Friday, July 15, 2011

The red zone

When you see the color red, you know to be careful: stop, don't cross the street, don't eat that beautiful mushroom, you get it. When I am assessing your food log and it comes back to you covered in red, we both know there are aspects that you should be paying attention to. I will often send you your log - red zones included, and the mini goals for next week. It ends up working out fine and if you follow prescriptions, it gets you where you want to be, especially when fat loss is the goal.

People are often curious what are the most common log entries that end up red, so here they are!

1. Eating sweet tasting foods on an empty stomach or eating sweets between meals. Females are especially prone to searching for the sweet taste when they are dieting, partially because they are conditioned to think sweets will give them energy, partially because they are craving the taste. My observations are that this sets them for poor behavior at all meals and often they end up over consuming calories and carbohydrate. If you don't want to ride the sugar rollercoaster all day, make your snacks lower sugar - go for hard boiled eggs, nuts, some cheese, combining them with vegetables or fruits such as berries. Women working in offices are especially prone to having office treats such as donuts or chocolates that happen to be around. Be prepared to say no.

2. Skipping vegetables. The long term control of caloric intake and appetite is easy if you include vegetables at every meal. They taste good, add volume, add fiber and phytonutrients, aid in digestion and help you feel satisfied longer. The carbohydrate they carry is minimal compared to grains. Skip veggies and you are left only with your higher nutrient and calorie density choices - that means you would have to eat a lot more fat and protein, or carbohydrate. Can you see how this would mean more calories at each meal? This is exactly the opposite of your goal if you are on a diet. Make sure you have vegetables at every meal.

3. Eating meals that are too small closely followed by more small meals. I call this the ''third dinner'' phenomenon. I see this most often with busy moms, who don't have the time to sit down for a full meal, have a couple of bites while their family is eating, then an hour later go for more, yet not enough and then end up with some popcorn and caramel in front of the TV. Smaller meals leave your body hungry, so it's natural to look for more food, but now your satiety hormones are not working optimally and you can't produce a good response to the meal. The best approach is to prepare a normal sized meal with adequate protein and fat for your size and goals, and some carbs if you exercised, and make sure that it all goes in at the same time. This way you won't be adding more and more calories to your plate, without even realizing it.

4. Having a carbohydrate based breakfast.  If you are one of the rare individuals that has long lasting energy after eating pancakes and syrup or cereal for breakfast, you most likely don't need to be on a diet and you are not one of my nutrition clients. Most people looking to lose fat do much better on a breakfast higher in protein and fat, rich in vegetables or fruit and one lacking the sweet taste. I often have to red out breakfasts, because they only consist of a couple of apricots or crackers. Here is the rule of thumb: if you are not hungry, don't even bother to eat anything, just fast until your next normal meal. If you are hungry, then go for eggs, cheese, meat (bacon), raw nuts, greek yogurt, veggies, some berries or other fruit that doesn't increase your appetite. Cook your breakfast with butter or coconut oil, and enjoy long lasting energy that won't have you reaching for the office snacks.

5. Having too much alcohol or a couple of types of alcohol. I will even take this farther and say having beer and starchy carbs at the same meal. If you've ever been on a diet, you know that alcohol isn't something you can have as much as you like of. It messes up fat burning, it destroys hydration, it makes you less energetic the day after. Small amounts are surely ok, so stick to your favorite drink, and have one of it. I often have to red out beer in combination with wine, followed by shots of tequila. Choose your drink and stick to it and make sure you have eaten something high in protein and fat before you drink. If you end up coming home starving, don't be surprised and be ready to have some actual food: hard boiled eggs, cottage cheese, meat, or nuts, instead of a piece of cake or a chocolate bar. Don't add insult to injury.

Curious about your own habits and your own dietary logs? If you don't have someone objectively looking at them, you can always contact me at and get the evaluation you need to make your diet efforts a real and long term success!


  1. Glad you like it :) Remember you started doing your own red after a while? ;)

  2. Yes, indeed :)))))))))))

  3. Gayla, Hi - It's Mary.
    AS far as carbs for breakfast, does that go for oatbran hot cereal or quinoa for breakfast?

  4. Hey Mary,
    notice how eating JUST carbs affect you; yes that includes oatbran and quinoa: most people do better having a little bit of these and then some eggs on the side, a couple of pieces of bacon, etc. Protein keeps your full longer in most cases.

  5. Wow this is very informative. I will have to pay closer attention to these things. Thanks



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