Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Genetics or Lifestyle?

What's more important? The genes your parents handed you or the foods they taught you to love?

I've been reading up on the debate about which factors are more influential - genetics or lifestyle - in maintaining a healthy weight. As you can imagine, it's pretty tough to prove either way. Maybe a person wasn't genetically predisposed to be obese, but their family's lifestyle factors influenced them in that direction. Or on the flipside - my father's family has been studied by the University of Utah because of the high incidence of obesity and yet not one of my siblings is overweight. I remember as a teenager my aunt telling me, "You're just a big-boned girl." (Loved that) Or the former Mr. Utah who taught me more about personal training than a university degree, "I love those thick Coats' legs." (As he grabbed my thigh during a lifting session.) Let's face it, because of genetics (and my ice cream addiction) I will never be a size two, but honestly, I'm okay with that. I just want to be fit and feel good.

I liked the four points that writer, William Saletan brings up in his article in The Dallas News, "Is genetics or lifestyle a bigger factor in obesity?"

"First, heritability by itself can't prove the limits of what environmental changes might produce. Environmental changes can significantly raise or lower average weight – as, in fact, they have – even if genes largely determine your weight relative to your peers.


Second, any environmental factor that affects the whole study population is too big to show up in the analysis. I'm not talking about things each family could do. I'm talking about things that affect nearly all families simultaneously: urbanization, pollution, the arrival of television and the proliferation of fast food.


Third, just because something is genetically caused doesn't mean it can't be behaviorally controlled.


Fourth, diet and lifestyle can themselves be genetic pathways. For example, fidgeting has been shown to burn lots of calories; it's highly plausible that fidgeting is genetically influenced and that it drives people to exercise. To the extent that genetics overlaps with fattening behavior, old dichotomies have to be chucked. You can't just blame fat people for eating too much. Nor can you assume that because fat is hereditary, there's nothing they or society can do about it." (i)

I think the bottom line is our propensity to be overweight or thin is definitely affected by our genetics but if we're one of those unlucky people who are more likely to be overweight we have to fight harder and employ all the tricks. It isn't fair, but hey, those skinny people have other challenges like, um, never being able to compete in sumo wrestling.

What do you think? Is lifestyle the determining factor or is it impossible to overcome your ancestry? 



Friday, June 19, 2009

Exercise Burnout or Lack of Motivation?

When your alarm screeches at an a.m. hour, that should never be seen unless you have a newborn, do you leap out of bed thrilled to hit the gym or lace up your running shoes or do you roll over and smack the darn thing. Lately I've been more of a smacking kind of gal. Once I finally get to the gym or go for a run or bike ride I really do enjoy myself but I honestly dread going. 

I wonder if I'm suffering from burnout or if I'm just lacking sleep or motivation. Most of the articles I read about exercise burnout suggest that it may stem from over-training with symptoms such as decreased performance, lack of coordination, loss of self-esteem, or prolonged recovery from injuries. If you have any of these symptoms you should reevaluate your training schedule, include more variety in your routine, and maybe force yourself to take a break a couple of days a week. 

But what if you're just like me and need a kick in the running skirt? Here are some ideas that have helped me through the years.

1 - Put your alarm clock across the room so you have to get out of bed to turn it off.

2 - Set out your clothes the night before - it just kills me if I have to put those clothes away clean.

3 - Plan on meeting a friend - make sure it's someone who makes you feel guilty if you don't show up! 

4 - Put a quarter in a jar each time you workout or make a conscious choice to not eat a treat, in a few months you might be able to buy yourself a shirt.

5 - Go to bed on time - Set a certain time each night and force yourself to go to bed. (This one never works for me, but maybe it'll help some of you!)

6 - Get your spouse/significant other on board. Write down your goals and then share them with someone who loves you and wants to see you feel good. They won't even have to say anything if you mess up, just knowing that they know will help keep you on track.

7 - Vary your workout. This helps with not only burnout but increases your results. Try a new type of cardio or a new class at the gym or a new strength-training move. Get outside and do something fun like hiking, climbing, swimming, or a team sport.

8 - Plan out your workout the night before. You won't waste any time in the morning and you'll be focused on your goal. Sometimes this helps me but sometimes I'm apprehensive about how hard the workout is going to be and I smack that snooze again and again!

I'd love to hear your ideas for how you stay motivated.




I thought this article had some great exercise motivation ideas -

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rest and Recovery

Rest? Who has time for that? It turns out that all of us need to make time, if we want to improve our fitness level.

This past week I had two very sweet women tell me they wanted arms like mine, then they proceeded to ask if I lifted weights every day. I said thank you first, then lectured on the importance of letting your body and muscles rest. 

If you lift heavy enough weights and lift correctly, your muscles are going to break down and rebuild after your strength training session. Notice I said, after. You need to allow your body time to complete this process before you lift on that part of the body again. As the muscle rebuilds it becomes stronger. If someone is doing biceps curls every day that muscle is not being allowed to rebuild and the person is hurting themselves and essentially wasting their exercise time. 

