Sugar Metabolism, Cocktails, and Losing Weight

The Metabolism of Sugar in Your Body

One of the many reasons sugar is important for weight loss is how it’s metabolized in your body. When you’re at rest (not exercising) your body primarily uses fatty acids for energy. These are fatty acids in your bloodstream and from fat cells.  When you eat or drink sugar, like in cupcakes or fruity cocktails, your body switches from utilizing fatty acids to breaking down sugar for energy. Then you’re not using or burning off as many fatty acids from fat cells.

One of the things sugar gets broken down into is glucose, and your body will switch to utilizing that for energy. If you have a really excessive amount of sugar what your body doesn’t end up using for energy, it will store as glycogen in your muscles but also as fatty acids in your fat tissue. So that’s part of the reason limiting the amount of sugar you eat can really help you lose weight.

Drinking Cocktails and Weight Loss

Drinking is one place where you can unintentionally get a lot of sugar. A lot of cocktails have fruit juices in them, which can add a lot of unnecessary sugar. For example, while one small orange may have 9 grams of sugar in it, one eight-ounce glass of orange juice (Minute Maid) has 24 grams of sugar in it. In addition, fruit juice generally has less fiber than actual fruit so you’ll absorb more of the sugar too.

Drinks high in sugar also increase your blood sugar level and make it more likely that you’ll eat more food later in the day or at night to keep your blood sugar elevatedThat’s why you may eat healthy during the day but then after drinking make unhealthy carb heavy late-night choices like pizza. Again this will make it harder for you to lose weight.

What Can You Do About It?

Here’s one way to switch from drinking sweet cocktails to unsweet cocktails. I did this myself, and I think making the switch is really an acquired taste. That’s why I recommend you try it over six months. However, you can try doing it faster if you’re not that attached to sweet cocktails.

Six Month Step Down From Sweet Cocktails:

Month 1-2: Switch from sweet or fruity cocktails to refreshing cocktails, for example, something like a Moscow Mule. You can ask the bartender for recommendations. Refreshing cocktails still usually have sugar in them, but less than fruity cocktails. This will help you get used to the taste of having less sweet cocktails.

Month 3-4: Switch from refreshing cocktails to mixed drinks with Sprite, like vodka and Sprite or gin and Sprite. This still has sugar in it, but it will get you out of the habit of ordering cocktails from the drink menu, which generally have more sugar in them.

Month 5-6: Switch from Sprite and vodka or gin to soda water and vodka or gin with a slice of lemon or lime. If you really have a lot of trouble with the taste, you can squeeze the lemon or lime slice for juice into your drink. This is a minimal amount of sugar until you get used to the taste and then stop doing this as well.

Don’t use tonic water as a mixer because tonic water still has a fair amount of sugar in it. Also, I recommend not using diet soda as a mixer because it still tastes sweet. Diet soda is an easy gateway drink to going back to drinking sweet cocktails.

Want to lose weight with science-backed advice? Get my free guide Lose Weight Without Cooking or Calorie Counting and start losing weight this month.

Hormones, Stress, and Weight Loss

One of the times I used to eat a lot of sugary food is when I was stressed out. If you think stress eating helps you feel better, that could be because of your hormonal response to stress. This is for multiple reasons, in this post I’m going to focus on the hormone cortisol.

Your Cortisol Levels When You’re Stressed Out

When you’re stressed out your cortisol levels rise, this is part of the flight or fight response you may have heard of before. This is a helpful response when a lion is trying to eat you, but less helpful when you’re in a less urgent stressful situation like your boss is being irrational.

The increase in cortisol levels will lead to an increase in your blood sugar levels. Some studies show that eating fatty and sugary foods does seem to tone down the response your body has to stress. This could be why it’s your go-to option when you’re stressed out.

It’s important to realize this because you may think your stress eating has something to do with self-control or discipline. But actually, it may have to do with your body’s normal response to stress. Dealing with this instead may help you better manage your stress eating and help you lose weight.

