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7 Factors (other than food) that Make-or-Break Your Diet

by GameChanger Strength & Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

Eating a healthy diet is dependent on much more than the food you eat. There are social, environmental, and emotional components that affect your nutrition.

1- Kitchen Makeup
Do you have quality cooking equipment and appliances to make healthy and tasty meals? Do you have reliable pots and pans? How about a good knife for chopping vegetables? Do you own a food scale, measuring cup, or spoons?

What food is in your refrigerator and pantry? If it’s in your kitchen, and you spent your hard earned money to buy it, it’s likely you’ll eventually eat it.

2- Family and Friend Support

It’s easier to accomplish any task when you have someone in your corner. Let your family and close friends know your goals and what your nutrition plan is like.

Think about how much easier it would be to stick to your plans if your spouse was actively supporting and encouraging you, or if your kids ate similar foods to you. If you plan a night out to eat with close friends, if they understand your nutrition plan, they’re more likely to compromise on the choice of restaurant.

If your first reaction to this is that your spouse, children, or friends aren’t helpful at all in this regard, maybe it’s time to rethink things. If you sincerely explained to them how truly important this is to you, and how helpful and meaningful their support would be, don’t you think they’d have your back? If your spouse, child, or close friend asked for your help with something they struggle with, wouldn’t you be there for them? Give people a little more credit, they just might surprise you.

3- Readiness for Change
Are you truly ready to make the commitment to improve your health, or are you just making a few changes because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do? If you aren’t emotionally ready, you won’t stay with your changes for long. You need to understand why you want to make changes. Think about the deep reasons beyond cosmetic ones that motivate you. What’s so important to you about being healthy? Who are you really doing it for?

4- Accountability
Is someone holding you accountable for your nutrition? Are you reporting to a friend, family member, or coach to keep you on track? Your chances of success are much greater if you have someone specifically monitoring you, making sure you don’t stray off your plan.

5- Consistency
Are you eating healthy and working out consistently? Do you follow a plan diligently all week long, but give yourself more leeway on the weekends? Do you workout for a few weeks or a month at a time, only to skip entire weeks at the gym right after that? Frequent breaks in effort will add up, and undo too much of your hard work.

6- Structure
Do you have a specific, laid out, step-by-step plan for your nutrition? You don’t need to choose a fad diet, but you must adopt a plan that has specific rules, guidelines, and expectations. Simply adopting the attitude that “I’ll just eat healthier” isn’t enough.

7- Taking Responsibility
Part of the reason why you haven’t attained the health you want is probably because you’ve been misinformed, and other external factors like work, family, school, and other responsibilities got in the way. But the other part is self-inflicted, and you must accept this.

Admit to yourself that you need to put in more effort and preparation. You know you can improve your health, you simply need to make it a higher priority, and make better choices.

And are we talking about anything impossible to achieve, even if you’re really busy or stressed out? Not at all! It’s just diet and exercise, that’s all it is. Eat more vegetables and protein, drink more water, eat less pasta and fewer cookies, move around more. In the grand scheme of things, this is nothing to fear. Think of all the great things you’ve done in your life. Whether it’s graduating from school, completing work projects, sacrificing to help loved ones, or raising a family! Now THOSE are impressive achievements. Eating better and exercise? Pshh….you’ve got this.

Take a step back, and put things into perspective. With all the other true challenges you’ve overcome in your life, you can handle healthier eating habits better than you realize.



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Click here to schedule your Nutrition Strategy session with Coach Rob


The Truth of Artificial Sweeteners: Part II- Can They Affect Your Weight?

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

diet soda

In Part 1 of the Truth of Sweeteners we examined possible effects of artificial sweeteners and aspartame on cancer and brain disorders. There was little evidence to show any link. Now we’ll search for answers regarding these sweeteners and weight gain, along with diabetes.

Can Zero Calorie Sweeteners Increase Body Fat?
Many dieters love artificially sweetened products like Splenda, diet soda, Walden’s Farms dressings, and certain packaged foods because they deliver lots of taste for few calories. Critics of sweeteners say these calorie-free products actually contribute to weight gain. So what does the evidence say?

The American Society for Nutrition recently revaluated all of the available research regarding low-calorie sweeteners and body weight. The research demonstrates no association between artificial sweeteners and weight or body mass. It also indicates that substituting low-calorie sweeteners for full-calorie products can result in “modest weight loss and may be a useful dietary tool.”

