When you lose weight, where does the fat ACTUALLY go?

Fat lossThe answer to this question may surprise you.

In fact, according to a recent British Medical Journal article discussing this issue, few health professionals, including doctors, dieticians, and personal trainers know the correct answer.

First, let’s back up for a minute.

When you consume calories beyond what your body needs, you will end up storing that extra energy in the form of triglycerides (glycerol backbone plus 3 free fatty acids) within fat droplets of individual fat cells, or adipocytes. Importantly, whatever the macronutrient composition of your diet (carbohydrate vs. protein vs. fat), when “calories in” exceed “calories out”, the end result is more triglycerides stored in your fat cells. (Before the  carbohydrates or protein you ingested end up filling up a fat cell in the form of triglyceride, they undergo a chemical conversion.) In other words, you could plump up your fat cells by eating only salad (it would take a lot of salad, of course).
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Category: News, Obesity Research, Peer Reviewed Research | 11 Comments

New Year’s resolution pitfalls and how to avoid them

new years resolution“Good resolutions are useless attempts to interfere with scientific laws. Their origin is pure vanity. Their result is absolutely nil.”

-Lord Henry in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Losing weight is the number one resolution people make each year. Getting more exercise or becoming “fit” is usually not far behind in popularity. Seeing as we’re approximately 3 weeks into the New Year, approximately 30% of people who resolved to change their lifestyle this year have already given up. In fact, only about 8% ever succeed in achieving their resolution.

At least some of this spectacularly high recidivism is the result of people setting goals in such a way as to almost guarantee failure, and end up exactly where they started (if not worse off).

Here are the top 5 New Year resolution pitfalls people regularly make. By avoiding these, you can increase your odds of being part of that elusive 8% when 2014 comes to an end.

Pitfall #1: The all or none approach
People have the best of intentions – they recognize the errors in their behaviour and they decide to do a complete 180 and become a new person. Unfortunately, when changes are too drastic, they can be very difficult to adhere to. If you’ve never gone for a jog, don’t set yourself up for failure by resolving to run 10km every day of the week.

Solution: Make small, progressive but easily achievable goals to gain some momentum. Also, try focusing on one change at a time rather than attempting a whole lifestyle makeover.

Pitfall #2: Focusing on outcomes rather than behaviours
What is a typical resolution read like? “I will lose 30lbs by December 31, 2014.” What is the problem? This is largely out of your control. There is marked variability between any two people going on the same weight loss plan. Also, as we’ve highlighted over the years on the blog, achieving sustained significant weight loss is much less common than many would like to believe.

Solution: Instead of worrying about the number on your bathroom scale, focus on healthy behaviours. Improve your diet, move more often, reduce the amount of continuous time you spend sitting, get a good night’s rest – any of these will improve your health and the way you feel. And if you happen to lose some weight along the way, that’s a bonus.

Pitfall #3: Going on a diet
The issue here is more to do with the concept of “dieting”, understood by many as a quick and temporary fix for years or even decades of poor lifestyle. Literally starving yourself for a few weeks or even months will result in weight loss, but how long can you maintain that before you inevitably resort right back to your unhealthy diet? A diet is not something you “go on”, it is a progressive and sustained improvement in what and how you eat.

Solution: Avoid diets that are too restrictive or that sound plain crazy (i.e. grapefruit diet). Instead focus on something more reasonable, such as eating breakfast each day, switching pop and juices for water, eating more small meals throughout the day instead of a couple large ones, slowly replacing your chocolate and chips with healthier snack options, etc. Understand that changing your diet for the better does not happen overnight. It has taken me a good decade to significantly reduce intake of chips and pop – it didn’t happen overnight!

Pitfall #4: Getting a long-term gym membership
While I fully endorse the use of a fitness facility to be physically active, the key error people make here is committing to a gym with a long-term contract (mandatory at many establishments) when they have no idea whether they will like it. This works great for the gym owners – they get tons of money from people who end up never using the facility. The traffic in all gyms swells dramatically every January. By late February, the gym is back to normal and many who started in January have stopped coming (but continue to pay).

Solution: When you head over to your local gym demand that you pay on a per session, per week or per month basis – whatever they allow. Do your best to avoid signing up for a year contract. If in June you are still regularly using the gym – then consider a longer term commitment to save some money. More importantly, get over the notion that you need to go to a gym to get in better shape. You can get a perfectly good workout in your home or at the park. You just have to get creative. The stairs at your office or home are essentially a free gym – use them!

Pitfall #5: Falling for Miracle Weight Loss Cures
The whole reason behind the development of Obesity Panacea waaaaay back in 2008 was to help debunk many of the bogus weight loss products on the market. Judging by the regular spike in traffic from Google to our site early each year for search terms such as “Acai Berry”, “Slender Shaper”, “Air Climber” – too many people will end up buying some utterly useless product they were made to believe is the panacea for obesity.

Solution: Unfortunately, there currently exists no cure for obesity – only treatments. Anyone or any product that suggests otherwise is trying to rip you off: run away!

The best of luck to all of you in 2015.


