Tag Archives: obese

Guess How Many Hours a Year Obese Women Exercise Vigorously

Only one.

And obese men in the U.S. don’t do much better at 3.6 hours/year.

ketogenic diet, children

We exercised like this when we were kids

myfoxny.com has the story based on an article in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. A quote:

What kind of lives are the most inactive people living? “I think they’re living the typical life. They drive their children to school, they sit at a desk all day long, they may play some video games and they go to sleep,” Archer said.

He forgot about TV. What’s the American daily average now? Three hours?

Without a doubt, it’s incredibly difficult to exercise if you’re markedly obese. Here’s how.

Read more: http://www.myfoxny.com/story/24774893/average-obese-woman-gets-just-1-hour-of-exercise-a-year-study#ixzz2u2MMctiW

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: FYI, I exercise vigorously about 50 hours/year.

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Filed under Exercise, Overweight and Obesity

Do Low-Carb Diets Help Overweight Kids?

DietDoctor Andreas Eenfeldt has located three studies that answer in the affirmative. Click through to his blog.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Filed under Overweight and Obesity

Does Cutting Out Sugary Drinks Help With Weight Loss?

Are you obese, love sugary drinks, and want to easily lose four pounds (1.8 kg) over the next six months? Simply cut a couple of sugary drinks out of your daily diet, replace them with water or diet soa, and you may lose the pounds.  Or so say University of North Carolina researchers.
Down 4 pounds in 6 months. I’ll take it!

In the U.S., our consumption of calories from sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) almost doubled between 1965 and 2002, now comprising 21% of our total calories.  (I’ve seen lower estimates, too, such as all added sugars accounting for 17% of total calories.)  Remember that our overweight and obesity rates started rising around 1970.  Any connection there?

Some have speculated that cutting back on SSB consumption would lead to loss of some excess weight.  But it’s never really been tested until now.

By the way, your typical sugary carbonated beverage has 145 calories of pure carbohydrate, most often high fructose corn syrup.  That’s equivalent to 10 tsp (50 ml) of table sugar.  Soft drinks are liquid candy.


UNC investigators recruited  about 300 overweight and obese folks (average BMI 36, average weight 100 kg (220 lb), 84% female, 54% black) who drank at least 280 calories daily of caloric beverages (sugar-sweetened beverages, juice, juice drinks, sweetened coffee and tea, sweetened milk, sports drinks, and alcohol).  In other words, they all drank at least two soft drinks or the equivalent daily.  Participants agreed to make a dietary substitution for six months.

The participants were randomly assigned to one of three study groups with a hundred participants per group. For the next six months…

  • Group WA substituted at least two of their SSBs daily with water (WA), any type as long as it was calorie-free.  Bottled water was provided.  This reduced sugary drink calories by 230/day.
  • Group DB substituted at least two of their SSBs daily with calorie-free diet beverages (DB).  Beverages were provided.  This reduced sugary drink calories by 230/day.
  • Group AC (attention controls) made no changes in baseline beverage consumption.  Investigators made a point not to talk to them about beverages.

All three groups had monthly group meetings.  WA and DB group meetings were focused on adherence to the beverage substitution guidelines.
The AC group meetings will involved a weigh-in and general weight loss information (e.g., read food labels, increase vegetable consumption, portion control, and increase physical exercise).

“All … groups had access to a group-specific …website, where they recorded the beverages (water and DB only) they consumed, reported their weekly weight, received feedback on progress, viewed tips, and linked to group-specific resources.”


All three groups lost statistically significant amounts of weight, but there was no difference in amount of weight lost among the groups.  In other words, the folks who substituted water or diet beverages for  sweet drinks didn’t do any better than the AC (attentive control) group.

Average amounts of weight lost were in the range of 1.8 to 2.5% of total body weight.  For example, if you weigh 200 lb (91 kg) and lose 2% of your weight, that’s a 4-lb loss (1.8 kg).

Compared to the AC group, the WA group showed a statistically significant decrease in fasting blood sugar (down 3 mg/dl).  BTW, none of the participants were diabetic.