This advice is based on the assumption you don’t have any medical problems that affect your cortisol levels. This includes sleep problems which can throw off your cortisol levels. If you do have sleep problems, you should address this with your doctor or a sleep doctor first.

What Can You Do About Your Body’s Response to Stress?

The obvious thing to do is to stop doing the thing that makes you stressed out in the first place. However, this frequently isn’t feasible if it’s something like your job that’s making your stressed out. Ironically your job may pay for the stress eating your job is causing.

The next thing to look at is what you can do to try and stabilize your cortisol stress response so that you don’t start stress eating. The medical studies on this are limited, but I’m going to talk about a few possible options.

Can You Eat Anything to Decrease Your Stress Cortisol Levels?

In my research, the best options to consider trying are eating a small piece of dark chocolate daily or drinking a cup of black tea every day to try to decrease your cortisol stress response when you’re under stress later in the day.  The medical data on this is not very strong. You could try it for one month and see if it works to decrease how stressed out you feel. If it doesn’t work after a month, move on to something else.

If you’re already stressed out you should try not to stress eat, but if you do it’s better if you stress eat low glycemic index carbs or low-fat protein. This is because being stressed out will increase your blood sugar levels and if you eat sugary foods on top of that, it can cause you to gain weight. In addition long term it can lead to problems with your blood sugar (glucose) – insulin regulation. If you’re stress eating sugary foods regularly, it will make it harder for you to lose weight long term too, even once you stop stress eating sugary foods.

Exercise and the Type of Exercise You Do

Exercise is generally thought to decrease stress levels for a variety of reasons. Exercise will initially increase your cortisol levels. But long-term regular exercise will help keep your cortisol levels lower later in the day and at night. So exercising can help you from becoming stressed out throughout the day, and that can help make you less likely to stress eat.

One thing to consider is that the type of exercise you do may make a difference.  If you started exercising but don’t feel like it’s helping you feel less stressed out, consider testing out different types of exercise. Some studies show that different intensity exercises (low versus medium versus high) will have different effects on your cortisol levels. Changing the intensity of your exercise may help you get less stressed out and help prevent you from stress eating.

Meditation and Mindful Thinking

Meditation and mindful thinking can also potentially help decrease your cortisol stress response and cortisol levels. Learning how to meditate can take a while, but it’ll be worth it. You’ll need to make it a routine part of your day so that eventually you practice mindful thinking automatically when you’re in stressful situations.

If you’ve never meditated before, you can try learning by using apps like Calm and Headspace (I use both of them). Another great way to get into mindful thinking is starting with yoga classes first. Start with more of a flow or Vinyasa type of yoga, which has mindful thinking built into it.

Want to lose weight with science-backed advice? Get my free guide Lose Weight Without Cooking or Calorie Counting and start losing weight this month.

Eating Out with a Vegetarian

A few of you have asked me about how to eat when you’re going out for vegetarian food, whether that’s at a vegetarian restaurant or you’re going to someone’s (South Asian) event or party that’s only serving vegetarian food. I know how hard it is to eat healthy and vegetarian because I was a vegetarian for eight years. I ended up eating too many carbs to be healthy or to lose weight. However, that was some time ago, and now there are more options.

The Percentage of Carbs to Vegetables

The most important thing is not to let carbs take over your whole meal. It’s easy to get carb overloaded without realizing it. The goal is for only 25% of your meal to be obvious carbs like rice or bread products. But’s it’s really important with vegetarian food because vegetarian protein, like beans, lentils, and quinoa will add even more carbs to your meal.

It’s essential that vegetables make up 50% of your meal. This means eating vegetable appetizers and sides. Any vegetable is fine except for potatoes and corn which are higher in glycemic index than other vegetables and less likely to help you lose weight. If you’re sharing dishes with your vegetarian friends, many restaurants will let you add additional vegetables or add a double order of vegetables to dishes like pasta, even if it’s not on the menu.

