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Is it true that raw steak has hundreds less usable calories than when it is cooked? Raw peanuts lead to more weight loss than roasted ones? Should I try eating only raw food to stay slimmer?

The calories obtained from a given food (or meal, or whole diet) vary due to several factors. Cooking is one of them, but there’s also a great deal of individual differences which mean you and neighbor could eat the exact same cheesesteak and not absorb the same amount of calories from it. Isn’t that fascinating?

This individuality in calorie absorption is due to differences in your gut microbe populations, your unique genetics (how much you make of certain enzymes) and even differences in chewing!

Processing in general increases calorie availability, not just cooking. Removing fiber allows your body easier access to the energy-yielding components of a food. Increasing the surface area of grains by grinding them into flour additionally allows your body to access more calories per gram. This effect is really pronounced with nuts and nut butters, with one study showing that 25-30% of the calories in whole almonds may be inaccessible to the body (depending on how thoroughly you chew them) and nut butters which are conveniently mechanically mashed up into smithereens give us more calories to use.


Does this mean you should drop all cooked and processed food from your diet right now, for an easier time controlling your weight? Not really. Here’s why:

1. Cooking increases bioavailability of many essential nutrients, including protein. Cooking deactivates natural protease inhibitors present in plant foods, which allows you to get more usable protein from many vegetarian proteins. Cooking increases the bioavailability of carotenoids including beta carotene and lycopene, both of which decrease cancer risk. I don’t want to shortchange my absorption of those.
2. Cooking makes it easier to digest foods. Personal anecdote here: Going “all raw” is commonly followed by calling your favorite dietitian to complain about stabbing debilitating belly aches.

3. Cooking makes food safer. You’re more at risk for foodborne illness if you eat all raw food, because cooking food kills bacteria that cause E. Coli and salmonella, among other nasty bugs. Next time you have food poisoning, I doubt you’ll feel it’s worth it to increase the odds you’ll ever go through this again, just to save a few calories.

But here’s the most convincing bit for me (since we’re talking brains, weight, and appetite control, which is my wheelhouse):

4. If you decrease the amount of calories you absorb the calories from food, say by switching from peanut butter to plain raw whole peanuts, your satiety signals will adjust accordingly. The satiety signals perceived by the brain (as reviewed in my book Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss) operate though accurately sensing Calories Accessed, not Food Down The Piehole. Satisfaction signals arise during assimilation. That’s why chewing and spitting out food isn’t satisfying, nor is (forgive the graphic reminder) throwing up your food.

So back to the peanut butter example: If the lipase enzymes in your gut have limited access to the fat (and hence, calories) in the peanuts due to more interference from the natural structures, you won’t hydrolyze the triglyceride molecules. It’s the hydrolysis products of fat digestion which lead to endocannabinoid production, OEA circulation to the hypothalamus, and the development of satiety. Translation: You’ll get fewer calories, and you won’t be as full.

(And if you like peanut butter as much as I do, you’ll probably feel like you missed out, because peanut butter tastes 498% better than raw peanuts. Feeling deprived isn’t helpful for long term weight loss if you haven’t found that out already. If enjoying peanut butter with all it’s highly-bioavailable calories keeps Cob’s Bakery banana chocolate chip scones out of my mouth, I’m winning.

The bottom line:


Eat things you enjoy.  Odds are, that’s a mix of some raw foods (crunchy salads, crisp apples, juicy summer peaches) and some cooked food (a perfect steak, pizza, omelets, grilled chicken, steaming hot chili). If it’s all the same to you, choose less processed foods where you can, but don’t worry if it’s cooked or raw.

Yet again, we see that going to dietary extremes, as with so many other examples, only means missing out on some important benefits. The shortest route to health and leanness: Mix it up, stay happy. Enjoy your food.

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Being unable to exercise can be a truly miserable circumstance. It usually happens for reasons which are themselves unpleasant (we’re sick, injured, had surgery, or life is just nuts with commitments and we’ve got no time to tend to our own needs). Additionally, it’s tougher to cope with these stresses when breaking a sweat is your normal stress-relief practice! If you then pile on the feeling of “I’m getting fatter and weaker by the day…” it’s pretty dismal.

But chin up, darling. You aren’t totally powerless here, and I’ll share with you some strategies which can help you get through that time while maintaining as much of your fit body as you can.

Tune into your appetite

You may have noticed your appetite increases when you boost your activity. Work out hard twice a day? You’ll be hungry! Spend the entire day hiking in the Rockies? You’ll be ready for some serious chow when dinnertime rolls around. That same mechanism also works in the opposite direction, only we don’t notice it as much because the absence of hunger is a lot less attention-grabbing than roaring hungries.

