MYST 173: How to Break Your Slump

Last week, I talked about evaluating your actions and the results they generated, and comparing them to your goals. If you were getting good results, keep on doing it! But if your results were not helping you move toward your goal, you need to make changes. Tomorrow is always another day to make good choices.

So let me tell you a little of my progress. This is an episode of total honesty and transparency.

For the past year, I was in a slump. I won’t call it a plateau, because that is a little different. A plateau is when you do everything right, and yet for months, you make no progress.

I wasn’t in a plateau. I was able to make progress–when I did everything right. My problem was that I was tired of doing everything right. I was not in a diet slump, but a mental slump. Not depression. More like boredom. I’ve been counting calories with LoseIt since May 2011, and have been tracking my weight since July 2008. That’s nearly 10 years of eating the right way. And I just became tired of it.

So for the past year, I’ve been as low as 217, and as high as 227. I’ve been just bouncing between around those ten pounds. When I did everything right, I was at the bottom end. All the rest of the time, I was at the upper end.

I looked at what I had been doing, and realized my errors. I needed a “new tomorrow” plan. I needed to go back to the basics. This wasn’t a case of eliminating foods, or increasing activity. I didn’t need keto or intermittent fasting. The good days were caused by accurate logging, the bad days were caused by indifferent logging. I never stopped logging, but I will admit that my accuracy was lacking.

Photo via Pixabay, by Noah8001

I was bored. Yes. Constant calorie counting is fun at first, and eventually it is just boring. So, here is the challenge: how do I get back to doing what works when I mentally am tired of doing what works?

Yeah. That is a challenge!

Here is a little more about me. I’m an “all or nothing” guy. I either have a laser focus or a wandering gaze that accomplishes nothing. When I was able to use my laser on calorie counting, I reached my goal weight.

My question was how can I refocus my laser, and yet not really change what I eat (because I really don’t want to give up my favorite foods.)

The episodes on cholesterol (MYST 169 and MYST 170) triggered some thinking. My cholesterol numbers are good. Not great, but good. But all that research on the benefits of specific foods stirred some interest. It created a feeling of curiosity. And you can’t be bored and curious about one topic at the same time.

I’ve always planned my meals for the week, and I generally use Sunday as my prep day. I like to cook as much as possible on Sunday, which eliminates work in the evening after returning home, and helps prevent the easy “pick something up” attitude.

Now I do more than plan for the week. I use a meal script. I created a chart that lists all the healthiest foods (fortunately, I love all these foods). It is on an Excel spreadsheet and I have the foods broken into four categories: at least 5x/week, at least 3x/wk, at least 1x/week, and other. For example, I want 1/4 c of oatmeal, 1/4 cup berries, 1 cup spinach, 1/2 cup legumes and 1/2 an avocado in at least five meals a week. (There are many more in that category, but this is a sample.) I also want dark chocolate and almonds or walnuts three times a week and red wine twice a week and at least one piece of fruit daily.

Knowing what I want to eat, now I plan out my meal script. I make one of two oatmeal dishes every Monday – Friday. In each bowl, I add either blueberries or bananas to the oatmeal. Some days I top it with one tablespoon of almond butter, or crushed walnuts

I also make 2 eggs everyday, and top them with tomato paste, avocado, and jalapeno.

For lunch, I pack salads. The base is always 2 cups spinach. Then I add 1/2 cup black beans. Then I add a fruit (apple or pear, sometimes pineapple and blueberries). Maybe I’ll include tomatoes, or red cabbage, or radicchio, or radishes. I’ll finish with 1/4 of an avocado.

Photo via Pixabay, by PublicDomainPictures

So how does this help me break the slump? While those foods are very healthy foods, it is more about the intentional food design. The planning. The purpose. The careful thought that goes into each meal, and hitting my weekly targets.

It changes my focus from counting calories (the same as the past 10 years) to instead create the right food combinations. And I want to see what it does to my blood lipids. While they are currently good, I want to see if I can make them excellent.

