Intermittent Fasting

Intermittent fasting pic

Is Intermittent Fasting a Diet fad or return to a more logical eating style? There are so many diet trends. Even as a nutrition expert it becomes easy to brush past them as “just another pitch”. To avoid this, I remind myself I am a counselor, and as such I need to be prepared to field a variety of questions. I need to be able to promote or breakdown any concept that comes my way. So, a few years ago, when Intermittent Fasting (IF) came across my desk in a conversation, I decided to dive into the research. Initially unsure of the concept, I dove into the forum corners of the internet to learn what IF was, then like any good medical professional, I turned to the literature for supporting rationale. To my surprise, the concept held weight. Here is the who, what and why about what IF can do for the body.

The phrase “intermittent fasting” sounds intimidating to the average person. Our society has become so fearful of any level of hunger (or too excited by feelings of complete fullness) that the word fast often becomes synonymous with starve. IF is not starving. At baseline, it is a very intuitive concept: our body does not need food all the time. If we look back over human history, we can see that food abundance has only existed in the last 100 years, and food excess for the masses is only as recent as the 1950s and 1960s. Before these periods, most people had some level of food scarcity. That meant missing a meal occasionally or frequently. Once again our minds shift to the suffering of the great depression, or an image of a homeless person looking for a chance to eat. IF is not the same as those things. Instead, IF is the practice of shrinking the time in which you eat. There are 24 hours in a day, and ideally we are not eating, or in a fed state, for a majority of those hours. Keeping food in a 12 hour span is step 1 for any IF dieter. Why?

Without going into too much detail, every time our body eats, we secrete insulin. Insulin is a storage hormone, it signals our body to store. When we eat too often or during too long of a period, insulin gets secreted, and the levels rise in the blood. This leads to two things: increased appetite and further increased insulin. This is why snacking gets so out of control. We eat something small, it digests quickly, insulin spikes, the food stores, we get hungry again, eat, insulin spikes once again before the previous meals hormone secretion is gone. Insulin accumulates and over time our body becomes used to it. Just like an antibiotic, we need a higher dose to do the same thing. Our body produces more insulin, which makes us even hungrier and signals the body to store. This cycle leads to the grazing tendencies of many cultures. Want to perform a fun test? Walk down a busy city street. If there are a bunch of kiosks and storefronts selling snacks, chances are you will see higher rates of obesity than in cities where the focus is on main meals (snacking is absent).

To summarize what we just discussed: IF at its base is controlling the hours you eat to allow insulin levels to drop back to a normal baseline. This regulates appetite, and gets your body out of the “storage mode” it knows too well. For women, eating in an 8-10 hour span is recommended for weight loss. For men, 10-12 hours is usually a small enough window to find benefit. If you are an athlete, or performing a physically demanding event, these rules should not apply. The “intermittent” part of this concept is that it should fit your schedule. I find it helps my patients to either think about it as: break your fast 12 hours from last night’s dinner, or eat dinner within 12 hours of when you eat breakfast. Either way, it forces you to think about when you are eating, which is something we all need help with from time to time.

*** Mythbust *** Breakfast: In the US, the “Breakfast” meal is the meal we eat when we wake up. Everywhere else, and more accurately, it is the first meal of the day- the meal that literally Breaks your Fast! This can be 6a, 9a, 1p, etc. Whatever you eat first is breakfast. So, if your lunch meal is your first meal, it is also your breakfast meal. This is important. The comment “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is only true if you are talking about it as the first meal of the day. This is because the quality and balance of food is extremely important in regulating appetite. An easy example to consider is comparing someone who rolls out of bed, grabs a granola bar and a coffee and starts their day, to a person who gets up, drinks some water, gets ready, goes to work, checks some emails, then takes a break around 9 to heat up oatmeal with some nuts and berries in it. Who will be hungrier at lunch? Who is more likely to make a better choice at lunch? Because of the breakfast and lunch meal, who is most likely to raid the vending machine for something simple and sugary? The quality of breakfast matters more than the time it occurs.

oatmeal breakfastThe focus on quality becomes relevant to all our meals. I always tell my clients that snacks snooze your appetite, they delay the appetite to a later time, while meals satisfy. A focus on real food at key points in the day is extremely valuable. Our society has evolved from a 3 meal per day society into a snack all day society over the past 50 years. We can thank our busy schedules and the time demand that comes with hyper productive technology and automation. Unfortunately, these advances have led to a work force that sacrifices it’s short-term energy and long term health to meet the demands. The disappearance of minimally processed, filling meals at breakfast and lunch is closely correlated to the tendency to over eat at night, complain of cravings, energy dips in the afternoon and of course, snacking. Is correlation causation? Perhaps not always, but I guarantee many of you reading are seeing consistencies.

