Build an Amazing Six-Pack


Here’s a soundbite I would never use:  “Let me show you how to build an AWESOME six pack.”  Ironically, I sport a nice set of abdominal muscles.  Maybe I should use them to market my services?  After all, I’m no spring chicken.  Not only have I birthed two babies, I’m post-menopausal.   If my abs cause envy, shouldn’t a twenty-something get the same results if she does exactly what I do?   Unfortunately, as all things fitness and wellness related, it’s not that simple.

Just like many men have a hard time building their calves, many people will struggle to get six pack abs. Obviously body fat needs to be low, so diet and exercise play a huge role, but trying to eat right and exercise in order to look a certain way is a lousy reason to make a lifestyle change and usually leads to failure.  For most of us, trying to move more and eat less processed food, will make you feel better and then maybe you’ll be motivated to work hard enough to get that six-pack (any maybe even become a physic competitorJ Unfortunately, a majority of American’s eat crappy food, don’t move and then want a magic pill that will allow them to keep these behaviors, while they sport a six pack.

I would be happy to who you how to get great abs, but the secret is in your mind not your body.

Most people who embark on a journey to eat healthy and exercise fail.  As someone who is trying to help people live healthier lives, this makes me sad.  Why am I failing to help you??? You tell me you’re motivated and you like any motivation quote I send you, but your mind-set isn’t there.  Your head is NOT in the game.   Before you worry about getting six pack abs, you need to find out why you keep sabotaging yourself.  Most people who are unhappy with their bodies are almost resigned to that fact.  This behavior doesn’t just apply to body-image.  Others do it with work or relationships.  Sometimes you have to accept something.  Maybe you don’t like your job, but your partner is sick and unable to work or kids are in school and you’re supporting them, but with fitness you control those choices.  You decide to eat the cake in the break room.  You opt to come home and sit on the coach watching TV instead of exercising.  Why?  You need to be aware that you can either accept this behavior, develop the awareness of what needs to change, set accountability standards and then adapt your behavior.

I do have a few tricks to keep you lean.  Luckily they also tend to make you healthier:

  • Exercise in the morning in a fasted state (coffee or tea is fine). Doesn’t have to be hard-core. Fast walk, easy jog, Flow Yoga or light weight training all work well.
  • Don’t be afraid to go hungry. You can easily survive a day without eating. If you find yourself “crashing” at 11 a.m., you might have extreme sugar swings. Check your blood sugar with an inexpensive glucose monitor.  Here’s one that costs less than $15 on Amazon and talks to you,   If you find that your daily breakfast of oatmeal and a banana (which is fine for many folks) is spiking your blood sugar and giving you a crash at 11 a.m., you might be better off with scrambled eggs and spinach.
  • Move as much as possible throughout the day. Track your movement:  Fitbit, Apple Watch, etc. Aim for 10,000 steps a day.  I’m in massage/esthetics school at the moment, which means I don’t get as much activity as I’d like.   I make it a point to do squats over the toilet in the bathroom, push-ups against the massage table and volunteer to fold laundry. Anything to keep me active.  I always have 10,000+ steps/day.
  • Weight train.
  • Do abdominal exercises, crunches and planks, to strengthen your muscles, NOT to make those abdominal muscles “pop”.
  • Lean out using HIIT or long-steady state cardio, the latter ideally in a fasted state.


In Conclusion

Let your six pack, abdominal strength be a by-product of your healthy living.

The Problem With Probiotics


How many of you have consumed probiotic supplements for health benefits?  I was at CVS yesterday and saw gummy probiotics.  To be honest, I’m not sure that should even be a thing.  I’ve got nothing against probiotics and make a solid effort to eat some at every meal.  For example: yogurt for breakfast; sauerkraut with salad at lunch; and, kimchi as a side with dinner.  If I eat bread it’s sourdough and I make my own Kombucha..  You could say I’m a huge fan of probiotics (and prebiotics).  They keep my gut healthy, my immune system strong and even my mood upbeat (90%+ of all serotonin is manufactured in the gut).  So why am I skeptical about probiotic supplements?  Read on my friends.

