Eating too much sugar is terrible for our bodies, which as you might remember was the subject of last month’s blog. Scientists say that excess sugar turns to fat in our liver making it a major cause of obesity, as well as diabetes and heart disease. Nonetheless many people are resigned to their sugar habit. “I know it’s bad for me,” several Bar Method students told me when we were discussing the subject, “but I’m just addicted to sugar.” I get it! If you’re a sweet tooth, cutting down the sugar in your diet is not easy, especially when it comes to pervasiveness of sweet snacks like Jamba Juice, energy bars, flavored yogurts, “health” juices, and just about anything from Starbucks.

Michael cooking July 2014 edit 2 small

My husband Michael making dinner

Don’t get me wrong!  My intent is not to scold people who eat a lot of sugar (which is most of us). In this blog, I want to explore the possibility that snacks could be both delicious and low in sugar. It would be well worth the effort, because we now know that eating low sugar foods makes it easier for us to lose weight, gives us increased energy, and is kind to our internal organs. Unfortunately, this project was going to be easier said than done due to my culinary skills being pretty much zero. My husband and I have been together for five years, and whenever it’s been my turn to prepare a meal, I’ve chosen a reasonably healthy restaurant and ordered takeout. Therefore, in order to give you some authentic healthy snack ideas, I reached out to the local community of nutrition experts and was fortunate to receive an offer of help from Norae Ferrera, RD, who gave me five recipes for low sugar snacks. Norae is a San Francisco-based dietitian with the American Dietetic Association and, like most of her peers, wholeheartedly endorses a low sugar diet. In fact, she made sure to let me know that experts (such as the American Heart Association) do not recommend a diet of up to 10% sugar.

Norae Ferrara, RD

Norae Ferrara, RD

“Actually,” she said, “the true recommendation is NONE. 10% is an upper intake limit but no one actually needs added sugar. There is no physiological need for it, as our bodies can break down complex carbohydrates to create the exact sugars we do need. It is in no way essential in our diet. Carbohydrates, yes, but not sugars, per se.” Norae’s endorsement of a NO-added sugar diet made me all the more curious to find out what her healthy snacks would taste like, so I decided to try them out.  I went to four stores to find all the ingredients, not minding the effort since I figured I was making up for decades of NOT shopping for food. Once I had everything, I made the snacks. Then, like a judge on “Master Chef” (a show my husband watches), I tasted each one. The following five snacks from Norae all contain less than 300mg of sodium, less than 5g of sugar, and less than 250 calories. I’ve ranked them from five to one, ending with my favorite.

Healthy snacks ingredients July 2014 small

The ingredients

Coconut milk and fruit smoothie

Coconut milk and fruit smoothie

Snack #5: Smoothie: 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk, 1/4 cup raspberries, 1/2 cup strawberries, 1 scoop pure rice protein powder and ice as desired: I’d never heard of rice-based protein powder and was eager to try it. Soy-based protein powder, the kind you find at Whole Foods, has always been hard for me to digest, and I love the taste of rice. Even so, I found this snack to be bitter, particularly so when I bit down on the raspberry seeds. My guess is that the raspberries were the cause of the bitterness, so a few days later, I tried the same recipe with half a frozen banana and no ice. This blend was delicious. However, it wasn’t the original recipe, so this snack remains bottom on my list.

Tuna in oil on whole wheat

Tuna in oil on whole wheat

Snack #4: 2oz light tuna canned in oil, 1 slice sprouted wheat bread (the kind with 0g sugar and minimal sodium) This combination tasted good but seemed simply like a tuna fish sandwich. The oil in the tuna did add flavor and fullness. I plan to further experiment with the tuna on different whole breads.