Every body is different but usually one to two days between strength training sessions is enough, unless you are really trying to build mass. 

Another important component of recovery is sleep. I usually have between one and four boys sharing my bed with me each night. It doesn't make for fabulous sleep! I know, I should make them stay in their own beds but they're so dang cute in the middle of the night! I am definitely lacking in quality sleep (I'm sure many of you can relate) and that isn't a good thing. 

The stress hormones your body releases when you’re sleep-deprived leads to a loss of lean tissue, a gain in fat mass, a sluggish metabolism, and slow recovery. (i)

So, if you can, try to get to bed on time each night and don't share that feather pillow with a cute, little head. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Diet vs. Exercise

       As a lover of exercise, I would like to tell you that the only requirement to being healthy and fit is a regular workout regime. Unfortunately, I’d be lying to you. Without a healthy diet becoming and staying fit will be extremely difficult. Many people try to maintain or lose weight through diet or exercise alone. But you need both, especially if you’re over thirty and the metabolism has started to slow naturally (Darn this aging business).


As a teenager I used to eat nachos and ice cream daily. As a twenty-year old I would crush up Oreos and pour milk over them for breakfast. Now as a thirty-something (not admitting how many somethings) I’ve finally convinced my self-indulgent tongue that I have to eat healthy 95% of the time. I still have the occasional bowl of ice cream, but now it’s in a lovely (and tiny) crystal dessert bowl instead of a Cool Whip container. Don’t think that the beauty of my dessert bowl eases the sting of not eating enough of my favorite treat, but I have found that I can be satisfied with the smaller portion if I savor each teeny bite.


To lose weight and keep it off for life you need a combination of cardiovascular exercise, strength training, and a healthy diet that you can live with. I recommend that my clients eat 5-6 small meals or snacks per day, drink lots of water and limit themselves to one treat, something they can thoroughly enjoy and will keep them from craving more or being irritable (I don’t know about you, but denying myself chocolate for life would require my husband to live in his garage).


On my website, under the links page, there is a file called, “Cami’s Eating Chart.” It is a spreadsheet with suggested meal and snack times and a spot to record water consumption and exercise time. It’s a fabulous idea to write down what you eat. Keeping a food diary can double a person’s weight loss according to a study from Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research. (i)


Many women tell me that they have a hard time eating 5-6 times a day. The reason I encourage this is it keeps food portions small. If you know you’re eating again in two to three hours, you won’t be so tempted to polish off that sandwich (I have to remind myself that it’s okay to throw food away). Also, eating often keeps your blood sugar or glucose levels even. If your blood glucose dips too low because you’re not eating enough or you’re allowing too much time between meals, you will become irritable, tired, your metabolism will dip (not something we want if we’re trying to lose weight) and if you go too long your body will start deriving its energy from protein, keeping the protein from its intended use – building our muscles and increasing our metabolism. If your blood glucose rises too high because you ate too much, the excess will be stored (usually as fat). Which leads us back to our healthy, small meals and keeping blood sugar at a normal level.


Another important factor is what you are eating. Make sure your diet is full of lots of veggies, fruits, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and high-fiber carbs and you’ll be doing well. Here’s a list of healthy snacks to get you started.


Popcorn (air-popped or 94% fat free)

Glass of skim milk

Cottage cheese

Raw veggies – carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, cucumbers, etc.

Boiled egg

Serving of fruit - banana, apple, orange, pear, strawberries, grapes, etc.

Rice cakes

Nuts or sunflower seeds and raisins

Small bowl of high-fiber cold cereal

Peanut butter on celery sticks

Fruit smoothie - Mix your favorite fruit with fat-free yogurt, skim milk, vanilla flavoring, and ice

Yogurt Parfait – low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, fruit, and granola

Almonds and Raisins

Apple and Peanut Butter

Chicken and Spinach Salad

Cottage Cheese and Fruit

Frozen Yogurt

Guacamole and Veggies

Ham and Cheese Slices

Hummus on Lettuce Leaves

High fiber toast with peanut butter and jelly


Open-Faced Roast Beef or Turkey Sandwich

Peanut Butter and Banana

Peanuts and Yogurt

Pudding Cup

Rice Cake with Peanut Butter

Slim•Fast Low Carb Snack Bar

Strawberries and String Cheese

Tortilla Chips and Salsa

Trail Mix

Wheat Crackers and Cheese

Low-fat granola bar


Make the choice today to incorporate healthy eating and a regular exercise program into your busy life. You not only reap the rewards of losing/maintaining weight, you will also prevent a multitude of diseases, be full of energy, and feel great!


Cami Checketts is a wife, mother, exercise scientist, and author. Her latest book, The Sister Pact, will be available July 2009.



(i) Keeping a Food Diary Doubles Diet Weight Loss -