I’m also focusing on four other food values:

  1. Potassium (more than 4,700mg)
  2. Sodium (less than 1500mg)
  3. Dietary fiber (more then 40g)
  4. Omega-3 to Omega-6 ratio (better than 1 to 6)

Now, one thing to note: I’m still counting calories. I still eat my full budget. But calories are not the focus, they are more of a side effect of designing my food blueprint. See, when you eat the foods that I’m eating, the calories are slow to add up. Think about that salad I made. The only calorie-dense foods are the avocado and the dressing I use (and since I usually use 1 tablespoon, even that isn’t an issue.)

By my evening meal, I usually have 30-45% of my calories left. I make a meal that follows my food blueprint, choosing options and quantities based on how many calories remain uneaten. Sometimes I enjoy a five-ounce glass of red wine with dinner. I use the dark chocolate and almonds to fill out my daily calorie budget.

Here is the recipe analyzer that I use to help me regain my focus on eating well and making good choices. This will take entire meals and give you the macro- and micro-nutrient breakdown, as far as down to the amount of each amino acid in the food.

By the way, I said my lipids are good, but not excellent. More total disclosure:

  • Total cholesterol = 170 (good is less than 200)
  • HDL (good) = 66 (good is more than 40)
  • LDL (bad) = 98 (good is less than 100)
  • Triglycerides = 76 (good is less than 150)

My goals by my next lab work (sometime in spring) is total cholesterol down to 150, LDL down to 70, triglycerides down to 50, and HDL up to 70. I’ll let you know when I get my next lipid panel.

So, if you are in a slump, find a new target (while keeping total calorie intake under control) and maybe that will light a fire under you.

I’m actually having fun making these meals, eating good food and—this is the pay-off—watching the scale show progress on a regular basis. I’m down 3.8 pounds in the past two weeks.

Here it is, mid-winter, when I most want to hibernate, and I’ve rekindled my enthusiasm. All because I learned from my yesterday.

If you want to try this, here is a link that will send you my food blueprint.

Picture via Pixabay, by


Music composed and performed by Jason Shaw, courtesy of

Voiceover courtesy of Matt Young. Matt is a professional voiceover artist. If you have any need of voice-over work, for your podcast, radio spot, or whatever, you can reach Matt by a variety of methods. He is on LinkedIn. On Twitter. And Google+. Follow his Facebook page to learn how to better use social media. Matt was also my guest on MYST 54. Give his story a listen!

All images are Creative Common Zero.

MYST 170: Reducing Your Cholesterol (part 2)

How to help your cholesterol numbers without medication?

Studies show that some foods, when consumed regularly over a 6-week period, can reduce our LDL, triglycerides and total cholesterol, and others can increase our HDL. Some of these studies suggest percentages of improvement. Remember that a study is not necessarily real life, so you can’t assume you will achieve those values, but it is a start. First things first:

Limit Sat Fat: Why is saturated fat so bad for your heart and blood vessels? The liver uses saturated fat to make cholesterol, so eating foods with too much saturated fat can increase cholesterol levels, especially LDL. Saturated fats are usually found in animal products such as whole milk, cream, butter, and cheese, and meats, such as beef, lamb, and pork. There are some plant-based saturated fats you should avoid too, notably palm kernel oil, coconut oil, and vegetable shortening.

Yes, that means I am telling you to stop using coconut oil. I know that some research suggests it may be different and not as bad as other saturated fats. Personally, I’ll err on the side of caution. I know saturated fats will cause problems, and that outweighs the fact that it may not cause as many problems as thought.

Now, what should you eat?

If you know you want menu ideas, just click here.

Whole grains like oatmeal barley and brown rice have lots of soluble fiber, which has been proven to lower LDL cholesterol by reducing the absorption of cholesterol into your bloodstream and can drop LDL up to 5%  Try switching out your regular pasta for the whole-grain version, or use brown rice instead of white. You can add dry oatmeal to your fruit smoothie for added body, but no change in flavor.

Red wine drops LDL 9-12% Red wine contains resveratrol, which may prevent damage to blood vessels by reducing the risk of blood clots.

