Tuesday, July 30, 2019

How to Measure Progress OFF the Scale

You might have heard me talk about how I’m NOT a fan of the scale. There are so many ways to measure progress that are both measurable and non-measurable. The scale tells one story, but there are many factors that come into play when you see that number. Some of these include: Water retention, hormones, inflammation, digestion and volume of previous food and liquid consumption. These are all large factors in scale weight that can make the number deceiving. Read on for ideas how to measure progress OFF the scale!

How to Measure Progress OFF the Scale

Water retention alone can be affected by sodium intake, carbohydrate intake, workout intensity/recovery status, sleep, stress levels, hormonal fluctuations, and hydration. This can cause the scale to fluctuate a few pounds up or down from day-to-day. For some people, it might be best to weigh-in just once per week or LESS often. I personally recommend weighing yourself once at month on the same day of the month for a more accurate gauge of progress.

Body composition and measurements are great ways to check in on your progress. Are you losing fat while maintaining or even gaining muscle? This may not show up as progress on the scale number, but it will show up in how your clothes fit with your size and measurements typically decreasing. Try taking measurements using a tape measure and recording these numbers to keep track of progress. If you have a scale that reads body composition. You can also use this number as a reference point during your weekly weigh-in to see how your body composition is changing.

When it comes to progress in performance, there are plenty of ways to tell if you are fueling yourself better for performance. If you are into strength training and your numbers are improving, this is an indicator that you are fueling for performance and creating denser muscle tissue. You may also notice that body weight resistance movements (such as push-ups) and endurance-style movements (such as running or biking) are becoming easier to perform and you are becoming faster. Both of these are great signs that you are eating to fuel for performance and your muscles are getting stronger!

Why Progress Photos Are So Important

Pictures tell all! Before and after pictures along with bi-weekly photos are true signs of body composition changes. (Have you taken your “before” photos yet? If not, make sure you do it ASAP!) Try to keep the lighting, camera angle, and clothing the same across all the photos for consistency and to be able to easily compare. While the scale can sometimes stall or plateau, photos may show composition changes that are very motivating to see. This happens ALL the time with our nutrition clients! I personally think the “magic” happens about 3-5 months after implementing macros into your life. I can’t stress this enough: Photos are super important when it comes to how to measure progress OFF the scale!

Other things to note as you continue your journey are your sleep patterns, mood, energy levels, and hunger. Hopefully, you are also seeing improvements in these markers with more restful sleep, less mood swings, improved clarity, and higher energy levels throughout the day. These are all signs that you are improving the way you fuel your body. I hope this post helped you make sense of how to measure progress OFF the scale. Plus, why it’s so important to your fat loss journey!

Freebies for You

If you’re looking for FREE macro-friendly recipes (weekly) and meal plans (monthly), be sure to sign up for my email list!

Join my FREE 5-Day Macro Bootcamp to learn all about getting started with tracking macros!

And be sure to sign up for 3 Weeks Easy Meal Prep Dinners to make the most of your time in the kitchen!

Want to eat your carrots and cake, too? Check out my macro plan and nutrition coaching options!

P.S. Another blog post that might interest you: Why The Scale Fluctuates And Why It Doesn’t Mean You’re Not Making Progress!

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Electrolyte Imbalance: Symptoms & How to Fix It

Electrolytes are naturally occurring chemical compounds that play a crucial role in human physiology because of their ability to carry an electrical charge. 

Biologically speaking, electrolytes contribute to a wide variety of vital processes because they separate into positively and negatively charged ions when dissolved in a polar solvent like water. These ions, in turn, help our muscles contract, the synapses in our brain fire, and our hearts beat because these functions are largely dependent on the proper exchange of positively and negatively charged ions in and out of cells. 

The body’s principal electrolytes include calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium, phosphate, and chloride, each of which has a vitally important—and sometimes parallel—physiological function.

  • Calcium – helps regulate blood pressure, contract muscles, convey nerve signals, and develop and maintain bones. Calcium imbalances can cause bone pain, irregular heartbeat, kidney stones, fractures, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
  • Magnesium – helps maintain proper heart rhythm, contract muscles, balance the ratio of fluids and proteins in the body, and even regulate mental health. Magnesium imbalances can lead to insomnia, other mental disturbances, and anxiety. 
  • Potassium – helps stabilize blood pressure and control heart beat. Too low or too high potassium can cause muscle spasms, cramps, constipation, and sleep disturbances.
  • Sodium – helps maintain the body’s balance of fluids, contract muscles, and convey nerve signals. An imbalance in your body’s sodium levels can cause cramps, nausea, and diarrhea.
  • Chloride – helps maintain a proper balance of the body’s fluids. Chloride imbalances can cause vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, and trouble breathing.