With the focus on quality comes the focus on spread of food. Once we keep our food in a set period of time, we want to make sure there is time between meals. This allows insulin to rise, fall and dissolve. This regulates appetite and most people notice themselves needing to eat less often immediately. That is the core concept of a breakfast, lunch and dinner. Snacks are meant to bridge gaps. They are not a daily need to entitlement. They are valuable to curb appetite until quality food can be consumed. They are useful for athletes or those participating in demanding physical feats. Most often, our meals should be our priority.

Once you have selected or identified the hours to keep your food in, an ideal spread of quality food to keep your body satisfied, you are ready to see the steady benefits of eating the way our body intended. Instead of following a meal plan that forces you to eat when you are full, or even worse a meal plan that has you counting the minutes to your next meal, IF allows your body to find a natural rhythm.

For those with high fasted insulin levels (lab draws and symptoms can confirm), the next phase of the intermittent fast is to pick 1-2 days per week and extend the fasted period. For the extended fast, if you normally eat in a 12 hour span, shrink food to an 8 hour span. This extension of the fast drops insulin levels further, and allows the body to get into an unfed state. Don’t worry, this is not something that “crashes” your metabolism. You are not skipping meals. You are controlling when you eat. Your body still has adequate food coming in, it is just spaced in a more practical way for weight loss.

***Let me guess, your personal trainer tells you that you’re going to wither away or lose muscle. Something to remember: bodybuilders and individuals building muscle want high insulin levels- they are extremely active, with high levels of muscle mass, so storage means additional growth of these tissues. Further, they do not have excess fat cells signaling storage into fat, rather they have excess muscle cells asking for energy. So, the lean and fit trainer that boasts about the 6 meals per day they eat- good for them, I do that too! There are definitely people who benefit from that, but many of the overweight and obese clients seeking our advice are looking to shed weight and adjust their hormones. For these people, the “eat more to lose” will often times lead to frustration. Additionally, our bodies have evolved over a long period of time, and humans have survived thousands of years of famines, droughts, and periods of scarcity. If the first thing our body did when we missed a meal was ate our muscle, we would not have survived the trials of time. Our body does not want to consume our muscle tissue. That is a last resort. It is worth noting however that our body does closely regulate muscle. It only keeps what it needs. So for the bodybuilder with an extra 40 lbs of lean mass, if it does not get used, the body will break it down. This isbiceps 2 where the fear of muscle wasting comes from. Once again, advice that is relevant to a specific population, yet somehow made it to the ears of the general public. For those who do not have excessive muscle, fear not, your biceps are safe.

Another common concern that goes along with the fear of muscle wasting is that not eating will ruin your metabolism. Something that most do not understand is the metabolism is just a title for the total burn of the body. Our cells and organs use energy to survive, heal, reproduce and function daily. Our heart beats, our brain thinks, our nerves conduct, our cells divide. These events require energy and produce heat (measured in calories) as a byproduct. While it is true that out metabolism varies (+/- about 40% on any day), fasting does not lead to permanent reductions in metabolic rate, especially when compared to standard caloric restriction. Eating less in general reduces metabolism, but with IF, you are not necessarily eating less. Many times, you are simply eating in a more natural, regulated, and intuitive way, which is quite beneficial. Remember, there is a difference between the person that skips meals thanks to stress all day then settles for low quality food and the intermittent faster than plans when to eat and focuses on the quality of food to regulate insulin and other hormones.