Icelandic yogurt and almonds

Icelandic yogurt and almonds

Snack #3: 5oz plain Icelandic yogurt with 20 unsalted Almonds  In preparation for trying this snack, had to find out what in the world is “Icelandic yogurt.” It turns out to be a type of yogurt, not a brand, just as Greek yogurt is. According to Wikipedia, Icelandic yogurt originated in Iceland and is also called “Skyr.” It is strained yogurt made with skimmed milk and has a “slightly sour dairy flavor with a hint of residual sweetness.” After going to a few stores, I found some Icelandic yogurt at Whole Foods and bought two brands, Siggi’s and Småri. Indeed, this yogurt is thick and rich like Greek yogurt. Beyond that, the two brands differed. Siggi’s was a bit sour, while “Småri” was creamy and did have that “residual sweetness,” surprising considering that this stuff has no fat and just the natural sugars from the skim milk! With the almonds it tasted delicious.

Hummus and vegies

Hummus and veggies

Snack #2: 1/3 cup hummus with sliced sweet bell peppers, carrots and/or cucumbers They even add sugar to hummus these days, but Safeway did have a sugar-free brand without a huge list of added chemicals. The sliced sweet bell pepper was my favorite dipping veggie. Of course this snack is a mainstay of parties. Even so, it worked for me as a non-party-day treat.

Strawberries and almond butter!

Strawberries and almond butter

Snack #1: 1/2 cup sliced strawberries and 2 Tbsp unsalted natural almond or peanut butter Even at my age, new experiences are possible, and this snack gave me one. The strawberries cut the stickiness of the almond butter (which was unsalted with no other ingredients), and the almond butter added a decadent richness to the strawberries. Uuumm!! As a group, I appreciated these snacks because they were all filling, especially the last one. The little bit of almond butter stuck to my ribs for hours, causing me not to think about food until dinner when I started to feel pleasantly hungry. If you get a chance to try these low sugar snacks for yourself, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did 🙂 Healthy snacks Burr collage


Fed Up May 2014 2

One of the children profiled in “Fed Up”

See the new movie “Fed Up,” narrated and co-produced by Katie Couric. Even if you’ve kept up with advances in our understanding of nutrition, “Fed Up” will change your view of what is, and what isn’t, healthy food and why our nation has a weight problem. The causes may be different from what you thought. For one, kids are not getting fat just because they watch TV and play video games. The real reason is right in front of our noses, and we’ve been seeing it and not seeing it. Fed Up will make you hit the side of your head and say, “oooh, right.”

I remember when the mass weight gain started in the mid 70s. I was in my 20s living in New York City. Back in college in the 60s, I’d followed Adele Davis, the top diet guru of her day, who advocated a balanced diet of meat, veggies and whole grains with no processed foods. Then suddenly Adele Davis was out, replaced by a new, exciting advance in nutrition: food with its fat content reduced or removed altogether! Everyone, including myself, believed that the new low and non-fat foods would make it easy to be thin. We rushed to buy whatever had on its label “reduced fat” or “fat free!”


Result of sugar added into our diet in the Mid-70s

There was, however, a catch that we weren’t aware of. As one nutritionist interviewed in “Fed Up” explains, food with its fat reduced or removed tastes terrible. To solve this problem the food industry added sugar to the products from which they’d removed fat. If we knew this at the time, we paid it no mind. Sugar is innocuous, we thought. It’s what you put in your coffee. So we started innocently consuming more sugar. Since then, we Americans have doubled our daily sugar intake. The result, as the chart above shows, was an upsurge in overweight and obesity rates starting right then in the mid-70s. It was as if a shot had been fired.

Why does sugar cause us to gain weight? Because when more sugar than we need flows into our digestive system, our liver can’t metabolize it as energy, so it converts the sugar into fat. Too much sugar over-stresses the liver similar to the way excess alcohol does. Sugar then does its damage, organ by organ, including to your pancreas, your heart, your digestive system, your immune system and your brain.

From "Fed Up," how our liver turns sugar into fat

From “Fed Up,” how our liver turns sugar into fat

These stresses cause diseases, foremost among them heart disease, diabetes and of course, obesity and all its health consequences. Sugar causes obesity because it doesn’t satisfy your appetite and doesn’t nourish you. Instead, it lowers your energy level, and makes you feel starving all the time. Sugar has been proved (in research studies on rats) to be more addicting than cocaine, and when you’re hooked on sugar, you HAVE to eat, and you’re going to chose to eat more sugar, only to become more endlessly more hungry. The obese kids profiled in Fed Up are not at fault because they lack will power. They’re obese because they started life with baby bottles of fruit juice, kid’s cereals, pop tarts and soft drinks. Sugar had them by the throat before they knew what was happening.