Drinking too much alcohol can cause a host of other health issues, however; while a glass of red wine at dinner is fine, don’t overdo it. Also, wine has calories to consider. On average, wine is about 25 calories per fluid ounce (per 30mL). If you are going to drink wine, measure it every time, don’t just pour it into your goblet. A five-ounce portion will add 125 calories. If you free-pour and end up with just six ounces in your glass, that is 25 calories extra. Over a full year, that adds up to 9.125 calories, or the equivalent to 2.6 pounds!

Photos via Pixabay by Eagletonc

High Omega-3 Fatty Acid Fish raise HDL up to 4%. Fish like salmon, albacore tuna, sardines, mackerel and river trout are all rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce triglycerides in the blood. Aim for 8 ounces of fish a week, and bake or grill the fish — don’t fry it — to keep it healthy. Non-fatty fish (cod, haddock, tilapia, are healthy sources of protein, and still offer some omega-3 benefit, but not as much.)

Photos via Pixabay by Meditations

Tree Nuts drops LDL up to 5%. Nuts are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, so almonds, walnuts, pecans, hazelnuts, or pistachios can help reduce your LDL levels with their high levels of plant sterols. Try sprinkling them on your salad, or eat them right out of hand as a snack. Just be sure to choose the low-salt option, and keep it to about 1 ounce a day — nuts are also high in calories. For almonds, that’s about 28 almonds or 1/4 cup, and will add 180-200 calories to your daily consumption. That isn’t terrible, but you need to plan for it. (Peanuts do not have the same effect.)

Tea (especially green, but white an black are good, too—but not herbal) reduces total lipids by up to 10% Both black and green teas contain powerful antioxidants that may reduce cholesterol levels. Green tea typically contains more of these antioxidant powerhouses, as it is made from unfermented leaves and is less processed. Note: you need to drink 6-12 cups a day for this beneficial effect to occur. Remember that this will add caffeine to your day. If you are sensitive to caffeine or have high blood pressure, this may not be a good choice. I enjoy green tea with fresh ginger, and maybe just a bit of raw honey (1 teaspoon).

Fruit Pears and apples have a lot of pectin, which is a type of fiber that can lower cholesterol. So do citrus fruits like oranges and lemons. Berries are also high in fiber. I add 1/4 cup blueberries to my morning oatmeal. One study showed a daily grapefruit can reduce total cholesterol by 15%, LDL by 20% and triglycerides by 17%. Two-three kiwi fruits a day for 28 days has shown a 15% triglyceride reduction. The key here is not that you must eat the same fruit every day, but that you eat some sort of fruit every day.

Vegetables Most vegetables are high in fiber and low in calories. Let’s get specific. Which are the BEST vegetables for this goal of reducing cholesterol?

Photos via Pixabay by Jill111

Eggplant and okra contain high amounts of soluble fiber. Eggplants are also high in antioxidants. (Personal confession here: I detest okra. I’ve tried it in several different dishes, and have yet to find a reason to add this to my diet.)

Radishes Their red hue is due to anthocyanins, a group of phytochemical compounds that has been shown to reduce inflammation, insulin resistance, and bad cholesterol. In a Japanese study, rats fed radishes for three weeks showed reduced levels of bad cholesterol and insulin and a boost in good cholesterol. Use them as a salad garnish, taco-topper, or my preference:  eatinng them whole as a high-fiber, belly-filling snack. (If you want to start a garden, radishes will go from seed to ready for harvest in about three weeks.)

Onions Thanks to their bioactive sulfur-containing compounds, the culinary staple can help lower cholesterol, ward off hardening of the arteries, and help maintain healthy blood pressure levels. According to a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, onions may lower cholesterol by decreasing your body’s synthesis of the compound as well as increasing conversion of cholesterol to bile acids. Onions are easy to throw into just about anything, and I use onions in just about every meal. Just make sure to cook them first. The same study found that heat-treated onions were more effective at lowering cholesterol compared to raw onions.

Ginger has also been found to help reduce total cholesterol and LDL. Researchers attribute ginger’s health benefits to gingerols, compounds that are antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial.

Legumes (Beans: black, kidney, navy, pinto, garbanzo, lentil, etc.) All are rich in soluble fiber, which binds to cholesterol in the blood and moves it out of the body. Recent studies show eating 4.5 ounces (1/2 cup) of cooked beans a day can reduce LDL levels by 5 percent. Try black bean burritos, or dip some veggies in hummus, which is made with chickpeas, for an afternoon snack.