Planning in Advance

  1. If you’re going out to eat you can offer to make the reservations so you can make sure there’s a healthy option for you, in addition to a lot of good vegetarian options for your friends. In NYC plant-based restaurants are becoming very popular. This is a good option for healthy food with a lot of vegetarian and vegan options. If that’s not an option where you live, I find the next best option is usually Thai food.

  2. If you’re going to someone vegetarian’s house for an event, you may have to bring the vegetables with you. If you’re like me, you may have some vegetarian friends who serve a lot of carbs without any vegetables. To ensure that you get in enough vegetables, you can pick up a salad or vegetable sides from Whole Foods to bring with you. You could try saying “This is my new favorite salad from Whole Foods, and I thought everyone might like to try it!”

  3. If having to eat vegetarian food doesn’t happen that often to you, you may be best off planning for this to be a cheat meal (again I recommend you aim for around three cheat meals or one cheat day a week).

What if There Really Aren’t Any Good Options?

In general, many restaurants are making more of an effort to add healthy options to their menus. However, if this is happening to you a lot, you’re going to a lot of events where they’re only serving unhealthy food; it may be better for you to eat before you go to the event. Then you can go to the event just to hang out with your friends or meet them for drinks (no sugary drinks this defeats the purpose of eating healthy!).

This is especially important when you’re first getting into the habit of eating healthy to lose weight. Eventually, you’ll have gotten into the habit of eating healthy, and it’ll be easier. But when you’re in the process of making healthy eating habits, it’s important not to get derailed. So you may have to eat before you go to an event to ensure that you stay in the cycle of eating healthy.

Want to lose weight with science-backed advice? Get my free guide Lose Weight Without Cooking or Calorie Counting and start losing weight this month.

P.S. Here’s my post about my experience with artificial sweetener (Stevia) and losing weight.

Does Calorie Restriction Work for Weight Loss?

My Experience Losing Weight with Calorie Restriction

I tried to lose weight by calorie restriction in 2009-2010. At the time I was eating about 1800-1900 calories a day, and I was already working out 3-4 hours a week. So I tried cutting the number of calories I ate to 1200-1300 calories a day, and I lost 5 pounds (of the 15 I wanted to lose), and then I stopped losing weight.

Really I couldn’t eat less than 1200 calories a day and eat enough food, so I tried to work out more. This didn’t help because it just made me hungrier. Also, although I like working out, I only had so much time I wanted to spend doing it.


My Experience Losing Weight without Calorie Restriction

After that, I started reading more about weight loss and nutrition. Then I started changing the composition of what I was eating. I switched out foods high in sugar and unhealthy carbs for healthy protein, lower sugar foods, and artificially sweetened foods (I don’t recommend this long-term). Then I lost 10 additional pounds (15 total) from 2010-2011. This was without cutting calories or exercising more.

I kept the weight off until I started traveling for work. I put the weight back on for a variety of reasons, but mostly because I was working more hours and traveling. I started eating whatever was easily and quickly available.

Most recently I lost 10 pounds, and I’ve kept it off so far from 2017-2018. This was while eating about 1800-1900 calories per day, and working out 3-4 hours a week. Right now I’m working on getting more toned.

What I’ve found that works for me and is maintainable while traveling for work, eating out, over the holidays, and on vacation is changing the composition of what I’m eating and also utilizing cheat meals to keep my weight loss from plateauing and to maintain eating healthy the rest of the time long term. I switched out high sugar, high glycemic index carbs, and unhealthy fats to low sugar foods, low glycemic index carbs, healthy fats, and healthy protein foods. Also, I eat 3 cheat meals a week.


Does Calorie Restriction Work?

Calorie restriction will work for weight loss to a certain point. Once your body gets used to the new lower calorie set point, your weight loss will plateau, but until that point, you will lose weight. It’s person to person dependent when that will be, so it’s possible that you’ll lose all the weight you want to before you get to that point. But you may also get stuck like I did before you lose all the weight you want to.

