• Theresa Gentile

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

It’s not always easy, and never guaranteed, to get a good night’s sleep as a parent but getting quality sleep might just be one of the things on which you should focus if you’re trying to lose weight.

If you’re a parent, you’re either at the point where sleep is an enigma - something you desire so bad you can taste it – or it’s a luxury your body just won’t allow you to indulge in any more. Either way, we know how crucial sleep is to our physical and mental health. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, clearance of brain metabolites, and restoration of nervous, immune, skeletal, and muscular systems.

Despite this knowledge the CDC reports that 1/3 of Americans get less than the recommended 7 hours of sleep per night to maintain optimal health. Even worse, 2/3 of teenagers get the recommended 8-10 hours of sleep of school nights thought to increase concentration and prevent depression and motor vehicle accidents.

There’s also quite a bit of research to show that lack of sleep, even a deficit of a few hours each night, can be harmful to your weight loss efforts.

How much sleep is enough sleep?

According to the National Sleep Foundation’s recommendations:

The National Sleep Foundation's recommended amount of sleep per age group.

Newborns 0–3 months 14–17 hours

Infants 4–11 months 12–15 hours

Toddlers 1-2 years 11–14 hours

Preschoolers 3–5 years 10–13 hours

School-age Children 6–13 years 9–11 hours

Teenagers 14–17 years 8–10 hours

Younger adults 18–25 years 7–9 hours

Adults 26–64 years 7–9 hours

Older adults 65+ years 7-8 hours

You can’t go wrong by getting enough shut eye, but here are some facts and research on the connection between sleep and weight loss.

How lack of sleep prevents you from losing weight:

1. Lack of sleep inhibits the use of your rational brain – so you choose to eat more junk

A deficit of just a few hours of sleep per night (1-3 hours for example), prevents the rational part of the brain from working at maximum capacity. When you’ve gotten a good night’s sleep, it’s much easier to make the conscious decision to eat healthful foods. But sleep deprivation makes that neurological system of rewards and motivation work less efficiently. You’re more apt to choose foods higher in fat and carbohydrates. You seek more rewards that make your brain light up and release the feel-good hormones.

2. Loss of sleep causes you to eat more total calories

Lack of sleep alters appetite regulation. In one study, 14 women (8 normal weight and 6 overweight and obese women) all completed 2 days of 9 hours of sleep per night; 4 days of 5.5 hours of sleep; and 2 days of 9.3 hours of sleep. Their food records revealed an increase of 20% (or about 415) calories per day during the period of restricted sleep.

Other studies have found an increase in anywhere from 300-559 extra calories per day in sleep deficient study participants.

3. Sleep loss may decrease energy expenditure

So, not only does the research show that a lack of sleep can cause you to eat more calories in a day and eat more unhealthy fats and carbs, but lack of sleep may decrease the number of calories you burn at rest. In other words, lack of sleep may decrease your resting metabolic rate.

There have been conflicting results regarding this. Buxton and colleagues performed 2 studies. In the first, the researchers found that restricting sleep to 5 hours per night over 7 nights had no effect on energy expenditure. Another study of theirs found that restricting sleep to 6.5 hours per 28 hours (while extending the day to a 28-hour day) decreased resting metabolic rate by 8% compared to their baseline participants. (This induced both sleep restriction and circadian disruption.)

Another explanation as to how sleep deprivation decreases energy expenditure is through altering our thermoregulation and through fatigue.

4. Lack of sleep may just give us more opportunity to eat

Longer waking hours are, naturally, going to be associated with more eating. And, often, foods chosen to eat in the middle of the night are not consumed out of hunger, but out of boredom or in response to another emotional desire.

5. Lack of sleep may decrease insulin sensitivity

Insulin insensitivity is a hallmark of type 2 diabetes and it can creep up silently for years until there’s a problem. In the case of type 2 diabetes, one would have increased blood sugar and increased blood insulin levels. Insulin can promote weight gain, so we don’t want excess insulin floating around.

