Fat Loss

TDEE Calculator

Below is a calculator I developed to help you determine your TDEE, or Total Daily Energy Expenditure. Just plug in the numbers and you’re good to go!

Activity levels

Sedentary 1.2 – You don’t work out and have a desk job
Lightly Active1.375 – You have a desk job, you work out 1-3x a week
Moderate1.55 – You work out 3-5x a week OR you have a job with some manual labor
Heavy1.725 – You work out 5-7x a week OR you have a job with a lot of manual labor
Very Heavy1.9 – 2-a-days, or a job with manual labor and frequent gym use

Orthorexia: Just another buzz word? An eating disorder?

The last 2 years have shown a visible increase in literature on the topic of orthorexia nervosa, despite not actually being in the DSM-5. Does this lack of “true” diagnosis make this condition just another buzz word, or is this the start of a new breed of eating disorders? Furthermore, is the lack of diagnostic criteria ignoring a whole new subset of those with disordered eating under the guise of “health”?

Definitions and Diagnostic Criteria

Orthorexia literally means “proper appetite”, a misleading name given the ramifications of those cited with orthorexia. It was first described in 1997 by Bratman and Knight after Bratman described his own experiences with orthorexia. The symptoms vary from focusing purely on “clean” or “healthy” food to feelings of deep guilt when going “off plan” or eating something “not clean.” Compensatory behaviors that are often found with those who suffer from anorexia nervosa or bulimia are very similar. Orthorexics will exercise compulsively to “make up” for their “mistakes.” They also obsess over nutrition labels and will start to isolate themselves from social events surrounding food for fear of going off their diet. These criteria all shadow behaviors of other eating disorders as well as obsessive compulsive behavior.

Venn Diagram

From “The clinical basis of orthorexia”, a venn diagram showing the overlapping criteria of orthorexia, anorexia and OCD

Orthorexia’s onset can be more insidious than this extreme behavior, though. Often someone starts off wanting to “eat healthier.” They decide to remove a food group from their diet, then another, then another. Before too long they have a very strict set of rules around what they can and cannot eat. These rules and structure make them feel safe and in control, and as long as they abide by them they are eating “healthy”.

One very, very important distinction is that this group has no medical, religious or ethical reason to avoid certain food groups. While those suffering from orthorexia will often claim they are allergic or intolerant to dairy, gluten, etc. they often have never been formally diagnosed. Most of those who suffer from orthorexia have self-diagnosed allergies and intolerances to food groups. Those who do actually suffer from allergies and are intolerant to certain food groups may still fall into other categories of disordered eating, however for the sake of this discussion we will not include them.

One major departure from orthorexia and anorexia (according to research) is the motivation behind the disorder, though I personally disagree. Anorexia’s end motivation may be about weight loss, but there is never “skinny enough” for those with anorexia. They often are unable to see how sick they truly are. I would argue that anorexia is ultimately about control, and here it doesn’t depart too sharply from orthorexia. The suggested criteria for orthorexia points to a need for those to feel “pure” or “clean” by controlling what goes into their body. This mirrors the controlling aspect of anorexia. However, those with orthorexia are quick to flaunt their behaviors, while anorexics are very secretive about theirs. More on this can be read in the paper included at the end of this article.

The Dark Consequences of Orthorexia

Some might argue that orthorexia is a word used by those who “don’t get it” to describe the passionate. Without an official diagnostic criteria this might be true, however it’s impossible to ignore the consequences of unchecked orthorexia. Unchecked orthorexia can mirror a lot of the consequences of anorexia. For example, omitting entire food groups can lead to deficiencies in certain micro and macronutrient groups. Side effects include anemia, osteopenia, bradycardia, hyponatremia, and others.

Other consequences involve the effect it can have on your social life. Food anxiety makes any social outing involving food almost impossible for those with orthorexia. Given the serious overlap between orthorexia and anorexia they’re prone to the same binge-restrict cycles as those with anorexia. Deviations from their diet are met with self loathing and guilt. They spend an inordinate amount of time researching, planning and excluding foods from their diet.

