Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Obesity Must Be Addressed on Multiple Levels

February 24th, 2013 at 2:36 pm by timigustafson
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Obesity has grown into an alarming public health crisis, and there is no telling when or even whether we will be able to get this epidemic under control. Over two thirds of Americans now struggle with weight problems, and there is no consensus among the experts over the precise causes. Recommendations for countermeasures range from calls for more government involvement to greater responses from food manufacturers and restaurant operators to better health education of the public.

Recent legislation for the improvement of nutrition standards of school lunches and initiatives like “Let’s Move” to reduce childhood obesity have gotten some traction, but progress remains slow and uncertain, according to the latest report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Overall, there is no significant change in the current trends, and so the battle for America’s health continues unabated. There is general agreement that more, much more needs to be done.

Demands for tougher regulation of industry and policies to influence the behavior of consumers have become louder in recent years, but we have not seen the results we had hoped for. In a recent op-ed articleNew York Times columnist Mark Bittman has faulted the current Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, for being “missing in action” in the fight against obesity, especially childhood obesity. On this issue, he writes, “Benjamin, like most of her predecessors, is virtually invisible.” Even with regards to seemingly straight forward measures like curbing children’s exposure to junk food via advertisements on TV or banning soda sales from school campuses, the government remains inexplicably passive. Instead, it still lays most of the blame at the feet of the victims by overemphasizing personal accountability.

Voluntary commitments by food manufacturers and restaurant operators have not produced much success either, despite of ample promises to show more cooperation by making food labels less confusing, offering healthier alternatives on fast food menus, or limiting exposure of kids to food advertisements.

But there is another aspect to this discussion that is often neglected. It is people’s real life experience that is not taken enough into account. By this I don’t mean to lend credence to oversimplifying statements that people are responsible for their own actions and should not blame others for their demise. Those who read my columns and blog posts know very well that I am a strong supporter of many of the measures Mr. Bittman and others are proposing.

Asking folks to make better nutritional choices makes no sense if they live miles and miles away from food outlets that carry fresh produce or in neighborhoods where getting physical exercise is difficult because of safety concerns and lack of public facilities like bike paths and parks. It is also futile to make dietary recommendations that completely ignore financial limits or access to health education.

But still, no matter what we will try from here on in terms of legislation and policy making, changing individual behavior will always play a predominant role. Eating habits are rarely just about food. They are also about stress, anxiety, loneliness, boredom, addiction, past traumatic experiences, and more. By exclusively focusing on the quality and quantity of our food supply, we will not be able to really understand these concerns and make them part of the equation, as they need to be. As they say, all politics are local. And all health issues are personal.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Most Weight Gain Comes from Stress, Scientists Say

February 20th, 2013 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson
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People get fat from eating too much and exercising too little. At least that’s the most widely held explanation for the growing obesity crisis around the world. But it’s not that simple, says Dr. Achim Peters, a professor of neurology at the University of Lübeck in Germany and author of “The Selfish Brain – Why Our Brain Sabotages Dieting and Resists the Body” (Ullstein, 2011).

The worldwide obesity epidemic is in truth a stress epidemic, and unhealthy weight gain is just one of the ills that plague an increasingly stressed population trying to cope with the ever-growing demands of modern life, he says in an interview with the German news magazine “Der Spiegel” (2/9/2013).

In reality, weight issues are often rooted in socio-economic difficulties like job loss, poverty, rising food prices and other existential uncertainties, he says. It puts tremendous pressure on people. Stress-producing situations can be immensely damaging to our health, especially when they persist over long periods of time with no reprieve in sight.

Dr. Peters is best known for the “Selfish Brain Theory,” which he developed together with an interdisciplinary team of scientists over a decade ago when researching the origins of obesity. In essence, the theory describes how the brain takes care of its own needs first when regulating energy distribution throughout the body. It is “selfish” in the sense that it always wins out in any competition for energy resources, at the expense of all other organs if necessary.