Green Machine contains 28 grams of sugar.

Green Machine contains 28 grams of sugar.

How much sugar is okay to eat every day? The American Heart Association (the ADA) recommends that 10% of your diet consist of sugar. That’s about 20 grams for women and 36 grams for men. One Coke has 40 grams of sugar. An Odwalla juice and a “Naked” (brand) Green Machine with “NO SUGAR ADDED” have 28 grams of sugar each. Starbucks “Evolution Defense Up” juice has 34 grams of sugar. Today I was at the supermarket and bought a seemingly good-for-you meal called “Simply Asian” noodles. At home I looked at the package and discovered that Simply Asian noodles contains 16 grams of added sugar, ¾ of my recommended daily intake. Don’t get me started on energy bars (candy), gluten-free energy bars (same bad-for-you candy), dried fruit snacks, “natural” cereals, and all-fruit diets. To your liver the sugar in these foods is identical. What your liver can’t metabolize, it turns into fat.

In 1770, the average American ate about 9 grams of sugar a day. Today the average American consumes 186.4 grams a sugar a day, 20 times more. The miserable, trapped obese kids profiled in “Fed Up” were willing to be in the movie to show the world the result of this diet.

Me in 2012 with a sugary drink

Me in 2012 with a sugary drink

But if you’re healthy in other ways, can’t your body deal with moderately more sugar? Well, I can tell you that my body couldn’t in spite of all the exercise I do. Two years ago on this blog, I showed a photo of myself walking out of Starbucks with a non-fat Chai latte and another photo of my frig with stacked Activa yogurt. I didn’t get fat, but my looks and energy level suffered from all the sugar in my diet. My skin became dry and dull, a disquieting bulge of fat appeared around my middle, and I became more and more tired and achy. Last year, I tried switching to a lower sugar diet. I gave up Chai lattes and switched to unsweetened coffee and fresh fruit such as bananas and pears. My skin became smoother, and my waist trimmed down. However, I still battled fatigue during the day. The problem was that I was grabbing sweet pastries for breakfast when I was in a hurry, plus eating two bananas a day. Many of today’s common fruits tend to be sugary because humans cultivated them over centuries to be more and more sweet. Bananas, it turns out, are one of the fruits that is highest in sugar, 18 grams a cup — a fact to bear in mind if you are trying to eat healthy by throwing heaps of these fruits into a juicer – even if you add in some green stuff — and gulping down its contents. Doing so could assault your system with 500% of its daily recommended dose of sugar in a few moments!

After seeing “Fed Up,” I gave up bananas and avoided sweet foods altogether, and what a difference it’s made! Almost right away, my energy level increased, I found I needed less sleep, I didn’t feel hungry, food tasted better, I was stronger in class, and I noticed to my amazement that, even at age 67, my skin looked rosier.

Simply Asian Noodles nutrition label missing "daily value" for sugar

Simply Asian Noodles nutrition label missing “daily value” for sugar

Regardless, the food industry is not about to take sugar back out of all these foods. Big food producers, among them Pepsico and Coca-Cola, want to keep us addicted. Such companies now supply more than half our public schools with fast foods for school lunches, and food industry lobbyists have forced the government to delete the “daily values” for sugar on nutrition labels. Look at the next processed food you buy and notice that the “daily value” percentage for sugar (how many grams you should eat of this type of nutrient in a day) is mysteriously missing. Lobbyists also won on getting pizza and Ketchup categorized as vegetables, and a 20% sugar diet – not 10% as recommended by nutritionists – cited by the government as healthy. Today, 80% of processed foods contains added sugar, much of it disguised by obscure sounding aliases on nutrition labels such as “Xylose,” “Lactose,” “Maltodextrin,” “Sorghum,” and others.