In one study, 15 healthy, non-obese young adults had their insulin and glucagon checked after undergoing a sleep restriction and habitual sleep (5 hours vs. 7 hours, respectively). When they lacked sleep, the participants had high fasting insulin levels and glucagon levels (the hormone that signals your body to release more glucose into your blood).

There are other studies that show that sleep deprivation from 1 night to a few nights, all the way to complete deprivation, had negative effects on glucose metabolism and whole body increased blood sugar.

6. Sleep loss may make you hungrier and retain more body fat

In one study, overweight middle-aged adults were assigned to sleep 5.5 hours per night over 2 weeks and consumed ~90% of the normal amount of calories that they usually eat.

This sleep deprivation coupled with less calories per day was associated with increased ghrelin, which is the hormone responsible for making us feel hungry. It also decreased the hormone leptin, which is the hormone responsible for signaling that we’re full after a meal. To make matters worse, lack of sleep appeared to promote retention of fat (made it harder to burn off fat mass).

The takeaway – if you’re trying to lose weight, or even maintain your weight, sleep should be on your list of priorities at some point. It’s an important part of self-care that you shouldn’t ignore. Getting adequate shut eye will help to make conscious, healthy decisions around food and exercise, give you energy to exercise and keep your hormones in check. When those hormones are altered, it’s the perfect storm for your body to hold on to its fat mass and prevent you from burning it off.

Some tips on how to get more sleep and sleep better:

  1. Reduce screen time before bed

  2. Reserve your bedroom for sleep and sex only (don’t watch TV or work in your bedroom if you can help it)

  3. Don’t eat within 1 hour of sleep

  4. Allow some wind down time at night before bed

  5. Keep to a schedule of sleep and wake every night, including weekends

  6. Limit alcohol consumption, as it interferes with sleep

  7. Don’t toss and turn! After 20 minutes of being awake, get up, leave the bed and read something really boring, like a car manual, not an electronic screen.

  8. Keep a notepad by your bed to jot down those thoughts that pop up in the middle of the night and, inevitably, keep you awake. Do this brain dump before bed, as well, if you have a lot on your mind.

  9. Try sleeping somewhere else. Are you someone that can sleep better in a hotel, or another bed, than your own? You’ve psyched yourself out of sleeping in your bed. Try the couch. You can even try sleeping with your head at the food of your bed. Try it, you’ll be surprised.

  10. Try a white noise machine or really noisy fan if you’re a light sleeper and noises wake you up.

If you’re interested in learning how my Busy Mamma Weight Loss Bootcampers go through my system of transformation around food, exercise, stress and unhealthy habits, email me to set up a time to talk.


Dolezal BA, Neufeld EV, Boland DM, Martin JL, Cooper CB. Interrelationship between Sleep and Exercise: A Systematic Review [published correction appears in Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:5979510]. Adv Prev Med. 2017;2017:1364387. doi:10.1155/2017/1364387

St-Onge MP. The role of sleep duration in the regulation of energy balance: effects on energy intakes and expenditure. J Clin Sleep Med. 2013;9(1):73-80. Published 2013 Jan 15. doi:10.5664/jcsm.2348

Patel, S.R. and Hu, F.B. (2008), Short Sleep Duration and Weight Gain: A Systematic Review. Obesity, 16: 643-653. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.118

Nedeltcheva AV, Kilkus JM, Imperial J, Schoeller DA, Penev PD. Insufficient sleep undermines dietary efforts to reduce adiposity. Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(7):435-441. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-153-7-201010050-00006

Kline CE. The bidirectional relationship between exercise and sleep: Implications for exercise adherence and sleep improvement. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2014;8(6):375-379. doi:10.1177/1559827614544437

Wang X, Greer J, Porter RR, Kaur K, Youngstedt SD. Short-Term Moderate Sleep Restriction Decreases Insulin Sensitivity in Young Healthy Adults. Sleep Health. 2016;2(1):63-68. doi:10.1016/j.sleh.2015.11.004

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  • Theresa Gentile

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

These gut-friendly ice pops taste so good your kids won’t know that these probiotic-rich pops are actually healthy for them!

