How to Lose the “Quarantine 15”

I get it, it’s been a tough year and a half. When we first went into what was supposed to be a three week lockdown (“to flatten the curve”), I thought, what’s the harm if my patients self-soothe with an extra snack here, a glass of wine there, a little extra sugar for comfort. In fact, I was advocating being gentle with oneself.  After all, it’s not everyday we are in the middle of a global pandemic, right? 

Now it’s been sixteen months and counting…and most people are starting to feel the effects of all of those extras.  If the pandemic has taught us only one thing, it is that being overweight worsens  health outcomes – not only for infectious disease, but for chronic disease in general.

There are a number of reasons that may have contributed to weight gain – the added stress, the lack of routine, lack of movement, increased snacking or simply turning to food for comfort. No matter the reason, here are some tried and true ways to get your metabolism back on track.

1.Manage your stress. During periods of elevated stress, your body makes a hormone called cortisol, to signal the impending danger to your body’s organs to prepare for the fight or flight response. If you are more apple-shaped than pear shaped, you can be sure your stress levels are impacting your middle. Effective ways to reduce cortisol levels include going for a walk outside, taking a bath, connecting with a loved one or meditating. Take care with high intensity exercise, as it can actually heighten your stress response and make things worse. Refer to this great list from The American Institute of Stress to find an activity that resonates with you (though you might want to skip the suggestion to stress bake, unless you plan to give away the result of your efforts ?).

2. Increase your protein intake. Protein is a weight loss hero. It is undoubtedly the most important single nutrient to support your weight loss efforts. It boosts your metabolism, it increases satiety levels and it impacts several of your body’s weight-regulating hormones.¹ It also helps to reduce appetite, decrease sugar cravings and helps to maintain your lean body mass (which in turns helps to further increase your metabolic rate).²

One study showed that simply increasing protein to 30% of total caloric intake, without changing or restricting any other parameter, led to an average loss of 11 lbs in 12 weeks.³

Need I say more? For best results, aim to get a minimum of 1g per kg of body weight, more if you are an athlete or heavy exerciser.

3. Get into a routine. It’s important to maintain a regular schedule, not only for eating, but for optimal health in general. Our body follows its own rhythm and works better when we follow its rhythm (as opposed to the other way around). It is important to go to sleep and rise everyday at the same time. By the same token, it is important to have periods of the day when you eat, and other periods of the day when you don’t. Working and studying from home means you are never very far from your kitchen and may lead to grazing all day long. Frequent feedings puts your body into a constant state of digestion and calorie storage. It is much easier and better for your metabolism to have distinct meals throughout the day. Some people do well with intermittent fasting, i.e consuming all of the day’s calories during an 8 or 10 hour eating window. Otherwise, aim to consume 2-3 meals/day (depending on your hunger) with periods of no eating in between.

4. Eat real food. Skip the takeout and cook at home, from scratch, whenever possible. Ultra processed foods are not real foods, but rather food-like products. They are defined as multi-ingredient industrial formulations and include sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs), packaged breads, cookies, savory snacks, candy, ice cream, breakfast cereal, and pre-prepared frozen meals.⁴⁵ They aren’t eaten for health, but rather for pleasure or convenience. Their consumption leads to higher rates of obesity, elevated blood lipids and metabolic syndrome. In high income countries like Canada and the US, about 50-60% of all calories are comprised of ultra-processed foods and beverages.⁵  A good rule of thumb is to buy the majority of your foods from the circumference of the grocery store and skip the middle aisles, where all of the processed foods are located.

5. Be carb conscious. Carbs are not the diet villains they are made out to be.  In fact, they are a good source of energy and nutrients.  It is more how much and when they are eaten that wreaks metabolic havoc for many.  Blood sugar levels rise in response to any foods, but it is most pronounced with the intake of starch and sugars. When your blood sugar rises, your body produces insulin – a hormone that facilitates the (excess) sugar to move from the bloodstream into the cells. In the absence of physical activity, that sugar then gets converted to fat for later use.

When there is continuous insulin in the bloodstream, the receptors become less sensitive to it and it can cause insulin resistance. The Standard American Diet (SAD) lends itself to an overconsumption of carbohydrates. Starchy foods, because they are so filling, often replace other more nutrient dense foods. For optimal weight loss, reduce your starch intake to one serving per day (as a maximum, this is optional) and consume it after you eat your protein and veggies. Start your day with a a savory meal, not a sweet one.  Pair starch with protein, fat or fibre, to help mitigate the insulin secretion that will follow. If you are going to eat dessert, always have it at the end of a meal (not on an empty stomach).

