Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Healthy Aging: Exercising the Body Benefits the Mind, Too

July 18th, 2012 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson
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While regular physical activity has long been regarded as an important component of healthy aging, its impact on mental health has remained less explored – until now. Several new studies on the role of exercise for the prevention of mental decline in older adults have been presented at this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference (AAIC) in Vancouver, Canada.

For these studies, researchers from the United States, Canada and Japan conducted 6 to 12 month clinical trials with focus on potential benefits of different types of exercising, including weight lifting, aerobics and balance-stretching training, for maintaining cognitive abilities at old age.

The results showed that even low-impact activities such as walking can help improve memory and other mental functions. What’s most striking is that the human brain seems to be able to grow and develop even late in life if sufficiently stimulated, not only by staying mentally active but physically as well.

Strength training, in particular, had positive effects on attention and memory and other higher brain functions. One study from the University of British Columbia, Canada, found that participants with higher levels of intellect, and perhaps education, reaped the most benefits.

The scientists involved in the respective studies agreed that their findings are preliminary at best at this point in time. “Very little is understood regarding the molecular processes that contribute to enhanced brain health with exercise, or the impact that greater brain volume has on cognitive function,” said Dr. Kirk Erickson of the University of Pittsburgh, who worked on one of the studies. But he also pointed to some immediate implications. “Our findings suggest that the aging brain remains modifiable, and that sedentary older adults can benefit from starting a moderate walking regimen,” he said.

Walking, not for the purpose of exercising but as a normal daily function, was the subject of another study presented at the conference. It found that older people’s slower gait could also be a symptom for mental decline. A reduced pace has always been considered as a natural part of aging. But the results of this study seem to indicate that being less swift and steady on one’s feet may be a sign that cognitive functions are suffering as well.

This is potentially a new perspective for health care professionals who treat older patients with mental health issues. “People who are focused on cognition largely never watch people move,” said Dr. Stephanie Studenski, a geriatrician at the University of Pittsburgh who did not take part in the study, in an interview with the New York Times (7/17/2012). “The tests are all done sitting down.”

Simply by observing how older people walk could provide doctors with an additional tool for diagnosing impairments such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the studies reported at the conference have yet to undergo peer reviews before being released for publication, they have already generated a considerable buzz in the medical community and beyond. The AAIC is the world’s largest of its kind and is sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association, the world’s leading health organization in Alzheimer care, support and research.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Counting Calories Is Not Enough

July 15th, 2012 at 7:09 am by timigustafson
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Most diet programs for weight loss are mainly focused on managing calories. Of course, there is good reason for that. A surplus of calorie intake versus expenditure eventually leads to weight gain. Only about 500 additional calories a day can result in an extra pound of body weight per week – and, of course, the opposite applies just as much. However, it is also important to know where those calories come from, a fact that is not always communicated as well.

According to the laws of physics, calories are all the same. Thus, in theory, it shouldn’t matter whether you drink sugary sodas or eat apples as long as both have the same calorie count. So, the kind of diet you choose – e.g. high-protein/low-carb, high-carb/low-fat, or anything in between – shouldn’t matter either, provided more calories are burned off than consumed. Still the discussion over the effectiveness of different weight loss approaches continues. But is this even the right conversation to have?

Obesity is undoubtedly one of the most pressing health problems of our time. But so is – paradoxically – malnutrition. “Americans are overfed and undernourished,” says Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the “Blood Sugar Solution – The UltraHealthy Program for Losing Weight, Preventing Disease, and Feeling Great Now!” (Little, Brown, 2012). In fact, he says, “most obese children and adults in the country are also the most nutritionally deficient.”

The so-called “Standard American Diet” (SAD) is notoriously caloric but too often nutrient poor, lacking many essential vitamins and minerals. People who eat large amounts of highly processed foods and ingest lots of sugar, refined grains and hydrogenated fats (trans-fats) may gain weight but remain hungry because their nutritional needs are not met. But instead of altering their food choices, they simply keep munching on more of the same.