In times of stress, the brain spends particularly high amounts of energy, which requires an increase in food intake. During acute stress situations, a rapid spike in energy demand is natural and not harmful. It is different when stress is prolonged. Then it can become a chronic state and as such quite dangerous.

To shed some light on these dynamics, it is important to understand our body’s hormonal responses to stress. Energy in the body is regulated and mobilized by a hormone called cortisol. Cortisol selects the right type and amount of energy to meet the body’s demands when responding to a particular situation. Cortisol is also responsible for mobilizing energy by tapping into the body’s fat stores and moving it to where it’s most needed, primarily in the brain.

Studies in animals and humans have shown that heightened secretion of cortisol is associated with increased appetite, especially for sugar. In cases of enduring stress, this can stimulate food consumption to the point of overeating with all the detrimental consequences we are so familiar with. Moreover, too much cortisol can slow the metabolism, causing more weight gain than would normally occur. It can also affect fat distribution. Fat in the stomach area is considered a greater health risk than when it’s stored around the hips and thighs.

Ultimately, we will not be able to address the obesity crisis effectively if we continue to ignore the effects of chronic stress on our hormonal system, says Dr. Peters. Asking people to diet and force themselves to lose weight through deprivation can only make things worse. The solution is to de-stress our lives. This doesn’t mean more yoga and meditating, although that can help too, but mostly better socio-economic security and, as a result, peace of mind for more people.

As a point in case he cites a study conducted by the University of Chicago that compared two groups of single mothers from low-income neighborhoods. One group of women was moved to a more upscale area with safer streets, greater job opportunities and better schools, the other was left in place. Within a few years, most of the women who had moved away showed considerable improvement in their health, especially in reduction of diabetes and obesity. As their stress lessened, their well-being increased on every level.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading Can’t Lose Weight? t Could Be Stress

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Less salt in our food supply could save at least half a million Americans from dying prematurely over the next ten years, according to separate studies conducted at three universities, two American and one Canadian. If the average daily salt intake were to drop to 1,500 milligrams, as recommended by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the number of lives saved could more than double. All study results were published in the medical journal Hypertension, a publication of the American Heart Association (AHA).

Americans currently consume on average 3,600 milligrams of salt daily, mostly in form of sodium, widely used as an ingredient in processed foods. Sodium is considered a significant contributor to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke, all leading causes of death in the U.S. today.

About a third of American adults, or 68 million, suffer from high blood pressure, a.k.a. hypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The condition was identified as a primary or contributing cause of nearly 350,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2008, the last time the CDC has updated its research on the subject.

Despite of these alarming statistics, there are currently no signs of improvement. Even better treatment has only shown mixed results. Less than half (46 percent) of high blood pressure patients have their condition under control, according to the CDC.

Because the salt content in processed food is already added before it reaches the consumer, there is little opportunity to make changes on an individual basis other than limiting one’s choices to fresh items like produce. This would also exclude many options in restaurants.

“Individuals can’t make this choice easily,” said Dr. Kirstin Bibbins-Domingo, professor of medicine and epidemiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), to ABC News. “So maybe we should find ways to work with the food industry,” she suggested.

The National Salt Reduction Initiative, a partnership started by the New York City Health Department that has expanded to nearly 100 city and state health organizations across the country, has been trying to get food manufacturers and restaurant operators to cut salt by 25 percent or more since 2008, the year of the organization’s inception. The current goal is to achieve a reduction of 20 percent by 2014.

Critics say that such measures are impractical and would make little difference. Public health advocates have been focusing on hypertension as if no other health threats existed, said Morton Satin, Vice President of science and research at the Salt Institute, a trade association for the salt industry, in response to the recent studies to ABC News. The association warns that low salt intake could produce its own set of health problems, especially for the elderly.