The Obesity Society dug even further into this topic and conducted a study to compare the effects of water vs. zero calorie sweetened drinks for weight loss. Studying 303 men and women over 12 weeks, the results showed water is not superior to non-calorie sweetened beverages for weight loss.

Obesity Trends and Diet Soda
Zero calorie sweeteners do not affect the body like sugar and sweetened beverages, but many people who drink artificially sweetened beverages also tend to gain weight over time. Why is that?

Many dieters rely on products like diet soda to help them lose weight, but fail to control the rest of their overall calories. “Overweight and obese adults drink more diet beverages than healthy-weight adults.” Diet soda is often linked with weight gain, but is not the cause.

Don’t Artificial Sweeteners Make You Crave Sugar?
A review of the evidence in 1994 revealed that any slight effect on hunger from artificial sweeteners does not lead people to eat more food. More recent research shows the most common sweetener (aspartame) and saccharin (Sweet N’ Low packets) did not help with hunger or fullness, but they also didn’t increase hunger.

What About Diabetes?
The majority of evidence does not show sweeteners cause weight gain, but they are linked to diabetes in the media and numerous websites. Just last year a study hit the mainstream press providing a connection between sweeteners and diabetes. Some researchers criticize this research (noted in the August 2014 addition of the AARR) disclosing it contained:

1) A study of saccharin in mice, which doesn’t have the same effect in humans
2) A 7 day study on humans consuming the equivalent of 10 Sweet ‘N Low packets a day, an unrealistic intake for most people.
3) Research with saccharin, a sweetener that’s only used in significant amounts in the soda Tab, along with Sweet ‘N Low packets.

Manufacturers of low-calorie sweeteners claim the study has several other significant limitations, and should be interpreted with caution. “Statements from leading health organizations and other peer-reviewed published studies are contrary to the study findings.”

The American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association put together an article citing 58 research studies to analyze the role low-calorie sweeteners play in health. They determined that when used judiciously, these sweeteners could help people lower their added sugar intake, thereby resulting in a lower calorie intake and better weight loss/maintenance. They concluded that calorie-free sweetened products will not help with weight loss if people compensate by eating additional calories.

The American Diabetes Association has published further research to declare no link between sweeteners and diabetes, and the American Heart Association states they can be part of a healthy diet.

Sweeteners as a Diet Tool
Diet soda and other calorie-free sweeteners are not proven to directly affect weight loss efforts for better or worse. Your body weight truly is determined by the calories you intake vs. the calories you burn. You can enjoy artificially sweetened beverages for almost zero calories, but you can’t consume extra calories elsewhere and expect to still lose weight. If all things are kept equal, replacing sweetened beverages (proven to cause diabetes in excess amounts) with diet soda will reduce calories, but cannot fix a bad diet. This can be used as just one tool in your nutrition strategy.

Analyzing the Bigger Picture
After reviewing all the information, I can only come to one conclusion: there’s no need to worry about having artificial sweeteners in moderation. Scientists have studied them for years, and the vast majority of evidence shows they are safe.

Not only is the evidence too much to ignore, but so is the stance of so many high profile organizations. No institution is beyond reproach, but almost EVERY important medical and health organization claims legal artificial sweeteners (like aspartame) are safe. If we believe (as some do) that these institutions are lying to make a profit….then what? How could we believe ANY of our modern health information and practices if all of our most trusted resources are so corrupt to knowingly endanger the public? Are we living in George Orwell’s 1984??

Artificial sweeteners are not an important part of nutrition, so whether people recognize the evidence really won’t have much effect on our health. But it’s troubling when popular personalities who vilify these products gain people’s trust, and then start touting dangerous information, like telling people to avoid vaccinations and the flu shot.

This fear mongering needs to stop. Have artificial sweeteners in moderation if you like them, abstain from them if you don’t. Trust the science. Trust the medical community. It’s the best we have, and I’m grateful for that.



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The Truth of Artificial Sweeteners: Part I- Are They Safe?

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobonosweeteners

One of the most controversial nutrition debates is the safety and effects of artificial sweeteners, particularly the common sweetener aspartame. Artificial sweeteners are added to foods and beverages to give flavor, often without calories. The debate usually encompasses two questions:

1) Are they harmful?
2) Are they really calorie free?

In part I of this post, we’ll examine the first question of safety, to help you and your family make the most informed decisions for your health.

Why the Fear?
Safety concerns began in the 1970s when saccharin (the primary ingredient of Sweet ‘N Low) was linked to bladder cancer in lab animals. Congress mandated a label warning on products with saccharin: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.” No wonder people were concerned about using Sweet ‘N Low.