Probiotics, Prebiotics & Something called Synbiotics

People who take probiotic supplements are attempting to manipulate their intestinal microbiota for health.  Given that studies have linked a healthy gut with everything from a trimer waistline to reduced cancer risk, who wouldn’t want to take supplements that are “designed” to do just that?  In addition to probiotics, there are two other closely related products:  prebiotics and synbiotics. Here are definitions and examples of all three:

  • Probiotics:  “Live microorganisms that confer a health benefit on the host when administered in appropriate amounts.” (WebMd definition)  In addition to the examples I listed above, kefir, miso soup and even dark chocolate are probiotics.  There are four major classes and within these classes, hundreds (if not thousands) of varieties.
    • Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium: Among the most commonly used probiotic supplements, these are naturally found in cultured milk based products (yogurt, kefir, etc.) and fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
    • Saccharomyces boulardii: Yeast or fungus based probiotics.
    • Soil based bacterial probiotics: also known as spore-forming bacteria, you’ll see “Bacillus” in the name.
    • e coli 1917: The non-deadly E-coli. This particular E. coli strain was isolated in 1917 based on its potential to protect from presumably infectious gastroenteritis.
  • Prebiotics: These are the things that probiotics feed upon. They are soluble fiber, not alive, and include foods such as onions, Jerusalem artichokes and garlic.
  • Synbiotics: These are products that contain both probiotics and prebiotics.  I believe this term was coined by the supplement industry, when it created pills that combined both pro and pre-biotics.  This should be a warning that it might not be the best idea J. That said, there are examples of traditional foods that are synbiotics. For example, Europeans often mix yogurt (probiotic) with oats (prebiotic).

What is the Gut Microbiota and Why is it Important to my Health?

To say that the gut microbiota is a complex organism is a gross oversimplification.   Here are some pertinent facts about the gut microbiota from the European Society for Neurogastroenterology

  • Our gut microbiota contains tens of trillions of microorganisms.
  • This includes at least 1000 different species of know bacteria.
  • One third of our gut microbiota is common to most people, while two thirds are specific to each one of us. (Yes, your gut microbiota is a unique fingerprint!)
  • It is now well established that a healthy gut microbiota is largely responsible for the overall health of the host.

What happens If the Gut Microbiota Is Unbalanced?

In addition to obvious gastro-intestinal issues such as diarrhea, bloating, gas and burping; studies have linked unbalanced gut microbiota to auto-immune disorders, depression, skin problems, weight gain and myriad of other problems.  The term often thrown around for unexplained gut issues is “leaky gut”.  In talking with my clients, I’ve realize there is a lot of confusion concerning this condition.  Here’s a high level explanation:

Mainstream practitioners generally don’t use the term “leaky gut”.  Though they do recognize a condition called  “intestinal permeability”, which is veiwed as a symptom of a disease such as Crohn’s or Celiac.  However, most functional medicine practitioners consider leaky gut a legitimate and prevalent reason for illness related to your gut microbiota.  Either way, the process looks like this: If you imagine a healthy intestinal track as a very tightly meshed kitchen strainer, someone with leaky gut would have a kitchen strainer that became “inflamed”  and their mesh would be  looser, allowing items to pass through the intestines into the bloodstream that don’t belong there.  If you’re suffering from “leaky gut” and testing negative for Crohn’s and Celiac, traditional doctors can be frustrating as they might negate your symptoms.  However, functional medicine practitioners can also be disheartening as they might try to sell your supplements that are totally unnecessary.