Try this Caramelized Onion and White Bean Flatbread 

Dark Chocolate increases HDL by up to 24% (Give up the milk chocolate, as that doesn’t help cholesterol at all.)  Dark chocolate contains flavonoids, which are antioxidants that help lower LDL levels. Just make sure to eat in moderation, as chocolate is also high in saturated fat and sugar. You can also use dark, unsweetened cocoa powder in your cooking to get similar heart-healthy effects. (Mix with vanilla yogurt with some sweetener for a chocolate treat!) Like nuts, chocolate is a high calorie snack. An ounce will cost about 150 calories. Plan ahead!

Photos via Pixabay by TheChocolateWedsite

Spinach: This leafy green contains a large amount of lutein, a pigment found in vegetables that have been shown to protect the arteries from cholesterol accumulation. It’s recommended that you try to get at least half a cup of lutein-containing foods every day. It also is high in alpha-lipoic acid, which may reduce triglycerides 25-60%. An easy way to get there: Add half a cup (or more, I tend to use 3 cups) of spinach to your smoothie. Brussels sprouts, broccoli, tomatoes and peas have a similar effects

Olive Oil: is a plant-based fat, so it’s a better choice when you’re trying to lower your “bad” cholesterol than fats that come from animals. It’s great mixed with red wine vinegar, a minced garlic clove, and a little ground pepper for a salad dressing. I like to roast my vegetables: Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over vegetables in a snug baking dish, scatter some herbs (especially garlic), and put in a 400F degree oven for about 30 minutes.

Photos via Pixabay by CongerDesign

Avocado is not just guacamole. They have oleic acid, which helps lower the bad cholesterol in your bloodstream. Try putting a few slices on your turkey sandwich, or add them to a salad. Some small studies have suggested that regular consumption can reduce LDL 10-22%, reduce triglycerides 10-20%, and increase HDL 5-11%. Avocado is high in calories, so plan ahead in your budget.

Fresh garlic Its nutritional value and flavor have made it a kitchen staple. Garlic has been found to lower cholesterol, prevent blood clots, reduce blood pressure, and protect against infections.

Soy Products Edamame, soy milk, and tofu are high in protein and is very low in saturated fat. Eating just 25 grams a day can reduce your cholesterol by 5 to 6 percent. Snack on edamame, top off your bowl of cereal with soy milk, or use tofu instead of meat in your stir-fries.  Beyond replacing saturated fat-filled meats, research suggests that compounds called isoflavones may also work to reduce LDL cholesterol.

Kimchi is Korean fermented cabbage, but many other fermented foods can also help lower bad cholesterol levels. There is a strain of lactic acid bacteria (lactobacillus) that gives fermented foods their characteristic sour taste. A study published in the International Journal of Food Microbiology found that the specific strain in kimchi was able to lower cholesterol levels by preventing cholesterol from being picked up by your bloodstream.

Flax and Chia Seeds One of the hallmarks of a balanced diet is to have a good ratio of omega-3s to omega-6s. A 1:4 ratio is ideal, but the modern American diet is more like 1:20. That leads to inflammation, which can trigger weight gain. One of the easiest ways to upgrade your diet is by sprinkling some ground chia seeds or flaxseed into your overnight oats, on top of baked goods, or mixed into your smoothies. A recent study in The Journal of Nutrition found that when patients who were susceptible to cardiovascular disease ate just 30 grams (about four tablespoons) of ground flaxseed daily, they could reduce circulating LDL cholesterol levels by 15 percent in as early as one month. You must grind flax seed to receive any benefit. The human body cannot breakdown and digest whole flax seed.

The end result?

In the previous episode, I made the assumption that your blood lipid levels were just barely into the “high” category. They are at the level where your primary care provider may consider treating with medications.

If you made all of these changes, you will see some reduction in your numbers. How much is very dependent upon many things (age, gender, genetics, and how many of these are new changes for your eating habits.)

