Why What I Eat is Not What Keeps Me Lean

Burr with Chai“What do you eat?” is a question I sometimes get asked, and it’s one I have trouble coming up with an easy answer to. The students asking this question, I think, are looking for some tips on keeping off extra pounds and wonder if they can glean some insight into doing so from my diet. My dilemma is that I don’t think I can be of much help to them. My choice of foods, which are too high in carbs and include too many chai lattés, won’t give them much guidance. I do have, however, some really effective eating strategies I can share. Two eating rules in particular, which I’ve stuck with from my 30s to my 60s, deserve the most credit for keeping me slim all those years.

Rule #1: No over-eating. Everybody tries not to overeat of course, and I sympathize with people who struggle with this issue. The tactic that’s worked for me is to cede full authority to my body when it comes to determining how much I get to eat. If my body gains weight, I don’t ask questions. I eat less. Metabolism, hormones and aging don’t have a chance against this strategy.

I can thank my mischievous Southern bell of a mother for teaching me to listen to my body from a young age. Starting from when my sister and I were in grade school, she’d tell us at the dinner table that any food we left on our plates was “better in the garbage can than in your stomach.” I loved the impertinence of this rule. It thumbed its nose at everything kids in my time were being brought up to revere. Not only that, “better in the garbage can” pointed vividly to a destination for the food I’d otherwise have been stuffing Mothermyself with (unlike the moralistic-sounding “eat moderately”). You could make an argument for softening my mother’s phrase to “better in the frig as left-overs than in your stomach,” but I prefer the defiant brashness of the original.

Rule #2: Exercise!  You’re probably thinking, “of course exercise burns calories and heightens metabolic rate. So what else is new?” Exercise has done these things, but that’s not how it’s kept me lean. Earlier this year I happened to spend a few months without much exercise due to some time-consuming projects. During that time I noticed that a kind of hunger-blindness set in. I lost my ability to tell whether or not I needed food. Was I hungry? Or was I just bored, stressed or fatigued? I felt awash. From this experience, I came to understand how living long term in a non-exercising state could cause someone to seriously miscalculate their food intake! When I finished my project and got back to exercise, I quickly regained my connection to my appetite. Hunger went back to feeling distinctly like hunger and food like replenishment, not just something to do. Feeling hungry and enjoying food: My body needs to experience both sides of this equation to stay in equilibrium.

So what do I eat?  For one, too many carbs and grande non-fat chai lattés.  My diet isn’t perfect, but it works for me.

eggs and Activia

  • (When at home) two eggs cooked in a little olive oil over rye toast (360 calories), an Activia yoghurt (100 calories) or
  • (When at work) a whole grain bagel with reduced fat cream cheese (390 calories)
  • Add to both breakfasts one or two Starbucks grande nonfat chai lattes (200-400 calories).

Goat cheese and veggies

  • A Safeway-made lettuce, tomato and provolone sandwich (my estimate is 450 calories), or
  • A Starbuck’s goat cheese & garden veggies box (220 calories), or
  • A half a 7-11 tuna fish sandwich (the whole sandwich is 540 calories).

The tuna sandwich is a recent addition. Since meeting my husband three and a half years ago, I’ve been a vegetarian (eat no meat or fish bu eat cheese and eggs), an easy change

7-11 lunch menusince I don’t like meat anyway. Lately however I felt a need for more protein.  My husband consumes a lot of nuts and protein powder drinks. These sources of protein don’t agree with  me. The 7-11 tuna sandwish is delicious, easy to eat, and a nice solution to my protein needs.

An afternoon pick-up.  I rarely snack, but on occasion I’ll have:

  • A Starbucks tall non-fat hot chocolate no whip (190 calories) or
  • A plain rice cake (35 calories)

My frig

  • Pizza Kitchen spaghettini with goat cheese (1,331 calories, usually half saved in the frig), or
  • Bhaingan bhurta and rice (200-300 calories), or
  • Spinach tortellini made by my husband (calories unknown), or
  • Pumpkin enchiladas at our favorite restaurant Avatar (my guess is about 1000 calories), or
  • Two-to-three pieces of pizza margarita (my guess is about 230 a slice).
  • Add one glass of red wine on week nights (125 calories) and two on Saturday night (250 calories).

Thinandhealthy calorie calculationSo you see that I don’t have the best eating habits! You can also see that I’m not a foodie! I eat a lot of rich food and don’t finish a lot of meals (“better in the garbage can….”). I skip lunch a few days a week due to mid-day meetings or getting busy. All told, I probably eat about 1700 calories a day, right on the mark according to what “’s” calculator estimates someone my sex, age, height and weight and exercise routine.