Just like every dietary concept, this is not a one size fits all. Not everyone should do this, and not everyone benefits from this concept. During consultations, my team evaluates our patients extensively before building a program. This is a tool we use for those with hormonal barriers to weight loss. The people that are maintaining or gaining weight on low calorie diets are the most common population. On the contrary, IF is rarely a recommendation you see in the lean and fit, the athletes, the hypermetabolic, and those losing weight for the first time. Our body is a complex system, and IF is just another key that can help some unlock their puzzle of optimal health.


Additional Tips:

  • Water, Unsweetened Tea, Black coffee are okay in the fasted state
  • No artificial sweeteners during fasted state
  • Fasting in the morning is often the easiest time (our breakfast sparks our appetite) – it is easier to stay fasted once fasting.
  • Extended fasts are easiest on days with less physical activity and days with mental stimulation. A busy morning flys by.
  • If you are exercising to perform- do not fast on those
  • If you are exercising to lose fat (slow and steady cardio) you can fast
  • Fasting does not need to occur daily, look at your schedule and listen to your body
  • Ask to have your fasted insulin levels checked- it is not a common lab to order

Vexing Vocabulary: Organic

Organic Pic

By Rachel Duncan

In this edition of the Vexing Vocabulary blog series, we want to explore another commonly misunderstood nutrition buzz word: organic. We see it popping up in grocery stores more than ever before, but what exactly does “organic” mean?

It may be easiest to start with defining the non-organic food that we commonly consume. “Conventional” foods are what you could consider the opposite of organic. These may be grown using pesticides, synthetic or chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides to maximize the yield of the crop. The use of these technologies has been essential in the development of our agricultural system. It is important to know that the use of these conventional means of food production do not make foods unhealthy or unsafe for consumption. Rinsing and washing produce does not entirely eliminate pesticides, but can greatly reduce it. There is no conclusive research that pesticide, herbicide, or insecticide use are unsafe in the production of food.

In contrast to conventional food, organic food has limits on the technologies that can be used in production. Organic produce started being labeled as such in 1990, but there was no official definition of what classified the food as organic until the early 2000’s. Currently, of all of the food marketing terms, “organic” does have a legal definition and meaning. Before a farm or manufacturer can market their products as organic, a government certified inspector must confirm that the USDA standards are met in production. “Organic” means different things based on the food item. In the following paragraphs, we will define and provide examples of organic produce, meat, and dairy.


Organic produce does not use pesticides in production. This means that any weeds are controlled by natural means, such as crop rotation, hand weeding, mulching, and tilling). Insecticides are also prohibited in organic food production, so natural methods of insect control are utilized (birds, traps, etc.). No fertilizers can be used in crop production that contain synthetic ingredients or sewage sludge, bioengineering, or ionizing radiation.

Meat and dairy:

No antibiotics or growth hormones were added to the food products that were fed to the animals, meaning that the livestock are also eating organic feed. In conventional meat and dairy production, livestock may be given antibiotics and other medications to keep them healthy, but this is not allowed in organic production. Organic livestock must also be raised in living conditions that promote their natural behaviors, such as grazing on pastures. This practice has been shown to contribute to the fatty acid content of meats, and is beneficial to the health of the animal.

Processed foods:

There are no artificial coloring, flavoring, preservatives, or sweeteners in organic food products. Organically processed foods must have organic ingredients, with several minor exceptions.  Examples of this would include enzymes in yogurts, pectin used as a binding agent in jams, and baking soda in baked goods.


Levels of Organic Labeling

How can you identify what foods are organic? The USDA enforces the labeling of organic foods. The Organic Foods Production Act requires the USDA to hold nationwide standards for organic agricultural products so the consumer is aware of what they are purchasing. There are four levels of organic labeling that you will see in grocery stores:

100% organic:

All ingredients of the finished product are certified 100% organic. These products can be labeled with the USDA Certified Organic Food label.

Organic Label


95% of the ingredients of the finished product meet the organic criteria. These products can also be labeled with the USDA Certified Organic Food label shown above.

Made with organic ingredients:

70% of the ingredients of the finished product meet the organic criteria. The USDA Organic seal may not be used on the labeling of these products, but “Made with organic ingredients” may appear on the food label.