Sugar cane

Take-Home Points

Would the substituters have lost weight if they had simply cut out two sugary drinks a day, skipping the monthy meetings and website?  Don’t know.  But I bet that’s how the mainstream press will spin this.

If I were obese and had a sugary drink habit, I’d start substituting water.  Yesterday.

Substituting water for a couple sugary drinks a day could reduce risk of developing diabetes.

I was hoping to see a significantly greater weight loss in the water and diet drink substituters compared to the AC (Attention Control) group.  Presumably all of these AC folks would have stayed at their baseline weights if they hadn’t done any of this.  The substitution groups apparently didn’t receive the general weight-loss information given to the AC group.

One caveat: All groups had monthly meetings for six months.  What were the substitution groups  talking about other than adherence to the protocol?  Your guess is as good as mine since the researchers don’t say.  Perhaps something about those meetings led to the weight loss, not the act of substituting water or diet drinks for sugar.

So they lost an average of 4–5 lb (2 kg).  Big deal, right?  But remember this was just a six-month study.  Could that 4 lb turn into 12 lb (5.5 kg) over 18 months?  Maybe, but we don’t know.

Here’s the thing about averages.  Some of these people I’m sure lost closer to 5% of body weight, and some didn’t lose any, or gained.  Which group would you be in?  Only one way to find out.

Remember that many medical conditions linked to overweight and obesity improve with loss of just 5% of body weight.

The substituters cut out 230 calories a day of sugary drinks.  All other things being equal, they should have lost 12 lb (5.5 kg).  Problem is, all other things aren’t equal.  Numerous other factors are at play, such as activity levels, replacement of sugary drink calories with other calories, measurement errors, reporting errors, etc.

This was a female-heavy study.  Would this strategy work for men?  Even better in men?  We don’t know.  Why not try it yourself?

Steve Parker, M.D.

PS: I did a sugar-free and wheat-free experiment on myself earlier this year.  Lost some weight, too.

Reference: Tate, Deborah, et al.  Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Conscioulsly Everday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trialAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition, February 1, 2012, Epub ahead of print.  doi: 10.3945/ajcn.111.026278

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Overweight and Obesity, Sugar, Weight Loss

Waist-Hip Ratio: How to Determine, and What It Means

High WHR

A comment left under my recent post on healthy weight ranges reminded me about the waist-hip ratio.

The risk of heart and vascular disease is more closely linked to distribution of excess fat than with degree of obesity as measured by overall weight or body mass index. Waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a measure of abdominal or central obesity, the type of fat distribution associated with coronary artery disease. A high ratio indicates the android body habitus.  The Journal of the American College of Cardiology two months ago reported that heart patients (coronary artery disease) with “central obesity” had a greater risk of death.  A high WHR is one measure of central obesity.

To determine your waist-hip ratio:

1.   While standing, relax your stomach—don’t
      pull it in. Measure around your waist mid-
      way between the bottom of the rib cage and
      the top of your pelvis bone. Usually this is at
      the level of your belly button, or an inch
      higher. Don’t go above the rib cage. Keep the
      measuring tape horizontal to the ground and
      don’t compress your skin.
2.   Then measure around your hips at the
      widest part of your buttocks. Keep the tape
      horizontal to the ground and don’t compress
      your skin.
3.   Divide the waist by the hip measurement.
      The result is your waist-hip ratio.

For example, if your waist is 44 inches (112 cm) and hips are 48 inches (122 cm): 44 divided by 48 is 0.92, which is your waist-hip ratio.

Scientists haven’t yet determined the ideal WHR, but it is probably around 0.85 or less for women, and 0.95 or less for men. Ratios above 1.0 are clearly associated with risk of cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks. The higher the ratio, the higher the risk. Compared with body mass index, WHR is a much stronger predictor of coronary artery disease. Several of the other obesity-related illnesses are also correlated with WHR, but the relationship between WHR and cardiovascular disease is particularly strong.

Steve Parker, M.D.

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Another Good Reason to Lose the Fat: Stop Urine Leakage

For overweight and obese women, loss of between five and 10% of body weight significantly reduces urine leakage.  According to the research report in a recent Obstetrics & Gynecology journal, weight loss should be the first approach to urine leakage in overweight and obese women.

