, because you’re reading this resource, you’re already taking steps in the right direction to take care of your burnout without giving up your hard work up to this point. We’re going to tackle the top tips for overcoming burnout, but in case you’re still not sure that you’re burned out, here is a quick list of some key indicators that you’re heading headfirst into burn out territory: 

  • You are missing macro targets, calories, or check-ins. 
  • You are filling out check-ins and daily logs, but not communicating to your coach. You might be writing “good” under your weekly review (when you used to write essays about everything that happened). 
  • Your mood about tracking has declined. It’s starting to feel like a chore. 

Here’s What You Can Do to Help

Now that we’ve covered what burnout looks like, you must be wondering “what can I do to get out of this funk!?”. Good news! Stronger U coaches compiled a list of the things that you can do to help beat your burnout and get back on track. 

Recognize

The first step in overcoming diet burnout is to acknowledge that you’re experiencing it! By stopping and saying, “I think I’m burned out”, you can identify what you’re experiencing and create a plan forward. If you’re in a Stronger U session with a coach, then this would be a fantastic message to send to your coach, so they can work with you to develop a plan. 

 

If you’re not in an active session with a coach, here are some things that you can do to get back on track with your goals: 

Build in a Break

Commit to taking a break from tracking your macros for a week (or even a day). Focus on your calories or allow yourself the break from all tracking. 

Reassess: 

Step back and redo your initial Stronger U intake form. Thoughtfully consider the questions and figure out if your goals have changed. Are you more focused on getting stronger now? Or are you wanting to lose a few more pounds? Reevaluating your goals will help you get re-energized for moving forward. 

 

You might also consider changing your tracking style for a time. This could mean going into short-term maintenance. Recently, in our exclusive Facebook Community, Stronger U member Samiksha G. explained how a maintenance break during the summer helped her: 

I just wanted to share that the tools we are given work as long as we apply them and doing coached maintenance for the summer was one of my best decisions – I enjoyed the entire summer, learned so much about nutrition and my body, and I’m fueled and ready to lose a little more weight before the holidays. My biggest takeaway for maintenance life has been: I can eat anything but not always everything at the same time”. 

Maintenance should be used as a tool, even during weight loss, especially if you are concerned that you are experiencing diet burnout. 

 

The final thing that you can do to overcome diet burnout is to create new and exciting ways to challenge yourself with your current tracking goals. Some examples of challenges could include: 

  • Setting a specific day of the week where you only get your carbs from fruits and veggies. 
  • Creating a fiber requirement. 
  • Challenging yourself to hit exercise goals (or try new exercises to reignite your interest in working out). 
  • Try new foods and recipes. 
  • Setting a sleep target. 
  • And more!

Conclusion

When you are experiencing diet burnout, it can feel isolating. You might be tempted to not tell somebody that you’re feeling burned out, but you do not have to navigate it alone. Stronger U coaches are invested in your success and want to help. If you are feeling burned out, talk to your family, the Stronger U Facebook community, and your coach to create a plan that will get you back on track. 

Staying on Track During March Madness

 

March Madness is officially here and that officially means that indulgent temptations will be present from the first tip-off to the last.  Similar to Super Bowl Sunday, March Madness is synonymous with snacking and drinking.  The average American consumes 11,000 calories on Super Bowl Sunday, and that’s only one day.  So imagine what a drawn-out, multi-week event can do to derail you! 

 

And while we can’t help you build a bust-proof bracket, we can help you with tournament-proof healthy eating tips! 

 

You can have anything, just not everything

 

If March Madness is your favorite event of the year, it’s okay to have a few beers and snacks that you wouldn’t normally consume.  We recommend recognizing that in advance and planning around those selective indulgences. 

 

Unlike Super Bowl Sunday, March Madness is drawn out over several weeks.  So “planning to indulge” will look a little more conservative if you want to maintain your progress and keep working towards your goals over the course of the tournament. 

 

Bring your own snacks 

 

Beer, chips, and cheese, oh my! There’s nothing like a little March Madness get-together to bring out everyone’s famous appetizers, dips, and desserts.  But those indulgences can come at a caloric price. 

 

If you want to stay on track, bring your own macro-friendly snacks to wherever you’re watching the game. We’re not saying this will eliminate the temptation entirely, but it can reduce the urge to splurge and overindulge when you only planned to have a single bite. 

 

And we totally understand that bringing a veggie platter to a tournament watch party can be less than thrilling. That’s why we recommend bringing lighter versions of your favorite treats like Mason Woofruff’s Buffalo Chicken Dip (protein!!) and his Kinda Healthy Layer Dip. That way, you can preplan your snacks for your day.  And you’re less likely to have a snaccident that might throw your progress off for the entire week. 

 

Get moving

 

The good news: pacing back and forth during the last 30 seconds of a super close game will help you meet your step goal and maybe get in some extra NEAT too.  The bad news: it won’t come close to earning you that tray of buffalo wings you’ve been eyeing since tip-off. 

 

We don’t recommend using exercise as a means to burn extra calories to consume more food.  But in high caloric environments, it doesn’t hurt to get in all the movement you can. 

We do recommend getting in a good workout before game time and prioritizing movement during the game and commercial time. 

 

Prioritize protein 

 

This goes for any challenging event/food scenario—filling up on protein before you go will make you more likely to hit your macros (if that’s your goal) and less likely to burn the house down. 

 

Sometimes, bringing a protein shake (like this one) to have as your first drink before eating/drinking anything else will help you stay full and set the tone for the rest of the event.

 

So go get your bracket in shape, strategically plan your meals and snacks for game days, and enjoy the tournament

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