Follow-up studies showed these results applied only to rats, due to the physiological differences in human and rodent metabolism, so Congress revoked the warning. Furthermore, rats developed cancer from receiving high doses of saccharin. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) lists an acceptable daily intake to limit people from reaching these doses. These daily FDA limits are:

These daily limits are about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns. Over 100 studies endorse aspartame’s safety for humans within the FDA and World Health Organization parameters.

Cancer Concerns Linger
There are additional studies that suggest possible cancer-causing effects from artificial sweeteners. These studies are in the minority, particularly regarding Splenda and aspartame, and draw conclusions such as “further studies have to be performed.” In 2005, a study from European scientists concluded aspartame caused cancer in rats at low doses. The scientists urged others to reevaluate aspartame’s safety. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) did so, and confirmed aspartame is not a carcinogen. The FDA verified this report based on “more than 100 toxicological and clinical studies regarding the sweetener’s safety.” The EFSA re-evaluated old and new data in 2013 and confirmed its stance.

Aspartame and Brain Damage
Aspartame has been linked to brain disorders such as brain cancer, seizures, learning disabilities, memory loss, migraines, and depression. Dr. Joseph Mercola’s website, one of the most influential critics of artificial sweeteners, lists numerous studies showing destructive consequences, mostly of the brain. Many scientists claim this research is faulty because most of it falls into one of these categories:

1) Demonstrates effects in rodents that cannot be interpreted to show similar effects in humans
2) Shows aspartame intake and brain disorders increasing at the same time in society, but other lifestyle factors could be to blameFurther correlation studies show no harm from aspartame.
3) Uses high intakes unrealistic for human consumption, or has other design flaws
4) Concludes “more research needs to be done”
5) Published in unreliable journals or websites

Follow-up research on humans does not show a between connection between aspartame and brain cancer risk.

Who Can You Trust?
Companies that produce and use sweeteners in their products fund most of the research that shows aspartame is harmless. Does their funding affect the research?

Skeptics believe governments and food manufacturers bribe health organizations to support their stance. This theory intimates the top governments, cancer and medical researchers, and even the World Health Organization are purposely endangering the health of all citizens with false information.

Conversely, many aspartame whistle-blowers profit from discrediting the safety evidence. Dr. Mercola sells supplements to “cleanse” the body of these additives and “claims they eliminate your risk of developing cancer in the future.” The FDA has ordered him to stop making false claims. Do aspartame detractors distort the evidence for their own gain?

Reading Between the Lines
Researchers use a “peer-review” process to distinguish credible studies from misleading ones. If a study appears on a website or news media outlets, but is not published in a reputable research-based journal, other experts probably determined it poorly constructed. There are very few peer-reviewed studies that show legal artificial sweeteners directly harm humans.

Examine.com is an independent organization that investigates nutrition and supplementation research. It receives no third-party funding, sponsorship, or donations. Its independent analysis of the research concludes there is currently no good evidence that aspartame, namely diet soda, causes health complications.

What Organizations Have to Say About Sweeteners
US government agencies like the FDA and National Cancer Institute assert that regulated sweeteners are safe. Non-American and International bodies such as the World Health Organization, European Union, Health Canada, and Food Standards Australia New Zealand also claim aspartame is harmless in its recommended doses.

The following non-profit organizations agree artificial sweeteners are safe, or that dangerous claims are unfounded: American Cancer Society; American Diabetes Association; American Heart Association; Mayo Clinic; Academy of Nutrition Dietetics; American Academy of Family Physicians; American Council on Science and Health; Alzheimer’s Association; Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America; National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Some groups suggest people should consume artificial sweeteners in moderation, or that more testing needs to be done to determine the long-term health effects. Very few reputable health organizations state artificial sweeteners and aspartame are dangerous.

The majority of scientifically accepted information shows legal artificial sweeteners like aspartame are safe. If there are dangerous effects, they haven’t been proven yet, just like with many foods and products we use.

It’s important to distinguish media claims and postulated theories from accepted scientific facts. Weigh this information as you see fit to make the best informed decisions for your health and lifestyle.

Stayed tuned for Part II where we examine the purported effects of artificial sweeteners on body fat and diabetes.

Additional Research on the Safety of Artificial Sweeteners

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Do This ONE Thing And Lose Weight

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

lose weight

There’s no real secret to losing body fat. Just eat less and move more, right? But what else can you do to aid the process? There is one game changing tactic that you are probably familiar with but aren’t using: log your food intake.