The other word for urine leakage is incontinence: an involuntary loss of urine.  It’s a major problem that isn’t much talked about.  It’s not exactly dinner-party conversation material.  You can imagine its effect on quality of life.  In the U.S., leakage of urine on at least a weekly basis is reported by one in 10 women and one in 20 men.  It’s more common at higher ages and in women.  Just looking at non-pregnant women, incontinence affects 7% of women aged 20-39, 17% of those aged 40-59, and 23% of women 60-79 years old.

The study at hand involved 338 overweight and obese women: average age 53 (minimum of 30), average body mass index 36, average weight 92 kg (202 lb).  For participation, they had to have at least 10 incontinence episodes per week.  On average, they reported 24 leakage episodes per week (10 stress incontinence, 14 urge incontinence).  All women were given a “self-help incontinence behavioral booklet with instructions for improving bladder control.”  They were randomized to two different weight-loss programs, but I won’t bore you with the details.  The diets were the standard reduced-calorie type.  One diet group had many more meetings than than the other.

The women kept diaries of leakage, and even collected urine soaked pads for weighing.


Eight-five percent of the women completed the 18-month study.

By six months, 89 of the women has lost five to 10% of body weight; 84 lost over 10%.  As expected, when measured at 18 months, only 61 women were in the “five to 10% loss” category; 71 were in the “over 10%” group. 

Greater amounts of weigh loss were linked to fewer episodes of leakage.  Maximal improvement in leakage episodes were seen in the women who lost between five and 10% of body weight, with no additional benefit to greater degrees of weight loss, generally.

Women who lost 5-10% of their body weight were two to four times more likely to achieve at least a 70% reduction in total and urge incontinent episode frequency compared with women who gained weight at 6, 12, and 18 months.

Weight loss works better for stress incontinence than for urge incontinence.

Three of every four women who lost five to 10% of body weight said they were moderately or very satisfied with their improved bladder control.

Bottom Line

Weight loss is usually not a cure for incontinence, but a reasonable management option for overweight and obese women.  It’s going to take loss of five or 10% of body weight.  Other options  include drugs, surgery, Kegel exercises, and just living with it.

Five or 10% weight loss for a 200 pound woman is just 10 or 20 pounds.  That degree of weight loss is also linked to lower risk of diabetes and hypertension: even more reason go for it.  

Does it work for men?  Who knows?

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Wing, R.R., et al.  Program to Reduce Incontinence by Diet and Exercise: Improving urinary incontinence in overweight and obese women through modest weight loss. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 116 (2010): 284-92 PMID: 20664387


Filed under Weight Loss

Heart and Stroke Patients: Avoid Weight-Loss Drug Sibutramine (Meridia)

The weight-loss drug sibutramine (Meridia) should be withdrawn from the U.S. market, suggests an editorialist in the September 2, 2010, New England Journal of Medicine.  Based on a clinical study in the same issue, it’s more accurate to conclude that sibutramine shouldn’t be prescribed for people who aren’t supposed to be taking it in the first place.

Sibutramine is sold in the U.S. as Meridia and has been available since 1997.  Judging from the patients I run across, it’s not a very popular drug.  Why not?  It’s expensive and most people don’t lose much weight.

The recent multi-continent SCOUT trial enrolled 9,800 male and female study subjects at least 55 years old (average age 63) who had either:

  1. 1) History of cardiovascular disease (here defined as coronary artery disease, stroke, or peripheral artery disease)
  2. 2) Type 2 diabetes plus one or more of the following: high blood pressure, adverse cholesterol levels, current smoking, or diabetic kidney disease.
  3. Or both of the above (which ended up being 60% of the study population)`.

Here’s a problem from the get-go (“git-go” if you’re from southern U.S.).  For years, Meridia’s manufacturer and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have told doctors they shouldn’t use the drug in patients with history of cardiovascular disease.  It’s not the scary “black box warning,” but it’s clearly in the package insert of full prescribing information.