So there it is. If there’s any wisdom to be found in what I eat, it would be that different foods work for different people. One person can thrive by being a vegan. Someone else can swear by meat and potatoes. The best advice I can offer is, when you’re searching for the diet works best for you: Listen to your body; get in touch with what your hunger is telling you; stick with exercise; and remember, as my mother always said, “better in the …” 🙂

The Bar Method or Aerobics? Why You Don’t Have to Decide

Chelsea pushupsWhich is more important to do, aerobics or strength-work?

Bar Method studio owners, myself included, get asked this question by new students who are in the process of fitting the Bar Method into their lives. A recent email from a student at the new Montclair, New Jersey studio is a case in point. “We know that everyone who starts the Bar Method LOVES the Bar Method. A lot,” the student wrote, “But they still need to do cardio, and they’re having a hard time paying for you AND for spin, or a gym. I hear a lot of ‘Well I STILL have to go to New York Sports, the Y, or Spin.’’

Undoubtedly, both kinds of workouts these students are trying to decide between give benefits. A rigorous aerobics workout like a spinning class helps make your heart stronger and more efficient, burns calories, and increases stamina. It does not build muscle and sometimes burns muscle for fuel, resulting in a decreased resting metabolic rate. A rigorous strengthening workout on the other hand prevents the loss of muscle mass, one of the major side affect of aging, and guards against the weight gain that can result from muscle loss. It strengthens your bones and heart, and it makes you look toned and sexy. Most importantly in my view, it extends the life of your joints and rehabilitates any you might have previously injured. Because we’re a relatively delicate species in terms of our physical structure, our joints wobble when our muscles get weak, wearing down their cartilage. The resulting arthritis causes us pain, inflammation, more weakness, and more pain in a downward spiral of dysfunction. School age soccer and basketball players who aren’t pre-conditioned, for example, are prone to injuring their knees and ankles and starting down this road at a young age unless they build strong, balanced muscle to re-track their strained joints and lock them into proper alignment. In my 20 years of teaching the Bar Method, the largest portion of emails I’ve received are from students thanking the Bar Method for helping them heal their backs, hips and knees.

CHELSEA 3 3-12 B&W smaller1So if you have to choose between aerobic and strengthening, decide on the merits. By this measure strength-work would come in first because it offers a greater bang for your buck in terms of overall health and extended quality of life. Conventional aerobics classes such as spinning, for most fit people, would rank second.

This said, I can now give the Montclair students good news: You don’t really HAVE to choose between one or the other. There’s a third kind of workout out there that offers most of the benefits of both aerobics and strengthening. It uses more reps than conventional weight lifting (which can total a little as eight) but far fewer reps than aerobics (which can add up to the tens of thousands). Its weight exercises last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 reps each, so it builds stamina, burns away fat, and strengthens your cardiovascular system while it’s toning and elongating your muscles. It’s called interval training, and the Bar Method is one form of it. So don’t feel guilty about not making it to the spin gym! Your Bar Method classes are building stamina – and burning calories – more than you might have been thinking. Aerobics is a plus when you can fit it in.  But if you just have time for one workout, listen to what your body is telling you about how much you love the Bar Method, and enjoy!

Ten Tips for Making Fitness a Holiday Tradition

Tip #1: Celebrate!

Champagne toast glassesTo stay fit during the holidays, first of all, celebrate them! You — and everyone else on the planet who works hard — need recovery time. It’s in our DNA to schedule ourselves some fun every once and a while. Otherwise, what kind of drones would we be?! Traditions drag us out of our work lairs and get us to the party so that we remember how to feel human. It’s no wonder we revere them.

Tip 2: Rethink holiday cookies.

holiday-cookies2 edit 4Holiday cookies have been a way for people to appreciate and bond with each other since ancient times. In past eras they helped tide friends and family through the winter, but these days they just give us more sugar and bigger love handles.  So take a fresh look at the true purpose of this tradition, which is really to share your holiday spirit with friends and family, and if you value your waistline, think of other ways to do it. Charades, monopoly, pageants, dancing and home movies are also holiday traditions, and you can always make up your own. Meanwhile, admire the prettily decorated cookies you’re offered, and when you can, pass on them!

Tip #3: Carry yourself with great posture.

You’re seeing everyone you know, so let them know how you feel about life by standing up straight! What’s more, just keeping your chest lifted will make you look slimmer, even with a few cookies under your belt.

Tip #4: Zero out the extra sweets you do eat by foregoing your usual indulgences.

Weeks of eating party foods will result in most of those additional calories sticking to your body.  Of course exercising will get rid of some of this excess, but it can’t compensate for weeks of profligate merrimaking unless you’re an Olympian-level athlete. So until January at least, take a holiday from whatever excesses you happen to get away with during the rest of the year, for example a daily caramel macchiato or jamba juice.