The result:

  • 64% of Americans are now overweight or obese. By mid-century, half of all Americans will be obese if trends continue.
  • Since 2000, obesity has overtaken tobacco use as our country’s leading cause of death.
  • In the 1960s, type 2 diabetes in children was pretty much unheard of. There are now hundreds of thousands of cases of of this disease among children.
  • Rise in world obesity smallIn six years, 20% of all health care spending will be on obesity related diseases and conditions.
  • World obesity has risen over 7% in the last 23 years.
  • Americans are the fattest people in the world.
  • Fast food, including soft drinks, is served in more than half of American schools.
  • Our kids are the first generation in 200 years who will live shorter lives than their parents.

“Fed Up” tried to on an upbeat note, but it’s hard for me to be optimistic about the world acting on its message any time soon. Unlike tobacco, sugar is everywhere, and it’s being pitched to us from all sides. My mother, who grew up during the Depression, got an orange in her stocking every Christmas as a treat. She always believed that people get fat because they have no will power but now wants to see the movie and is open to changing her mind. Nonetheless, many people who have seen “Fed Up,” reviewers included, aren’t taking the message seriously. One critic, who admits to being overweight, called the movie “slick” and said, “we’ve heard it all before.” I’d love to be wrong about the poor odds that we’ll start to change our eating habits. Maybe in my lifetime I’ll go to the supermarket and be surprised to find a wide assortment of processed foods that say on their label: “less than 5% of the AHA’s recommended daily serving of sugars.”  That will be the day.

Next month: Healthy snacks that are low in sugar


Keri RussellWhen I was a little girl in Georgia in the 50s, women wanted to have a small waist, lots of curves, or both. It wasn’t desirable to be toned or athletic, rather to appear soft, fragile and mysterious.

Our standard of beauty has changed dramatically since then. We now admire women who are lean, strong, athletic, confident and more diverse in their features. Why this shift happened is not the subject of this blog (the women’s liberation movement, etc.), but I’d like to talk about one driving force behind this change that has directly influenced our idea of what is beautiful: science’s growing knowledge of how we can look our best. Since my childhood, scientific discoveries about health have proved beyond a reasonable doubt that strong, athletic bodies enjoy longer lasting youthfulness, not to mention a winning edge in the game of life.

Don’t get me wrong! Our obsession for being as beautiful as possible by any means natural or artificial is not going away any time soon. What’s different about our current pursuit is that, unlike the old days we got our beauty tips handed down to us from an archive of old wives tales, and now we get advice that has a solid foundation in science.

What is the top beauty tip that we keep hearing from this source? Exercise! As one researcher, Tim Church M.D., put it, “Every cell in the human body benefits from physical activity.” Spa treatments, facials and makeup tricks can’t hold a candle to exercise when it comes to beautifying you in multiple ways. Here are ten of my favorite beauty benefits of exercise and how you can boost these results with efficient full-body workouts like the Bar Method.

1. More collagen

basic anatomy of the skin epidermis dermis stratum corneum fibroblastsFibroblasts are skin cells that produce collagen, a factor in youthful-looking elastic skin. “As we age, fibroblasts .. get lazier and fewer in number,” says dermatologist Audrey Kunin in an article by Catherine Guthrie for Experience L!fe. “But the nutrients delivered to the skin during exercise help fibroblasts work more efficiently, so your skin looks younger.” Bar Method exercises work large muscle group repeatedly until they are thoroughly exhausted, facilitating this cellular process.

2. Better functioning lymph nodes

lymph nodesWhy is this important to your looks? The hundreds of lymph nodes in your body “take out metabolic trash,” says Guthrie. “But the nodes can’t haul garbage to the curb without the help of nearby muscles. When muscles contract during exercise, they squeeze the lymph nodes, helping them pump waste out of your system.” So when you’re working your way through all the intense muscle contracting and stretching during a Bar Method class, you’re not only shaping your muscles but also fueling your body’s natural waste removal system. The results, in Guthrie’s words: “You look less puffy and polluted.”

stress-diagram-and-cortisol small2Cortisol is a hormone that is released in response to stress. It increases your blood sugar, suppresses your immune system, and decreases bone formation, all for the purpose of devoting your full energy to handling the source of that stress. When you suffer from chronic stress, excess cortisol production can cause collagen loss and inhibit protein synthesis, impacting your skin and health! Exercise enables your body to turn on cortisol when you need it, then turn it off when you don’t. The Bar Method’s strength-stretch sequence gets cortisol out of your system without beating you up in the process, so that afterwards your body can turn its attention to repairing and regenerating your muscles and skin.