Half the subjects were randomized to sibutramine 10 mg/day and the other half to placebo.  All were instructed in diet and exercise aiming for a 600 calorie per day energy deficit.  They should lose about a pound a week if they followed the program.  Average follow-up was 3.4 years.

What Did the Researchers Find?

Forty percent of both drug and placebo users dropped out of the study, a very high rate.

As measured at one year, the sibutramine-users averaged a weight loss of 9.5 pounds (4.3 kg), the majority of which was in the first 6 weeks.  After the first year, they tended to regain a little weight, but kept most of it off.

Death rates were the same for sibutramine and placebo.

Sibutramine users with a history of cardiovascular disease had a 16% increase in non-fatal heart attack and stroke compared to placebo.  To “cause” one heart attack or stroke in a person with known cardiovascular disease, you would have to treat 52 such patients.

Folks in the “diabetes plus risk factor(s)” group who took sibutramine had no increased risk of heart attack or stroke.

So What?

Average weight loss with sibutramine isn’t much.  Nothing new there.  [Your mileage may vary.]

People with cardiovascular disease shouldn’t take sibutramine.  Nothing new there either.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  James, W. Philip, et al.  Effect of sibutramine on cardiovascular outcomes in overweight and obese subjects.  New England Journal of Medicine, 363 (2010): 905-917.

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Filed under coronary heart disease, Drugs for Diabetes, Overweight and Obesity, Stroke, Weight Loss

Low-Glycemic Index Eating Improves Control of Diabetes

Lowering glycemic index (GI) led to improved contol of blood sugar, better insulin sensitivity, and weight loss in people with type 2 diabetes given group education sessions, according to researchers at Pennsylvania State University.

As background, the scientists note that:

GI may play a role in preventing or treating type 2 diabetes by decreasing the risk for obesity or by altering metabolic endpoints.  Improvements in glycaemic control were observed in people with diabetes in a recent meta-analysis.  A lower-GI diet was shown to decrease postprandial glucose [blood sugar after meals] and insulin responses and improve serum lipid concentrations.  Lower-GL [glycemic load] diets were associated with decreased risk for type 2 diabetes, decreased levels of C-reactive protein and inflammation, and weight loss.

Ninety-nine test subjects completed the study that enrolled adults 40 to 70  years old who had diabetes at least one year but were not taking insulin shots.  Average body mass index was 33, so they were obese.  Average weights were 84.5 kg (186 lb) for women and 108.7 kg (239 lb) for men.  Average baseline hemoglobin A1c was estimated at 7%, so these folks were under good glucose control.  Baseline carbohydrate intake was 45% of total energy, a bit lower than the general population. 

The 9-week intervention involved nine weekly group education sessions—lasting 1.5 to 2 hours—focusing on selection of lower-GI (vs higher-GI) foods instead of restricting carbohydrates.  Also covered were monitoring of portion sizes to control carb consumption, carb counting to control carb distribution and intake, and self-monitoring of food intake. 


Although weight loss was not a goal, weights fell by 1-2 kg (2-4 pounds).  Men lost more than women.  Overall diet glycemic index fell by 2-3 points (a modest amount).  Comparing values before and after intervention, fasting glucose and postprandial glucose fell significantly, and insulin sensitivity improved.  Although not measured, the authors estimate hemoglobin A1c levels would have fallen an absolute 0.3%, based on measured glucose levels.  Percentage of calories from carbohydrate did not change. 


This is one of the few studies to try low-glycemic index behavioral intervention in adults with type 2 diabetes.  Results are encouraging. 

The researchers and I wonder if results would have been even more dramatic if the test subjects hadn’t been so well controlled before intervention or if they had dropped their glycemic index even lower.  Probably so.  Many people with type 2 diabetes have hemoglobin A1c’s well over 7%.

The researchers attribute the weight loss to portion control and simple self-monitoring of consumption. 

For people with diabetes, this study supports selection of lower-glycemic index instead of higher-GI.  In fact, we’d see less diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, and gallbladder disease if all women—diabetic or not—ate lower-GI

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Gutschall, Melissa, et al.  A randomized behavioural trial targeting glycaemic index improves dietary, weight and metabolic outcomes in patients with type 2 diabetes.  Public Health and Nutrition, 12(2009): 1,846-1,854.