Causes

Since this condition is not officially diagnosed, nor is there outstanding data involving its manifestations and treatment, it’s hard to pin point the specific causes of orthorexia. However, there are some places we can look to understand the obsession around health and purity.

  • Fake trainers or nutritionists: Every celebrity is endorsing some diet these days with very little understanding of the consequences of their support. It’s not hard to find a book, website, or blog touting a certain type of diet or food exclusion as THE way to lose weight or become healthy. In fact, there are entire companies built on the insecurity of the average person, creating groups and “coaches” out of everyday, unqualified people. While some of these people may mean well, they ultimately are unqualified to give advice about diets. This creates and endless cycle of misinformation, usually involving statements like “I saw celebrity name gave up gluten, so I did, and now I feel amazing!” or “I recently started pyramid scheme diet here, and I lost 20 lbs!” While these statements may be innocent in the beginning, they can quickly lead to feelings of guilt when strayed from. Since they focus on excluding food groups they may eventually lead to the same social anxiety described by many with orthorexia.
Examples of misinformation found in popular diets, all which have been discredited but are still touted by popular diets.

Examples of misinformation found in popular diets, all which have been discredited but are still touted by popular diets. Source: The clinical basis of orthorexia.

  • Weight loss/health as a social status: We are often to praise people for losing weight or being healthy without truly understanding what it meant to that individual. “Healthy” and “fit” are a social status that are openly praised. Someone who updates social media with their workout or posts about not indulging in the bagels at work are seen as “strong” and someone to look up to. Diets are often associated with strength and willpower to the point where those who don’t adhere to diets 100% are seen as “weak” and “lack willpower.”
  • Good Food/Bad Food Dichotomy: The minute certain food groups are seen as “bad” or “unhealthy” a dichotomy is created. Labeling food as “good” or “bad” without any true understanding of what it means to an individuals diet or health is unrealistic and unhealthy. Research has shown time and time again that if you tell someone they can’t have a certain food type they will crave it. This can contribute to the food binges experienced by orthorexics when they eat one thing off their “meal plan.”
  • Fad Diets: Researchers have noted that orthorexia patterns of food aversion parallel whichever fad diet is currently circulating.

Where To Go From Here

I have stated many times that this condition lacks an official diagnostic criteria, and is not currently recognized by the DSM-5. However, the National Association for Eating Disorders has been compiling data on the topic and has a page devoted to education on orthorexia. This topic has also been explored by a number of popular websites around health and fitness. While it is not currently an eating disorder it IS a type of disordered eating. It is something that interferes with daily life and disallows enjoyment of life. If you feel that you’ve spent an inordinate amount of time worrying about food, or you feel like you might have orthorexia, it is important to seek the health of a trained professional. Disordered eating can lead to eating disorders, and the associated complications from dietary restrictions are severe enough to warrant intervention in some cases.

If you’d like to learn more about the current research of orthorexia, The clinical basis of orthorexia: emerging perspectives is a great paper to help inform you about orthorexia.

Team Anti-Squeem – how the newest fitness fad is just dangerous

The squeem is the newest fitness fad that’s been seen on Instagram and other social media sites. A “squeem” is a modern day corset you can wear at the gym (or for 5-6 hours during the day) with the intention of “training your waist” to be smaller.

First of all, let’s examine how insane that sounds. Wearing a constricting device around your waist for a few hours will not change the genetics or shape of that area in a permanent sense. If anything, the minute the waist cincher is removed your waist will return to its normal size. Since it just provides an insane amount of pressure on the area there is no permanent change happening. It’s like saying wearing skinny jeans all day will shrink your legs – no.

(The only exception to the rule I will admit is Cathie Jung, who has been wearing a corset for 24 hours a day since 1959. In 1959 she had a 26″ waist, now it’s 15″. Plus, she is unable to drive a car or do many every day functions because she can’t move.)