When they eventually decide to go on a diet, they may starve themselves, but all they often do is deprive their body further by cutting back on (empty) calories without replacing them with more and better nutrients, which is what a healthy diet (for weight loss or otherwise) should be all about.

Nutrition experts have long known that one of the best ways to achieve and maintain a healthy weight range is to focus on nutritional quality first. Yes, portion sizes do matter, but they become less important as you switch from empty calories to nutrient-dense ones. An extra helping of fresh fruit or vegetables is harmless by comparison to a supersized cheeseburger, pizza slice or order of French fries. The same goes for snack foods. While potato chips, candy bars and cookies may give you some instant gratification, they will not satisfy you for long (that’s why you keep reaching for them). Healthy snacks, on the other hand, like apples, citrus fruits, bananas or berries, will do the job much better, and the health benefits are of course much greater.

The bottom line is that single strategies like counting calories won’t work if they don’t go hand in hand with a health-conscious change of eating habits and food choices. Part of that process is educating yourself about nutritionally superior foods and the many advantages they can provide, not just for managing body weight but, more importantly, for all-around good health.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Many Unmet Health Care Needs of Aging Baby Boomers

July 12th, 2012 at 12:23 pm by timigustafson
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Baby boomers will likely face an array of health conditions as they grow older but will find in many cases only insufficient treatment options. According to a report by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), health care providers are currently not prepared for the coming challenges of what has been called a “silver tsunami” because of the sheer size of this aging generation. These challenges include both physical and mental health care needs, the latter of which have so far been mostly ignored or neglected.

As many as eight million Americans age 65 and older suffer from mental health problems, including depression, memory loss and diminished cognitive functions. Substance abuse was also mentioned as a growing contributing factor to age-related mental decline. These numbers will only go up as the elderly population will grow from just over 40 million in 2010 to well over 70 million by 2030.

At a time when there is already great concern over the affordability of health care in general, finding funds for the treatment of mental illness and substance abuse will be even more difficult. Nevertheless, the IOM calls for an overhaul of Medicare and Medicaid payment rules in favor of covering care, counseling and other services for older patients with mental health problems. At this point, both programs rather deter treatment of such conditions, based on their existing coverage and reimbursement policies.

A lack of national attention to these issues combined with an ill-equipped health care work force that doesn’t understand the special needs of older adults only worsens the situation, according to Dr. Dan G. Blazer, a professor for psychiatry and behavioral science at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina, who chaired the IOM panel that wrote the report. He calls the findings a “wake-up call that we need to prepare now or our older population and their extended families will suffer the consequences.”

Geriatric health care is in many ways different from general health care and requires specialized training. Older people undergo metabolic changes, making it more difficult for them to tolerate certain medications and thereby increasing the risk of overdosing. Also, age-related cognitive impairments can affect the ability to comply with medication instructions. Other existing physical health problems can mask or distract from mental health needs and leave those undiagnosed and untreated. Grief and depression caused by loss of loves ones, social isolation or alcohol and drug abuse can accelerate the mental decline.

All health care workers, including primary care physicians, nurses and social workers, who are in frequent contact with older patients must be able to recognize the symptoms of mental health problems and provide at least some basic form of treatment, says the report. Regrettably, there are relatively few opportunities for medical professionals to get more training in geriatric mental health care. There are also not enough financial incentives that would encourage them to enter this field.

The report concludes with a warning to lawmakers about the significant shortcomings of the nation’s health care force facing a rapidly aging population. The IOM panel urges Congress to provide additional funding of resources to evaluate, coordinate and facilitate the efforts of health care workers taking on these enormous challenges.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Fast Food Consumption Around the World Linked to Health Risks

July 8th, 2012 at 1:23 pm by timigustafson
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A growing preference for Western-style fast food in Asian and Southeast Asian countries shows already an impact on their populations’ health, and not in a good way, according a newly released study by the University of Michigan (UM).