Another area of interest to me is the relationship between mood and gut health.  As noted in my opening paragraph, 90% of all serotonin (that feel good chemical that the pharmaceutical industry tries to upregulate with drugs such as Prozac) is created in the GI tract.  I believe that “gut feeling” might be more factual than metaphorical.  There have been some studies on mice where changes in gut microbiota have resulted in altered behavior.  From an empirical standpoint, I have noticed that people who eat crap are generally more anxious than those who eat healthy.  Even if their weight is fine, they are more likely to have autoimmune issues such as eczema.  I’m currently getting my esthetician license and my textbook says food has no bearing on skin conditions such as acne, but I think that’s a load of crap. Enough said.

So What’s a Healthy Gut?

A healthy gut has a diverse microbiota.  Studies show people with a diverse gut flora are healthier:  they are less likely to be overweight, have autoimmune issues or be depressed.  The standard recommendation for building a healthy gut is to eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables and consume low-fat dairy (I consume raw,full-fat dairy, but that’s an issue for another blog.)  What might be surprising to some readers is that exercise helps your gut microbiota.  Dr. Deanna L. Gibson from the Department of Biology at the University of British Columbia (Canada), has found that cardiorespiratory fitness is correlated with increased microbial diversity in healthy humans.

The tricky part, as mentioned above:  there is no one-size fits all gut flora.   If you have a healthy gut and eat well studies show there is little benefit to taking probiotics as supplements don’t live long in the body.

Also, a probiotic that helps one person can hurt another.  Even what is considered a healthy diet, can differ from one person to the next.  For example, people with Crohn’s or IBS are often put on a low FODMAP diet.  FODAMAPs are a collection of short chain carbohydrates and sugar alcohols found in foods naturally or as food additives. FODMAP is an acronym that stands for:

Fermentable – meaning they are broken down (fermented) by bacteria in the large bowel

Oligosaccharides – “oligo” means “few” and “saccharide” means sugar. These molecules made up of individual sugars joined together in a chain

Disaccharides – “di” means two. This is a double sugar molecule.

Monosaccharides – “mono” means single. This is a single-sugar molecule.


Polyols – these are sugar alcohols (however don’t lead to intoxication!)

As you can see from this chart, many high FODMAP foods are healthy for the average person:




Many studies have shown that there are regional differences in gut flora.  People closer to the equator tend to eat more plants and vegetables, i.e. carbs, while those closer to the artic would eat more animal protein, i.e. protein and fats. Your heritage might determine how well you do with high carb diet and what type of pro and prebiotics are good for you.

Have I confused you?

If I’ve confused you, I’m sorry.  Unfortunately, the topic is rather complicated and research is breaking new ground on a daily basis.  On a thirty thousand level view, here are some practical tips:

If you think your gut is healthy:

  • Avoid taking anitbiotics unless absolutely necessary. If you have to take antibiotics, studies suggest taking a diverse, high-count probiotic can help keep your gut microbiota healthy. These are usually found in the refrigerated section of a health food store.
  • Eat a wide variety of foods, including fermented.
  • Avoid processed foods.
  • You will probably not benefit from taking pro-biotics.
  • Make sure the following are properly managed: stress, sleep and exercise.

If you think your gut is “off”:

Assuming standard tests, such as a colonoscopy, haven’t revealed anything, here are some things to try:

  • Hydrogen Breath Test: If you’ve been eating a diet super high in processed foods you could have SIBO, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.  You might need to take an antibiotic  to “trim the bad bacteria”.  From there you can repopulate the gut with healthy specimen. SIBO is generally diagnosed via a hydrogen breath test.
  • Stool Sample: A comprehensive stool sample (CSA) will show the good, bad and ugly of your gut.  I’ve never had a CSA, but with a name like Yoshida, I eat Sushi which is a common trigger for parasites.   If something would ever feel off, including a prolonged depressed state, I would definitely check for parasites via a CSA and properly supplement to rectify the situation.
  • Fast: Obviously check with your doctor to make sure you are healthy enough to sustain yourself on only water for 24-48 hours, but it might be the vacation your gut needs to regulate itself.
  • Take Probiotics: However, be granular in your approach. Try classes of probiotics separately, e.g. take Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium only and see how you do.  Don’t take a supplement with a pre-biotic. Though it seems better, if the probiotic you are taking isn’t right for you, it will exacerbate the effect.   Also, note you can be a probiotic non-responder.
  • Exercise (check out my previous blogs on how to motivate yourself)
  • Manage stress
  • Get enough sleep


