Overcoming Fitness Plateaus

In this week's fitness challenge with Farai Chideya, nutritionist Rovenia Brock explains how to overcome fitness obstacles. Brock is author of Dr. Ro's Ten Secrets to Livin' Healthy.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Getting fit isn't easy, as most of us know from personal experience. But what happens when you have a persistent issue that keeps you from reaching your goals? In my case, that issue is still overeating. On this week's Fitness Challenge, NEWS AND NOTES nutritionist Rovenia Brock is back to help me break through my fitness blocks. Hi, Dr. Ro.

Ms. ROVENIA BROCK (Nutritionist): Hi, Farai. It's great to be with you as always.

CHIDEYA: Well, let me read you this e-mail we got from listener Don Smith(ph). He writes, in her weight loss quest, I'm curious to know her dietary habits. She seems to exercise quite a bit. If she's not losing weight, is she just ingesting too many calories? Some listeners might like to know. It's the inquiring minds might like to know.

And I have to say, Don, you hit the nail on the head. And while I've completely changed my exercise habits, my eating habits are still less than stellar. So I've lost weight, I've gotten smaller; more of my weight is muscle now. I've firmed up, I'm getting back my waist - I'm so happy about that.

Ms. BROCK: That's great.

CHIDEYA: But I'm still slipping on the diet. You know, I really - I'm a total stress eater. And the stress is still there and I just have to find some other ways to deal with it. So what should I do?

Ms. BROCK: And when you stress eat, usually the foods that you eat under stress are certainly not vegetables and fruit.

CHIDEYA: My personal weakness is cheese. I will eat - I could eat shoe leather with cheese baked on top it, you know. And cheese is basically just fat that you can apply directly to your derrière, you know?

Ms. BROCK: Kind of, unless it's low-fat cheese.

CHIDEYA: I'm not talking low-fat cheese.

Ms. BROCK: It's a good source of calcium, but dairy products might tend to bloat some people. So that could also be a problem for you. If we're talking hard cheeses, they are usually very high in sodium, not only high in fat.

So stress eating - first of all, I would say, Farai, we've got to get to the root of what's causing the stress. We've got to attack the problem not the symptom. Does that make sense?

CHIDEYA: Yeah, absolutely.

Ms. BROCK: So we got to get to the root of what's causing the problem. And maybe it takes longer than we have in this particular segment. But there are many people out there listening who also might be stress eaters. And so one of the things that I would say to you when you do stress eat - and particularly for women - first of all, at a certain point - like there is something called stress hormones. They're called cortisols. And they start to peak between like 3:00 in the afternoon and 6:00 in the evening.

And this has to do with evolution down through generations. Our bodies were getting ready for the next day somehow around this time. But the difference is in today's environment where many of us are just starting the second shift at 6:00 p.m. - whether you're going off to school as a student or whether you're preparing for another job or whether you're working at home - whatever it is you do, certainly a lot of people are not finishing their day and preparing for the next day by 6:00.

But when these hormones are circulating in the blood, so do lots of blood fats and so do your cravings for foods high in fat, high in sugar start to also peak. And usually for most people it causes the weight to go right to the belly region when this happens.

So the best thing to do if you are going to eat, say, after 5:00 p.m., and we're talking Eastern Standard, my time, you just want to make sure that you're going to munch on foods that are rich in protein. So slices of chicken, lean meat, even some nuts, a handful of nuts and vegetables, and not eat those things that are high in fat and high sugar because, of course, they're going to go right to your derriere, as you said, and for many people right to the belly region.

CHIDEYA: Final question for you about counting calories. Now this is something I generally know what to eat, and I have gone out now and purchased a little, you know, one of those little pocket calorie guides that tells you what different foods are. So on the one hand you have the issue of the glycemic index and which foods basically cause a sugar rush, and then you also just have plain old calories.

And there was a recent study that showed that people have no idea how many calories they're supposed to eat and what calories are in food. Only 12 percent of people estimate the calories that they should be eating accurately. So when it comes to counting calories, which can be arduous if you have to sit there and thumb through a book before every meal, what's the best way to do that?

Ms. BROCK: I think the best way to do it is to read labels. I think the mistake that most people make is that we don't know what portions are anymore, and that's very closely tied to counting calories. So for example, if you're eating something out of a bag or a box, you need to know what the calories are in a serving rather than assuming that you could eat the whole container of whatever that food is and be under the impression that somehow that's only a serving.

The other thing is if you are counting calories, I mean you need to have it calculated or you at least to calculate your caloric needs, which is based on your age, your activity level, your height, your weight. Everyone's caloric needs or calorie needs are different. So they're as individual as the people who have the need.

But it should be calculated on a very individual basis. It is a very quick calculation that can be done. I have a way to do it in the book. But seeing a nutritionist or consulting with a nutritionist just for this quick question is worth it for you to get on track with what your needs are.

CHIDEYA: Well, Dr. Ro, it was talk with you again. And, you know, all that I can say is that I feel like we're in this together and you're going to stick with me as I go through all of my efforts to improve my body.

Ms. BROCK: Absolutely.

CHIDEYA: So thank you.

Ms. BROCK: Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Rovenia Brock is the author of Dr. Ro's Ten Secrets to Living Healthy.

Unidentified Man #1: One, two, three, four, five…

CHIDEYA: Join us on the next fitness challenge when I take on a butt-kicking workout, literally, with the creator of Tae-Bo, Billy Blanks.

Unidentified Man #1: Seven, six, five, four, three…

Mr. BILLY BLANKS (Creator of Tae-Bo): That's right. Get the legs going. You got to move. You got to wake up over there. Wake up, wake up. Legs.

CHIDEYA: Thanks for joining us. That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit npr.org. And if you'd like to comment, give us a call 202-408-3330. That's 202-408-3330. NEWS AND NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

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