While all of the above-listed electrolytes are important, I will primarily focus on sodium, magnesium, and potassium in this article, since they’re the three electrolytes in which most people are generally deficient. 

Because of their wide-ranging physiological importance, electrolyte deficiencies or imbalances can have very serious consequences, ranging from fatigue and muscle cramps to death. In fact, electrolytes are so important that an injection of the right amount of potassium can stop the heart dead in its tracks!

Symptoms of Electrolyte Imbalance

Generally speaking, minor electrolyte imbalances are not very symptomatic. Most people can display no symptoms and still have slightly elevated or diminished levels of most electrolytes on a blood test. 

However, if an electrolyte imbalance escalates to the point that it becomes significant, it can be deadly. Because electrolytes play such critical roles in the nervous and cardiovascular systems, many of the symptoms of imbalance or depletion affect these same parts of the body.

In most cases, you will know there is something wrong because you will feel absolutely awful. The most common symptoms of an electrolyte imbalance include muscle cramps, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, flu-like symptoms, digestive issues, confusion or brain fog, joint pain, fatigue, and dizziness.

Fortunately, these symptoms will generally abate if an imbalance is caught and managed early; however, if it goes untreated, an electrolyte imbalance can cause serious long-term problems, including bone mineral loss (osteoporosis) and irreversible heart and brain damage.

Short-Term Effects of Electrolyte Imbalance

  • Muscle cramps
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Exhaustion
  • Digestive issues
  • Brain fog
  • Dizziness

Long-Term Effects of Electrolyte Imbalance

  • Bone mineral loss (osteoporosis)
  • Heart damage
  • Cognitive damage

Causes of Electrolyte Imbalance

We absorb electrolytes through the foods we eat and the fluids we drink, and lose them through exercise, sweating, and expelling bodily waste. 

An electrolyte imbalance occurs when we have too much or too little of a given electrolyte, a fact that highlights the importance of the ratio of these nutrients in the body. Electrolyte levels can get out of whack when we do not consume enough of a given electrolyte to start, or when we do not take in enough to replace that which is being lost. 

There a variety of factors that can precipitate an electrolyte imbalance. 

For instance, an imbalance can occur if you do not consume a well-rounded diet capable of providing you with enough mineral electrolytes, or if you have gut issues that lead to your body absorbing too few nutrients from the food you eat. You can also experience an electrolyte imbalance if you are very sick and purging fluids—and, by extension, electrolytes—as a result of severe vomiting, diarrhea, or high fever.

In addition to acute illness, chronic conditions like endocrine or hormonal disorders, cancer, kidney disease, or postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) can lead to electrolyte imbalances as these conditions or their treatments all, in one way or the other, cause the body to purge electrolytes.

Interestingly enough, one of the more common causes of electrolyte imbalance I encounter is from an otherwise seemingly healthy undertaking: the ketogenic diet.

This low carb, high healthy fat diet wreaks havoc on your body’s electrolyte levels in two ways.

First, the diet causes a precipitous drop in daily sodium intake essentially overnight by removing processed and unhealthy foods that are chock full of salt from your daily menu. If you don’t intentionally replace these now-missing electrolytes, you are just about guaranteed to experience the dreaded “keto flu.”

Second, the ketogenic diet is diuretic in nature. Cutting carbohydrates causes insulin levels to drop, and the sudden drop in insulin triggers the kidneys to release water and electrolytes through increased urine production. 

How Much is Enough?

While all electrolytes play an important role in the body’s functioning, sodium, potassium, and magnesium are my primary focus today. 

While many people include calcium when discussing proper electrolyte consumption, the scientific literature has largely agreed on the point that most people get enough calcium from dietary sources, and over supplementing can have very serious side effects. Therefore, I generally leave calcium off my hit list of the most important electrolytes. 

It is important to remember that our consumption of these nutrients needs to be properly balanced against one another to ensure we do not drive ourselves into an electrolyte imbalance. 

In general, you should be consuming 5,000mg of sodium; 1,000mg of potassium, ideally in the form of potassium chloride or potassium citrate; and 300mg of magnesium, preferably in the form of magnesium malate every day, in addition to what you get from dietary sources. 