Researchers of the university’s School of Public Health found that Chinese residents in Singapore were at a higher risk of developing diabetes and heart disease since fast food restaurant chains like McDonald’s, Burger King and KFC started setting up shop in the 1980s. Prior to that time, American-style fast food was practically unknown there and diseases like these were comparatively rare.

“What we found was a dramatic public health impact by fast food, a product that is primarily a Western import into a completely new market,” Odegaard said in an interview with the Duluth News Tribune (7/5/2012), a local Minnesota newspaper.

According to the study report, which was published online in the journal Circulation by the American Heart Association (AHA), people who consumed fast food even as little as once a week, increased their risk of developing coronary heart disease by 20 percent compared to those who never touched it. The rate jumped to 50 percent for those who indulged two to three times per week, and to 80 percent for those who went beyond that. Regular consumption of fast food also seemed to lead to a substantially higher risk of type 2 diabetes, according to the study.

Until now, there has been surprisingly little research on potential links between fast food and health risks and that was mainly focused on the United States. Andrew Odegaard, a post-doctoral researcher at UM and study leader said he wanted to look at a Southeast Asian population because of the relatively small time frame since fast food was introduced there and also because the population there is quickly becoming a hotbed for diet and lifestyle diseases similar to the U.S.

In cooperation with the National University of Singapore, the UM team analyzed medical records and questionnaires about diet and lifestyle habits of over 50,000 Chinese Singapore residents. During the study’s 16-year follow-up period, 2,252 participants developed diabetes and 1,397 died of heart attacks or heart-related diseases.

Although focused on a relatively small group, the study results could be relevant for future research in public health on a global scale. “The consumption of Western-style fast food is really growing in Asia and South and Southeast Asia, in countries where there are a lot of developing economies,” said Odegaard in the interview. [For the major fast-food chains], “this is their primary engine of growth. What the companies have going on in North America is steady, the market is saturated, but there is real growth in the growing economies.”

Critics of the report have called the results inconclusive because many of the applied data were largely based on self-reporting by participants, which is often considered imprecise and unreliable. Also, critics say that unhealthy eating habits tend to go hand in hand with other poor lifestyle choices, such as smoking, drinking and sedentary behavior. Poverty and lack of access to healthcare may also play a role. Singling out fast food as the one culprit would therefore be unreasonable.

Still, it is undeniable that the growing popularity of Western eating styles is coinciding with a dramatic increase in obesity and related illnesses in many parts of the world. Even in places like Brazil, where the government has made serious efforts to limit access to fast food in schools and residential areas to protect the public’s health, especially of children, the rates of diabetes and heart disease are going up. Apparently even some of the most stringent existing regulations don’t suffice.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

How Damaging Is Yo-Yo Dieting?

July 4th, 2012 at 3:52 pm by timigustafson
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Yo-yo dieting, a.k.a. weight cycling, a continuing pattern of losing and regaining weight, can be one of the most frustrating experiences people with weight problems may undergo.

The term, first created by Dr. Kelly D. Brownell of Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, refers to a decrease of 10 pounds or more of body weight through significant calorie restrictions, followed by sometimes rapid, sometimes gradual weight gain after the regimen ends. It is an unproductive process that can lead to emotional upheaval and serious health problems.
Some diet regimens require participants to adopt radical changes in their existing eating patterns, including cutting out entire food groups such as fat or carbohydrates. While this can result in quick weight loss, it also makes it tempting to revert to old eating habits later on.

When a diet, any diet, includes starvation-like low-calorie intake, the body first adapts to conserve energy by slowing down the metabolism (the way it burns food for energy). But when the near starvation period is then followed by a return to former eating habits (e.g. regular overeating or bouts of binge eating), the body reacts by storing fat faster. That is why many dieters end up heavier than they were before their initial weight loss efforts. Also, with each new cycle of weight gain and weight loss, the metabolism becomes less efficient, making it even harder to repeat former successes.

