#429 10/13/2010 CRASH DIETING

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The first thing you lose on a diet is brain mass.

Margaret Cho

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Crash Diets vs. Discipline, Motivations, and Lifestyle Change

By Stephanie S. Saunders

Elvis Presley, the king of rock 'n' roll, pelvic thrusts, and peanut butter and bacon sandwiches, was rumored to have once heavily sedated himself for 2 weeks in an attempt to continually sleep and lose weight. While he might have removed the bags from under his eyes, Elvis' crash diet did nothing to help him cram into that jumpsuit, and he ended up gaining 10 pounds. As far back as the binge-and-purge bacchanalias of ancient Rome, people have been trying to lose weight in the fastest and sometimes strangest ways. With tactics ranging from subsisting on baby food to ingesting live tapeworms, crash diets promise quick and efficient weight loss, but at what price?

Pea Face on a Plate, Plastic Silverware

What is a crash diet?

A crash diet is any nutritional plan that severely reduces calories, is nutritionally restrictive, and is supposed to promote quick weight loss. Often the diet focuses on one food group or type, and is not usually intended for long-term use. Any diet that goes below 1,000 calories a day is considered extremely dangerous, and just one step away from starvation.

What is the benefit?

Woman with a Mouthful of SaladDo crash diets actually work? According to Dr. Susan Roberts, a professor of nutrition and psychiatry at Tufts University, crash diets are (at least temporarily) effective for "disinhibited eaters," or those who are easily tempted by food. (That's all of us, isn't it?) According to her study, by dropping weight quickly, those who are easily discouraged by slow and steady weight loss get instant gratification, and therefore, results. The problem, of course, is that you can't maintain a crash diet forever. Donald Hensrud, chairman of preventive medicine at Mayo Clinic, said: "People could eat nothing but jelly beans and if they were eating just a small amount, they would lose weight. You might be able to get away with it for a period of time, but the more restrictive the diet is—and the longer you follow it—the greater the risks."

What are those risks?

The first issue is usually nutrient deficiency, as one cannot get all of the nutrients he or she needs from a bowl of cabbage soup. It is difficult to get a sufficient amount of calcium, vitamin D, or iron on a very low-calorie diet. You can do permanent damage to your organs by not providing them with their required fuel. If you lose too much fluid, you can damage your electrolyte level, and become easily dehydrated. We know low levels of potassium and sodium can cause cramping, fainting, and even heart failure.

The next thing you're looking at is a slower metabolism. Your body is an extremely efficient machine and will slow down its resting metabolic rate in order to survive longer. This is how our ancestors made it through famine, floods, and sometimes, just winter. Over time, you will lose lean muscle without the proper nutrients to maintain it, which will lower your metabolism even further. With that slower metabolism comes decreased energy. Not only will that affect your home and work life, it will destroy your workouts.

Should you continue on the super low-cal path, you are likely to suffer catabolic reactions. You would expect to lose weight as long as your metabolism uses up more chemicals and energy than it is replacing, right? In fact, weight loss may occur for a short period resulting not from fat loss, but from breakdown of cell structures, organ tissue, bone, and muscle. The body then uses up structural proteins in order to survive. So, yes, your body will begin to consume itself.

Sleepy ManYour emotional state will usually alter with the lower number on the scale, which is not quite low enough to compensate for how yucky you feel. Irritability, depression, and lack of patience are very common with calorie restriction. Your sleep state will be affected, as severe caloric restriction often disrupts sleep patterns and can cause insomnia. Lack of sleep, in turn, will not assist in muscle recovery, your mood, or your energy. And eventually when you return to a rational eating plan, your body will be all the more likely to store everything you eat, as it thinks it has been starving for the last few weeks.

Why, why, why?

So, why on earth would anyone do this to themselves, especially if it means only drinking lemon juice, maple syrup, and cayenne pepper? The quick fix. We are a drive-thru nation that believes instant gratification is our birthright. If we can get it in a pill or hire someone to do it for us, we will. We also live in a culture obsessed with thinness, and we seldom take into consideration how much lean muscle can actually do for us, and how much better it looks than "skinny fat." So we torture ourselves with the "path of least resistance" and end up right back where we started, often before that high school reunion or Christmas party actually happens. And we still can't fit into that darn dress.

What is the answer?

The answer is, as it has been for centuries, to make a decision to change your life, and then to have the motivation and discipline to stick with it. Eat a clean diet, somewhere between 1,500 and 3,000 calories depending on your needs, split up over 5 to 6 meals a day with an appropriate balance of protein, carbs, and fats. Perform intense exercise that burns 500 to 800 calories a day, creating a greater caloric deficit, and speeding up your metabolism. Drink lots of water; get 8 hours of sleep; and try to avoid alcohol, refined sugar, and processed foods. Losing 1 to 2 pounds a week is not really hard to figure out, but it does take hard work and commitment to a plan.