Rachel holiday partyThis is a well-worn piece of wisdom. I’m adding it onto this list because it’s easily forgotten when you’re frantically busy. A quick meal like one of hard boiled eggs and apples — which comes in a convenient packet at Starbucks — can safeguard you against the cycle of energy burnout and over-doing it.

Tip #6. Drink lots of water before attending parties.

Being well hydrated before a party will make your eyes and skin sparkle under the holiday lights, not to mention helping you moderate what you drink during the evening.

Tip #7: Pre-schedule your exercise for the rest of the month.

eating a holiday cookiePut yourself down for at least three classes and/or workouts a week for the rest of the season.  Then stick with them as much as possible, even when faced with present-wrapping and visiting relatives. In the end, you’ll come out ahead with more energy and a calmer state of mind.

To stay lean while you might be eating a bit more than usual, exercise continuously for at least one hour each time you work out. The last half hour of your class or session will burn away stored fat so that you look your best in your party clothes and keep up your stamina for the hectic pace of the season.

Tip #9. Strengthen your back-of-the-body muscles.

Focus your triceps, glutes, hamstrings and calves during your workouts. Toned back-side muscles will make you look sensational in your silk, scoop-back party dress.

Tip #10: If you fall off the wagon, let it go.

Of course it’s all too easy let exercise fall by the wayside during the holidays. If this happens to you, don’t beat yourself up! The holidays are a time to be joyful and celebrate, come what may.

Happy Holidays to all!

Visiting the New Palos Verdes and Santa Barbara Studios

Last weekend I had the pleasure of visiting two brand new Bar Method studios, both in Southern California. I’d just finished shooting two new Bar Method DVD workouts, at a production studio just north of LA. The DVDs, “Super Sculpting 1 and 2,” will be released in April. We wrapped the shoot on Friday afternoon, and I walked out of the sound stage into a warm, sunny day and drove down the 405 to Palos Verdes, where the next morning I would teach three classes at the new studio located in that town. Afterwards I’d drive back up the 405 then 100 more miles up the coast to Santa Barbara where on Sunday I’d teach at the new studio there.

Santa Barbra Owners Jodi and QuinnThe two young owners of these studios, Millie Katic and Jodi Conroy, have much in common with each other. They are both pretty and petite. Millie, 33, is the mother of a year and a half year old daughter. Jodi, 28, is expecting her first child, a boy, in May. They opened their first studios in California towns where they lived or grew up – Millie in Hermosa Beach, Jodi in Agoura Hills. Both husbands (Darren Katic and Quinn Conroy) have pitched in to help oversee the build-outs and have even manned the front desk when needed. Last but not least, Millie and Jodi were both drawn to the charm and communal spirit of the two towns they chose for their second locations.

Burr with Palos Verdes owner Millie KaticPalos Verdes, my first destination, is a not-quite-peninsula on the Pacific Ocean about an hour south of Los Angeles. Its residents have a reputation for loving their town so much that they rarely leave. This “PV” predilection for staying put was one of the inspirations for Millie’s wanting to location a studio there. Her Hermosa Beach studio is 12 miles north of Palos Verdes. Her “PV” students would drive to take class there but attend sporadically citing their reluctance to leave home. They begged her to open a studio in their town.

Millie accommodated them and opened her Palos Verdes studio on December 18th of last year. Her “PV” students kept their word to her and started attending class regularly, some of them five or six times a week.

On Saturday morning I walked into Millie’s studio and was knocked out by how beautiful it is. Millie and Darren clearly have a knack for stunning design, and they’ve been technically innovative as well. Instead of being stumped by the seeming impossibility of constructing a load-bearing bar across a series of floor-to-ceiling windows, they got creative. “In this challenge,” Millie says, “was born our ‘glass railing,’ which we have used now in both studios. This railing is an original design and solves the problem of placing a bar on any wall with windows…” The Palos Verdes studio features one of these amazing and beautiful devices on which the bar seems to float in space but is strong enough to support a line of students going all out during water-ski thigh or flat-back.

The Bar Method Santa BarbaraAfter my classes, I drove up the coast to Santa Barbara past scenery that looked like something out a fairytale — green, rolling, sun-soaked hills on my right, the ocean on my left. I got to Santa Barbara after a few hours on the road and found it to be as pretty and quaint as its surrounding countryside.

On Sunday Jodi and Quinn greeted me and gave a tour of the studio. Theirs, just like the one in Palos Verdes, is beautiful, spacious and exquisitely designed. My favorite feature: the huge, ornate windows that let floods of light into its two high-ceilinged studio rooms.