“Unfortunately, yo-yo dieting is probably the most common outcome of efforts to lose weight,” said Dr. Thomas Wadden, director of the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in an interview on the subject with USA Today. “People do lose weight, but the majority regain some or all of their weight, whether it’s over one year, two years, three years or five.”

The experience of seeing one’s initial successes being undone time and again takes a toll on people emotionally, which can be quite stressful, Dr. Wadden said. “People often feel ashamed, humiliated and powerless.”

But it’s more than just feelings of shame and humiliation that aggravates the problem, according to Dr. Tracy L. Bale of the University of Pennsylvania who conducted a study on the high failure rate of weight management, published in the Journal of Neuroscience. Dr. Bale and her colleagues found that dieting itself can change how the brain responds. Based on experiments with mice, the researchers observed that alternating eating behavior – like switching from near-starvation to overeating – lead to changes in the brains of the animals. In other words, the experience of famine (dieting) “taught” the rodents to overindulge in highly caloric foods as soon as they had access to them, just in case there would be more lean times in the future. From an evolutionary perspective, this makes a lot of sense and there is no reason to think that these mechanisms won’t apply to humans as well. The problem is that in our food environment today with its plentiful supplies these effects often work against us.

However, not everyone agrees that yo-yo dieting is an all-around bad thing. At least one study suggests that losing weight, even if it’s gained right back, is better than remaining obese all the time. Based on experiments with mice, researchers found that yo-yo dieters may be healthier and live longer than those who do nothing about their weight. Dr. Edward List, a scientist at Ohio University’s Edison Biotechnology Institute and lead author of the study report thinks that gaining and losing weight by itself does not seem detrimental to one’s life expectancy.

Still, some damage that is hard to reverse can result from significant weight fluctuations, one being muscle loss during rapid weight reduction, which is often replaced by fat gain afterwards. Both affect the metabolic rate, and not in a good way.

So what are workable alternatives to yo-yo dieting? Obviously, there are no easy answers. Setting realistic weight loss goals is certainly a part of it. Opting for small changes over time instead of trying for dramatic results is also recommended. So is observing appropriate portion sizes. And the need for regular exercise goes without saying.

Deprivation alone will rarely do the trick. If you don’t enjoy the kind of food your weight loss diet requires, you will not stick to it no matter how beneficial it may be to your health. So, eat the food you like, get as many important nutrients as possible and give your body the time it needs to readjust. After all, you want to lose weight not only for the pounds but for your health’s sake.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Stress at Work Often Leads to Poor Eating Habits at Home

July 1st, 2012 at 5:53 pm by timigustafson
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Working parents may have a harder time to put healthy food on the table than those who are part-time employed or stay at home, a recent study found. While parental employment provides many important benefits for families, work-related stress can negatively affect eating habits at home.

“An increasing number of studies have observed associations between mothers’ full-time employment and less healthful food environments,” wrote Dr. Katherine Bauer, a researcher and assistant professor of public health at Temple University’s Center for Obesity Research and Education and one of the authors of the study report.

The results of this study showed that full-time employed parents tended to prepare fewer family meals. They also encouraged their children less often to eat a healthy diet compared to parents who had more time to spend at home. Families with both parents working had also an overall lower intake of nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables.

Full-time employed fathers spent even less time on food preparation than working mothers. Work-related stress among both parents often lead to less than ideal eating habits at home, including less frequent sit-down meals and higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverage and fast food by both children and parents.

For the study, Dr. Bauer and her team analyzed data of over 3,700 parents of adolescents living in a Midwestern metropolitan area. The report was published in the journal Social Science & Medicine (August 2012).

Although the study’s focus on work-related stress and its effects on families’ diets was somewhat unique, its findings should hardly come as a surprise. Parents who try to balance work and child-rearing have to be as efficient as possible when it comes to chores like food-shopping and throwing dinner together in a hurry. Naturally, there is the temptation to cut corners once in a while. Things can become problematic when the easy choices such as a quick stop at the fast food place or pizzeria on the way home develop into a regular routine. Unfortunately that happens all too often.