Be aware that, these are generic ranges… your exact level of optimal electrolyte intake is a multifactorial question.

Things like your age, body mass, daily activity level, the presence of any electrolyte-purging comorbidities, and even where you live can all impact the level of electrolytes that you should consume each day. 

However, if you can relate to any of the symptoms described above, there is a good chance your electrolytes are out of balance.

So what can you do? I’m glad you asked!

  1. Don’t Reach for a Standard Sports Drink

I don’t think anyone should ever consume the sugary sports drinks that line the shelves of your average grocery store or corner bodega. 

All of the electrolyte-replacement products on the market today, ironically, do not contain sufficient levels of key electrolytes and are just packed with sugar. It’s best to ignore the catchy marketing campaigns, famous athletes’ endorsement deals, and the sponsorships at sporting events big and small—these drinks are not your friend and should be avoided at all costs!

  1. Tweak Your Diet

Minor electrolyte imbalances can generally be corrected by focusing on optimizing the foods you consume on a daily basis. Ensuring your diet is filled with unpackaged, whole foods that deliver a healthy dose of essential nutrients, including electrolytes, can go a long way towards reversing an electrolyte imbalance. 

Above-ground leafy vegetables like broccoli and cabbage, bananas, and avocados are rich in potassium and magnesium, while beans and probiotic dairy are a great source of calcium. 

  1. Supplement Electrolytes

If you can’t indulge in a mainstream sports drink, where should you turn to supplement electrolytes? I asked myself this very same question and answering it led me to be shoulder deep in my pantry mixing up homebrew electrolyte concoctions. 

After a ton of trial and error, I developed a couple of great do-it-yourself drink recipes for anyone who wants to follow my lead and mix up their own. If you’d like to dive into some of my favorite recipes, you can download them here.

On the other hand, if you’d prefer to learn from the mistakes I made over years tinkering with these recipes—and trust me, there were a few!—you can give LMNT Recharge a try. I’ve worked really hard to develop this electrolyte drink mix and it’s precisely formulated to deliver all of the electrolytes you need and none of the extra junk that you don’t. And if I can so say myself, it’s quite tasty!

One thing that is important to keep in mind: whether they are the result of dietary issues or another underlying condition, electrolyte imbalances are very serious business. 

If you think you may be suffering from a severe electrolyte imbalance, you should consult your healthcare provider immediately. They can help you determine the extent of any imbalance with a metabolic panel and help craft a plan to get you back on the right track.

Once you know which electrolytes are out of whack and what is driving the imbalance, you can incorporate some of these suggestions to supplement the plan you develop with your physician.

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Dear Mark: Safe Tick Repellant, Fish Intake on Mediterranean Diet, and Therapeutic Value of Wine

For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering a few questions from recent comment boards. First, with all the scary tick-related news coming out lately, are there any non-toxic tick repellents that actually work? Are there essential oils that repel and/or kill ticks? Is there a safer way to use insecticides? Next, were the people in the Mediterranean keto study actually eating a kilo of fish on their fish days? And is the wine an important part of the Mediterranean diet? Is the wine therapeutic or just for pleasure?

Let’s find out:

Non toxic effective tick repellents safe for children? Any suggestions? I live in NC so the tick thing scares the hell out of me. Found at parks in short grasses, like how am I supposed to avoid this???

If you want to avoid DEET and other pesticides, there are many essential oils that repel ticks. Let’s go through the various tick species.

The castor bean tick:

Repelled by miswak essential oil and killed by Libyan rosemary essential oil.

Repelled by rosemary and mint essential oils.

Repelled by Dorado azul, also known as pignut or bushmint and traditionally used as mosquito repellant. The terpene known as alpha-humulene was the most repellant terpene found in the oil; you can buy both the oil and the humelene.

Repelled by turmeric oil, even beating out DEET.

The cattle tick:

Repelled by French marigold essential oil.

Repelled by mastrante essential oil.

The deer tick:

Repelled by nootkatone (a grapefruit aromatic compound) and to a lesser degree ECOSMART organic insect repellent. Here’s a cool video showing ticks trying to climb a person’s finger that’s been dipped in nootkatone.

Nothing is 100% guaranteed to repel all ticks. In fact, many of these oils show 50-60% effectiveness in the field. But if you use a combination of relevant essential oils, frequent tick checking, smart clothing choices (long socks, shoes/boots, pants), and avoidance of tick-heavy landscapes (tall grass, oak leaves, etc, notwithstanding these new breeds that apparently love short grass), you’ll be in good hands—or at least better hands than the naked guy rolling around in piles of oak leaves.