Filed under Carbohydrate, Glycemic Index and Load

Low-Carb Diet Helps Obese Swedes With Diabetes

Swedish boyObese people with type 2 diabetes following a 20% carbohydrate diet demonstrated sustained improvement in weight and blood glucose control, according to two Swedish physicians.  These doctors also have research experience with traditional low-fat diets in overweight diabetics, having demonstrated that a 20% carbohydrate diet was superior to a low-fat/55–60% carb diet in obese diabetes patients over six months.

What Was the Intervention?

Proportions of carbohydrates, fat, and protein were 20%, 50%, and 30% respectively.  Total daily carbs were 80–90 g. 

Recommended carbs were vegetables and salads. 

Rather than ordinary bread, crisp/hard bread was recommended (3.5 to 8 g carb per slice).  Starchy breads, pasta, potatoes, rice, and breakfast cereals were excluded. 

They were instructed to walk 30 minutes daily, take a multivitamin with extra calcium daily, and to not eat between meals. 

At the outset, diabetic medications were reduced by 25–30% to avoid low blood sugars.   


The doctors followed 23 patients over the course of  44 months.  Average initial body weight was 101 kg (222 pounds).  After 44 months, average body weight fell to 93 kg (205 pounds).  Hemoglobin A1c, a measure of diabetes control,  fell from 8% to 6.8%. 

My Comments

In these pages over the last few months, we’ve seen the effectiveness of low-carb diets in people with type 2 diabetes in widespread populations: Japanese, U.S. blacks and caucasions, and, now, Swedes. 

The standard Western diet derives 55–60% of its energy from carbohydrates.  If you’ve been following this blog, we’ve looked at diets containing 40%, 30%, 20%, and 10% carbs.  Have you noticed the trend? 

Reducing the percentage of carbohydrates in the diet improves diabetic control and loss of excess weight.  And the more you reduce carbs, the greater the degree of diabetic control and weight loss.   

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference:  Nielsen, Jörgen and Joensson, Eva.  Low-carbohydrate diet in type 2 diabetes: stable improvement of body weight and glycemic control during 44 months follow-upNutrition & Metabolism, 5:14   doi:10.1186/1743-7075-5-14

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Overweight and Obesity, Weight Loss

Low-Carb Diet Beats Low-Fat, Calorie-Restricted Diet

Body mass index 38

Body mass index 38

I found one of the early studies (2003) demonstrating the effectiveness and safety of an Atkins-style diet in the severely obese.  Doctors traditionally have been hesitant to recommend the Atkins diet out of concern for tolerability and potential increased atherosclerosis complication such as heart attacks, strokes, and poor circulation.


The study enrolled 132 subjects with an average body mass index of 43, including 77 blacks and 23 women.  39% had diabetes, 43% had metabolic syndrome.  They were randomly assigned to either . . .

  1. a low-carb diet without caloric restriction (carbohydrates limited to 30 gm/day; vegetables and fruits with high ratios of fiber to carbohydrate were recommended), or
  2. a low-fat, calorie-restricted diet. 

Subjects followed their diets for six months.  The researchers never specified, but I’m assuming the diabetics were all type 2. 


The drop-out rate was equally high in both groups: only 79 subjects completed the study.  The low-carb group lost 5.8 kg (13 lb); the low-fat group lost 1.9 kg (4 lb).  Analysis included the drop-outs, for reasons unclear to me.  White subjects lost more weight than blacks: 13 versus 5 kg (29 versus 11 lb).  Total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, and LDL cholesterol levels did not change significantly within or between groups.  [HDL usually rises on a low-carb diet.]   Triglycerides fell 20% in the low-carb group and 4% in the other group.  For subjects with diabetes, glucose levels fell 26 mg/dl in the low-carb group compared to 5 mg/dl in the low-fat group.  Uric acid levels didn’t change in either group.  [Elevated uric acid levels can cause gout.]  No significant adverse reactions attibutable to the diets were recorded in either group.  Glycosylated hemoglobin fell from 7.8 to 7.2% in the low-carb group, with no change in the low-fat group.   