Cyril Connolly, the famous writer and critic, once said, "The one way to get thin is to reestablish a purpose in life." And truly, that is the kind of commitment it takes. If weight loss were easy, everyone in the world would pop a pill, subsist on only bananas, and walk for just 30 minutes a day. If weight loss were easy, we would not be inundated with Jenny Craig® commercials and weight loss-based reality shows. If weight loss were easy, all of those New Year's resolutions would have come to fruition. But diets alone, especially the crash variety, do not work. So stay off the diet merry-go-round and stay committed to the control of your health and your appearance. Just because Elvis couldn't lose weight without extreme means doesn't mean you can't. Of course, you probably can't get paid thousands to wear a rhinestoned spandex jumpsuit, so it evens out.

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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development, who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards, Steve Edwards, on Monday, October 18th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT. Go to the Beachbody Chat Room.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Liquid Gold: A Beachbody® Look at Olive Oil

By Sasha Papovich

The Greek poet Homer called it "liquid gold." It's mentioned in the Bible, the Talmud, and the Koran. Greek mythology includes the story of the goddess Athena winning great praise from Zeus for her useful invention of the olive tree. For millennia, the olive tree has been a symbol of peace, purification, and good health. And in recent years, we've all heard the good news that the high-fat oil of the olive fruit is actually good for you. Is it possible that olive oil merits the reverence of ancient Mediterranean culture and the respect of the medical establishment of the West? And if so, what's the real scoop on how to get the most benefit and enjoyment from it?

Bottles of Olive Oil

Olive oil is the only vegetable oil that is created simply by pressing the raw material—in this case, olives. Extra virgin is the best quality because it comes from the first pressing of the olives and is therefore the least processed, which matters to those of us interested in olive oil for its health benefits.

Recent research does indeed show that olive oil is a medicinal powerhouse. More than just an improvement over animal-fat-based oils, antioxidant-rich olive oil can actually protect against degenerative diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer. The FDA has officially credited olive oil with decreasing the risk of coronary heart disease. Olive oil's role in the prevention of bone density loss, diabetes, and obesity is being explored.

And now a little more about those health benefits . . .

Olive BranchOlive oil is composed largely of monounsaturated fatty acids—sometimes called good fats. Monounsaturated fatty acids keep HDL—the so-called good cholesterol—levels up and LDL, the so-called bad cholesterol, levels down. LDL is the main source of cholesterol buildup in the arteries, and HDL actually works to clear cholesterol from the blood.

The nutrition community is somewhat divided right now as to whether saturated fat and its effect on cholesterol is truly an issue. If you happen to be on the pro-saturated-fat side, olive oil still offers you a host of benefits, primarily because it contains natural antioxidants—polyphenols—which prevent the formation of certain free radicals that cause cell destruction within the body. Free radicals are linked to heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, and the general degenerative process of aging.

Recent studies show that olive oil's polyphenols also inhibit another one of the processes that contribute to heart disease. This means that not only do the monounsaturated fats in olive oil resist the plaque-forming process that leads to heart disease, but the antioxidants actually help to inhibit that process as well. When people with high cholesterol levels removed the saturated fat from their diets and replaced it with olive oil, their LDL cholesterol levels dropped by 18 percent. Another study reported that 2 tablespoons a day of olive oil added to an otherwise unchanged diet resulted in significant drops in total and LDL cholesterol. These impressive results can be understood as a by-product of the monounsaturated fats AND of the high levels of polyphenols that are present in olive oil.

But wait, there's more!

Research on olive oil and the symptoms of diabetes has also shown that a diet rich in olive oil helps to prevent belly-fat accumulation and the insulin resistance seen after the high-carbohydrate meals. Anti-inflammatory substances linked to the monounsaturated fats in olive oil can help reduce the severity of arthritis symptoms, and may be able to prevent or reduce the severity of asthma. And early studies reveal that the phenols in olive oil can lessen the inflammation-mediated bone loss involved in osteoporosis.

How much is enough?

OlivesSo now that we're confident that olive oil is good for the heart and is likely good for many other degenerative or inflammatory conditions, we can look at how to go about adding this nutritional elixir to our diets. Experts agree that at least 2 tablespoons (23 grams) of olive oil a day is needed for any of these preventive purposes. While it's true that olive oil adds great benefit regardless of what else you're eating, you can benefit most by substituting olive oil for less healthy fats, rather than just adding more olive oil to your diet.

The most important point about usage, however, is not how much olive oil we consume a day, but what kind of olive oil we use and how we store it.