When you reduce activity, your appetite will ask for less food. It may not happen the first day, but within 2-3 days it definitely will have adjusted downward. If you continue to eat just like you always did (assuming that was maintenance), and are burning fewer calories now, that’s where you could see weight gain start to happen. So use your hunger to cue you. Start the day with breakfast, and then do your best to not eat again until you’re clearly hungry. Alternately, try planning out your meals in advance if that fits your schedule/life/control addiction and see if when you follow that plan if you are in fact hungry for each meal. If you aren’t, consider taking a bit of food out of the preceding meal.

If you are hungry for each meal, relax. You’re doing well. Just keep your awareness up and let your hunger lead the way.

Note: If you have no appetite because you are sick, eat 3 moderate sized meals a day and don’t worry about it. Hopefully your appetite will come back soon and a few days off will be no trouble at all. This skill is more crucial when someone is facing weeks or even months of decreased training.

Dial back on your carbohydrates

When you reduce activity, you don’t need as many carbohydrates. You don’t have to slash them all, (let’s not get drastic here, OK?) but try dialing back your normal portions of starchy foods to get that hungry-before-each-meal and keeping the same amount of other stuff. The vitamins and minerals in fruits and veggies are important for health, and as we’ll cover in a moment, you want plenty of protein. But you can have less rice, bread, oats, or pasta. Please don’t read that as “Georgie said to stop eating carbs.” That’s BS, you do not need to exercise to “earn” carbohydrate-rich foods. It is however a fact that you just need more of them when you are exercising regularly than when you aren’t. Even with zero activity (laying in bed), I still recommend my clients and patient have a couple servings a day of whole grains or starchy food like potatoes, beans, or squash. It helps keep your intestinal flora happy and varied, aids in gut motility, and provides variety to the diet.


Keep your protein intake high

Even if you aren’t lifting weights, a high protein intake can help you retain muscles during a period of inactivity (or less activity). How high? Aim for 2 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight, or just under a gram per pound you weigh. The source is not important, so feel free to use eggs, meat, chicken, fish, yogurt, cottage cheese, protein powder, or chocolate chip cookie dough Quest bars. Whatever you like will work.

Sleep as much as you can

I know, I know, if you aren’t able to train because of a massive life implosion of catastrophic proportions, sleep ain’t going to happen much either. But if you’re recovering from ACL surgery or the flu, on vacation with no weights, or just have a busted shoulder and have been told to lay off, shuteye is totally doable, and will help with retaining your lean mass. How’s that? Well, we know sleep is a powerful agent in modifying our endocrine system and how our bodies respond to stress. Sleep helps regulate the levels and activity of testosterone, growth hormone, ghrelin and leptin. Reduced time sleeping is one factor that increases stress hormones, a situation which favors breaking down muscle tissue, less insulin sensitivity, and shuttling any excess calories around into visceral fat (belly fat). So it’s well-placed effort to take whatever steps you need to get your sleep. If you’re dealing with illness or injury your immune system and healing will benefit as well.

So there you have it, four things you absolutely can control which will help you keep as much muscle as possible and avoid gaining fat when you can’t train.

  1. Tune into your natural appetite decrease and use it as a guide to reduce your food intake.
  2. Shrink your portions of starchy carbohydrates to create the calorie reduction needed.
  3. Eat at least 2 grams of protein per kilogram bodyweight.
  4. Sleep a lot.

I hope these come in handy, please feel free to share this article with anyone you know who is headed for surgery, is injured, managing a health issue, or has gotten stuck on a lonely remote island with no access to a gym.

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Are you a gimme quick results type of person? Research indicates that all of us are, to some degree. Show us a quick payoff and we’re motivated to keep doing something consistently.

Can three days of changing a single make a difference in anything? YES.

Do you have to wait months of practicing Lean Habits to feel any payoff? No. Give it three days.

Check it out: Screenshot 2016-03-31 11.07.59

What did Cherie do? She made one change to her routine, after reading the first chapter in Lean Habits.  And you can read the same chapter right now for free. No strings attached.
Go to Amazon.com and read the preview of the PRINT VERSION of Lean Habits: (Not the kindle preview, which is shorter):


There’s the whole introduction and first habit. I don’t want you to buy anything: you don’t need a supplement, or special food, or some bizarre workout program or exercise-tracking gadget. You don’t even need to buy the book!

What I want for you is to know you can change yourself, that what you need is practice putting your effort on the right things. You don’t need some weird secret, just better habits!

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I have a history of female athlete triad which turned into bulimia and orthorexia.  I put on the necessary body weight and stopped exercising to get pregnant with my now 16mo daughter through use of Clomid. After having my daughter I let my body weight drop too low and have not cycled since having my daughter (I am still breastfeeding a few times a day as well). I have cut exercise to walking (30-60 min day) and yoga once a week. I have tried oral fertility meds and injectables with poor results because of my nonexistent hormones. I know I need to put I body weight but I’m scared to “just eat.” I’m scared to trust my hunger satiety signals to guide me correctly. My security blanket is overeating vegetables and hummus to fill my stomach to the point of not being able to eat other foods.  I fear that my internal cues won’t guide me to the healthy body weight I need to be at. I guess I fear that they will either keep me where I am (from past experience, about 15lbs below where I should be menstruating) or I fear that with permission to eat I will eat everything in sight (which is how I’ve always gained necessitate weight in the past and DO NOT want to do it that way again).  I’ve been using my fitness pal to try and transition away from orthorexic eating towards more balanced eating, and am eating about five times a day now.