While most experts would agree that multiple factors can be responsible for the development of high blood pressure, including genetic predisposition, gender, age and other non-modifiable components, poor diet and lifestyle choices, which are modifiable and therefore preventable risk factors, usually play a much greater role. In a milestone conference on the connections between sodium intake and blood pressure, sponsored by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the participating scientists concluded that “an abundance of scientific evidence indicates that higher sodium consumption is associated with higher levels of blood pressure, [as demonstrated in] animal studies, observational epidemiologic studies, and clinical studies and trials.” They were also hopeful that more effective strategies could be developed to improve diet and lifestyles patterns that benefit the larger population.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading: “Too Much Salt in Our Food Creates Serious Health Hazards.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Your Eating Habits May Keep You from Getting a Good Night’s Rest

February 13th, 2013 at 1:03 pm by timigustafson
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Do you feel permanently tired? Do you get less sleep than you would like? Do you have a hard time falling asleep at night? Is your sleep frequently interrupted? Do you wake up from a deep slumber when your alarm clock goes off? Are you still sleepy or groggy in the morning? Are you regularly exhausted in the afternoon or evening? If so, it may not only be your lifestyle but also your diet that wreaks havoc on your sleep.

Millions of Americans are chronically sleep deprived. For many there seems never enough time for rest, and it takes a toll on people’s health. One often-seen response to sleep deprivation is increased food consumption, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. While clinical research has long shown connections between sleeplessness and weight problems, a new study has found that eating habits also influence sleep in ways that were previously not considered.

Researchers from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania studied how various diet and sleep patterns correlate by evaluating self-reported data from a survey by the National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES), involving thousands of participants.

According to the study’s findings, people who slept fewer hours also had different eating habits and food preferences than those who allowed themselves more rest. For instance, short sleepers (usually five to six hours per night) consumed more calories on average but had less variety in their food choices than normal (seven to eight hours) and long sleepers (nine or more hours). Long sleepers consumed the least amount of calories but had a less varied diet than normal sleepers.

The reasons for these differences are not altogether clear. Short sleepers may generally have less time to take care of their dietary needs, such as food shopping, cooking and taking breaks for meals. Normal and long sleepers may have a more leisurely lifestyle.

Prior studies on diet and sleep have primarily focused on how sleep, or lack thereof, influences eating habits. There is growing evidence that overeating and binge eating are frequently linked to sleep problems. One particular study showed that participants whose sleep was restricted for a specific period of time increased their food intake by up to 500 calories per day. Poor sleep made them vulnerable to overeating and weight gain over time, says Dr. Virend Somers, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and lead author of the study. Surprisingly, the additional waking hours did not allow them to burn more calories than their better-sleeping counterparts.

How exactly insufficient sleep leads to greater appetite is not yet fully understood. One possible explanation is that many important functions in the body are affected by sleep deprivation, including hormonal functions that regulate appetite and satiety. A reduction in the hormone leptin, an appetite-suppressing hormone that is released by fat cells during the night, may be a cause. The hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, which responds to sleep restriction with increased secretion, may also play a role. Furthermore, lack of sleep can reduce sensitivity to insulin, thereby weakening blood sugar regulation and the ability to metabolize blood sugar.

Obviously, it is not always easy to make changes to one’s sleeping habits because of pressures from work, long commutes and other chores. Still, there can be room for improvement by setting priorities.

Here are some suggestions: Neither food nor drink, especially alcohol, should be consumed later than two hours before bedtime. A full stomach is not conducive to restful sleep. Caffeine may keep you awake. Late intake of liquids may have you go to the bathroom during the night.

There are also issues that are not diet-related. The final hours of the day should be spent with as little exposure to stimulating events as possible. That includes late night exercising, watching TV, dealing with e-mails or discussing controversial subjects.

Observing good sleep hygiene is equally as important. Setting the right temperature, dimming the lights and keeping the bedroom uncluttered are just a few examples.