Also, you then have to maintain this lower calorie intake long term to maintain the weight loss. I think it’s easier and more efficient to utilize cheat meals and change the composition of what you’re eating long term by making gradual changes that you can maintain long-term.


When to Try Calorie Restriction

One time calorie restriction may be worth trying is immediately after a vacation, holiday or a week where you ate a lot of sugar, unhealthy carbs and/or unhealthy fatty foods. Then for one week afterward calorie restriction or alternate day fasting may work to offset the one week of unhealthy eating. Studies to date show that calorie restriction and alternate day fasting work similarly for weight loss, but some people find one versus the other easier to do.

The other time to consider calorie restriction is if you really are eating substantially more food than other people who are of a similar size and activity level as you. For example, if everytime you go out for brunch, everyone else eats one entree, and you eat two, this may be the time to consider you’re eating too many calories or too much food.


Should You Use a Calorie Counter?

I started using a calorie counter (MyFitnessPal) initially because I was doing a calorie restriction diet, then I was using it to track how much sugar I was eating, and now because I’m blogging about weight loss. I don’t think you need to use a calorie counter unless you find it helpful.  

One reason you may find it helpful to try for just one month is if you’re not sure what you’re eating too much of, sugar versus fat versus carbs. Tracking what you’re eating for one month can help you figure it out.

Want to lose weight with science backed advice? Get my free guide Lose Weight Without Cooking or Calorie Counting and start losing weight this month.

P.S. Here’s my one minute review of how I would pick what snacks to eat at work.

Is the Impossible Burger Healthy?

My sister and I were recently talking about the Impossible Burger and if it’s really healthier for you. On a side note, who comes up with these names? If it’s Impossible why can you eat it? If you don’t know what the Impossible Burger is, it’s a trendy plant-based burger that’s marketed as tasting like meat, looking like meat, but being healthier for you than meat.

Will the Impossible Burger Help You Lose Weight?

The Impossible Burger is made primarily from wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme plus some other ingredients. I did some research and “heme” is what’s supposed to give it the look and taste of meat.

Naturally occurring heme comes from meat. “Heme” in the Impossible Burger comes from the fermentation of a genetically modified yeast.  The type of “heme” in the Impossible Burger hasn’t been tested for weight loss, heart disease prevention, etc. in humans. It’s not required to be to be sold.  

The Impossible Burger has more saturated fat than a few other popular burgers. It has 10 grams of saturated fat, in comparison, a Shake Shack single hamburger has 9 grams of saturated fat, an In-N-Out hamburger w/onion has 5 grams of saturated fat, and a McDonald’s single hamburger has 3 grams of saturated fat.

Obviously, if you usually add cheese or sauces to your burger that can increase the amount of saturated fat in it. For weight loss, you shouldn’t switch from the type of burger you’re eating now to the Impossible Burger. It’s better to make healthy changes to the type of burger you’re already eating.

Which Burger is Best for Weight Loss?

Moving on to other types of burgers. If it’s not a cheat meal, your best option for weight loss is the burger that has the lowest amount of unhealthy saturated fat in it. That’s usually going to be black bean burgers or grilled chicken, grilled turkey or grilled fish burgers. 

This is assuming they’re cooked the same way. It’s best for losing weight if your burger is grilled versus seared or fried. This is because grilled is usually lower in saturated fat than seared or fried.

Grilled chicken, grilled turkey, and grilled fish burgers will usually have more protein, and black bean burgers will usually have more healthy carbs. Lamb and beef are generally the highest in saturated fat, so they’re the least likely type of burger to help you lose weight.

Losing the Bun

Besides the burger patty, the other important thing for losing weight is losing the bun. A lot of burger places give you the option to order your burger wrapped in lettuce instead of the bun. If you’re able to do this, that’s great.