Any advice for the use of the habits to guide a healthy weight gain? Thank you! – K

Thanks so much for telling me about your journey! I can understand having those fears making it really hard to decide what and how much to eat! Just because you’re too light right now doesn’t mean you want to lose control and feel like you are eating everything that isn’t bolted down. I completely understand wanting to gain weight in a way that is healthy for your body AND mind, and not just stuff yourself full of food past comfort or pleasure (creating a different unhealthy relationship with food).

Let’s cover some essentials:

The first habit (eating 3-4 times a day is designed to maximize satiety, to help people lose weight.) Completely disregard this if your end goal is healthy weight gain, and keep eating more times a day.

Your hunger and satiety cues may be masked or blurred, and it may be tough to feel them right now, especially if you have been eating irregularly or ignoring them for years. Don’t worry, they can come back! The biggest key will be to stop throwing a wrench (carrot?) into the system by overloading veggies to the exclusion of other more calorie dense foods.

Okay, how to proceed:

  1. Vegetables and hummus are so low in calorie density that (as you’ve noticed) you get full without getting enough nourishment or energy. I would keep your vegetable intake moderate, so you have room for whole grains, proteins, fats, and …. fun foods like desserts or treats. I’d achieve this by eating the protein, fats and starches first without negotiation, and then having vegetables to get comfortably satisfied at the end.
  2. Instead of thinking about total calories, I like to think of protein, fat and complex carb targets at each meal, and then fruits and veggies or sweets get added on to your heart’s desire. But the three targets come first as your minimums.

You might try thinking of a meal as a palm-size of protein, fist size of starchy carb (grains, bread, pasta, potato, etc) and thumb size of fat (cheese, avocado, nut butter) then let yourself eat whatever fruits and vegetables you want after you have those.

I’d also plan on having 200-300ish calories of a dessert you enjoy daily. 10% of total calories coming from low-nutrition foods eaten just for fun is absolutely a healthy diet, hence the 200-300ish number since you’ll likely need 2000-3000 calories a day. It’s helpful to have a bench mark so you know you aren’t going too far into developing a Junk Food Diet but also not making your home in Restrictive Diet Land. It’s totally okay if you want to have oatmeal or a smoothie, or a protein bar or a candy bar or chocolate, you don’t have to eat what someone else likes, have what you like. It’s okay if you want something kinda-healthy, and equally okay if you want straight up candy. Enjoy it for what it is, and don’t think of it as numbers/nutrients but a life experience that you may not have let yourself enjoy too much in recent years. And it sets a great example for your kids to eat all foods, not calling some good and others bad.

Now, to break this into Healthy Weight Gain habits: (which you can do in any order)

  1. Have 1 palm of protein at each meal
  2. Have 1 fist of starchy food at each meal (or more)
  3. Have 1 thumb of fat at each meal (or more)
  4. Enjoy 200-300 calories of just-for-fun food each day, guilt free.
  5. Attend to your feelings each day (talk about them or journal them)

You’ll have to look at your outcomes to know if these starting points need adjustment. If you are active (plus breastfeeding) you’ll likely need to go higher on fat or starches to get your weight to move in the positive direction, but just keep boosting it in increments. So, if you aren’t gaining, try going to 2 fist-sizes of starchy food or 2 thumbs of fat. You might also find it easy to get some tasty calories in between meals with a protein, fruit and nut butter smoothie.

Just work in small steps and be consistent.

I hope that you have the support of your spouse and family, as well as a mental health professional to help, because it’s totally normal to have a hard time navigating the emotional waters of weight gain after an eating disorder. That’s why I added in number 5. It’s like trying to swim upstream, where there lies this goal you have of a healthy, thriving body and and expanded family, but every fear you’ve ever had in the world is a current pushing you back downriver and it would be so easy to just slip back into the current. Having someone to talk through the feelings with is so so valuable. (I know it is for me). Don’t give up. xx

Much love,

Coach Georgie


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I’ve been cranking through the podcast-o-sphere this spring, making the rounds and chatting all about habits and fat loss with some great hosts! (As always you can find them all here).


Don’t miss this one, where I chat with Scott Baptie on the Food For Fitness podcast. We cover how long it takes to develop a habit, the difference between thought habits and behavioural habits, why being hungry isn’t always a bad thing, how you can shape your social and physical environment for greater success and lots more. Click the image above to listen now!

And I got an extra special surprise treat via Twitter! How cool is this?!

Screenshot 2016-03-16 13.36.14

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