The gut is so important to our health and wellbeing.  According to Hippocrates, “All disease begins in the gut.”  So does your health my friends.  Let’s nurture that ecosystem and pinky swear to never take gummy probiotics.

So You Want To Lose Weight


The other day I had my first session with a lady who said she desperately wanted to lose weight.  She had tried Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, etc., but nothing had worked.  On a scale of 1-10, she said her desire to lose weight was a nine.  When I asked her if she would be willing to track her food intake, she responded, “Oh I don’t know.  That’s such a pain.”  At which point I told her that maybe she was really more of a three of four.  This dichotomy is very common. How many of you are guilty of wanting to lose weight, but not be willing to do the work.

How We Approach Behavioral Change

I’ve taken several behavior modification courses and they all referenced this model :

Behavioral Change Cycle

The transtheoretical model of behavior change

You enter the “wheel” at PRE-CONTEMPLATION and make your way around and exit at MAINTENANCE when the behavior has become ingrained.

By the time clients have made their first appointment with me, they  are at the ACTION stage:  they have initiated a change by asking for my help. My job is to help them make the transition to MAINTENANCE and if they do relapse, get them back to ACTION as soon as possible.

One of the major reasons people don’t progress through this model properly is a lack of confidence or comfort in their ability to live a healthy life:  Gym’s scare them, eating healthy is difficult; their genetics pre-disposes them to being overweight, etc.  These are all valid issues and my job is to help clients address them and move on to a healthier lifestyle. Here’s cliche tip number 1: DON’T GIVE UP.

Why is Healthy Living Easier for Some?

At the beginning of a wellness journey, the motiviation is invariably extrinsic: I want to look or feel better and I need to eat healthier and move more to get there.  Eventually, these activities become intrinsic: I can now run several miles without stopping and cook a healthy meal with ease. I’m feeling accomplished.  When things become easier and we become good at them, we enjoy them more. I’m not saying exercise will be your favorite thing ever, but at least you won’t dread it so much.

Int-Ext Motivation

Extrensic vs Intrinsic Motivation

Tip number 2:  Losing weight is a skill.  If you wanted to learn piano, you wouldn’t expect to sit down and master it in a few weeks.  Learn how to make movement a part of your daily routine,  practice making healthy dinners.  These are skills!  It is a journey to master them. Enjoy it!

False Hope Syndrome

The False Hope Syndrome was coined by University of Toronto professors Janet Polivy and C. Peter Herman in 2000.  Their research showed that people often underestimated the amount of work required to meet a goal.  In 2016, Mark Zuckerburg announced on FB he would run 365 miles in 2016.  This is either almost 15 marathons or one mile a day.  One mile a day seems much more doable than 15 marathons.  Tip #3:  Keep weight loss goals, manageable and realistic.  Vow to lose 10 pounds in a year.

The other key point of False Hope Syndrome is that the more weight you have to lose, the easier it is AT THE BEGINNING.  The closer you get to your goal weight, the harder it becomes to lose the weight.  Below I’ve outlined differences in some key strategies for losing weight that depend on how much you have to lose.  As you get closer to your target weight, the recommendations become much more granular.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing 100 Pounds

Given how detrimental  carrying this much extra weight is to your health,  the focus has to be on losing pounds versus optimizing nutrition.  Even with horrible food choices, if you cut the amount you are eating and move more,  weight will come off.  At this stage it is an easy thermodynamic equation: burn more calories than you consume