Specific organic ingredients:

This claim could be made on the food label of a multi-ingredient food product with less than 70% of its ingredients meeting the organic criteria. They may not display the USDA Organic seal, but they may list the organic ingredients that were used in the production.

The “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen”

If you are interested in buying organic produce but have limited availability of organically grown fruits and vegetables, or are trying to keep an eye on cost, this can be a helpful tip!  The “Clean Fifteen” and “Dirty Dozen” can help you decide what produce is smart to buy organic versus conventional. The “Clean Fifteen” listed below on the left are found to have lower levels of pesticide residue than the “Dirty Dozen” listed to the right. If you are aiming to reduce pesticide residue in your diet, it may be helpful to purchase fruits and vegetables on the “Dirty Dozen” list that have been grown organically.

         Clean Fifteen

  1. Sweet potatoes
  2. Cauliflower
  3. Cantaloupe
  4. Grapefruit
  5. Eggplant
  6. Kiwi
  7. Papaya
  8. Mangoes
  9. Asparagus
  10. Onions
  11. Sweet peas
  12. Cabbage
  13. Pineapples
  14. Sweet corn
  15. Avocados

Dirty Dozen

  1. Apples
  2. Strawberries
  3. Grapes
  4. Celery
  5. Peaches
  6. Spinach
  7. Sweet bell peppers
  8. Nectarines
  9. Cucumbers
  10. Cherry tomatoes
  11. Snap peas
  12. Potatoes


A Final Thought

At this time there is no conclusive research that organic food items have any more health benefits than their conventionally produced counterparts. It’s important to know that the organic label does not inherently make a food “healthier.” With that being said, if you want to shop organic, we encourage and support you in doing so! There are environmental benefits associated with organic farming practice, including but not limited to:

  • Reduced land mass allocated for corn* and soy production (a majority of corn grown in the U.S. is grown to feed livestock, and most livestock do not naturally consume corn).
  • Improved fatty acid profile of meats (particularly with beef and eggs animals that consume their natural diet digest better, better utilize nutrients, more naturally partition nutrients, and as a result are healthier. Fat content in grass-fed beef is naturally lower and contains fats that are easier to breakdown. Free range organic eggs contain significantly more omega-3 fatty acids in the yolk of the egg.) For more information on this topic, look for our upcoming blog on grass fed, cage free, and wild caught!
  • Improved quality of life for the animals being raised
  • Improved allocation of resources to local consumers (reduced carbon footprint)

* Corn is a very demanding crop and is known for stripping nutrients from soil, depleting it over time, and reducing yield of other crops. There is evidence that the organic farming method which feeds livestock their natural diet of grass in pastures leads to leaner animals, increased availability of land mass for other farming practice, and an improved impact on the nutrient contents of the soil.

You may have noticed that organic food products are more expensive than their conventional counterparts. This is because the yield of organic food is typically lower, and more labor, time and money are invested into the production. If you are interested in buying organic foods, there are some ways to offset the higher prices. Shopping in season is an effective way to save money on organic produce. Fruits and vegetables that are in season are less expensive and fresher! It is also a good idea to shop around and compare prices of organic items. Taking advantage of local farmer’s markets is a great way to eat organic products and to support your community.





Sit-Ups, The Secret To Belly Fat Reduction?

One guy walks into the gym and asks the other guy, “I want to lose my belly fat, it’s been years since I’ve seen my abs!” The other guy follows up with “Easy man, crunches and sit-ups for a flatter stomach!”

Sounds familiar, right?

Well, before I get into the real-world application of this famous topic, let’s dive into a little research…

Sit ups


One study compared two groups, an abdominal exercise group and a control group. For consistency purposes, both groups had the same calorie count. The abdominal group performed 7 ab exercises for 2 sets of 10, 5 days/week, for 6 weeks! Result? Other than the abdominal group significantly improving their abdominal muscular endurance, there was no significant change in belly fat, or drop in body fat percentages.

All together now – *GASP*

I know what you’re thinking, so now what?

Well, another study compared a non-exercise group to an exercise group, with a slight catch, they were both following a diet that placed them in a calorie deficit (eating less calories than they were putting out via exercise). Results? BOTH groups experienced significant body mass and body fat reductions with the exercise group gaining improvements in exercise performance. And guess what? Not a single sit-up was performed.