Some changes will require experimentation. What matters most is that your actions as well as your environment help you getting the rest you need.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Millions of Americans Take Vitamin Supplements Despite of Doubts Over Benefits

February 10th, 2013 at 3:03 pm by timigustafson
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Men who take vitamin C supplements could develop kidney stones. Calcium supplements may increase the risk of heart disease and even death. There is no scientifically proven evidence that multivitamins improve people’s health. These are just a few headlines that lately appeared in the press. Behind those stories are a series of clinical studies that question a widespread habit among Americans, namely to add one or more daily supplements to their diet to ensure their nutritional needs are covered.

Nearly half of American adults use supplements regularly, generating over $30 billion a year in sales, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). A new study tried to find out why so many people put their trust in supplements despite of much uncertainty that they have any significant health effects.

“People have very strong beliefs about these products and I don’t know where they are getting their information,” said Dr. Regan Bailey, a nutritional epidemiologist at NIH and lead author of the study report, in an interview with HealthDay. “The majority of scientific data available does not support the role of dietary supplements for improving health or preventing of disease.”

What’s even more puzzling is that many supplement users don’t think of supplements as related to nutrition but rather to overall health. It’s almost like a lifestyle issue, according to the study. Typical users are older, eat well, are physically active, manage their weight, don’t smoke, and usually have a higher educational and social status than non-users. They consider themselves to be in very good or excellent health, and they also have health insurance.

Multi-vitamin-mineral products are among the most popular choices, followed by calcium and fish oil supplements. Many older women use calcium supplements for bone health. Some believe that vitamins are good for heart health or to lower cholesterol levels. Others think certain vitamins help preserve their eyesight.

The popularity of supplements has not been generated by the medical community. “Less than a quarter of supplements used by adults were recommended by a physician or health care provider,” said Dr. Bailey.

There may also be safety concerns. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates dietary supplements under a different set of regulations than conventional foods and prescription drugs. Under current laws, the responsibility for the safety of supplements lies with the manufacturers. The FDA can only take action against unsafe products after they have been put on the market. Generally, manufacturers of supplements do not need to have their products approved by the agency.

Because of dietary deficiencies many Americans suffer from due to poor eating habits, I still would recommend taking a daily multi-vitamin-mineral supplement from reputable sources. However, it is crucial that users are aware of potential risks, i.e. overdosing. While it is unlikely for a healthy person to overdose on water-soluble vitamins like vitamin C and B-complex, since excessive amounts get eliminated in the urine, the fat-soluble varieties like vitamins A, D, E and K are stored in fat cells and can build up to toxic levels. So can a number of minerals. Some supplements can also interfere with certain medications and cause metabolic problems.

Most importantly, taking supplements should never be considered as a substitute for a healthy diet. Essential nutrients from real foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, dairy products and whole-grains cannot easily be provided by a few pills. Those are just – well, supplements.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Heart Health Awareness Has a Long Way to Go

February 6th, 2013 at 7:34 am by timigustafson
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Every February, the American Heart Association (AHA), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health organizations remind the public to pay more attention to the issue of heart health – and for good reason. Heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the United States, ahead of cancer and respiratory diseases.

Well over half a million Americans die every year from heart problems, according to data collected by the CDC. Poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, stress and sleep disorders are among the contributing factors. Smoking and alcohol/drug abuse also play a role.

The “Standard American Diet” (SAD), also known as the “Western Diet,” is notorious for its preferences for meat products and processed foods, which often contain high amounts of sugar, salt and refined grains. There is mounting evidence that the changing dietary trends of the past few decades, not only in America but also increasingly around the world, are responsible for the growing prevalence of heart disease.

Diet changes are among the first steps experts recommend for better heart health. A recent study from Great Britain showed that participants who adhered to a strictly vegetarian diet were less at risk of developing heart disease than their non-vegetarian counterparts. Lower levels of dietary cholesterol, which is only present in animal food products, was one likely reason, as was a smaller intake of saturated fat and sodium. Especially sodium, often added in high doses to processed foods, is believed to contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease.

While the researchers did not investigate other factors than diet that could have benefitted the vegetarians, they are confident that the abstinence from meat, in particular red meat, has made the difference.