Personally, I found it easier to order the burger with the bun and then eat it with a fork and knife and gradually eat less and less of the bun every time I order the burger. This way you can work your way up to not eating the bun.

What About Fries?

I’m not recommending a no-carb diet. I’m assuming you ordered fries or potato chips on the side. The amount of fries or potato chips you eat should take up 25% or less of your plate or meal because they’re higher glycemic index foods and won’t help you lose weight.

And always include as many vegetable toppings (except for corn and potatoes) on your burger as possible. This will help because they’re filling and don’t add unhealthy carbs and unhealthy fats to your meal.

Want to lose weight with science-backed advice? Get my free guide Lose Weight Without Cooking or Calorie Counting and start losing weight this month.

P.S.  For more tips on weight loss, you can also follow me on Instagram.

How to Eat on A Weekend Vacation

Today I’m going to talk about how to eat when you’re on a weekend vacation and you’re trying to lose weight.

Going on Vacation: The Perfect Situation

When you’re trying to lose weight the perfect situation is you go on vacation and everyone else going on vacation with you is planning to eat healthy too. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a vacation like this, so it seems a little improbable. However, if you are in this scenario, you may even lose weight while you’re on vacation!

Going on Vacation: The Realistic Situation

Everyone you’re on vacation with plans to eat continuously while you’re on vacation and it’s going to involve all of your favorite foods. This is hard because just being surrounded by people who are eating whatever they want makes it hard for you to eat healthy. Especially when you’re jet-lagged or tired, and you don’t have your regular go-to healthy foods available. Also, you don’t want to be that not fun friend who isn’t experiencing all the great food everyone else is.

This scenario seems more likely. In this situation, your goal should be to not put on weight while you’re on vacation.

How to Not Put on Weight While You’re on Vacation

Here are three options to try:

  1. Save Your Cheat Meals or Cheat Days for Your Vacation – For example, if you normally eat 3 cheat meals a week, eat 1 cheat meal the week before and save 2 for your vacation, and eat 1 cheat meal the week after and save 2 for your vacation. You then have 7 cheat meals total (2+3+2) available for your weekend vacation. If your weekend vacation is 48 hours that basically means you can make every vacation meal a cheat meal. More on how to do a cheat meal correctly here.
  2. Order Family Style -Order food family style for the table and eat how you normally do, the healthy way, by ordering healthy foods too. If you’re ordering for the table you can make sure to order some healthy foods for the table along with the unhealthy foods everyone else wants. This means you have to eat the healthy foods you order. Foods that I’ve found are popular with my friends include salads for the table, roasted Brussels sprouts, and grilled chicken skewers.
  3. Get a Salad and Try Everyone Else’s Food – Say that you’re not that hungry, you’re ordering a salad, but you’re going to try everyone else’s food too. This only works if you only try one bite of everyone else’s food. If you actually try a plate of everyone else’s food, it won’t work out. Don’t do this option if you think that will happen. The goal is that you should end up eating less unhealthy food total because you’ll feel guilty for eating a whole bunch of someone else’s food.

I usually decide which option to pick depending on who I’m going on vacation with and which option I think will be the easiest with that group of people.

What to Do If You Fall Off the Weight Loss Wagon

Here’s my previous post on how to bounce back if nothing works and you end up falling off the weight loss wagon while you’re on vacation.

Another option to consider is that short-term this may actually be a situation where intermittent fasting might work. As I’ve mentioned before long-term fasting is not a great option for weight loss because eventually, your weight loss will plateau, but short-term fasting after a vacation may work out.

If you’ve never tried fasting before this probably won’t work. But if you’ve successfully fasted before this may be the time to try it again. You could try it for the week after you come back from vacation to offset all the eating you did while you were on vacation. If you were eating double the amount of food you normally do it should even you out.

Want to lose weight with science-backed advice? Get my free guide Lose Weight Without Cooking or Calorie Counting and start losing weight this month.

P.S. Wondering what negative calorie foods are? Here’s my one-minute video recap .