For a moment I thought, are Bar Method studio owners trying to outdo each other? These locations just keep getting more and more beautiful. Then I realized with a smile, these new studios look so good in part due to our growing expertise at building them and in part to the amazing skills of my business partner, Carl Diehl, with whom I’ve been building studios for 20 years. In our partnership I’m the one in charge of the exercise and teaching methods. Carl designs the studios. He’s always had an amazing ability to walk into a raw or broken up site and envision how a studio would fit into it. Now, after doing this at hundreds of potential and eventual Bar Method locations, he’s become almost unbelievably good at it.Co-Founder Carl Diehl

Millie and Jodi both did animated impressions of Carl walking into potential spaces, laser measuring tape in hand, to deem whether or not a studio would fit there. “He goes zap, zap, zap with the laser” they both said almost in the same words. “’This goes here. That goes there. Gotta go.’ And off he flies to another space.” Millie’s studio had been a veterinary clinic that was broken up into 40 or so little cubicles. Carl seemed to see through the partitions and within moments had re-drawn the new walls. “How he can do that, I don’t know,” she said. Jodi’s space was originally three or four contiguous storefronts. “I had no idea it could work,” she said, “until Carl figured it out.” We had a good laugh, though mostly in appreciation for the collective expertise that we’ve acquired over the years and the beautiful results that have come from it.

My compliments, Millie, Darren, Jodi and Quinn, on your fantastic new studios!

Wooing the Guys with Valentines “MAN” Barre Classes


It’s February, and Valentine’s Day is two weeks away. In keeping with the spirit of the day, many Bar Method studios hold special “man” classes to which men can come free either by themselves or with their girlfriends or spouses. My home studio in the San Francisco Marina is holding three of these “man” classes on Saturday, February 12th, and I’m teaching the last one. I love teaching these special men-oriented classes. The Bar Method has the power to “up” a guy’s fitness level above and beyond what he gets from his usual gym routine of weights, abs and cardio, and it’s fun to talk about these benefits as the men make their way through the exercises. Two things I definitely don’t say are that they’re lifting their seats and ripping their arms. Men already have lifted seats, and many have ripped arms. What guys do get from the workout is stronger legs, tighter abs, more flexibility, relief from back pain, stability in their knees, a better functioning core, and – if they’re athletes – amazing sports conditioning.

Bar Method Seattle Owner Luke CurreirWith all these fitness benefits to be had by men, why aren’t Bar Method classes full of guys? One reason, in my estimation is that the classes are full of girls, beautiful ones at that. You’d think this would be a big draw, but no. Guys don’t like thinking they’re being shown up by more flexible, dance-y females. What’s more, they don’t like the idea of standing at a ballet bar wearing socks. The problem with this rational is that, one, we female students are actually in awe of guys who brave the class (but most of them never get this), and, two, the ballet bar and the socks are non-material details that don’t reflect the true machismo-like essence of the workout.

In spite of this general male mind-set, a small group of men do come regularly across the spectrum of Bar Method studios. Who are these unusual male students? Some are athletes who’ve found that the class makes them more competitive at their sport. Others are husbands whose back problems disappeared from the workout. A handful are runners who use it to strengthen, stabilize and increase flexibility their knees and hips, ultimately adding longevity to their running careers. My boyfriend Michael is among the atypical guys who come regularly simply because he likes the workout (see my blog “GUYS AT THE BAR” about his experience.) We studio owners are proud that these men are among our students, but the truth is, most of us could count the number of men who come regularly to each studio on the fingers of one hand.

Luke - Low Curl

But there’s always hope. Every Valentine’s Day lots of men come to our “man” classes; they work hard, they seem to get it, and every year I think excitedly to myself, “this is the year!” Then these guys don’t come back. One student from a “man” class I taught a few years back gave me an insight as to why. “I’d love this, “he said, “if I knew there’d be at least a few other guys in class.” Alas, it seems a chicken and egg type situation. The guys won’t come because their buddies aren’t there.

Maybe on the 12th, things will change…… 🙂

Happy Valentine’s Day
Burr Leonard

Calories Burned During a Bar Method Class: Why it’s Not a Zero-Sum Game


One of the most commonly asked questions I get at the Bar Method is how many calories you burn during a workout. No scientific assessments of caloric burn-rate in Bar Method classes have yet been done, but here’s what I can tell you based on burn rates of comparable exercise techniques. A 125-pound woman in good shape burns about 350 calories with the Bar Method DVD workouts (and closer to 400 calories in a beginning/intermediate studio class due to the faster pace). In addition, Bar Method workouts give an approximately 100-calorie additional post-workout burn-off from the build-up of lactic acid.