And if you’re really worried, you could always tuck pants into your shoes, then spray the shoes and lower section of your pants with peremethrin, an insecticide that kills the ticks as they climb before they can reach your flesh. Use a dedicated pair of pants and shoes that you don’t use for anything else and reapply each time you go out. A light spray on the outside of reasonably-thick pants should provide tick protection without actually putting the pesticide into contact with your skin.

2.2 pounds of fish each day?!

I know, I was surprised to read that myself. But right there, according to the researchers:

We estimated during the first 4 weeks of this study that the average edible fish consumption per subject during the ‘‘fish block’’ day was approximately 1.12 0.41 kg=day.

So it wasn’t just an allowance of fish. They actually tracked their consumption and found they were eating over 2 pounds of fish on average on the days they ate fish.

The study said that they had “fish block” and “no fish block” days. With no mix of fish and other meats on the same day. What is the reason for this?

They offered no justification in the study write-up.

Maybe it was to increase variety.

Maybe it was to reduce their intake of omega-3s. I mean, a kilo of fish per day adds up to a lot of omega-3s, especially if you’re doing sardines and salmon. There is such a thing as too much a good thing, and excessive omega-3 can lead to blood thinning, excessive bleeding, and imbalanced omega-3:omega-6 ratios in the opposite direction.

Maybe it was to help people stick to the diet, to break up all that fish with some meat and chicken.

Great, but why the wine? Is it not a contradictory with ketosis? But is it for pleasure or is it for a therapeutic reason?

Wine is emphasized in Mediterranean diet studies (both keto and regular) because wine is considered an important part of the cuisines of most Mediterranean countries, at least on the European side. Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, and Greece all have an extensive history of wine production and consumption. Since researchers are casting a wide net to capture everything that might be contributing to the health effects, they’re including everything that appears in the “Mediterranean diet.”

But, yes, it’s good to keep in mind that ketosis and alcohol detoxification do utilize some of the same physiological pathways.

Still, wine does appear to have therapeutic effects, especially in people with metabolic syndrome—the subjects of this study.

Red wine is very high in polyphenols, due to both the polyphenols in grapes themselves and the unique polyphenols that form during fermentation. One study compared grape extract to red wine made with the same types of grapes, finding that red wine provided benefits the grape extract did not.

Drinking wine with a fast food meal can reduce postprandial oxidative stress and inflammatory gene expression; it can actually make an otherwise unhealthy meal full of refined, rancid fats less damaging (though still not advisable).

Blood pressure: In people with (but not without) a genetic propensity toward efficient or “fast” alcohol metabolism, drinking red wine at dinner seems to lower blood pressure.

Type 2 diabetics: Type 2 diabetics who initiate red wine drinking at dinner see reduced signs of metabolic syndrome, including moderately improved glycemic control and blood lipids.

Inflammation: A study found that non-drinkers who begin regularly drinking moderate amounts of Sicilian red wine enjoy reduced inflammatory markers and improved blood lipids.

I’d say the wine is a therapeutic addition to the Mediterranean keto diet. Don’t let that override your own experience, however. Wine might have therapeutic effects for many people, but not everyone feels better including it. It’s an option, but it’s hardly a necessary one for a healthy diet.

If you have any more questions, feel free to ask away down below. Thanks for reading, everyone.



El-seedi HR, Khalil NS, Azeem M, et al. Chemical composition and repellency of essential oils from four medicinal plants against Ixodes ricinus nymphs (Acari: Ixodidae). J Med Entomol. 2012;49(5):1067-75.

Ashitani T, Garboui SS, Schubert F, et al. Activity studies of sesquiterpene oxides and sulfides from the plant Hyptis suaveolens (Lamiaceae) and its repellency on Ixodes ricinus (Acari: Ixodidae). Exp Appl Acarol. 2015;67(4):595-606.

Goode P, Ellse L, Wall R. Preventing tick attachment to dogs using essential oils. Ticks Tick Borne Dis. 2018;9(4):921-926.

Politi FAS, Fantatto RR, Da silva AA, et al. Evaluation of Tagetes patula (Asteraceae) as an ecological alternative in the search for natural control of the cattle tick Rhipicephalus (Boophilus) microplus (Acari: Ixodidae). Exp Appl Acarol. 2019;77(4):601-618.