Of course, this article would not be complete without mentioning the importance of physical activity. However, when it comes to weight loss, it really does boil down to 80% nutrition and 20% exercise. Exercise alone is an ineffective strategy for weight loss. Exercising as penance for eating is sure to backfire, and can lead to unhealthy relationships to both food and exercise. Exercise not only helps to support a healthy metabolism, it also impacts almost every other system in your body including your cardiovascular system, your bone density, your sleep quality, your mood, your self-image, your sex drive, your ability to detox, your hormonal health and your strength. Exercise benefits nearly every aspect of your health from the inside out. So I encourage you to choose an activity or activities that you enjoy and can incorporate into your life as part of your routine.

Hopefully, one, or some, of these strategies will empower you to take charge of your weight and your health and that before long, you start to feel more energetic, more optimistic, leaner and lighter.   Have a happy, healthy summer.


1.Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41Copy

2. Astrup A, Raben A, Geiker N. The role of higher protein diets in weight control and obesity-related comorbidities. Int J Obes (Lond). 2015;39(5):721-726. doi:10.1038/ijo.2014.216

3. Weigle DS, Breen PA, Matthys CC, et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1):41-48. doi:10.1093/ajcn.82.1.41

4. Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

5.Poti JM, Braga B, Qin B. Ultra-processed Food Intake and Obesity: What Really Matters for Health-Processing or Nutrient Content?. Curr Obes Rep. 2017;6(4):420-431. doi:10.1007/s13679-017-0285-4

Ten Easy Food Swaps for Weight Loss

What would the holidays be without a little overindulgence? Let’s face it, food takes centre stage during times of celebration. Holiday weight gain can take up to five months to lose, and most people just carry it over into the next season. Over time, this leads to adult onset weight gain and the decline in metabolic rate as we get older doesn’t help. Slow and steady wins the race – successful weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.

There is mounting evidence to suggest that it is sugar, more than dietary fat, that is the most likely culprit for packing on the pounds.  Dietary fat, when eaten on its own, doesn’t trigger weight gain.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for sugar. The problem with low-fat diets is that fat is often replaced by sugar, which makes the “low-fat” offerings in the food aisle unkind to the waistline.

Changing dietary habits for most people can be quite challenging.  We, after all, are creatures of habit.  It is much easier to make small changes than it is to make drastic changes.  Every food choice does make a difference, especially when it is repeated.  Food is so much more than just nourishment and achieving a good balance is the key.  Following these easy food swaps will not only help to trim those extra inches, but also improve your health.

1. Eat at home. Cooking at home is good for you.  Food prepared at home is more nutritious and has fewer calories, fewer sugars, fewer carbohydrates and less fat.  It also has been shown to contain more fibre, calcium and iron.  A typical restaurant salad main course will average 1000 calories!  Be kind to your waistline and your wallet by eating in and packing your homemade lunch.

2. When it comes to coffee, keep it simple.  Drink coffee instead of the hyped-up coffee-like drinks (or should I say desserts? which can stack up to 900 calories) you find at the specialty coffee shops. Black coffee has no calories, so even with a tablespoon of heavy cream and sugar, you will save yourself up to 800 calories.

3. Be fruit-wise. Have a whole piece of fruit, instead of dried fruit, fruit juice or a fruit smoothie.  For example, you can choose between eight dried apricots or four whole peaches for 100 calories.  Juice (with no sugar added) concentrates the sugars at the expense of fibre – it takes two to four oranges to make one cup of juice.  Fruit smoothies are even worse, usually have 300 to 400 calories and average around 70 g of sugar.

4. Drink smart.  When it comes to alcohol, it is better to drink hard liquor (rye, gin or vodka – all of which have zero sugar) with a low calorie/sugar mixer or a  5 oz glass of wine (which range from 0.9g to 1.5g of sugar, depending on the variety, not including dessert wines) over sugary cocktails (which can range from 1-68 g of sugar per drink and up to 600 calories) or beer (while low in sugar, contains 12 g of carbohydrates up to 600 calories, depending on the kind).

5. Go a little nutty.  Choose nuts over croutons (processed carbs) on your salad for that satisfying crunch as well as appetite-curbing essential fatty acids.  Instead of snacking on a granola bar, reach for a handful of nuts.  While the calorie count is the same, the latter has no sugar, added protein and fibre as well as a variety of health benefits including weight loss and increased longevity.