Advanced classes burn more, as a Bar Method student named Kristen reported a few years ago. “I wore my heart rate monitor for a couple of level two classes, and burned almost 500 calories [per class];” she said. “I burn about 600 on an hour long run.” Another student, a guy who took his first class wearing a heart rate monitor, told me he burned 800 calories. Students in other bar fitness classes who wore calorie counting devices reported burn-offs of between 136 and 701 calories.

Heart Rate MonitorThe variation in these numbers is due to differences in these students’ body size, gender, age, muscle mass, level of fitness, when they last ate, the level of the class, their familiarity with the workout, etc. Another reason for the variation in results is the heart rate monitors themselves. As one researcher wrote, “All caloric expenditure information that you read off of a heart monitor or an exercise machine like a treadmill or indoor bike, are estimates of calories spent and usually not very accurate.”

Nevertheless people are fascinated by the idea that we can make a zero-sum game of calories in/calories out, but in practice, this approach may not live up to all the interest it generates. If we could actually tweak our caloric intake and outtake by measuring it – even if heart rate monitors were 100% accurate — it wouldn’t matter how many extra calories we burned in a particular workout. As long as we burn at least some additional calories, they’d add up, and we’d lose weight sooner or later. The truth is, weight loss doesn’t routinely result from exercise, not because of our inability to measure calories “out,” but because of our inability to control calories “in.” The real culprit is, in a word, food. Our deep attachment to this substance has ways of tricking us into refueling after we work out in spite of our intentions. Consider two of food’s lesser strategies for getting us to eat:

Your Moment Dove commercialFood as pleasure: Many people grow to expect a certain amount of pleasure from food, apart from their need to satisfy their hunger, so that it becomes an entitlement. We ate dessert as children and through sheer habit feel we warrant it indefinitely. TV commercials play to this mindset by showing us beautiful young women eating candy as if it contained the secret of happiness.

StarbucksFood as comfort: The comforting feeling food gives us can serve an emotional sedative. In the new movie “No Strings Attached” Natalie Portman, when upset with her love life, wolfs down three boxes of donut holes. Donut holes are 220 calories each, and let’s say there are six of them per box. That would mean that she’d be consuming almost 4,000 calories, two days worth of fuel, to make herself feel better (great movie by the way – except that it was hard to believe that Natalie Portland’s size zero character ever ate an excess calorie in her life).

If these emotional addictions to food don’t do the trick of seducing us into replacing our calories just burned off, food pulls out its big guns, namely hunger pangs. After an intense workout, hunger will scream at you to replace those calories. Even if you succeed in resisting the Starbucks Venti White Chocolate Mocha (630 calories), you might distractedly go for a second helping at dinner or an extra piece of the birthday cake served at the office, all devoured before you put much thought into doing so.

The good news in this state of affairs is that exercise absolutely will change your body dramatically if you commit to it for the long term. Numerous studies made of people over decades have found that those who lead sedentary lives tend to gain weight from age 30 – 60 while those who exercise stay lean and youthful. Other research found that exercise performed regularly has appetite-suppressing qualities.

I’d like to add that Bar Method workout in particular includes a few additional features that help you lose weight and keep it off.

  • It builds dense muscle mass in our large muscle groups. Dense muscles increase metabolic rate, plus make us feel more energetic and less in need of sweet pick-me-ups throughout the day.
  • It boosts confidence and mental toughness, strengthening our ability to make resolutions and follow through on them.
  • It rewards us for leaning down because the exercises are more doable the lighter you get. Over time, students learn on a visceral level that fewer pounds translate into more ability to get through the workout.
  • It gives us beautiful bodies that become a source of continual positive feedback for staying lean.

describe the image

None of these weight-control techniques involve calculating calories but there is plenty of evidence that they work. Thousands of Bar Method students have transformed their bodies, and hundreds have written in to tell us about it.

Conquer Hunger As You Exercise And Diet

In last week’s blog I brought up the subject of whether exercising makes you more or less hungry. That question got me thinking about how hunger is the chief culprit that sabotages people when they’re trying to lose weight. I then remembered that I have on hand a fantastic article by Consumer Reports about this much-hyped issue. “The Truth About Dieting” was the magazine’s cover story in its June 2002 issue. Ever since it was released, Bar Method studios have kept copies of it behind their front desks to hand out to students asking for advice on how to shed pounds.

Diet and Exercise“The Truth About Dieting” reports on a compilation of research about dieting and hunger, including a five-year research study carried out by Consumer Magazine itself on 32,213 dieters. The evidence the authors gathered leads to a surprisingly upbeat conclusion: losing weight is actually doable – if you do it right.

Consumer Reports first took an unbiased look at diet plans. What it discovered is that making up your own diet is more successful than going to a commercial diet program like Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers. Among the 32,213 people in its study who lost 10 percent of their body weight and kept it off a year 83 percent said they used “my own diet and exercise regimen” with no outside assistance or dietary supplements.