4. Better sleep

Almost 20 percent of Americans suffer from stress leading to poor sleep, according to the National Institute of Health. Studies have found that moderate-to-intense exercise helps you fall asleep more quickly and sleep more deeply. The Bar Method workout provides the intense exercise that facilitates sleep, while its focus on stretching and breathing makes for a relaxed body and a good night’s rest so that you look fresh the next day.

5. Enhanced sexiness

andrea-davis text smallWe know by now that the Bar Method makes you look sexier. It also happens to literally make you sexier. Huffington Post blogger David Katz, M.D., reports that exercise can “Increase blood flow in a way that has a direct affect on sexual function.” Not only that! Researchers have learned that exercise increases levels of testosterone, the hormone most responsible for making us feel sexy, and HGH (human growth hormone), also found to boost libido. A British study found that a group of middle aged men who exercised had 25% more testosterone and 4 times more HGH than sedentary men. When it comes to workouts that optimize your sexiness, the Bar Method, with its targeted strengthening and stretching exercises for the muscles around the hips, tops the list! “We all know the obvious effects of the Bar Method…” says teacher and studio owner Andrea Davis, “an enhanced sex life.”

RhondaRhonda Vassello, a 32 year old Bar Method student in Carlsbad, California, agrees. “I have done almost EVERY type of workout out there, Boot camps, Circuit Training, Cycling and even the dreaded task of running,” she wrote me in a recent email. “Each time my body reached a plateau that I just could not overcome… THIS WORKOUT has done it… and let’s be honest ladies when you feel good your confidence peeks and that is the sexiest feature any woman can have!



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 …” 🙂

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!



Last week I told you what I enjoyed most, and what was hardest, about making the new Bar Method “Super Sculpting II” DVD. This week my three intrepid fellow “Super Sculpting II” performers, Sharon, Kiesha and Juan, weigh in about their toughest, funniest and most fun moments during the shoot:

What did you find most difficult about performing in the Super Sculpting II DVD shoot?

describe the imageKiesha: Maintaining perfect form throughout the shoot. You don’t realize when you take class how many times you come out of form, simply by tucking your hair behind your ear, scratching your nose, or adjusting your stance.

Juan: Honestly, finding pants. It’s surprising how few examples of yoga clothing actually exist for men.

Sharon: Finding a blue tank top that [Burr] liked!

What did you find most fun?

Juan: The fact that we were going to be watched really brought out a drive in me that I didn’t know was there…at least not to that degree.

Sharon: Shopping for blue tank tops.

What was the funniest moment?

Kiesha: Watching Sharon unload her suitcase of a dozen different blue tops.

describe the imageJuan: My favorite line ever said by Burr during the curl portion of the video: ‘I’ve never heard anyone say their abs were so sore they couldn’t eat.’

What do you think of the workout?

Kiesha: I LOVE it. It’s intense, but within reach for someone to work up to. The choreography is really fun.

Sharon: It was awesome. I still might be a little sore.Hairline SeparatorNote to my readers:

Starting this month, I will be posting my blog on the first Tuesday of every month rather than weekly. This change in schedule has become necessary to an increasing number of new Bar Method ventures that are requiring my time. Among what’s happening are upcoming studios in Boston, Washington, DC, Austin and Houston plus several future Bar Method media projects, the details of which are yet to be made public.

Thank you for your support during this change.

Burr Leonard



describe the imageThis month I finished shooting two new Bar Method DVD workouts with me as the lead performer, which will be coming out in April. What I enjoyed most about making this set is that they are pegged to be intermediate-to-advanced, so when it came to designing the routines I could pick from just about any exercise in the Bar Method and even create new ones if I wished. I love using the ball in Bar Method classes, so I used it throughout both workouts. Pretzel is one of my favorite exercises, so it went right into the first Super Sculpting routine. Super Sculpting II includes “diagonal seat,” a recently developed Bar Method exercise that never fails to hit me in all the right places. For curl I chose variations that look beautiful when you’re doing them, that are really challenging, and that are different from the ab-work in the other DVDs.