“The effect is probably at least partly due to the lack of red meat – especially meat high in saturated fat – in vegetarian diets,” said Dr. Francesca Crowe, professor of nutritional epidemiology at Oxford University, England, who led the study. “The extra fruits and vegetables and higher fiber in a non-meat diet could also play a role,” she added.

Besides diet, insufficient physical activity is most often named as a cause of heart disease. In fact, studies have found that sedentary behavior can be as harmful as smoking. If nothing else, there is at least a “statistically significant association between a lack of exercise and coronary heart disease,” said Dr. Carl Caspersen, a researcher at the CDC.

None of these findings are surprising. We have long known that heart disease is a mainly lifestyle-related illness, as is diabetes. The good news is that we are not helpless in the fight against health problems that are, at least in part, of our own making.

Raising awareness is an important first step, but it can’t stop there. Showing sympathy and expressing support for heart patients by wearing red clothing is laudable, and I applaud all those who take up the cause. But we also have to turn our insights into action through education, policy changes and regulations.

Many Americans still know too little about the potentially catastrophic consequences their diet and lifestyle choices can have for their health and what they can do differently to avoid further damage. As with most bad things in life, we tend to believe that they only happen to others – until they happen to us. When it comes to the heart, it may then be too late.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Saving Healthcare Costs Through Prevention May Prove Elusive

February 3rd, 2013 at 1:25 pm by timigustafson
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75 percent of healthcare costs in the United States come from treating chronic diseases such as heart disease and diabetes. More than half of Americans suffer from one or more of these health problems largely caused by poor eating and lifestyle choices. Overall life expectancy in America is in decline. It is estimated that for the first time in our nation’s history future generations will be less healthy and die younger than their parents.

These are the findings of a recently published report by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), a health advocacy group, titled “A Healthier America 2013: Strategies to Move from Sick Care to Health Care in Four Years.” In their report, the authors recommend to prioritize prevention measures to improve the health of millions of Americans.

“America’s health faces two possible futures,” says Dr. Gail Christopher, president of TFAH’s board and vice president for health at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. “We can continue on the current path, resigning millions of Americans to health problems that could have been avoided, or we invest in giving all Americans the opportunity to be healthier while saving billions in healthcare costs. We owe our children to take the smarter way,” she added.

Taking the smarter way would require implementing additional public health programs and restructuring existing ones with focus on disease prevention as well as ensuring that insurance providers cover costs for such programs both inside and outside the doctor’s office. Employer-based wellness programs in the private sector were also included in the recommendations.

“Prevention delivers real value as a cost-effective way to keep Americans healthy and improve their quality of life,” says Dr. Jeffrey Levi, TFAH’s executive director. He believes that efforts to improve public health must start at the local level. When neighborhoods become healthier, everyone wins. “People live longer, healthier, happier lives,” he says, and “healthcare costs go down.”

The latter may be wishful thinking, however, some health economists say. In fact, there is little evidence that preventive medicine would cost us less than our existing system.

“It’s not plausible to think that you can cut healthcare spending through preventive care. This is widely misunderstood,” says Dr. Austin Frakt, an economist at the Health Care Financing & Economics Department (HCFE) at VA Boston Healthcare System, in an interview with Reuters. One of the reasons for this is that medical procedures for the prevention of illnesses are more or less the same as those applied for treatment, such as physical checkups or cancer tests. There may be benefits for individual patients in terms of early detection but not when it comes to saving costs. That may strike us as a paradox, but it’s the reality of healthcare as we know it.

“Prevention itself costs money, and some preventive measures can be very expensive, especially if you give them to a lot of people who won’t benefit,” says Dr. Peter Neumann, professor of medicine at Tufts University.

In other words, when people get tested for diseases they don’t have, just to rule out the possibility of them getting sick later, a lot of money is spent for nothing.

