bay area Life | Vibrant Health | Eco-Living
Almost every San Francisco Bay Area health club offers an array of exercise classes spanning the alphabet from aerobics to Zumba, plus rooms packed with stationery bicycles, treadmills, elliptical trainers, and a variety of weight-training equipment. But few clubs put much emphasis on the nutritional component of physical fitness. It’s much easier to design a business around the simple equation of calorie output (aerobic exercise plus weight training equals calories burned) rather than the more individualized—and hence more complicated—question of nutritional input. »
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Nutrition expert Laurie Ward manages the Lite for Life franchise at Los Gatos Health and Fitness. She encourages her clients to kick the sugar habit for weight loss and greater energy.
That’s until Laurie Ward and Joe Gigantino Jr. came along. Ward earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food science from Chico State University and started working as a personal trainer, adding in a little nutritional counseling for her clients. In autumn 2008, Gigantino purchased the Los Gatos facility where Ward was training. The owner of three other fitness clubs, Gigantino completely remodeled the aging Los Gatos Athletic Club, renaming it Los Gatos Health and Fitness, and outfitted it with the latest state-of-the-art training equipment. In the process, he asked Ward to institute a formal nutritional counseling program at the new club. Ward chose the nutritional franchise she believed had the best science behind it: Lite for Life, a weight management program that is centered on the principal of blood sugar stabilization. “People think that blood sugar is an issue just for diabetics, but that’s not true. For people who want to lose weight, it’s more about controlling blood sugar than it is about counting calories,” says Ward. The guiding principle of blood sugar management is that when you eat sugary foods or excess starch, your blood sugar level rises too rapidly. This triggers your pancreas to secrete insulin in order to bring your blood sugar level back down. In many people, that level drops too suddenly, which causes cravings and starts the pattern all over again. When blood sugar levels fluctuate too wildly throughout the day, many people experience strong cravings for sugar, starch, and/or caffeine, and feel tired and moody. The net result is the tendency to overeat—particularly foods that are filled with “empty calories” comprised of too much sugar and not enough quality nutrition. “Lite for Life works because it’s not a diet, it’s a way of managing your eating,” says Ward, who lost 25 pounds by learning to control her own blood sugar levels. “You don’t have to buy special foods or eat anything different than what is most likely already in your own kitchen.” The cost of the Lite for Life program varies according to how much weight clients desire to lose. Typical weight loss is two pounds per week for women and three pounds per week for men, so a woman seeking to lose 12 pounds would enroll in the program for approximately six weeks at a cost of about $330. Compared to other weight loss programs, Lite for Life may seem pricey, but it offers unique benefits. A key element is personal coaching and one-on-one education with a nutrition expert like Ward, who meets with clients individually two to three times per week to pour over their food journals, answer questions, provide motivation, and—the big
"I don’t expect anybody to follow the rules perfectly. I can tell you the best way to control your blood sugar, but you are not going to be perfect. You have to strike a balance between achieving your weight-loss goals and enjoying life."
left and lower right: kyle chesser (2)
Exercise is still part of the equation. So far, all of Ward’s clients take part in one or more of the myriad fitness activities offered at Los Gatos Health and Fitness. drumroll moment—monitor progress when the client weighs in on the scale. Marilyn Porter, 66, began Lite for Life in early July, intending to lose 10-15 pounds, learn to eat better, and gain more energy. “My doctor told me my blood sugar was too high, that I was becoming pre-diabetic. After learning about what sugar does to me, I decided to quit alcohol, caffeine, and sugar cold turkey. Laurie thought I should be more moderate about it, but I was determined. I really needed her support in the first few days. Now she keeps me accountable.” Patti van der Burg, 44, weighs in twice a week with Ward and has lost 10 pounds in the last month. Working one-on-one with Ward has been a great motivator, she says. “Laurie is very enthusiastic and helps me to stay engaged with the program. And I really like the fact that the plan uses real food, not processed food.” All clients begin Lite for Life with a free consultation. They learn what they’ll face on the program, which Ward categorizes as being “not low-carb, not high in protein, just moderate all around.” Clients learn to eat 4-5 servings of fruit per day, such as half an apple or an orange, since it provides quick energy and combats sugar cravings. They eat 7-9 servings of lean protein per day, such as three ounces of chicken or beef, a halfcup of low-fat cottage cheese, or one serving of tofu or string cheese, which keeps hunger at bay for sustained
Patti van der Burg trains with health club owner Joe Gigantino, Jr.
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To stabilize your blood sugar levels, you have to pay attention to the amount of sugar you eat. But how much is too much? Most guidelines suggest no more than 32-40 grams of sugar per day (the equivalent of 8-10 teaspoons), depending on your total calorie intake. A quick look at the food labels on common items in your refrigerator may reveal some surprises. Divide the number of grams by four to get the amount in teaspoons. n
6-ounce fat-free blueberry yogurt: 28 grams or 7 teaspoons of sugar 1 cup of orange juice: 26 grams or 6 1⁄2 teaspoons of sugar 12-ounce can of cola: 40 grams or 10 teaspoons of sugar 20-ounce sports drink: 35 grams or 8 3⁄4 teaspoons of sugar 1 tablespoon of jam or jelly: 9 grams or 2 1⁄4 teaspoons of sugar 1 tablespoon of ketchup: 4 grams or 1 teaspoon of sugar
periods. Breads and other starches are permitted in moderation (two to three servings per day), plus a small amount of fat (oil, mayonnaise, butter, etc.). Vegetables are encouraged in large quantities. Clients also learn that “fake sugars” such as Aspartame and Splenda are no better than common table sugar, as they cause a sharp spike in blood sugar level and insulin response. The sweetener Stevia, which is derived from a South American herb, is the only one recommended by Lite for Life. “Beverages are the hardest part for many people. Diet sodas are as bad as regular sodas. Even pure fruit juice is horrible for most people; the body responds as if it just had a glass of sugar water,” says Ward. Herbal teas and decaffeinated coffee are fine, but the main beverage clients are encouraged to drink is pure water, preferably with added lemon juice. Wine, beer, and other alcoholic beverages are discouraged, as they convert to sugar in the body. “I don’t expect anybody to follow the rules perfectly. I can tell you the best way to control your blood sugar, but you are not going to be perfect. You have to strike a balance between achieving your weight-loss goals and enjoying life,” Ward says. And yes, exercise is still part of the equation. So far, all of Ward’s clients take part in one or more of the myriad fitness activities offered at Los Gatos Health and Fitness—group exercise classes, swimming in the outdoor pool, personal training sessions, playing racquetball, lifting weights, or raising their heart rates on the brandnew cardiovascular machines. But since beginning Lite for Life, Patti van der Burg has found that she doesn’t have to work out quite as much as she used to. “For years I used to exercise twice a day to manage my weight. It’s taken a long time, but now I see that it’s really about combining good nutrition with exercise.” For more information on the Lite for Life program, contact Los Gatos Health and Fitness, 285 E. Main Street, Los Gatos, 408.354.5808. Or visit losgatosfitness.com or liteforlife.com. —Ann Marie Brown is the Associate Editor of Eucalyptus Magazine and a self-admitted sugar addict. This article was published in Eucalyptus Magazine, September 2009.
Clients learn to eat 4-5 servings of fruit per day, such as half an apple or an orange, since it provides quick energy and combats sugar cravings.