Lima Ada S, Carvalho JF, Peixoto MG, Blank AF, Borges LM, Costa junior LM. Assessment of the repellent effect of Lippia alba essential oil and major monoterpenes on the cattle tick Rhipicephalus microplus. Med Vet Entomol. 2016;30(1):73-7.

Schulze TL, Jordan RA, Dolan MC. Experimental use of two standard tick collection methods to evaluate the relative effectiveness of several plant-derived and synthetic repellents against Ixodes scapularis and Amblyomma americanum (Acari: Ixodidae). J Econ Entomol. 2011;104(6):2062-7.

Hansen AS, Marckmann P, Dragsted LO, Finné nielsen IL, Nielsen SE, Grønbaek M. Effect of red wine and red grape extract on blood lipids, haemostatic factors, and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2005;59(3):449-55.

Di renzo L, Carraro A, Valente R, Iacopino L, Colica C, De lorenzo A. Intake of red wine in different meals modulates oxidized LDL level, oxidative and inflammatory gene expression in healthy people: a randomized crossover trial. Oxid Med Cell Longev. 2014;2014:681318.

Gepner Y, Henkin Y, Schwarzfuchs D, et al. Differential Effect of Initiating Moderate Red Wine Consumption on 24-h Blood Pressure by Alcohol Dehydrogenase Genotypes: Randomized Trial in Type 2 Diabetes. Am J Hypertens. 2016;29(4):476-83.

Gepner Y, Golan R, Harman-boehm I, et al. Effects of Initiating Moderate Alcohol Intake on Cardiometabolic Risk in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: A 2-Year Randomized, Controlled Trial. Ann Intern Med. 2015;163(8):569-79.

Avellone G, Di garbo V, Campisi D, et al. Effects of moderate Sicilian red wine consumption on inflammatory biomarkers of atherosclerosis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2006;60(1):41-7.

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Strawberry Crumble Jars

A long-known fact of the blog world: everything is better in a jar.

These little jars are a cross between a crumble bar and a yogurt parfait. They are DELICIOUS. The thick yogurt is spiked with jam, the crumble layers provide the best crunchy texture, and the fresh strawberries add a layer of goodness.

Dessert / Breakfast / Big Snack

Call them a dessert or a breakfast or a snack because I’ve had them for all three occasions. I actually did the nutrition math on these and they come in a 385 calories per jar with 3 grams of fiber, 12 grams of protein, and 28 grams of sugar. Do with that what you may!

Put A Lid On It

Because you can add a lid, these make a great picnic or portable summer treat. They will keep in your fridge for a couple of days, so make them ahead and take them with you wherever your summer travels go. I also imagine that from the same ingredients one could make a pie – a crust pressed into the bottom of a small pan, a creamy, dreamy yogurt layer, strawberries and crumble on top. I haven’t tried this (yet) but tell me if you do!

(Yes, there’s a hole in my lid, designed for a straw. But since these just went in my fridge I had to use the cutest lids I could find! These are by Mason Jar Lifestyle.)

How To

Super simple!! And almost no bake. The crust gets a 10 minute bake to help it firm up and crisp the topping a bit.

Crumble 4 LIFE

Into the bottom of 4 mason jars (which are oven safe)

Press down with spatula

Bake for 10 mins

Mix yogurt


Watch me make these on IGTV today!!


Strawberry Crumble Jars

These strawberry crumble jars are a cross between a crumble bar and a yogurt parfait. Made with Greek yogurt, good jam, fresh strawberries, oats, and of course, butter, they are a great portable treat to take to a summer picnic or enjoy in single servings straight from the fridge.

Crust + Crumble Topping

  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 Pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup butter


  • 1.5 cups plain 4% greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup strawberry jam
  • 1/2 cup sliced strawberries
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix oats, flour, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. Melt butter to liquid and pour into oat mixture. Stir well until all combined.

  2. Portion 1/4 cup of mixture into the bottom of 4 mason jars and press down with spatula.

  3. Place jars and remaining crumble onto a sheet pan and bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

  4. Meanwhile, mix jam and yogurt. Slice strawberries.
  5. When jars are cool, divide yogurt between jars. Top with strawberries and remaining crumble.
  6. Store in fridge.

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Baked Ziti Recipe

This baked ziti recipe is a quick and easy casserole you can put together last minute and the whole family will love it!. It’s a no-fail crowd pleaser regardless of who I’m serving.

It’s a very… Read more →

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