A better solution would be to look for preventive steps outside the hospital or doctor’s office. This goes back to some of the recommendations issued by the TFAH report. Investments in wellness programs, health education and counseling could yield better results. Much could be achieved by grassroots movements and community-based initiatives if done the right way. That would still require financing, but the dollars spent could go a whole lot further.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also like reading  ”The New Great Divide: Longevity” and “The High Costs of Living Longer,” both by Timi Gustafson RD.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

About Thinking Styles

January 30th, 2013 at 3:30 pm by timigustafson
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Norman Cousins had just recovered from a life-threatening illness when he wrote his famous autobiographical book, “Anatomy of an Illness – As Perceived by the Patient” (1979 W.W. Norton & Co., Inc.). By the time of his writing, his doctors had long given up on finding effective treatments for him, let alone a cure for his demise. Mr. Cousins had to save his own life without outside help – and that he did. His medicine was laughter.

Left to his own devices, he decided to spend whatever time he had left watching funny movies and reading uplifting literature. Nothing negative or dysfunctional was allowed near him. In the end, he laughed himself not sick but healthy. By all accounts, Norman Cousin set a new record for the power of positive thinking.

I myself do strongly believe in the power of positive thinking. As a clinical healthcare professional, I have seen it working its magic again and again. “Positive thinkers” know how to motivate and inspire themselves and others, even in the face of overwhelming adversity.

It is not likely that we are born with a particular disposition, positive or negative, although opinions about the subject may differ. In any case, it is clear that positive thinking can be learned. Destructive thoughts can be changed and turned into constructive ones. For some people this may be harder than for others, but it is possible for everyone and at any stage in life.

Normally, we like to think that our thoughts accurately reflect the real world, that our judgment is more or less sound and that we have a realistic view of things. This includes the beliefs we have about ourselves. But we all experience now and then a change of heart, a sudden insight known as an “Aha!-moment,” a disclosure experience, a revelation. When this happens, we may be forced to alter our old perspectives and adopt new ones.

Many of my clients who undergo significant lifestyle changes, voluntarily or forced by circumstance, face considerable challenges. Most are quite willing to modify their eating habits, quit smoking or drinking, increase their physical activity level and so on. But their thinking often remains untouched. What changes is their outside behavior but not their inner convictions. They don’t take real ownership of their treatment and, therefore, they don’t have a solid foundation on which they can build their future progress.

Positive thinking can be a tremendous asset in many ways, but especially as an instrument for healing. Positive thinking is not what some call a “Pollyanna” attitude, an overoptimistic, naive account of the world. Positive thinking, correctly understood and practiced, is a change of mind that taps into our inner, most powerful resources, which can help us to generate real change.

So I would like to invite you to answer for yourself the following questions:
• Do your thoughts provide you with a generally positive, hopeful outlook?
• Do your thoughts support your goals and aspirations?
• Do they motivate and inspire you to take action?
• Do they provide you with clear directions for your life’s path?
• Do they enhance your self-worth?
• Do they make you feel satisfied with your life and your accomplishments?

If you can respond “yes” to most or all of these questions, you may already be moving in the right direction. If not, here is your chance to get started.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

New Nutrition Facts Labels Aim to Be Less Confusing to Consumers

January 26th, 2013 at 12:15 pm by timigustafson
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How many servings do you get out of one muffin? The obvious answer – one – is incorrect. The right amount is two. Why? Because that is how food manufacturers calculate calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, fiber, sugars, protein and other ingredients. It’s not the individual item or container that counts but how it is divided up, often in the most arbitrary ways.

The so-called nutrition facts labels you find on the back of all packaged food and beverage products are not only hard to decipher, they mislead consumers who are already confused about their dietary needs.

It has been 20 years since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has last addressed the issue of food labeling. To overhaul the current regulations, the agency commissioned a new study to determine how labels could be simplified to help consumers make healthier food choices and limit portions. Confusion over serving sizes is considered a contributing cause to obesity.

For the study, researchers developed alternative displays of nutritional details based on whole food and beverage containers instead of serving sizes.