Shall we pause for another gasp?


So, spot reduction, a myth? Definitely.

If you’re a guy and you’re struggling with your “spare tire”, here are a few questions I have for you…

  • What are you currently doing to transform your body?
  • Are you including weight lifting to your routine? PS – tune in next week on how exercise selection in the gym correlates to a strong core…and no, I’m not talking about sit-ups, or crunches 😉
  • How would you rate you habits in and out of the gym? Are you being consistent?

We can go on and on with this list. The key is to keep it simple – have a plan, execute, and be consistent. And no, being in the gym 7 days a week is not the answer.

Have a crazy schedule and a family to care for? 3 days per week in the gym is a GREAT start. Click HERE to find out how my clients are doing it.

Or check out the results for yourself – this is Brad. I worked with Brad for quite some time. I can tell you for a fact that we did not program an “ab routine” into his lifting plan. We stuck to the basics…lifting, minor cardio, and consistency week in and week out.


-Eddie Larios

Founder/Coach for AMP Fitness

Click here to learn more about my Men’s 6 Week Alpha Challenge à


1) “The effect of abdominal exercise on abdominal fat.”

2) “Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independent of the method for weight loss.”

Trust the Process: a client reflection and celebration of lifestyle change by Jamie Hildebrand


Let me begin with how this all began. How all I wanted to do was prove to everyone I could do another show. How I wanted to walk on stage again for the third time with a smile and flash of my accomplishment of a 12 week prep. However, this time was different. This time I was so much further and ready for the show. I was at a great starting weight 135lbs about. I was lean enough to still enjoy food and not have to put my body through a major shock. I was so excited to hear these words exit Andrew’s mouth. He said it with a smile and so much encouragement that I was so pumped to start this journey again with him.

I met Andrew in December of 2015. I was referred to him by a friend and immediately was interested to hear his thoughts about foods and shows. When we started I weighed almost 150. I didn’t consider myself fat, but I definitely wasn’t in shape. I met with Andrew and told him I wanted to compete. I told him I wanted to do a show and compete in the figure category. That was it. That was my goal. Stand on stage and be a figure competitor. Oh, how I was so far from knowing the real goal.

What’s the Deal with Expiration Dates?

Did you know approximately 90 billion pounds of edible food in the US gets thrown away each year?

The dates on food labels can be deceiving and down right confusing, which can lead to perfectly good and safe food being tossed in the trash.  In reality, you really can use the dates as a guide for freshness, rather than an indicator that food has spoiled.

In general, most foods can be consumed days, weeks, even months past the dates printed on their label. However, there are some dates we should follow closely:

  • Baby formula
  • Deli meats, unpasteurized dairy products, ready-to-eat cold foods, uncooked hot dogs & sausages.
  • Pasteurized dairy products tend to have a gracious life (take a whiff, you’ll know if it’s past it’s prime)
  • Eggs can be eaten 3-5 weeks after “use by” date. (FYI: older eggs make better hard boiled eggs!)

If there’s visible mold (green spots or white fuzz) a funky smell or a slimy texture, toss it!

For more information on how YOU can do your part in reducing food waste, click here!

Resources: USDA FSI Food Product Dating, USDA Food Waste Challenge

Supplement Navigation 101

By Laine Greenawalt MS ACSM-CPT, RDE

Dietary Supplements – How to navigate the advertising chaos and be an informed consumer.

Have you ever considered taking a dietary supplement? If so, you’re not alone. More than two-thirds of Americans take dietary supplements each year and the supplement industry was booming in 2016, generating 121.6 billion dollars. As a health professional, it’s exciting to know that the public has taken such an interest in their health. But with this booming industry also comes a plethora of information. Add this to the constant barrage of advertisements selling everything from weight loss to increased muscle size and you have dietary supplement wilderness that is often confusing to consumers. So how do you navigate the hype and determine if a supplement really is for you? Here are a couple things to consider before starting a new dietary supplement.


Weekly Meal Prep Set-Up

I can’t stress to my clients enough the importance of being prepared. When you are prepared you can make a better decision. It takes the guess work out of what to make and takes you out of situations where you are stuck and are forced to make a bad decision.

