MindBodyGreen: You gained 30lbs on a month-long binge and then took all the weight off. Please tell us more about what led to the weight gain, and how you took it off?
Christine Avanti: In my late 20's, my grandfather Luigi, who raised me, became sick and eventually passed. I was devastated and I started mindlessly eating everything in sight like a zombie. I ate entire cakes in a single sitting, I ate an entire loaf of French toast one time, I often had entire days in which I ate ice cream morning noon and night. I never felt full -- it was such a deeply emotional time and food was my only medication.
Then I suddenly realized I had to do something. Prior to that time I was an aerobics instructor, personal trainer and fitness magazine cover model so I figured it would be easy. It definitely was not. Fat goes on very easily and clings very stubbornly as I found out. I tried so many diets and diet pills I was like a Guinea pig. At best, each diet would result in maybe 7 or 8 pounds lost before I would cave in and binge. This would reverse the weight loss.
Finally, I met a nutritionist who taught me about stabilizing blood sugar levels. The key was eating carbs, which I had been SURE I had to avoid to lose weight. I was incredibly skeptical and I think I even gained a few pounds in the first few days...but by the end of the week it was working. That was the light coming on for me and I decided right then to become a nutritionist and share this information (about food, the endocrine system and weight loss) with the world.
MBG: In your latest book, Skinny Chicks Don’t Eat Salads, you talk about how carbs are "so back"– can you please elaborate?
CA: Cutting carbs was introduced to the world by the late Dr. Robert Atkins in 1970 through his book The Atkins Diet Revolution. 3 decades later his ideas had a huge popular resurgence in the late 90's/early 00's. Around 2004-2005 you couldn't look anywhere without seeing "ZERO CARBS" and "Low carb" food labels or menu items. To this day there is a very deep-seated popular belief that cutting carbs is the only way to lose weight. This is a subtle and powerful issue. People really believe that carbs are morally wrong and that avoiding them means they've "been good" and eating them means they've "been bad." When someone has this belief, I don't even try to explain it to them because I know they are not ready to hear it but...
Carbs are essential -- not only as fuel for the brain but to burn fat. Fat can only be burned in the presence of carbohydrates. The very BEST way to burn fat is to eat carbs continuously (at every meal) throughout the day. This is a long story that is explained in my book and in my nutrition plans.
I often look at carb cutters and they look more puffy then anything else. This is because of two reasons: 1) they are not really cutting out carbs - they are merely having them at undesirable times such as in late night binges, and 2) these binges tend to really store fat while avoiding good carbs all day starves muscle -- a double whammy.
Sorry to bore you but yes -- carbs are back.
MBG: What do you advise your clients regarding snacks throughout the day?
CA: My general recommendation is to eat real meals. This means either 4 or 5 real meals with whole, real food -- preferably home-cooked -- throughout the day. When you eat like this you don't need or want snacks. To me a snack means you don't have time for a real whole meal. In this case I advise a snack that is nutritionally equal to a whole meal. Example: A Clif Builder Bar and an apple, or two Laughing Cow Babybel Light Cheese disks plus Popchips and a pear. I always advise including a whole/natural item such as a fresh fruit - it just feels better. Your body appreciates it.
MBG: What is the biggest key to success in losing weight and maintaining weight loss?
CA: Without question -- FAR more powerful than any form of exercise -- is eating to stabilize blood sugar. Don't yawn and go to sleep, this is important and if you were talking to me in person you would understand by my tone how urgent this is. Stabilizing blood sugar also stabilizes hormones such as insulin, glucagon, nor-epinephrine, ghrelin and leptin and ALLOWS your body to burn fat for fuel. In other words the required chemical conditions are present to break down the tri-acly-glyceride molecules of fat into smaller components that can be used for energy or carried away as waste. Hormones "stimulate" the little fat cells and make them "more willing" to release and break down fat rather than stubbornly holding on to it. Eating for stable blood sugar puts your body in this condition as frequently as possible - whereas flat-out dieting or starving causes a cascade of events that make those little fat cells "less willing" to break down.
I always marvel at the incredible determination of overweight people who run for hours on the treadmill. Exercise is FANTASTIC but you can accomplish so much more, so much easier and so much faster by eating with a smart nutrition plan. You can get ripped. Without a smart nutrition plan you will NEVER get ripped.
MBG: Are there any facts about nutrition/diet/fitness that many people don’t know about or are overlooked?
CA: Mostly just the fact that FOOD can be truly transformational and people just don't seem to know it. Furthermore, there is a mental block that prevents most people from even WANTING to know it. Probably because they believe that they are required to go on a starvation diet and naturally that is something nobody wants to hear. The reality is that they probably are not eating ENOUGH. EVERYBODY is happily surprised and delighted to find out that they should be eating MORE but just different foods than they are eating.
MBG: What’s the easiest thing we can do immediately to be healthier?
CA: Eating breakfast. But be sure to include plenty of protein such as scrambled egg whites or Greek yogurt. Most dietitians recommend regular yogurt or oatmeal - both almost entirely carbohydrates. The smart way to eat is a PC combo - protein and carbs in every meal (again to stabilize blood sugar levels).
MBG: You have a "fast good guide" – when you compiled this, were there any big surprises?
CA: The biggest shocker without question is the incredible amount of calories you are getting in a small amount of food. It is a waste. One hamburger won't fill you up. That's why you have to include the large fries and maybe a shake. But all three -- often ordered in a value meal -- are a calorie BOMB. Meanwhile if you made the same burger at home it would be a healthy meal.
The good news is that all fast food restaurants have items you can order that are reasonably healthy. To make it simple, just order yourself the grilled chicken with no cheese and you are going to be happiest.
MBG: Any anecdotes or tips you can share regarding some of your celebrity clients, and how you helped them get into peak shape?
CA: Samantha Harris, one of my clients, appeared on the cover of Muscle and Fitness Hers showing her ripped six pack abs a few months after giving birth. I’ll let that speak for itself.
MBG: What does mind/body wellness mean to you?
CA: Nutrition is very scientific and logical but every action we take begins in the mind. And from the mind comes our emotions and feelings which are in turn tied to our hormones. Our nutrition has a very direct effect on our hormones and therefore a person who suffers from symptoms of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) from dieting is likely to be misdiagnosed with depression. Many of my nutrition clients are already taking an SSRI and many of them are able to stop after working with me. This is because, again, we seem to be resistant to this basic idea that our brains require glucose for fuel. Nearly a century ago we discovered that there are many nutrients that are ESSENTIAL to our health – meaning we will become sick without them. These are called, fittingly, the Essential Nutrients and most of us take them completely for granted. Nutrition is ABSOLUTELY the core of mind/body wellness. Everything else stems from that.
MBG: Favorite healthy food?
CA: Garlic, avocados, and grapefruit. Garlic because it is an essential delicious ingredient in healthy Mediterranean and Asian dishes, avocados because they take a million dishes from ho-hum to haute, and grapefruits because I just love them.
MBG: Favorite guilty indulgence?
CA: Movie theater nachos with jalapenos and plastic cheese. My dark side…mwahahaha.
MBG: Why should we run out and buy your book?
CA: Well, do you want to have rolls or a ripped 6 pack?
For more on Christine Avanti
Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads on Amazon.com