Take-Home Points  

It’s a small study, so results may not be very accurate or generalizable to other populations.

In this cohort with a high prevalence of diabetes, the low-carb diet was more effective than the low-fat/calorie-restricted diet for weight loss, with no adverse lipid changes to suggest increased long-term cardiovascular risk.  The low-carb diet helped control diabetes. 

Steve Parker, M.D. 

Reference:  Samaha, Frederick, et al.  A low-carbohydrate as compared with a low-fat diet in severe obesity.  New England Journal of Medicine, 348 (2003): 2,074-2,081.


Filed under Carbohydrate, Overweight and Obesity, Weight Loss

High- vs Low-Protein Weight-Loss Diet in Type 2 Diabetes


Mucho protein, amigo

Mucho protein, amigo

A high-protein weight-loss diet yielded greater reduction in LDL cholesterol in both sexes, and greater loss of abdominal fat in overweight type 2 diabetics, compared to a lower-protein diet.  Lower LDL cholesterol levels are associated with lower risk of heart attack.

This scientific study caught my eye because it utilized a high-monounsaturated fat diet for weight loss.  The Mediterranean diet is rich in monounsaturated fats, mostly from olive oil.

Researchers in Australia ran a study to determine the effect of high- versus lower-protein wieght loss diets on fat and lean tissue, glucose levels, and blood lipids.  For perspective, remember that a typical American diet has about 15% of calories from protein, 30% from fat, and 55% from carbohydrates.


This was their high-protein diet:  28% protein, 42% CHO, 28% fat (8% saturated fatty acids, 12% monounsaturated fatty acids, 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids).

The low-protein diet:  16% protein, 55% CHO, 26% fat (8% saturated fatty acids, 11% monounsaturated fatty acids, 5% polyunsaturated fatty acids).

They studied 54 obese men (19) and women (35) with type 2 diabetes during 8 weeks of energy restriction (1,600 kcal) and 4 weeks of energy balance.  Body composition was determined by dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry at weeks 0 and 12.


Average weight loss for both groups was 5 kg.  However, women on the HP diet lost significantly more total (5.3 vs 2.8 kg) and abdominal (1.3 vs 0.7 kg) fat compared with the women on the LP diet, whereas, in men, there was no difference in fat loss between diets (3.9 vs 5.1 kg).  Total lean mass decreased in all subjects independently of diet composition.  LDL cholesterol reduction was significantly greater on the HP diet (5.7%) than on the LP diet (2.7%).  Blood glucose levels were reduced 5 or 10% by both diet interventions.  Trigylcerides dropped 20% in both groups.  Insulin concentrations were reduced in both groups.  Subjects lose 2.1% lean mass overall, with no difference between the groups.

Conclusions of the Study Authors

Both dietary patterns resulted in improvements in the cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk profile as a consequence of weight loss. However, the greater reductions in total and abdominal fat mass in women and greater LDL cholesterol reduction observed in both sexes on the HP diet suggest that it is a valid diet choice for reducing CVD risk in type 2 diabetes.

Take-Home Points

This was a relatively small study, so results may not be widely applicable.

Substituting proteins for carbs doesn’t seem to be detrimental to people with type 2 diabetes needing to lose weight, and may be advantageous:  greater total and abdominal fat loss in women, greater reductions in LDL cholesterol for both sexes.   At least in the short run.

Nephrologists will be concerned that the higher-protein diet, if sustained long-term, could lead to kidney damage.

Current dogma is that the lower-carb (high-protein) dieters should have had lower blood glucose, triglycerides, and HgbA1c levels:  not seen here.

Calorie-restricted diets tend to lower glucose levels and improve lipids, despite diet composition.

Reference:  Parker, Barbara et al.  Effect of a High-Protein, High–Monounsaturated Fat Weight Loss Diet on Glycemic Control and Lipid Levels in Type 2 Diabetes.  Diabetes Care,  25 (2002): 425-430.    From CSIRO Health Sciences and Nutrition, Adelaide, Australia.

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Filed under Carbohydrate, Protein, Weight Loss