Traveling can be stressful, which may raise cortisol and lead to fat retention; not to mention the extra calories you can eat while being out of your element. In this short video, I give a few quick tips on how to keep the weight gain down while traveling.
If there are other topics of interest to you, please let me know in the comments!
by Cyrus Peikari, M.D.
I did cardio for over 30 years, but it only made me fatter. I now realize that long, mindless cardio is like accumulating credit card debt on your “adrenal glands”: eventually, your body repays it with metabolic interest.
Cardio isn’t evil. Some people thrive on it. In fact, used sparingly it can relieve mental stress. However, any form of excessive exercise (even resistance exercise) can work against you.
The adrenal glands are small, pyramid-shaped organs that sit on top of your kidneys. They produce multiple hormones that keep you alive and healthy, including sex hormones and stress hormones. One of the stress hormones that your adrenal glands produces is “cortisol”, a cousin to the drug that doctors give you, for example, during a poison ivy reaction (such as Prednisone tablets, or cortisone shots).
I’ll bash cortisol in a minute, but first let me praise it. Cortisol is necessary for survival. In fact, if your adrenals stopped producing cortisol, you would die. I’ve seen this in patients who have autoimmune disorders that shut down their adrenal glands: if they don’t take cortisone pills every day, they sicken and die.
President John F. Kennedy suffered from an autoimmune syndrome known as Addison ’s disease, which attacks the adrenal glands. Addison’s disease is extreme “adrenal insufficiency,” and it’s rare. However, there is a common form of adrenal insufficiency known as “adrenal fatigue.” The main symptoms of adrenal fatigue are chronic fatigue, muscle weakness, loss of appetite, muscle loss, and abdominal pain. (Athletes can suffer a flavor of this known as exercise burnout, or “overtraining”).
Other symptoms of adrenal fatigue are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, irritability and depression, craving salty foods, low blood sugar, headache, sweating, low libido, and in women irregular or absent menstrual periods.
Patients with adrenal fatigue are among the most complex medical challenges, and for this reason many physicians refuse to see them. (Usually it’s not the doctor’s fault: medical managers routinely yell at employed physicians who spend more than five minutes per patient…one of the main reasons I fled “factory” medicine and started a private practice).
Adrenal fatigue from exercise often happens like this: You want to lose weight, so you get on the cardio machines at the gym. Great news! You’ve lost some weight, but you hit a plateau. The answer? More cardio! OK, great, you’ve lost a few more pounds, but after a few months you hit another plateau. Guess what? You decide to increase the cardio further. Your good intentions are paving the road to metabolic Hell.
This excessive cardio is stressful to the body. In fact, any kind of excessive exercise causes stress. That includes overindulging in resistance exercise such as yoga or weight lifting. I’m picking on cardio simply because it’s the most abused. In the short run, it may seem great, but months (or years) later you’ll pay the price for overdoing it.
The result of all this stress: your adrenal glands respond by increasing cortisol output. To dramatize the negative effects of cortisol, let’s examine the “opposite” of Addison’s disease: a situation where the adrenals produce excess cortisol, known as “Cushing’s syndrome”
Symptoms of Cushing’s syndrome include high blood pressure, abdominal fat (with thin arms and legs), a round “chipmunk” face, a fatty neck, weak muscles, weak bones, acne, and thin skin. Women may have excess body hair and have irregular menstruation. Other symptoms include mood changes, headache, and chronic tiredness. Cushing’s syndrome results from too much cortisol-like medication (such as prednisone), or by a tumor that results in excessive cortisol (known as Cushing’s disease).
When you overindulge in cardio long term, the stress casts a mild shadow of Cushing’s syndrome. You retain belly fat, and you struggle to build muscle.
Another notorious effect of cortisol: your appetite may increase, particularly for junk food.
What happens if you get injured or stop exercising due to burnout? Unfortunately, you’re in a worse situation. Because of elevated cortisol levels, the weight gain returns with a vengeance: it’s far worse than before you started cardio.
As bleak as that sounds, it gets worse. Now that you are frustrated over lack of progress, you might commit the ultimate sin: you cut your calories. It’s a sin I’ve committed many times.
Why is cutting calories so sinister? On the one hand, lowering calories stresses the body, which causes your adrenals to produce more cortisol: the same cortisol that, in long term excess, burns muscle and creates belly fat. Isn’t that the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve?
Cutting calories is a big mistake for another reason: it puts your metabolism into “starvation” mode. Your body slows down. Your “basal metabolic rate” decreases. It seems like you are gaining weight again, though you have stopped eating. Welcome to Hell!