Category: News | 2 Comments

My new standing desks

CBC came to visit Dr Jamie Burr and I last week to chat about our study on standing desks.  During that chat they asked to see my new standing desks, which can be seen in the video below (email subscribers can view them on the blog).

One is called a Varidesk, and sits on top of my regular desk.  The other is called a Stand Stand, and is basically just a small platform that can be used to elevate a laptop.  The Varidesk is obviously a much more robust option, but I’ve been happy with both so far; I use the Varidesk as work, and the Stand Stand at home while I work on my laptop.  I’ve only had them for a few weeks, so I’m interested to see if I am still keen on them in a few months time!

Category: News | 1 Comment

Participants needed for standing desk study in Charlottetown, PEI

Researchers at the University of PEI (myself included) are running a study on the health impact of standing desks.  Our first cohort of participants recently completed the study, and we’re now recruiting a new batch of participants.

If you live in the Charlottetown area (or know someone who does) and work a desk job, we’d love to include you in this study.  Participants in the experimental group receive a standing desk for 3 months, which is a great opportunity if you’re considering trying one out.

To get involved email upeiexerciselab (at) gmail (dot) com, and Brittany will be in touch.

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What is the best/worst advice a personal trainer has ever given you?

I need your help, dear readers.

This semester I am teaching a course on Exercise Testing and Prescription for undergraduate Kinesiology students. At the end of the course students will be eligible to challenge a national exam to become CSEP Certified Personal Trainers (the professional designation for personal trainers in Canada), and I’m trying to make the course as useful as possible for students who choose to go that route.

This is where you come in. I’ve heard lots of horror stories in the past from people who have received absolutely terrible advice from their personal trainers.  And I’ve also heard stories of people who absolutely love their personal trainers, and have seen great benefits as a result of their training.

In class we’ll be talking a lot about ideal ways of working with clients, but I’d really like to bring in some stories from the client perspective.  If you have had a personal trainer, did you find it to be a positive experience?  Why/why not?

Did they give you excellent advice?  Did they consistently fail to provide you with an actual training plan?  What made you want to leave/stay with your trainer for a long time? I would love to hear all of your thoughts in the comments section below, or via email (saunders dot travis at gmail).

Please leave out names of the trainers/gyms, and you can even omit your own name if you choose to do so (the comment box requires a name and email address, but they need not be real ones).  Any thoughts on what your trainer did to make working out a good/bad experience would be extremely useful to both me and my students.




Category: Miscellaneous | Tagged , | 10 Comments

3 Awesome Science/Health Books To Read This Holiday Season

I know that I’m a little late to the game on the whole “gift guide” this year.  Last week I covered what *not* to buy your kids (a screen-based device), earlier this week I covered how to stay active with a baby (a Chariot stroller), and today I thought I’d give some suggestions on the best science and/or health books that I’ve read in the past year (in no particular order).

1. The Sports Gene

The Sports Gene

Written by David Epstein of Sports Illustrated, this book covers all of the many factors that contribute to elite athletic performance.  It covers training (Epstein takes a *lot* of swipes at Malcolm Gladwell’s idea that it takes 10 000 hours of training to become an elite performer), physiology, genetics, ethinicity, sex, you name it.

The book is absolutely riveting.  I normally don’t get all that excited about books on physiology since I spend my days immersed in it, but this book was amazing (the book was lent to me by my colleague Dany MacDonald, and at first I was a bit skeptical, but it was every bit as good as he promised).  Incredibly readable, covering the science but in a way that is very approachable for non-experts, and absolutely fascinating from start to finish.  It was good enough that I assigned one of the chapters to my undergraduate physiology students, and it led to a much better discussion than anything from the textbook.

Perfect for: Anyone interested in the science of sport performance.

2. What makes Olga run?

What makes Olga run?

This book takes a more focused approach, with author Bruce Grierson following 91 year old track sensation Olga Kotelko, recounting her accomplishments and examining the underlying science of aging and sport performance.  This book has less hard science than The Sports Gene, but is no less compelling as it follows how impressive Olga is compared to her peers, and how she almost appeared to improve with age (sadly, Olga passed away earlier this year).

Perfect for: Anyone interested in active, healthy aging.

3. The Diet Fix

The Diet Fix

The Diet Fix was written by the physician and blogger Yoni Freedhoff (disclosure: I consider Yoni a friend, and received a demo copy of the book).  The book explains why “dieting” doesn’t actually work (as many people already know through personal experience), then provides a number of simple techniques to help improve the quality of any diet (keeping a food diary, making sure you include protein and other filling foods in all your meals and snacks, etc).  It also includes a number of simple, healthy recipes (if you’ve read Yoni’s blog, you know that he’s a big proponent of home cooking).

It’s a common sense book for a field (e.g. diet books) that often lacks any kind of sense whatsoever.  I’ve personally recommended Yoni and his book to a number of friends and family, and will continue to do so.  My only critique is that he left screen time until the last two pages of the book (I guess the topic was so important that he had to save it until the very end!).

Perfect for: Anyone looking to have a healthier diet, and especially those people who are easily taken with fad diets.


Category: News | 4 Comments