Speaking of skinny jeans – have you ever worn a pair of skinny jeans a size or two too small? You remember how parts of your leg and hips would go numb, how you’d get pain and tingling sensations as the nerves were compressed and the blood flow restricted in those areas? Imagine doing that to your abdomen, where just under the skin and muscle lay important organs. Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist, has written several articles about the dangers of Spanx, Squeems and other restrictive shapewear here.

Ah yes, improves circulation by cutting off circulation! I see.

These restrictive items make you sweat a lot, though. Removing water from any area of your body will help decrease the inches – just look at those scam body wraps that people sell. They don’t lose any -true- weight, it’s just the water leaving the tissues. The moment the area is rehydrated the inches return with the weight.

Additionally, these waist trainers apply pressure along the bottom of your rib cage which may disallow for full expansion of your lungs. When the lung cannot fully expand you run the risk of not fully oxygenating your blood. Additionally, a very severe side effect of a lung not being able to expand is collapse of the lung lobe itself. These are very severe complications that can occur, whether they’re common or not. The best question you should ask yourself is “Why should I wear something that restricts my ability to breathe while I work out?”

Now, I know we’ve all seen those images of women who’ve worn corsets back in the day. It’s important to note that these modern day squeems do not have the metals that those corsets do. Any conclusions we drew from the extreme restriction of those corsets won’t necessarily transfer over to modern day. In my research I found one modern day corset wearer who underwent an MRI to compare her organ location and size to the average person. They found shifting of organs (the liver and spleen shifted upwards, the large intestine shifted downwards) but no significant changes in the anatomy of the organs. They argue that a woman undergoes similar shifts during pregnancy with her organs, so how is it different?

My argument? 9 months of your organs moving slowly is quite different from wearing an artificial device that cinches down on your waist 24/7. Additionally, the slow growth of a fetus allows for organs to adapt to the changes. My question isn’t about how the organs look, but rather how they work. You cannot simply look at an MRI of an organ and determine that it’s working well and fine. Without blood work or biopsy there’s no way to assess if the constant pressure has lead to ischemia, pressure necrosis, re-perfusion injuries when the squeem is taken off, etc.

If you want to lose weight, you need to get into a caloric deficit. If your genetics tells you to hold onto weight in your abdomen, you’ll lose it there last. There’s no good way to “beat” genetics, especially not by wearing restrictive clothing in hopes it forces your body to remodel. It doesn’t work that way.

Want a smaller waist? Take a hint from the bodybuilding pros – create an illusion. Focus on building a larger upper and lower body that accentuate the X shape of your midsection. Dress in clothing that flatters your shape and either hides areas you’re self conscious about or simply draws attention away from it. Try to work WITH your body, not against it, and you won’t have to worry about the long term effects of compressing vitals organs.

A Case Against Breakfast

Let me preface this article by saying “If you’re hungry, you should eat.” Plenty of people wake up ravenous, enjoy breakfast, and go on with their day. Others wake up without an appetite and report that when they do eat breakfast, they feel like crap all morning, or they’re hungry twenty minutes later. Without delving into the “What are you eating? How much? Etc” argument, I’d like to present this little piece of science for those of you who want it. If you find breakfast a chore here’s some ammo to shoot at the pro-breakfast crowd always trying to get in your face. If you’re not hungry, you’re not hungry: end of story. Every body is different.

Let’s start with hormones and waking. Cortisol (click the link to read about it) is a huge part of your sensation to wake up. It gradually rises through the night, and reaches its peak when you open your eyes. Your cortisol is highest in the morning and may continue to rise after you wake up, until about 30-45 minutes later. That’s breakfast time. Here’s the deal with cortisol – it antagonizes insulin. Insulin helps pull the sugar from your bloodstream after a meal and put it into your cells to refuel them. Because of this, you end up with a higher blood sugar than you would normally.

The issue is that with a blunted insulin response your cells aren’t getting the energy they need. Simply put, insulin gives the energy directly to the cells, and cortisol gets in the way of them doing that. If your cells are yearning for energy they’re going to send hunger signals to your brain to encourage you to eat and feed your cells. This is the case with people with chronically elevated cortisol levels as well who have trouble maintaining a normal appetite.