Then the magazine examined which foods work best for weight loss. Based on compelling scientific evidence it came up with four diet guidelines that will enable you to more easily consume fewer calories:

Strategies #1 and #2: “Tame your blood sugar” and “don’t skimpExercise helps diet on protein:” “Low blood sugar makes us feel hungry,” says the magazine, so to keep it from plummeting avoid foods with a high “glycemic index,” such as sugar, refined flour, rice, pasta and potatoes. Such foods “turn into blood glucose much more quickly than carbohydrates in high-fiber foods such as fruits, vegetable, legumes, and whole grains.” The resulting surge of insulin gives us low blood sugar.

Also, eat some protein with your meals, which “slows the absorption of food,” according to one of the researchers in the article. Here is one amazing study on this phenomenon that the magazine described: David Ludwig, a researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, served a group of overweight teenage boys a breakfast and lunch consisting of low/glycemic-high protein food. He gave another group of overweight boys a low-fat, low protein breakfast with an equivalent amount of calories. Both groups of boys were then allowed to eat for dinner all they wanted from overflowing platters of “bagels, cold cuts, cream cheese, cookies and fruit.”  The boys who’d eaten the low-glycemic/high protein breakfasts and lunches ate 81 fewer calories of this stuff.  Eight-one fewer calories! Ludwig switched the groups and tried it again to make sure he was seeing straight.  Same result.

Strategy #3. Have a little fat.”For years health experts including the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association have sent us a “fat is bad” message. To challenge this idea, Kathy McManus, a director of research in Boston, divided 101 overweight women and men into two groups and gave one group a low-fat diet restricting fat to 20% of calories, and the other group an equally caloric moderate fat diet with 35% of calories coming from healthy fats. Eighteen months later the moderate fat group had lost an average of nine pounds, and low fat group had gained around 6.4 pounds.

Strategy #4. “Exercise.” In Consumer Reports’ study group, “regular exercise” was found to be “the No. 1 successful weight-loss maintenance strategy, cited by 81 percent of the long-term maintainers.” Why is exercise so good at helping people lose weight? Consumer Reports suggests a provocative answer. “’Exercise itself may act to regulate hunger over and above the obvious fact that it burns up calories,” James Hill, codirector of the National Weight Control Registry said in the article. “The vital role of exercise…applies more to the maintenance of weight loss than to losing weight in the first place.” When it comes to long term maintenance, the evidence seems to weigh in favor of exercise being the ultimate key appetite suppressant. Based on my observation of many of my students’ weight loss over time, I wholeheartedly agree.

Here is the article from Consumer Reports:  Page 1-6

Next week: Stories from students about how they control their exercise hunger.

Find Bar Method Exercise Classes near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

Diet, Exercise, and Hunger

Exercise makes many people less hungry. Men as a group have been found to be largely immune from increased appetite after exercise, and may even become temporarily “anorexic” according to a 1994 study conducted in the U.K. by Leeds University. Previous studies at Leeds found that this suppression of appetite can last for up to two days.

Some women also experience the same appetite-suppressing effects from working out. Sara Giller, a comedienne, Bar Method teacher and desk manager at the Los Angeles studios, was heard to say recently, “Days when I exercise, I never want to eat. When I’m just working at the desk, though, I’m noshing all day.”

At the same time, many women exercisers are made somewhat more hungry by their workouts. An experiment conducted in 2007 by the U.K.-based Journal of Endrocrinology that included female subjects found that the subjects did feel hungrier after exercising, but, if left alone with food, consumed about a third fewer of the extra calories than their workout burned for them, thus achieving a caloric deficit overall.

At the other end of the spectrum there are those people whom exercise makes ravenous. This month I got an email from a Bar Method student named Andrea describing her struggle with this issue:

“I’ve been in love with the Bar Method for over a year,” Andrea wrote, “and have seen great changes in my body.…however, I feel as though my diet is all that is holding me back from seeing results… Is it normal that I feel hungrier than usual all day after doing a class? If yes, what is the best food to satisfy my post-workout hunger?…What does your daily diet look like? I would really appreciate any feedback.”

Muscle building exerciseFirst of all, for Andrea and others who run into this road-block to body-change, there is good news on the horizon. Past Bar Method students with this issue have reported to us that their appetites revert to normal after about six months of classes. It is likely that their initial hunger was being caused by rapidly increasing muscle mass, an essential component in body reshaping. (Here’s a blog I did on how the Bar Method builds and sculpts muscles.) During those first six months or so, students’ bodies also burn away a significant amount of intramuscular fat, which thereafter no longer needs to be fed. After that time, their leaner bodies are feeding muscle not fat, and their appetites revert to normal or even become a bit suppressed. Men probably don’t fall prey to exercise hunger, unless they are body-builders, because their bodies are genetically predisposed to have leaner, denser muscles than women, even without exercise.