Now that we’ve reviewed the science, how do we escape this mess? We said that long, mindless cardio is like accumulating credit card debt that your body has to pay back with metabolic interest. (By the time I see someone in my office, they are deep into years of “metabolic debt.”)
You can start to “pay down” those metabolic credit cards with a number of positive steps. Look to reduce stressors in your life. Most of the time, one of your biggest stressors will be a family member or close friend: a co-dependent relationship. They are stressing you out, which makes you feed back into their stress, creating an endless loop of dysfunction. Instead of a person, it may be an activity (such as needless work stress). A professional counselor helps.
Another way to pay off your metabolic credit cards is by eating more. That’s correct: you may need to eat more. Strategically raising your calorie intake may break through a fat loss plateau.
A third and powerful adjustment to your metabolic portfolio is to re-evaluate your exercise regimen. I usually slash a patient’s workout volume by 50—75%. With less exercise, stress goes down, you’re less hungry, and you burn fat more efficiently. It’s not the quantity, but the quality. Pick the right exercises for your body. That’s why I take my patients to the gym and give them a custom regimen.
Some of you might think, “I don’t exercise at all. How can you cut that down for me?” The answer is that you have exercised in the past, but you got frustrated seeing little or no progress. Since the definition of insanity is to keep doing something that doesn’t work, you did the “sane” thing, and gave up on exercise altogether.
For most, the problem is too much cardio. The solution? Find a good trainer or mentor to coach you on short, low-volume routines.
Just remember to pick someone who doesn’t stress you out.
In this video I show how Dr. Rick lost 47 pounds in just 5 months, while getting stronger and enjoying big, delicious meals every day. 20 of our top tips are included.
Q: What if I overeat during the holidays? What should I do?
A: Don’t worry. Enjoy it and move on. The extra calories were good for you. Your leptin levels are up, and your metabolism is ready to burn fat faster.
If, accidentally, you eat 5,000 calories in one day, you probably won’t gain a full pound of fat.
Forget the guilt! Tell yourself that you deserved it. The worst thing you can do is to fall into a shame cycle. This is why many people start extreme diets and exercise binges after the holidays.
I know, because I’ve made the same mistake many times. I’ve tried the crash diets and the cardio binges. You may see short term improvement, but then you hit a plateau, and the weight gain comes crashing back with a vengeance.
Weight loss is like a marathon, not like a sprint. Slow, smart, incremental changes in diet and exercise win in the long run. Listen to your brain, rather than your emotions.
Please post your questions below, and share this with a loved one who struggles with food guilt.
Cyrus Peikari, M.D.
by Cyrus Peikari, M.D.
Have you reached a plateau in your weight loss? It may be time to add calories!
Yes, it’s counter-intuitive: why would adding calories help you lose weight?
Most new patients I see are eating too little. They have been dieting for too long, which puts chronic stress on the body. And chronic stress makes your adrenal glands produce cortisol. (I talk about cortisol in my several of my other posts and videos). Once cortisol stays elevated, it seems that you gain weight even while barely eating.
I had the same problem. I was at a fat loss plateau for months. Luckily, one day Ramona brought home bagels and a brick of cream cheese. In the spirit of scientific research, I ate all of it myself. That’s right, each night for a week, right before bed, I added bagels and cream cheese…on top of all the other great food I was eating during the day.
I know that sounds harsh, to eat all that extra food; but I’m doing this for you guys. I’m willing to take the bullet for you!
The included picture shows the result after one week of adding extra bagels and cream cheese, right before bed every night.
As you can see, I lost half an inch on my waist, and gained lean mass on my chest, arms and shoulders: all without any extra workouts.
That’s right, temporarily adding more calories reduced my cortisol and turned me into a fat burning, muscle gaining machine. Welcome to Heaven!
It worked for me, and it can work for you. But check with your doctor first.
Toby Threadgill is an elite caliber athlete who travels the globe teaching classical Japanese martial arts. He is the only non-Japanese in the world to currently hold ultimate authority over one of the old samurai era martial arts schools. His schedule can be grueling with him traveling over 130,000 miles a year and teaching 8 hour days, 10 days straight. He also teaches international law enforcement as well as members of our international security infrastructure. At the age of 54 he approached Dr. Peikari for help in maintaining his physical prowess.