What about the fit person?

A fit person will have increased insulin sensitivity, especially as they lean out. They tend to be very responsive to an increase in blood sugar and quick and efficiently pump out insulin to compensate. These people then see their blood glucose drop faster, and tend to get hungrier faster. This is exacerbated in the fasted morning states with a high cortisol. You have an extremely active pancreas pumping out insulin and being countered by cortisol, so you’re pumping out more. This can mean a dramatic decrease in blood glucose. Not so much as to cause hypoglycemia, per se, but enough for your hunger signals to fire up just a short time later.

But why does this not affect ALL people – why are some people breakfast lovers and others aren’t? The level of cortisol in your blood is highly dependent on a lot of factors. Some people simply do not have a high enough level of cortisol to counteract any of the breakfast-induced blood sugar problems. Others, such as diabetics, have a need for a regular blood sugar management. Every individual is different, which is why I say again – if you’re hungry, eat!

Lastly, let’s look at a very specific study targeted at the traditional “If you skip breakfast you’ll gain weight” hoopla. This study was a 16 week controlled study in overweight and obese adults, one group ate breakfast, the other didn’t. Between both groups the average weight loss was 1.18 kgs vs. 1.17 kgs. Essentially, the results showed little difference in weight loss between breakfast eaters and non-breakfast eaters.

So, as I said earlier – eat if you’re hungry, don’t eat if you’re not. If you find breakfast is detrimental to your state of mind (no one likes being ravenous at 9am!) then skip it. It’s your individual choice.

Fasted Cardio: Myth or Fact?

Fasted cardio is one of the hottest topics amongst dieters, especially those who compete in body building. The idea of doing cardio on an empty stomach first thing in the morning makes sense to some people – with no immediate source of energy, won’t your body burn stored fat for energy? There’s compelling evidence for and against fasted cardio, so I thought I’d break down the main points of various studies for both sides and let you chose.

FOR FASTED CARDIO

One study that is often cited (Bonen, A. et al. (2008). Effect of training in the fasted state on metabolic responses during exercise with carbohydrate intake. Journal of Applied Physiology. Apr;104(40):1045-55) showed that training fasted actually increased your muscle glycogen stores, making it a great adjunct to endurance athlete’s training. The idea is that increasing the body’s ability to store glycogen will allow athletes to compete at higher intensity long term.

Another study looked at supplementing your fasted cardio with caffeine and yohimbe and found that this increased catecholamines in the body, which helped to break down fat stores more readily. So fasted cardio, at least in the short term, increases the bodys’ ability to burn fat.

But, that’s pretty much where the science ends. The idea of fasted cardio – that your body would used its reserves instead of readily available food – was greater than the research. Now powerhouses such as Dr. Layne Norton and pretty much all of science have decided the cons far outweigh the pros.

AGAINST FASTED CARDIO

A lot of data for this comes from a study done through The Strength and Conditioning Journal (Volume 33). They found that the thermogenic effect of exercise (that is, your long term calorie burn) is HIGHER if you’ve eaten before exercise. They also found that training fasted decreased your overall energy output, so if you felt sluggish you didn’t put as much effort into a training session as someone who ate before.

What is more alarming than this is the catabolic effect fasted cardio can gave. Muscle catabolism is exactly what everyone wants to avoid – why train fasted if you could possibly lose muscle in the process? Proteolysis (the break down of protein) is higher in fast training and nitrogen losses more than doubled in this state.

So what’s the take home message with these studies? Know your goals. If you’re trying to maintain muscle and lose fat then eating something before doing your cardio (oatmeal, BCAAs, egg whites, pop tarts, etc.) can help you from losing muscle and keep your energy high. If you’re an endurance athlete then fasted cardio can contribute to your glycogen stores. With this information you can make appropriate decisions based on your own goals and levels of fitness.