Okay, but how do students cope with the raging hunger in the meantime? I thought about what to advise Andrea. I knew that people can learn to be okay with feeling a little hungry, but they can’t cope with feeling ravenous. Minimizing her risk of feeling famished by keeping her blood sugar level steady would be foremost. I included elements of my own eating habits and sent Andrea these tips:

• Avoid eating sweets during the first six months that you take the Bar Method. Staying away from sweetened foods will help your body burn away fat more quickly.

• Avoid eating after dinner.

• Don’t eat muffins or cookies.

• Drink water slowly. It will relax your stomach.

• When you go to bed, feel just a bit hungry but not starving.

• And of course eat reasonably healthy food.

I pressed “send” and immediately remembered that I had right at my fingertips a wealth of fantastic advice on dieting that I hadn’t included. For eight years The Bar Method has handed out an article by Consumer Reports called “The Truth About Dieting,” which is mind blowing, especially for those who’ve  gotten caught up in all the hype in the media about losing weight.  “The Truth About Dieting” is packed with eye-opening – and entertaining — scientific information on how simple changes in diet – with the help of exercise – can cause you to eat less and lose weight. Wow, I thought! This is MUST reading not just for Andrea but for anyone who’s ever wanted to take off a few pounds. The article is not available in its entirety online, so I will describe its highlights – including six tips for losing weight and keeping it off in next week’s blog.

Find a Bar Method Exercise Studio near you.

Sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

My Weekend at Rancho La Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa

“I’m a spa person,” Melinda Holland told me last night. “And this is the best spa I’ve ever been to.” It was my last night at Rancho La Puerta, a health and fitness spa in Tecate, Mexico, and Melinda and I were sitting next to each other at the diner table with about eight other people. Rancho La Puerta is just across the border about 45 minutes by car south of San Diego. Melinda, a Bar Method student from Chicago, and her husband Michael, parents of three small kids, are currently spending the week there. “The hikes are extraordinary,” Melinda went on. “The service is excellent, and everyone’s so nice.”

I confess that when I walked up to the Rancho La Puerta’s reception desk this weekend to sign in, I was thinking to myself how not a spa person I am. “Spas are so isolating,” I grumbled to myself. “I’d rather vacation in a foreign city and go exploring.” I also didn’t want to starve. A year ago I’d spent one night at Rancho, and I remembered that the food was delicious and satisfying, but somehow there were very few calories in it. In two days I’d lost two pounds, which I know is the general idea, but I’m already thin enough thank you. This time while still at the airport I grabbed a few giant cookies and hid them in my bag.

RANCHO LA PUERTAThe reason I was at Rancho was to help launch the new Bar Method class schedule there. The brainchild of the program is Mark Fleischman co-director of the Southern California studios (his wife Mimi, my sister, directs them). Mark is a long-time Rancho visitor and a big fan of its hikes, food and friendly ambiance. This first week of the program the classes are being taught by Catherine Wendel, co-owner of the three Bar Method studios in and around Chicago. Mimi and Mark had asked me to kick off the week by teaching the first class, and I agreed. (Click here to find out how my sister Mimi and I first discovered Lotte Berk Method in the early 1980’s.)

rancho la puerta groundsRancho La Puerta sits 1,600 feet above the ocean on 3,000 acres of meadows, hills and valleys. There are about 80 Spanish-style free-standing “casas” for guests with fireplaces, little kitchens and hotel-style service. Guests enjoy the use of four pools, five beauty/fitness centers, five hot tubs, twelve exercise/fitness rooms, casas that serve as lounges or wireless internet areas, a cooking school and indoor/outdoor meditation sites. What’s both charming and frustrating about this village-sized hodgepodge is that the buildings are organized in a maddeningly illogical network of bricked paths leading hither and yon, sort of like a Medieval city. Wooden post signs stacked six high and pointing in multiple directions have an other-worldly effect – like any moment you’ll run into Dorothy and her companions dancing down the yellow brick road.  Granted there are maps posted here and there. Even so, my sister and I (who also had our moments) ran across more than one hopelessly lost female guest. The men seemed to have no such trouble.

The other unusual thing about Rancho La Puerta was what made me fall totally in love with the place. On this particular week there were 149 guests from 20 states and Canada, five of whom I already knew. By the time I left, I felt like all these people were my friends. At Rancho you sit with your fellow guests at meals, hike with them starting at 6:15 am if you can get up that early, and attend a wide choice of exercise classes with them. Then you might swim with them, play tennis, learn Spanish, cooking, meditation or photography and then pass them in the corridors while you’re on your way to get a massage. As you navigate through your choice of activities, your enjoyment of the people you’re with becomes part of the experience. This Rancho-style bonding is different from the way it happens at school or camp. It’s more like, well, exploring a foreign city with a bunch of fellow travelers. It’s relaxed, but the experience is complex enough to satisfy an adventurer’s spirit.