Says Threadgill: “I suffered for 20 years before I met Dr. Cyrus Peikari. I tried training harder, but it only made me hurt worse. What amazed me is that I had all these blood tests, and had seen all these doctors, for all these years, and had constantly complained of these symptoms, but no one ever got it. No one even brought up the possibility of hormone deficiency. Then I met Dr. Peikari, and within 10 minutes of talking to him, he knew what was wrong with me. And he turned out to be correct, which blew my mind. As soon as I got on thyroid replacement, within 2 days I felt better. Within a week I was feeling normal, and within 7 weeks I was building muscle again, while the joints were no longer hurting the way they were. A year later, the difference is dramatic. I had suffered, undiagnosed, for 20 years; and after I turned 50, everything accelerated and I fell apart. Everyone just told me I was getting old; but I knew something wasn’t right. It was so frustrating knowing that something was wrong, but having doctors either tell me that nothing was wrong, or that there is nothing I could do about it. The things I was experiencing were really devastating…until I met Dr. Peikari. I’m 56 years old, but now I feel like I’m in my 30’s again.”
by Cyrus Peikari, M.D.
Is there an “ideal” physique? I’ll discuss that in a minute, but the important thing is that you love your body as you are now. Don’t try to get into shape to be happy: instead, be happy now, exactly as you are, because you are perfect.
Once you learn to love yourself, the weight loss journey becomes easy. Letting go of guilt, anxiety, and negative feelings will decrease your cortisol levels. Immediately, you’ll see physical changes. When you relax, your cortisol levels drop; water weight comes off, you feel energy, and you move from fat-storing to fat-burning.
So is there an “ideal” physique? Michelangelo reportedly designed his David statue using the “golden ratio” of proportions. First studied in ancient Greece, this ratio is approximately 1 to 1.618. It is the same ratio found throughout nature, such as the veins of tree leaves. It is the same number, as well, obtained from dividing any number in the Fibonacci sequence by its predecessor.
For over 2000 years, the golden ratio has fascinated sculptors, biologists, painters, mathematicians and architects. For example, the Pantheon in Rome incorporates many elements of the golden ratio. And Leonardo da Vinci’s book “De divina proportione” (On Divine Proportions) is based on the golden ratio.
For years I struggled with weight loss. Forget any “golden ratio”: being short, it was a battle to keep from becoming a perfect sphere. I’ve got an apple-shaped body. The problem is that can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, skin and hair issues, fatigue, and loss of libido.
It wasn’t until I “cracked the code” to eating rhythm that I started to see results. After years of doing it wrong, it suddenly became easy. Now I have that golden ratio: In the attached picture, taken this morning, my shoulder to waist ratio is 1.6 (both linear and circumferential).
I did this by enjoying potato chips and chocolate every day. I don’t do any cardio. And I do only 2 or 3 easy, 30 minute weight lifting sessions in the gym each week, with just 9 or 10 easy sets per workout.
Mostly, I achieved the golden ratio by lying on the couch and watching Netflix. That’s right, relaxation is the key. And strategically eating great food such as hamburgers and fries allows your body to rest, which lowers cortisol levels.
It worked for me, and it can work for you.
Personally, I don’t use any supplements, hormones, or diet pills. However, some of you may have an undiagnosed hormone deficiency. I see patients with thyroid or another hormone deficiencies that have been missed for decades. Fixing a hidden hormone deficiency brings results faster.
It is so rewarding when I can help my patients get off their diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol medications. It’s such a relief to stop the frustrating cycle of restrictive diets and harsh exercise programs that dig a deeper hole. The easier way is fun!
Please take a minute to post your own experience. I’d love to hear what has (or hasn’t) worked for you.
P.S. In case you missed it, I discuss cortisol in more detail in this blog post and video: https://cpeikari.wordpress.com/2015/11/12/i-screwed-up-big-time/
By Cyrus Peikari, M.D.
A question I get often is this: Do I have to give up the foods that I love, to lose body fat? The answer is, “No!” For those of you who have been following me, you know that I’m currently eating chocolate and potato chips every day, while still shedding body fat and getting stronger…all without doing any cardio whatsoever.
Your next question might be, will this work for me? Yes, if you follow the correct plan for your body, the results should come fast. The trick is answering, “What is the best plan for me right now?” With my patients, the answer takes a little testing and tweaking. Before the more advanced “Netflix and potato chips diet”, I teach patients about other diets, such as the slow carb diet, or a vegan diet. And as we will see, using Chipotle Mexican Grill, you can do both slow carb and vegan at the same time, on the run.
The first diet, and one of the best, is the “slow carb” diet, popularized by Tim Ferris’ on his 4 hour body (4HB) blog. If Mr. Ferris ever wins the Nobel Prize, I suspect it will be for his efforts in promoting this diet. Of Tim’s accomplishments, his diet has the potential to do the greatest good.