And remember, you need to eat like this on a regular basis. What does that mean? There is no firm answer, but I’d suggest this:

  • Whole grains (oatmeal, barley) every day
  • Fruit (2 servings) every day
  • Vegetable (at least 5 servings) every day. And remember: color is important. The brighter the color, the greater the health benefit. Try to “eat the rainbow” (to steal from Skittles) and have many different vegetables.
  • Spinach daily
  • Legumes at least 4 times a week (daily is better)
  • Fatty fish twice a week. Lean meats, fish or vegetarian the remaining days.
  • Nuts, dark chocolate, and red wine at least 3 times a week. (Measure carefully and log it!)
  • Olive as your only oil.
  • Tea (at least 6 cups a day)

If you make those changes and stick with it for at least 6 weeks, you will have some positive results.

My working assumption was:

  • Total Cholesterol 240
  • LDL 160
  • HDL 40
  • Triglycerides 150

If you made all the suggested improvements, and if you only were able to achieve half of the lowest suggested improvements, your new values would be:

  • Total cholesterol 240 – 36 = 206
  • LDL 160 – 51 = 109
  • HDL 40 + 7 = 47
  • Triglycerides 150 – 70 = 80

Those new numbers are not yet in the ideal range (except triglycerides) but they are at the point where your physician would not recommend medications.

Look at that! You made simple changes to what you eat, you avoided a disease that is dangerous, all without medications!

If you want me to send you a menu (with recipes, instructions, nutritional data and a shopping list) that will help you get started on your low cholesterol lifestyle, click here! The menu will have three breakfasts, three lunches, three main dishes, seven side dishes and three snacks. That is enough for a full week of eating!



Music composed and performed by Jason Shaw, courtesy of

Voiceover courtesy of Matt Young. Matt is a professional voiceover artist. If you have any need of voice-over work, for your podcast, radio spot, or whatever, you can reach Matt by a variety of methods. He is on LinkedIn. On Twitter. And Google+. Follow his Facebook page to learn how to better use social media. Matt was also my guest on MYST 54. Give his story a listen!

All images are Creative Common Zero.

MYST 169: Reducing your Cholesterol (part 1)

All right, we are all trying to lose weight and get healthy. We use the scale to gauge our progress, as well as using the fit of our clothes as another marker of success.

We also may notice that your blood pressure drops. Maybe your diabetes becomes controlled. Maybe your strength and endurance show improvement.

But what about cholesterol? What is happening to that? Is it still building up in the blood vessels around your heart, putting you at risk of a heart attack? Is it starting to clog your carotid arteries, which could bring a stroke? Is it blocking arteries in your legs, causing pain when you walk?

You probably have no symptoms of a heart attack or stroke or even peripheral vascular disease. Not yet. But the problem is that when you have overt symptoms, the damage is being done and the risk is suddenly great.

What’s Normal?

Total cholesterol HDL cholesterol LDL cholesterol Triglycerides
Good Less than 200 40 or higher Less than 100 Less than 149
Borderline 200–239 n/a 130–159 150–199
High 240 or higher n/a 160 or higher 200 or higher
Low n/a less than 40 n/a n/a

Note: HDL over 40 is good, but studies suggest that HDL more than 60 acts in a cardio-protective fashion. Your HDL goal should be >60.

I’m not going to be pessimistic and assume it’s far beyond normal. Let’s assume that all of your cholesterol numbers are just at the beginning of high. Your total cholesterol is 240, your HDL is 40, your LDL is 160, and your triglycerides are 200. All those numbers are borderline high. Not bad. Not yet.

How can we change these numbers?

The way people process cholesterol differs. Some people appear to be more vulnerable to cholesterol-rich diets. Research is beginning to show that your genetic makeup – not diet – is the driving force behind cholesterol levels, says cardiologist Steven Nissen, MD. Of the Cleveland Clinic

The body creates cholesterol in amounts much larger than what you can eat, Dr. Nissen says. So avoiding foods that are high in cholesterol won’t affect your blood cholesterol levels very much.

“About 85 percent of the cholesterol in the circulation is manufactured by the body in the liver,” he says. “It isn’t coming directly from the cholesterol that you eat.”