I have to add that if I had wanted to lose weight, Rancho would certainly a great place to do it. I ate my two over-sized cookies, and I had seconds at every meal. Even so I lost two pounds during my two-day visit. It’s also a great place to thoroughly enjoy connecting with people just as people. By the time you leave, you feel kind of like you’ve rediscovered your humanity. I arrived reluctant to enlist fully in the spa experience, and I left wishing I could stay. Rancho has one of the highest guest return rates around. It certainly has me looking forward to my next visit.

Click here to find out more about Bar Method Intensive Weeks at Rancho La Puerta

Click here to find Bar Method Exercise Studios near you.

Click here to sample and buy Bar Method Exercise DVDs.

My Most Popular Blog of 2009

As the year comes to a close, I would like to republish the most popular blog I’ve written in 2009. At the bottom of the article, I have also included links to my other blogs which make up this year’s five most read.

See you in 2010!   Have a very Happy New Year!


Since the 70s, millions of active Americans have been led to believe that aerobics slims you down and strength work tones your muscles.  The truth is not so simple. 

In fact most kinds of exercise that keep us moving continuously for more than a few moments, strength work included, are aerobic.  Stored fat is our most convenient energy source, so our bodies use it as soon as possible, that is, after you’ve finished the warm-up stage of your workout.  Walking, running, vacuuming, anything that raises your heart rate above resting level, burns both carbs and fat.

The question we should really be asking is: how do we maximize the number of fat calories burned from exercise?  To find this out, experts now rely less on how aerobic a particular type of exercise is, and more on how intense it is.  Want to know which exercise routine to choose when you’re trying to drop a few dress sizes?  Experts now suggest you rank them by level of intensity.   Pretty straight forward: work harder; use more fuel.

So how do you determine intensity?  Think back to that old adage: “feel the burn.”  The burn in your muscles is a good clue that your workout is getting intense.  To find out just how intense, try clocking the amount of time you spend during your workout while experiencing a muscle burn.  If it’s zero, you’re not using a lot of calories.  If it’s a good part of your workout, you’re cooking with fire.  Want to up your caloric expenditure?  Increase your level of muscle burn until you can barely continue.  Now you’re cooking with dynamite!

Using intensity as a gauge, you can now see through the old adage that walking’s a better fat burner than running.  Truth be known, walking does not burn a lot of calories per minute of exercise.   Go for a two-hour run and you’ll burn about a half a pound of fat.  You’d need to walk for five hours to match that result.  Yes, compared with running, walking can burn a somewhat higher proportion of fat calories than it does carbs, but compared with running, it simply does not do a good job when it comes to burning total calories.  Intense aerobic activity burn calories like crazy and so is doing away with a lot more fat calories per minute of exercise, even if its fat-to-carb ratio is lower than that of walking.   Bottom line: walking is not an efficient calorie burner because it’s not intense exercise.

For the same reason, yoga and pilates use relatively little energy.  Kick up the intensity with running, biking and other aerobic sports, and you get a much better result: more calories consumed and a gain in aerobic stamina to up your caloric burn during your next workout.

Granted: Running, biking, rowing and other high-energy exercise all do an okay job on the “calories out” side of the fuel equation.   To do better – to burn even more calories during exercise and to drop even more jean sizes – you’d need to up the level of intensity you experience during aerobics.  But how?

Recently a new student walked into a Bar Method studio to sign up for classes.  “I’m going to take the Bar Method once a week, because I love it,” she told the front desk manager.  “But I’m trying to lose some weight, so I’m going to run on the other days.”  If this student had chosen instead to take the Bar Method four days a week, she probably would have ended up a dress size or two smaller.  Like this student, most fitness consumers believe the best remedy for extra pounds is running.  It’s only when Bar Method students see their bodies shrink beyond what they were able to accomplish by running do they begin to understand that there’s something more you can do to shrink your body besides run. To read how Bar Method shapes muscles as well, read How To Sculpt a Dancer’s Body. 

The problem with running is that by its very nature it’s limited in the degree of intensity it can produce.  Unless you’re planning a brief sprint, running leaves you no choice but to proceed at less than top speed, simply in order to keep going.  If you did attempt to run at top speed, your body would give out after a few moments.  This is running’s catch 22:  It challenges you, but there’s a kind of glass ceiling of intensity beyond which it won’t let you go.

Here are four other blogs that with the one above make up 2009’s most popular.