Even if you can’t prepare your whole meal ahead of time, I think it can still be extremely helpful to at least do what we call, “meat” prepping. Preparing your meats in advance allows you to take away the most time consuming part of the meal. Dinner on a week night should not take you more than 20-30 minutes,unless you are someone with a more flexible schedule who can balance cooking dinner on a regular basis. I recommend spending the bulk of your work on the weekend. After grocery shopping, it should only take you 1-3 hours to clean, cut, and cook. For some people, breaking apart the cooking into a Sunday and Wednesday night can better maintain freshness of meals but still create some ease during the week.


Student Spotlight: Shed 3 Myths in Less Than 10 Minutes by Therezia Alchoufete

Obesity and the Mind

Some research is suggesting that obesity can be associated with “addictive” qualities related to the stimulation of the reward pathway in our brains – somehow, food becomes the drug. However, to rid the body of a drug, the drug itself must be identified. It is still unclear what the exact culprit may be in the case of obesity, but here are some common weight-loss misconceptions that can be avoided by “detoxification” methods.


This idea of quitting an addiction “cold turkey” is common – but it is not effective. Usually, it will work for a short amount of time, and then old habits return. It is possible to “quit” a certain food for a few days, but you may begin to notice that you’re compensating with other types of food or constantly feeling hungry. Rather than give-up your favorite food completely, reduce your “dose”, or portion size, and train your body to eat less.


There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to weight-loss, and fad diets can create the illusion that there is a trick to seeing quick results. In reality, water-weight is being lost, and we may see the number on the scale decreasing rapidly – this makes the reward center in the brain happy. Then, suddenly, the number stops changing, and the withdrawal symptoms set in. That is when people relapse and find themselves returning to their tried-and-trusted methods of happiness – their usual diet.


It is not uncommon for obesity to “run in the family”, but that does not mean a healthy weight cannot be achieved. There may be unhealthy food habits that are ingrained since childhood, and it may take some extra work to modify these ideas in the brain. Maintain those family traditions by making small recipe modifications to reduce fat content or eat less of Mom’s famous stuffing. Rather than re-training your mind to disassociate the food with the reward, modify the food itself and keep the reward.




Therezia Alchoufete

Coordinated Master in Nutrition and Dietetics

Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition

School of Health and Rehab Sciences

University of Pittsburgh

Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Student submitted blog post: By Lindsay Smore
Let’s talk about something nobody wants to discuss, but everyone should know: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). This post will highlight the things you need to understand about IBS, and how nutrition plays a huge role in managing symptoms. First, lets determine if you actually have IBS. Think back to the last couple days, weeks, or even months, have you noticed:

ibs blog post

  • abdominal discomfort that goes away after defecating?
  • change in frequency of having to go to the bathroom?
  • change in the form of your stool?

If you have seen any of these happen at least 3 times per month for 3 consecutive months, then you may have IBS. IBS can be characterized by having diarrhea, constipation, or even both. It is important to understand that IBS is considered a “spectrum disorder,” this means it is not diagnosed by getting lab tests done, but strictly based on symptoms you are facing. Unfortunately, this means that a food that triggers IBS in me may not have the same effects on you.

So then how are you supposed to know what to eat and what not to eat to keep you and your bowel healthy? The answer is trial and error. Everybody is different, and only you know what your body can and cannot tolerate. It is important to keep track of the foods that tend to trigger your IBS symptoms and discuss them with your physician or registered dietitian.


No Bake Daily Whey Protein Balls


Allison Ballina MS RD LDN

Yield: 20 balls
  • 1 c. dry oats
  • 1 scoop daily whey protein (chocolate)
  • 1/4 c. cinnamon life cereal (crushed)
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 1 tbsp. chia seeds
  • 4 tbsp. dark chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. natural peanut butter
  1. Mix all ingredients in large bowl until well combined
  2. Roll into 20 small balls
  3. Refrigerate for at least 1-2 hours or overnight
  4. Enjoy!
Nutrition facts (per ball):
95 calories
10 g CHO
3g Pro
5 g Fat