Why does the slow carb diet work? Perhaps because Tim designed it for fallibility. Knowing that we humans will cheat on any diet, he built in a mandatory cheat day…a day of reckoning where you can (and should) eat as many donuts, Snicker’s bars, and pizzas as you want.
With this hedonistic cheat day, Mr. Ferris lets us think that we’re getting away with murder. However, he has a secret agenda: there are several hidden benefits to this day of carb reckoning. For one thing, it makes dietary adherence skyrocket. Because you know you can eat that chocolate cake on Saturday, you endure the other 6 days (which as we will see, really aren’t bad at all).
For another benefit, the cheat day helps to keep your metabolism from down-regulating. For example, most of you have tried a diet and lost weight for the first few months; however, you then reach a plateau, and the weight starts to creep back on, even if you eat less and exercise more. However, by using Tim’s method of carb overload to strategically spike insulin levels one per week, you can help keep up your metabolic hormone levels, particularly thyroid and sex hormones.
A third benefit of the cheat day is that eventually you start to get sick of it. After a few weeks or months, you notice that you feel mentally alert and energetic on regular days. However, cheat days are the opposite: you feel bloated, mentally foggy and tired. You even start dreading cheat days, which causes you to start cheating in moderation: for example, for just one meal. Because this is a natural weaning process, it works long term. Eventually, you may go a month between cheat days; although that’s the maximum gap, to avoid slowing your metabolism.
Having helped many patients shed many pounds over many years, I would make a few humble suggestions to Tim’s 4HB slow carb diet. For one thing, in his book, the Four Hour Body, Tim optionally recommends taking 4 supplements, known as a “PAGG” stack. “PAGG” is an acronym for the combination of the following four supplements: Policosanol, Alpha-lipoic acid, Green Tea Flavanols, and Garlic extract. Tim even suggests that these 4 supplements are the “four horsemen” of fat loss, which to him seem to work synergistically.
I disagree with Tim on this. (I think Tim himself might disagree now, since in later years he seems to recommend less supplements). In my experience, patients who took the PAGG stack lost a little bit extra fat initially, but the weight came back after a few months when their bodies adapted to the medication. Worse, it is a brutal schedule of four times per day dosing of drugs not studied extensively in humans. So it seems like much potential toxicity, with little long term benefit.
Another tweak to the 4HB slow carb diet that I would suggest to Tim is this: eliminate alcohol, even on the cheat day. I like to avoid conflict, yet this is the most controversial statement I’ve made to date. It gets some people angry to hear this; but I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you. For many reasons, I feel that eliminating alcohol altogether is the single best move you can make for your long term health and success, exceeding the vast benefit, for example, of quitting smoking. I won’t belabor this point, but please take the time to think it over and arrive at your own decision.
The slow carb diet can be a bit challenging to follow at first, especially when you are traveling or on the run. That’s because fast food restaurants are based around high carbs. Now, let’s make it more difficult: is it possible to eat BOTH slow carb AND vegan at the same time?
Before my current “Netflix and potato chips diet”, I followed both a slow carb and vegan diet…at the same time! Talk about brutal! However, it is quite easy now, thanks to improving commercial menus. One of the best options is Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Several years ago, when I started with the combined slob carb/vegan diet, Chipotle didn’t have much in the way of vegan options. That’s because their beans, which are a slow carb mainstay, were made with pork. However, in late 2013, Chipotle converted all of their beans to vegan.
Let’s look at a sample from Chipotle’s menu, available in a convenient calculator on their website. In the first example we are eating slow carb, but not vegan. Our ingredients are a basic burrito bowl with black beans, chicken, salsa, guacamole, and lettuce. That equates to 555 total calories, with 30 fat grams, 36 carbohydrate grams, and 42 protein grams. By eliminating the tortilla and rice, we’ve made it slow carb, while retaining a lot of protein. The carbohydrates come from the beans, but luckily beans are “slow” carbs, so you’re fine.
Now for the vegan option: simply remove the chicken, and add extra black beans or pinto beans. For example, a burrito bowl with black beans, pinto beans, salsa, guacamole, and lettuce comes to 490 calories, with 24 fat grams, 37 carbohydrate grams, and 16 protein grams.
It’s delicious! So you can eat both slow carb and vegan, with friends, on the run: Chipotle makes it easy. But all this talk of slow carb and vegan is making me hungry, so I’m going to eat some potato chips and chocolate.
What do you think? Please take a moment to comment right now. Your responses make me so happy!