6. Choose the best chocolate.  Dark chocolate is truly a superfood. One of the best sources of dietary antioxidants, it is loaded with nutrients that have numerous health benefits such as improved heart heath, better cognition and cancer prevention.  Dark chocolate contains fibre as well as a number of minerals necessary for good health and its reduced sugar content makes it much harder to overindulge than its milk chocolate counterpart.  The higher the cocoa content, the greater the health benefits – aim to eat chocolate that is at least 85% cocoa.

7. Be condiment-conscious.  Make your own homemade vinaigrette with lemon juice or vinegar and oil and heart healthy olive or avocado oil and use a mister to spray your salad, or alternatively dip your fork in the dressing (on the side) before piercing your salad vegetables. Readymade dressings are not only high in calories, but often contain questionable ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils.  Other swaps in the condiment category include choosing mustard or flavored hummus over mayo in sandwiches and low fat plain yogurt over sour cream for dips.  When eating pasta or soups, always choose ones with a tomato base over ones made with cream.

8. Switch starchy grains for vegetables instead.  Grated cauliflower is a great substitute for rice, and mashed cauliflower (or other lower carb veggies like rutabaga and turnips) makes a great stand in for mashed potatoes.  You can also use either to thicken soups without the cream.  Spiralize zucchini or carrots for colorful noodles for your pastas and stirfries. 

9. Always buy unsweetened whenever possible.  Whether it is almond/cashew milk or yogurt, forego the presweetened varieties and instead buy the unsweetened version.  Sweeten to your taste with stevia (I prefer the stevia glycerite which even comes in flavors), xylitol or low sugar fruits (like berries).

10. Snack smart.  You can choose between nine potato chips (do you know of anyone who can eat just nine?), three cups of air popped (not microwave) organic popcorn, ½ cup of roasted chickpeas or two cups of cut up veggies like cucumbers, carrots and bell peppers.  All of these are about 100 calories as snack options, and the last three contain fibre which helps keep you satisfied.

How to Go Gluten Free

gluten free

For many people, part of their health journey requires healing the digestive tract, which can mean avoid gluten for periods of time. Going gluten-free can be a challenge at first…stick to simple choices at the beginning, until you start to navigate the ins & outs of gluten containing food. It is always best to focus on eating whole foods that are found in nature (as opposed to processed foods). Continue reading

Thyroid 101: The Ins & Outs of Thyroid Function

Recent studies suggest that 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from some kind of thyroid disease, of which 50% are undiagnosed! One in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime, with the number of affected people continuing to rise each year. Until this gland goes awry, very little attention is given to its small, butterfly shaped presence at the base of the neck – yet the hormones it secretes are essential to all growth and metabolism. Continue reading

The Many Benefits of Far Infrared Sauna Therapy

What is sauna therapy?
Sauna therapy has been a part of healing practices for centuries as part of many different traditions – the Greeks and Romans historically used bathhouses to both cleanse and detoxify, and many indigenous peoples use sweat lodges as a means of both spiritual and physical purification. Continue reading

Kick Start the School Year with Probiotics

I remember being excited as a kid, every September meant new clothes, school supplies, teachers and classes…a fresh start to a new year. The more I learn about health and wellness, the more I realize that one of the most important factors to success in school starts with the our humble microbe populations that live in our digestive tracts.

It is said we are 10% human, and 90% microbe…a healthy gut houses over 100 trillion friendly bacteria, which is a ratio of 10:1 to the number of cells in your body. Why are these critters so important? The reality is that without these friendly bugs, your digestion, brain health and immune function would simply not function. At any given time, you have around 160 bacterial species (types) in your gut out of over 1000 species of bacteria. The digestive tract is one of the most complex eco systems to understand and study. The individualized bacteria composition found in each body play a vital role in keeping us healthy. Having the right strains, in the right amount and in the right part of the digestive tract are critical to our overall sense of well-being, and should therefore, be a part of our daily health practice. Continue reading

The Benefits of Salivary Hormone Testing

Healthy Weight Loss, Hormone Health, Stress, Thyroid Health

Good health has a lot to do with maintaining balance: the right balance of work and play, the right balance of nutrients in the diet, and the right balance of hormones. What people don’t often realize is how complex the effects of hormones are in the body. Hormone imbalance may be a result of illness, or may produce symptoms and biochemical changes that eventally lead to illness. Getting your hormone levels checked regularly can be instrumental in determining these issues before it leads to the development of disease. Continue reading