“The nutrition facts label is only one tool that can help consumers make informed food choices […], but it is a valuable tool, so it is important to continue exploring ways to support effective use of the label for these purposes,” said Dr. Serena C. Lo, one of the study leaders, in an interview with BusinessNewsDaily.

The researchers also found that the percentage of consumers who actually read food labels before purchasing products they are unfamiliar with has risen from 44 percent in 2002 to 54 percent in 2008.

One of the reasons why dividing entire package contents into smaller serving sizes is so important to the food industry is that the apportionment is a useful tool for making products sound healthier than they are. For example, if one serving has only a miniscule amount of a certain ingredient, e.g. trans fat, it can be labeled as 0 percent, while the whole package may contain significantly more.

It is not clear whether giving people information per content or per serving would make much of a difference in their eating behavior. Would they stop gorging themselves on potato chips half way through the bag if they knew the amounts of calories and fat up front instead of having to do math themselves? Doubtful.

But that’s not really the point. What the issue of food labeling comes down to is the right of us consumers to know what we eat. Just like we should have full disclosure about genetically modified foodspink slime or meat glue, we should have access to information on our entire food supply. Anything short of that is deception.

The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, a nonprofit organization that sets standards for identity and quality of medicines and food ingredients worldwide, defines the “deliberate substitution, addition, tampering or misrepresentation of food, food ingredients or food packaging, or false or misleading statements made about a product for economic gain” as “food fraud.” Where are we willing to draw the line?

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog and at amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Wrong Diet and Too Much Exercise Can Sabotage Weight Loss

January 23rd, 2013 at 1:24 pm by timigustafson
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You think you do everything right. You stick to a lean diet and you go for runs and workouts in the gym. Still, the numbers on the scale won’t budge. It’s a frustrating experience many Americans go through during ‘resolution season’ when the damage from the holidays is supposed to get undone.

There can be multiple reasons for unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. Surprisingly, some of the most logical measures such as calorie restriction and fitness training can be among them. How is that possible?

“A healthy diet and consistent exercise are a safe bet at dropping pounds, yet research and evidence suggests that other factors may contribute to how easy it is for you to gain and lose weight,” says Jenna Morris, a personal trainer and writer for Livestrong.com.

Of course, making changes to eating habits that resulted in weight gain may be necessary. But you should proceed with caution, warns Morris. “If you dip too far below your recommended daily intake, then you risk actually slowing your metabolism and making weight loss even more challenging.”

If your weight loss efforts are too aggressive, you may deprive your body in unhealthy ways. A simultaneous reduction in calorie intake and increase in expenditure can cause you to burn valuable, metabolic-boosting muscle, which can make it harder to lose weight, warns Dr. Melina Jampolis, a physician nutrition specialist and contributor to CNNhealth.com.

Studies on the effects of different levels of exercising on weight loss have found that high-intensity training may not always produce the desired (or imagined) results. People who watch weight loss shows like “The Biggest Loser” on NBC often come to believe that exhausting workouts are the answer, when in fact moderate but consistent exercise routines have shown greater long-term success.

“People who exercise less may end up burning just enough calories to lose weight, but not enough to feel compelled to replace them, either by eating more or remain sedentary otherwise,” said Dr. Mads Rosenkilde of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, the lead researcher in one of the studies. “Those who exercise a lot […] may feel more drained, which prompts them to compensate.”

There can also be other factors involved such as interference from medications or medical conditions like an underactive thyroid gland or Cushing’s syndrome. Or genetic components to weight and metabolism may play a role. There are hundreds of genes that are responsible for weight regulation, says Dr. Jampolis, many of which are designed for survival by preventing starvation. In our modern environment where food is plentiful, they still function, but often in the wrong way.

For healthy, lasting weight loss, she recommends introducing smaller changes over time. If you still can’t lose weight, it might be better to just accept your current weight for the time being and focus on the prevention of more weight gain, which is for many a hard task in itself. But don’t give up on your regular exercise routine, she advises. “It is much healthier to be fit and overweight than to be thin and inactive.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.”, and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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