When the choreography was in place and I stood back and looked at both routines as whole, I was pleased to see that they each ended up with a different focus. Super Sculpting concentrates on toning. “SS II” moves faster and is more aerobic. Each DVD includes a set of aerobic exercises mid-point through the workout. SS II takes its fat-burning component one step farther by adding one more set of thigh-work, a second “seat” exercise designed to elevate the heart-rate, and a few “zingers” (Bar Method speak for short, fun, surprising and extra hard moves) during the ab section.

Cast of Super Sculpting 2What did I find hardest about the DVD production process? Rehearsing! I was lucky to have a different group of terrific Bar Method teachers for each DVD to help me get through this stage. Both teams encouraged me as I fumbled through the first few run-throughs and continued to support me all the way through the two back-to-back on-camera performances we finally did for each DVD. In a blog I wrote last summer I described my wonderful Super Sculpting team (See “Making the ‘Super Sculpting’ Exercise DVD.”). Now I’d like to tell you about my amazing Super Sculpting II performers.

Super Sculpting II as I mentioned is a workout that highlights the fat-burning power of the Bar Method. Fittingly as it turned out, the three teachers who signed on to do it with me are all built like racehorses. Sharon Demko has danced most of her life and has the body to show it. She started teaching at my Bar Method studio in the San Francisco Marina eight years ago when she was the mother of a one-year-old son. A few years later she taught through most of her second pregnancy. Now her sons are nine and six, and Sharon is as slender and defined as I’ve ever seen her.

High Curl Sequence in SS2Kiesha Ramey-Presner, also a San Francisco Marina teacher, is the mother of a 15-month-old son named Dylan. Kiesha has one of those spectacular model’s bodies that looks like it’s been long and lean from birth. She started taking the Bar Method five years ago not to change her body but because she was looking for an overall workout she would enjoy as much as she had running. “I was surprised when I ended up dropping one jean size,” she told me. “And I got so much stronger, to a pentacle of strength.”

Juan Barba, a senior teacher at the Burbank, California studio, is quietly charming, “scary-smart,” and a true Bar Method fanatic. In his three years as a Bar Method teacher, he has noticeably buffed up from doing the workout (and nothing else, he says). To me he is living proof that the Bar Method can and does significantly change men’s bodies.

Next week: The Super Sculpting II performers talk about their hardest and funniest moments during the shoot. Stay tuned…



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.

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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.


Bar Method 3|60 Challenge Winner Lianne ZhangMy last two blogs featured testimonials by two of the three contestants in our San Francisco Marina studio’s annual 3|60 Challenge, Karen Dodge and Ryan Salma. To fill you in if you didn’t read last week’s post, the Challenge pits three beginning Bar Method students against each other for sixty days of class taking and testimonial writing. The contestant who turns out to be best overall new student in terms of attendance, enthusiasm and gains in health wins a month of free classes. The winner this time: the third contestant in the Challenge, Lianne Zhang. “The other two did well,” studio manager Mike Najjar told me. “Lianne won because she was here quite often, and she was so enthusiastic.”

Lianne, 26, is a brand promotion and event strategist who recently moved to San Francisco from New York City. She had worked 70-hour weeks during her four years in New York. Now that she was a San Francisco resident, she was determined to create a more livable pace for herself. “I wanted to embark on a new lifestyle,” she told us, “one ensuring me a good work/life balance – a concept foreign to New Yorkers.”

After a month of classes, Lianne noticed that the Bar Method was doing more than improving her appearance. It was also having a positive impact on the way she was experiencing her new, adventurous life in San Francisco. This is how she describes the differences she felt in her body during her travels around San Francisco week four into the Challenge:


Lianne ZhangI can’t believe four weeks have flown by. As I notice differences not only in my lifestyle choices but my body- I’m also noticing how useful Bar Method technique is to my everyday life.