Cholesterol isn’t evil

But to fully explain cholesterol, you need to realize that it’s also vital to your health and well-being. Although we measure cholesterol production in the blood, it’s found in every cell in the body. Cholesterol is a waxy, whitish-yellow fat and a crucial building block in cell membranes. It’s also used to make vitamin D, hormones (including testosterone and estrogen), and fat-dissolving bile acids. In fact, cholesterol production is so important that your liver and intestines make about 80% of the cholesterol you need to stay healthy. Only about 20% comes from the foods you eat.

If you eat only 200 to 300 milligrams (mg) of cholesterol a day (one egg yolk has about 200 mg), your liver will produce an additional 800 milligrams per day from raw materials such as fat, sugars, and proteins.

Since cholesterol is a fat, it can’t travel alone in the bloodstream. It would end up as useless globs (imagine bacon fat floating in a pot of water). To get around this problem, the body packages cholesterol and other lipids into minuscule protein-covered particles that mix easily with blood. These tiny particles, called lipoproteins (lipid plus protein), move cholesterol and other fats throughout the body.

Cholesterol and other lipids circulate in the bloodstream in several different forms. Of these, the one that gets the most attention is low-density lipoprotein— better known as LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. But lipoproteins come in a range of shapes and sizes, and each type has its own tasks. They also morph from one form into another. These are the five main types:

Triglycerides (fatty acids from your food) are made in the digestive system and so are influenced by what you eat.

Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) particles also carry triglycerides to tissues. But they are made by the liver. As the body’s cells extract fatty acids from VLDLs, the particles turn into LDL particles.

Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) particles are even richer in pure cholesterol since most of the triglycerides and proteins they carried are gone. LDL is known as “bad” cholesterol because it delivers cholesterol to tissues and is strongly associated with the buildup of artery-clogging plaque.

High-density lipoprotein (HDL) particles are called “good” cholesterol because they remove cholesterol from circulation and from artery walls and return it to the liver for excretion. These are also particles that have more protein than cholesterol, which is why they are able to gather the LDL and pull it back to the liver.

Photo via Unsplash, by Edgar Castrejon

Things outside of your control that also can affect cholesterol levels include:

Age and Gender. As women and men get older, their cholesterol levels rise. Before the age of menopause, women have lower total cholesterol levels than men of the same age. After the age of menopause, women’s LDL levels tend to rise.

Heredity. Your genes partly determine how much cholesterol your body makes. High blood cholesterol can run in families.

These are things you can do something about:

Weight. Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. It also tends to increase your cholesterol. Losing weight can help lower your LDL and total cholesterol levels, as well as raise your HDL and lower your triglyceride levels.

Physical Activity. Not being physically active is a risk factor for heart disease. Regular physical activity can help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It also helps you lose weight. You should aim to be physically active for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days.

Food. It used to be thought that dietary cholesterol is the primary cause of elevated blood cholesterol, and for some people who are genetically predisposed to that, it is a problem. However, most people are affected very little by the cholesterol in their food. The problem is the saturated fat food that you eat makes your blood cholesterol level rise. Saturated fat is the main problem. Reducing the amount of saturated fat in your diet helps lower your blood cholesterol level, while other foods can help pull cholesterol out of your body, and prevent cholesterol building blocks from being absorbed.

To lower total cholesterol:

  • Eliminate trans-fats and reduce saturated fats as much as possible.
  • Use oils high in mono- and polyunsaturated fats
  • Vegetables, especially brightly colored. Try to eat the color spectrum–the darker the color the healthier.
  • Reduce/avoid refined sugars and simple starches.

Great. We hear that all the time. But what specific foods should we add to our diet? What do we need to reduce or eliminate?

Come back next week for the specific foods you need to make sure are in prominent in your weekly menus.


Music composed and performed by Jason Shaw, courtesy of

Voiceover courtesy of Matt Young. Matt is a professional voiceover artist. If you have any need of voice-over work, for your podcast, radio spot, or whatever, you can reach Matt by a variety of methods. He is on LinkedIn. On Twitter. And Google+. Follow his Facebook page to learn how to better use social media. Matt was also my guest on MYST 54. Give his story a listen!

All images are Creative Common Zero.