Olive oil shopping

All olive oil contains monounsaturated fat and phenols, but the amounts vary wildly depending upon the type of olive oil and how it is handled. Simply put: If you're interested in the health benefits of olive oil, don't buy anything less than extra virgin olive oil! All types of olive oil contain monounsaturated fat, but extra virgin olive oils are the least processed forms, which means that their phenol (antioxidant) content is the highest.

Just as important as the purity of the olive oil you buy is its storage both before and after you get it home. Olive oil can become rancid from exposure to light and heat, but even low levels of light and heat exposure that don't cause rancidity can cause the breakdown of phenols, thereby canceling out many of the health-enhancing benefits. Research has shown that consuming olive oil that has been degraded by light and heat is simply not as beneficial, so do your best to control for light and heat both before and after you buy the olive oil.

Look for olive oil that is sold in dark-tinted bottles, since the packaging will help protect the purity and nutritional value of the oil. (Research shows that after just 2 months' exposure to light, antioxidant levels had dropped so much the olive oil could no longer be classified as extra virgin.)

Ask your grocer how long the olive oil has been out; purchase olive oil that has spent the minimum time sitting on the shelf by checking the expiration date or by choosing the bottles at the back of the shelf, as the newest ones often reside there.

Buy your olive oil in smaller containers and store it in the dark.

How to care for and cook with your olive oil

Glass and Bottle of Olive OilOnce you get it home, make sure the oil is stored in a cool area, away from any direct or indirect contact with heat. You can leave a small bottle out at room temperature, refrigerating the rest and refilling your daily-use bottle every week or so. (Refrigerated olive oil will solidify and turn slightly cloudy, but will become clear and liquid as it returns to room temperature.)

Add olive oil to foods immediately after cooking to get the most nutritional benefit. All cooking oils have a "smoke point" at which they begin to break down, thereby compromising taste and, in the case of olive oil, phenols. Although different sources report various grades of olive oil as having various smoke points, it's generally accepted that extra virgin olive oil has a much lower smoke point (anywhere from 200 degrees to the high 300s). If you do want to cook with olive oil (which is perfectly fine and, if done right, delicious), buy a separate bottle of regular or "light" oil, which has a much higher smoke point, upward of 400 degrees.

Instead of serving butter, fill a small condiment dish with extra virgin olive oil for use on bread, rolls, potatoes, or other vegetables. For more flavor, try adding a few drops of balsamic vinegar or a sprinkling of your favorite spices to the olive oil. You can also drizzle your daily serving of 2 tablespoons of olive oil over just about anything after it's been cooked: a morning frittata, your lunchtime salad (mixed with balsamic or a flavored vinegar), or your dinner vegetables, pasta, fish, or chicken.

Trendy superfoods may come and go, but olive oil has been here since the days of the ancient Greeks, and today's medical research validates its long-lived reputation. Whether you're primarily interested in cardiovascular health or protection against degenerative diseases, adding olive oil to your daily diet is delicious and healthful, so drizzle it into your nutrition plan today.

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"Olive Oil: The Fat That Keeps You Young and Healthy"
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Questions about your workout program, diet, the latest newsletter, or anything wellness related? Chat with the overseer of Beachbody's fitness and diet development, who also serves as your Fitness Advisor on the Message Boards, Steve Edwards, on Monday, October 18th, at 3:00 PM ET, 12:00 PM PT. Go to the Beachbody Chat Room.

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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Recipe: Dijon Dressing

Recommended by P90X nutritionist Carrie Wiatt

Dijon DressingLet's face it: Eating virtuously can sometimes be a challenge. Who among us hasn't been heard speaking disdainfully of salad as "rabbit food"? The true secret to creating enjoyable salads is often to be found not in the main ingredients, but in the dressing. Having an arsenal of tasty dressing recipes can help you keep climbing Michi's Ladder to a healthy lifestyle—here's a great Dijon dressing, full of heart-healthy olive oil, that's easy to whip up and will add tanginess, zinginess, and other fun stuff ending in "-iness" to your next salad.

  • 1 clove garlic, grated
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt (to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)
  • Small bowl
  • Wire whisk

In small bowl, whisk together garlic, mustard, vinegar, salt, and pepper until mixed. Continue whisking while adding olive oil in a small, steady stream. Continue until oil and vinegar mixture is completely blended. Can be made ahead of time—store in refrigerator in shaker bottle with lid and shake well before serving. Makes 3 servings.

Preparation Time: 10 minutes

Nutritional Information (per serving)
Calories Protein Fiber Carbs Fat Total Saturated Fat
137 <1 gram <1 gram 3 grams 14 grams 2 grams

If you'd like to ask a question or comment on this newsletter article, click here to add a comment in the newsletter review section or you can email us at mailbag@beachbody.com.

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