Summer. My best memories of summer involve our little Brooklyn backyard pool, running through the sprinkler, tubs of sherbet, and fudgesicles. Nothing better than a cold, smooth treat on a hot summer day, right?

Now, summer is a time when I turn my kids’ healthy smoothies into ice pops. I love experimenting with different ingredients to make what my kids consider a treat. I even let them have a second one if they want! I love it!

I know they’ll be a day when they can go out themselves and buy whatever they’d like, but, for now, I try to make healthy desserts for them for several reasons. Such as:

-to expose their palate to different tastes

-to desensitize their palates to the high fat and sodium content of commercial products

-to fuel them with healthy food while they’re still developing muscle mass, brain neurons, fat cells, hormones, and their gut microbiome

-it alleviates some of my power struggles….and that’s HUGE for me! Trying to keep an optimistic, positive household without a lot of yelling and saying, “No” isn’t easy. This is one way I can say, “Yes”.

So, let’s talk probiotics for a moment. With only one cup of plain yogurt in a couple of pops, these ice pops certainly don’t provide a therapeutic amount of probiotics, but every little bit helps.

Why are Probiotics and Prebiotics Important to My Health?

To read more about probiotics and the gut microbiome, see my article here.

The microbes in our gut help digest food, produce vitamins and essential building blocks of protein, produce short-chain fatty acids, and destroy disease-causing cells. They also digest food to generate nutrients for host cells and metabolize drugs. A healthy gut has more bacteria and more varied strains.

Prebiotics are non-digestible parts of foods (fibers) that offer health benefits. Prebiotics are very healthy as they can:

-add fiber to the diet, increase calcium absorption, decrease gastrointestinal transit time, and possibly lower blood lipid levels.

Which foods have prebiotics?

Legumes, soybeans, nuts, seeds, chicory root, Jerusalem artichokes, wheat bran, barley, oats, apples, garlic, onion, leeks, asparagus, bananas.

How much probiotics do yogurts have?

Yogurt is a nutrient-rich food packed with protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B12, and some key fatty acids that your body needs.

You’ve probably seen the “Live and Active Cultures” seal on some yogurts. This is voluntary labeling with the National Yogurt Association. This indicates that the yogurt has a minimum level of live lactic acid bacteria. It does not, however, mean the amount, or variety, in a given yogurt is enough to confer health benefits.

On top of that, many yogurts on the market have no active probiotic strains at all. When commercial yogurt undergoes the pasteurization and sterilization process, often the live microorganisms that otherwise naturally occur in yogurt are killed off.

Is there a better choice than yogurt to get probiotics?

Kefir just might be.

Kefir is also a cultured milk product, like yogurt, but the amount and variation of bacterial strains are more powerful. Lifeway kefir has 12 species of bacteria and yeasts.

Kefir comes in delicious flavors (as does yogurt), but beware of sugar content. If you like plain, stick with that. Plain kefir or yogurt is definitely the base of all my kids’ smoothies and homemade ice pops.

Ice pops like these lend themselves to anything you can imagine! Stick with a plain yogurt/kefir/milk base and you’re already ahead of the game on sugar compared to commercial products.

I added chickpeas as a trial to these homemade ice pops and the kids didn’t know those prebiotic-rich, fiber-rich chickpeas were in there at all!

Chocolate Chickpea Peanut Butter Ice Pops

Makes about 6 pops


¼ cup unsweetened cocoa

1 cup plain yogurt or Kefir

⅔ cup chickpeas, rinsed

1 banana

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons Natural peanut butter

1 cup skim milk (more or less depending on your liking)


Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour into ice pop molds. Freeze. Enjoy!