Here’s a little guide to how Bar Method has improved this recent transplant’s daily life in SF:

1) It absolutely trains you for crowded places where hanging off various street fixtures is a necessity in order to gain full view of the event.

For example, I went to the Giants Parade and in the madness, the only available space that offered a decent view of the players’ float was to hang off of these metal gates. Because of the Bar Method, I was able to hang on for a full thirty minutes- it was all the Posey, Lincecum, Huff and Cain I needed to bring myself closer to being a San Franciscan!

2) It helps provide better balance on MUNI buses.

SF MUNIAs a former New Yorker, I tend to ride subways better than buses. In fact I am not a fan of buses. Since I live in lower Pac Heights, I’m forced to take buses anywhere that I can’t walk to. I tend to tumble all over the place as I’m not used to standing on lurching vehicles above ground. However, ever since I started doing Bar Method, I found myself able to use my core muscles to stable myself much better. It sounds silly but it’s been extremely helpful. As for the lady that likes to booty shake at the front aisle of the 22,…no amount of Bar Method will remedy.

3) It strengthens my muscles, allowing me to have the confidence and capabilities to try things I never could try before.

I’ve always wanted to try rock climbing but because I have an embarrassingly low amount of upper body strength, I always put it off for fear of making a fool of myself. However, since I started doing Bar Method, I’ve realized that my arm strength has increased significantly and tonight I am going for my first session! Wish me luck! (Especially after five straight days of Bar Method!)

Congratulations, Lianne, for being our 2010 3|60 Challenge winner!

Burr Leonard


Last week I shared with you a testimonial written by Karen Dodge, a first-time new mother and one of the three competitors in our San Francisco-Marina studio’s annual “3|60 Challenge.” This contest selects three new students and challenges them to make the most possible positive overall change in their bodies in sixty days. Karen told us about her first sore and shaky week of regular classes and her determination to lose her baby weight during the challenge.

This week Ryan Salma, another of this year’s three competitors, weighs in about his struggles and breakthroughs at around midpoint into the challenge. Before becoming a contestant, Ryan had lost 40 pounds over several years by running and eating a healthy diet. He is a real estate project manager, President of the San Francisco Frontrunners, and a member of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. His motivation for entering the challenge? “Increasing my overall endurance,” he told us. “I have been running in half-marathons for the past three years and it is my goal to break the 1 hour 30 minute mark.” Below is Ryan’s report on his fourth week of classes.

Burr Leonard


3|60 Challenge Contestant Ryan SalmaI don’t know if it was the weather, the time change, or the fact that I ran a half-marathon this week but I have been feeling a little run down. This made getting to the Bar Method seem a lot harder than usual. I decided to take a level one class for the first time so that I would not be pushing my body too hard and as a way to mix things up.

I would not say that a level one class is easy, just different. You don’t do as many reps, but there is a lot more focus on form. You also hold some poses for a longer period of time, which can make the exercises just as hard as a mixed level class, if not even harder. Taking a level one class made me realize that focusing on technique will only help me to work harder and achieve results more quickly.

New Bar Method BEginner's Workout DVDSo, for my third class this week I actually did the beginners workout DVD again. What’s great about the DVD is that there is an instructional video on how to do each Bar Method pose properly. This was extremely helpful because I am a visual learner and it is hard to watch others in class to see what they are doing when I am trying to do a pose myself. Using the DVD in slow motion also helps to see how much or how little movement you should do to benefit from the exercises. Master Instructor Joey Decker leads a fun workout. He demonstrates good form, is energetic, and has just the right amount of enthusiasm to keep the workout entertaining even after multiple viewings. After taking it a little easy this week and focusing on form, I know that I will be able to “bring it “the next two weeks of the challenge.

Fat Free Greek YogurtOh yeah – here is a fun little nutritional tidbit that I have found helpful in keeping the pounds off…if you love ice cream or frozen yogurt try getting a tub of fat free Greek yogurt instead. Greek Yogurt is thicker than normal yogurt but has less sugar and calories than frozen yogurt. To add a little flavor to your Greek Yogurt you could chop up some fresh fruit or use a low glycemic sweetener like agave!

Half way there! Four more weeks to go!