Learn Your Excesses

Logging your food gives you a true picture of your diet, rather than what you think you are eating. Do you constantly utter the phrase “I’m eating right, but I just can’t lose weight.” Take a look at the actual layout of your meals, and you’ll likely find the issue. Food logging is most helpful for finding moments where you think you are eating a reasonable amount, but in reality you are consuming enough to feed two!

Maybe you keep a healthy diet during the week, and allow yourself more freedom on the weekends. Perhaps you allow yourself a cheat meal each week. Or you have a favorite meal or food of which you’re unsure of the nutrition information. Record these meals, find their calorie information, and learn if you’ve been splurging more than you realized.

Discover Your Deficiencies

Your nutrition might be ineffective because you are actually eating fewer nutrients and specific foods than you think you are. You might not be eating enough protein, vegetables, or fiber (all important components of fat loss nutrition). It’s very easy to have one day where you eat a large salad, a ton of vegetables, and a large piece of lean meat and think to yourself “I sure am doing a great job with my nutrition”, and then forget that you hardly had any of those foods for the rest of the week!

Have You Been Lying to Yourself?

Several studies show that many overweight individuals actually under-report how much food they intake. When people track their meals, their true diet comes to light. One study suggests the more overweight people are, the greater the chance they will misreport their diets. Another shows some subjects under-reporting their food by over 2000 calories a day!  Is this misreporting done intentionally or unintentionally? Some people consciously lie about their diets, but it is also very common for people to forget about food they eat. We cannot pinpoint the exact reasons that people misrepresent their diets (here’s a study that tried to find out), but we do know it’s one of the obstacles you’ll face, no matter how truthful and accurate you think you are.

Fitness is not just about the body. Emotions and intellect play just as much a part in the process. Here is just one tool that can help address the physical and mental challenges we contend with when trying improve our heath.

P.S Getting started at GameChanger is simple and easy. Email us at info@gamechangergym.com to schedule your free workout.

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Strength Training is Necessary For Your Best Life

by GameChanger Strength and Nutrition Coach Rob Riccobono

strength train live

You may think strength training is only beneficial for improving your strength, physical appearance, and athleticism. The truth is strength training is crucial for improving your overall health and your quality of life.

Live Longer and Move Better

Strength training is correlated with an increased lifespan. That’s right, lifting weights (more specifically, the increased muscle mass obtained from weight lifting) can actually help you live longer. I don’t know too many people who would turn down that opportunity. The specific cause between muscle mass and a longer life is not explicitly clear, but the connection can’t be ignored. You can read more about the relationship between muscle mass and life expectancy in this recent study from UCLA, published in the American Journal of Medicine.

If you’re going to live longer, you probably want to spend those years being able to move and do what you love, rather than being sick and confined to bed. Well, you’re in luck! Strength training increases bone density and prevents bone degradation. This can help stave off joint problems that usually occur later in life such as osteoporosis and arthritis. The research on this topic is too great to ignore, for both men and women. If you want your best opportunity to maintain strong bones as you age, weight training is must!   

Feel Better from Sustained Fat Loss

Strength training not only makes life easier by building muscle and bone, but also by removing excess body fat. We’ve already established why resistance training is integral to fat loss. Let’s examine how excess body fat impacts your quality of life. Carrying unneeded body fat is akin to wearing a weighted vest during every activity you do. If you can do the same daily activities without that vest, think of all the advantages you’d have. Walking up and down stairs would be easier, you’d have less stress on your joints, and you would not get tired so easily and would have more energy throughout the day. Even sleeping would be more comfortable.

Every Day Activities Are Easier

Think about how the strength and lean muscle mass obtained from resistance training can make everyday tasks so much easier, ones you never even thought about, such as: playing with kids; carrying groceries, luggage, or laundry; moving furniture and other large items in the house; doing yard work; walking the dog; assisting an elderly loved one. These are just a few daily scenarios that become so much easier, more efficient, and less dangerous when you are a physically stronger person. And there are plenty more examples that you or I probably have not even considered.

Nothing can definitely guarantee longevity, injury prevention, or freedom from disease, but there is evidence of ways to reduce the likelihood of ailments and improve how you feel! Strength training is linked with numerous health benefits, and equips you to handle almost any physical task life throws your way. Everyone can benefit from being strong. Everyone can benefit from being healthy. Everyone can benefit from strength training.

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