  • Track calories with an app like “MyFitnessPal”. Stay  in a deficit.  Do not use these apps for calculating the energy expended during exercise as they are not very accurate.
  • Wear a pedometer and calculate how many steps you are taking on an average day. If you normally get in 2,500, aim to increase to 3,000 the next week.  Keep this going until you average 10,000 steps a day.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing 50 Pounds

The above strategies will still work, but you also need to start focusing on some other factors, including:

  • Get enough sleep: Aim for eight hours. Avoid computers, phones, etc. an hour or two before bed.  Use blue light blockers, dim lights or even use some candles.
  • Check medication, some medication will cause you to keep on weight.  Ask your doctor if alternatives are available.
  • Avoid processed foods, added sugars and vegetable oil. READ LABELS.  Start to focus on making your calories nutrient dense vs just counting calories.
  • Allow yourself to be hungry, especially if eating healthy is inconvenient. For example, you’re attending a child’s sport awards ceremony and the offerings are frozen pizza and dino nuggets.  Don’t. Eat.  Wait until you can get some decent food.
  • Sign-up for a physical event that will challenge, but not overwhelm you. For example:  5k run/walk; a multi-day hike on some beginner trails;  leisurely  touring bike ride, etc.
  • Genetic testing can help determine what exercise and macro nutrients are most likely to work for you. Some folks do better with endurance activities and others with power/strength workouts.  I’ve affiliated myself with a company called Genetic Direction that provides with you with a weight management program tailored to your genotype.  Find more information at  Use discount code “BEWELLWITHMEL” for $10 off at checkout.
  • If you suspect you might have some autoimmune issues, I recommend testing thru Cyrex Labs. The company provides multi-tissue antibody testing for the early detection and monitoring of today’s complex autoimmune conditions. You’ll need to work with a trusted healthcare professional as Cyrex labs does not do direct to consumer testing.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing 25 Pounds

We have to get much more granular to keep the weight loss progress going.  Keep the above strategies, but add:

  • If you are exercising less than one hour a day, keep your carb intake to around 100 grams.
  • Use a heart rate monitor to make sure you are exercising at the proper intensity. Focus on upping intensity vs duration.
  • Proper exercise programming is critical. Make sure to mix things up to avoid injury and have a progression plan in place.
  • You don’t have to eat four to six meals a day to “keep your metabolism burning”. Three meals a day is fine and you don’t have to eat breakfast right when you wake up if you’re not hungry.
  • Eat more vegetables.
  • Fruit is a dessert.
  • Reduce stress through exercise or meditation (can be moving), not food.
  • No such thing as eating highly processed foods in moderation. Food manufacturers design snack cakes, chips, etc. to be highly addictive.  Don’t. Eat. Them.
  • Try intermittent fasting, eat all your food within an 8 hour period or eat extremely low calorie (e.g. around 500) for one or two days a week.

Weight Loss Strategies: Losing the Last 10 Pounds

At this point, you really need to ask yourself if the lifestyle changes necessary to lose this weight is worth it.  Here are some final small hacks that will help:

  • Focus on how you feel, less than how you look.
  • Practice gratitude, journal what you are thankful for.
  • If you think you “have a bad relationship” with food, drill down into the cause. There is a huge psychology to weight loss. Why is food your source of comfort?
  • If you like a glass of wine, view it as a reward at the end of the day. Drink one glass on an empty stomach before eating dinner.
  • Here are three, not necessarily healthy hacks, to drop 10 pounds fast, even if you’re close to your idea weight:
    • Go extremely low carb. Less than 30 grams a day.
    • Fast for 24 hrs or do a “cleanse”
    • Try an enema
    • The stomach flu

Final Thoughts on Weight Loss

Remember, you don’t have to go through this process alone.  Hire someone to help you.  People will often got out and drop $100+ on a dinner every week (sometimes more than once)  but then balk at the thought of giving that money to a fitness professional.   You only have one life and you can only live it to the fullest if you are healthy and energetic.