Nutrition Facts:

Serving size: 1 pop (In my molds, I made 6 pops):

Calories: 147

Fat, total: 2 ½ grams

Protein: 8 grams

Carbohydrates: 25 grams



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  • Theresa Gentile

Updated: Oct 3, 2020

Canned salmon can be an easy, economical and healthy way to spruce up a busy weeknight dinner schedule.

When I ask clients about fresh and canned fish intake, salmon is rarely on their list. I think it’s partially because of the unknown of what to do with it. “Is it like tuna? Do I make it with mayo?” And for those who enjoy fresh salmon, the idea of it canned is not something that’s at the top of their grocery list.

But it should be. I won’t go into all the health benefits of salmon, both fresh and canned, here (because I have here) but in general, salmon tout high levels of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and protein.

Is Canned Salmon as Healthy as Fresh?

According to Consumer Reports, a USDA study revealed slightly higher levels of omega-3s in canned pink and red salmon than found in fresh salmon. An additional health benefit of canned salmon over fresh, is the amount of calcium in canned salmon. (That is, if you eat the tiny bones…which are completely edible!) A 3.5 ounce serving of canned salmon has almost as much calcium as a cup of milk. (If you would like to cook more fresh fish at home, but are unsure of whether or not you’re cooking it right, see my article on cooking fish here.)

a USDA study revealed slightly higher levels of omega-3s in canned pink and red salmon than found in fresh salmon

Which Canned Salmon is Healthiest?

There are two types of canned salmon. Sockeye (Red salmon) or Chum (Pink Salmon). Both are usually caught in the Pacific Ocean (wild) and not from the Atlantic ocean (which are farmed). (A note on farmed salmon – the USDA posted the results of a study that concluded that people who eat farm-raised salmon can increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids to the levels that help reduce the risk of heart disease. (See here, if you’d like)

Red salmon is prized for its firm, bright flesh and is usually more expensive than pink. Most canned salmon is not red salmon. (It’s more often frozen.)

Pink salmon has a milder taste and softer texture. Pink salmon is usually sold as frozen fillets, in pre-packaged meals and canned salmon.

Just as fresh wild salmon is considered safer, canned wild salmon is, as well. The canned salmon varieties that are lower in pesticides and PCBs are:

Alaskan pink salmon

Sockeye / Red salmon

And the best benefit of all?

It’s shelf stable! It’s so much easier to store cans of food in my cupboard or basement, than making sure I have room in my freezer. (And there’s never been a better time to use these pantry staples as now, during the COVID 19 quarantine.)

So, What Else Can You Make with Canned Salmon?

Salmon loaf

Salmon tacos

Salmon with pasta

Salmon pasta salad

Flaked Canned Salmon over greens

And, my fav….salmon burgers!

So, to the Salmon Burgers. They’re quick and easy, modifiable to your taste and can be made on the stovetop, the oven or barbecue!

Quick, Moist Salmon Burgers

Makes 4 burgers

1 – 14 oz can salmon, drained and flaked Salt and pepper to taste

½ cup bread crumbs (or panko)

1 clove garlic, minced

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 large egg (or one flax egg)

¼ cup plain yogurt minus 1 Tablespoon

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

1. Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat lightly. (If using a flax egg, add 1 tablespoon of ground flaxmeal with 3 tablespoons warm water to a bowl and let sit 5 minutes.)

2. Add all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix to combine. Use your hands to form into patties ½ inch thick

3. Heat 2 Tablespoons in a pan on medium-high heat. Add the burgers and cook 3 to 5 minutes on each side until browned.

4. Transfer burgers on a whole wheat bun with your favorite toppings or on top of a bed of greens.

Nutrition Facts: Per burger

Calories: 252, fat 10g, saturated fat: 2g, polyunsaturated fat: 4g, monounsaturated fat: 2g, cholesterol: 136mg, sodium: 597mg, cholesterol: 13g, protein: 28g.

References: https://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2015/05/is-canned-fish-as-good-for-you-as-fresh-fish/index.htm

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