Especially because of their high stress levels, working parents need to take care of their nutritional needs as best as they can. “Stress increases your need for nutrients,” says Cindy Heroux, a registered dietitian and author of “The Manual That Should Have Come with Your Body.” “The more malnourished you become, the more severely stress will impact both your body and your mind.” In times of physical and mental exhaustion, it is crucial to add essential nutrients such as B-complex vitamins, antioxidants, as well as calcium and magnesium because the body is less able to store these during stress responses and becomes easily depleted. The best sources are whole foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds and low-fat dairy.

What applies to the parents, applies to the children as well, perhaps even more so. A poor diet diminishes their ability to perform at school and may inhibit their growth and development.

Obviously, many time-strapped parents won’t be able to make a lot of changes in their lifestyle over night. However, there are a few steps they can take to make things less cumbersome after a long workday. For example, older children can help in the kitchen and prepare simple but healthy meals like salads on their own. If there is no time for frequent trips to the grocery store, frozen vegetables and lean sources of protein, such as chicken or seafood, can be stored in the freezer for later use.

What matters most is a good understanding of the importance of a balanced diet, especially in times of stress. The last thing families can afford is getting sick because they’re run down and in dire need of replenishing their resources. Sometimes, it may be just a matter of resetting priorities.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Eating on the Run Starts Early

June 27th, 2012 at 5:19 pm by timigustafson
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Life is hectic. Nothing’s new about that. As a result, families find it increasingly hard, if not outright impossible, to make time for an old-fashioned sit-down meal at any time of the week, even on weekends. Food manufacturers know this all too well and are eager to provide time-strapped parents with ever more options to feed hungry mouths in an instant and without much effort.

Take, for example, the growing popularity of food pouches that have hit the market not too long ago and are quickly becoming a must-have staple in the snack arsenal of moms all over the country. These pouches, equipped with little plastic spouts at the top, allow young children to suck on mixes of fruit-, vegetable- and grain purees whenever they feel like it. No chopping or blenderizing needed. And no spoon-feeding either! Fighting over every bite when the picky eater refuses to cooperate? Thing of the past.

One producer of these pouches is Plum Organics from Emeryville, California. Its C.E.O., Neil Grimmer, sees his products as a tool that frees parents from the burden of having to observe structured mealtimes. “Regular mealtimes just add one more item to the schedule,” he said in an interview with the New York Times (6/21/2012). Mobile food technology for the modern family, as he calls it, can change all that. “It’s on-the-go snacking, on-the go nourishment. It moves with kids and puts control in their hands.”

Critics have questioned whether the ubiquitous availability of food in lieu of regular sit-down meals is a desirable move. Dr. Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell University and best-selling author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think,” cautioned that innovations like the pouch move us “away from a generation of a certain kind of discipline and of a clean-your-plate attitude.” (New York Times ibid.) His concern is that eliminating structure around eating may also have negative consequences beyond issues of nutrition. “It’s going to create a lot of self-absorbed kids,” he said.

Scheduled meals, by their very nature, set boundaries that are otherwise missing. Kids learn to wait for their turn to be served and to eat, they acquire important social skills such as table manners, and they get a sense of the value their food has.

All-day snacking, on the other hand, offers none of that. It can also easily lead to weight gain, even from relatively healthy foods, due to loss of control over one’s calorie intake. Kids who grow up nibbling all day will likely continue to be grazers as adults.

Once these habits are formed, parents will find it hard to make positive changes. “While I recognize that kids get hungry and a well-timed snack can head off a world of problems, I often lament the fact that my kids have learned to expect a snack every time we go away from home for longer than an hour,” wrote Betsy Shaw, a mother and writer for BabyCenter.com. The expectation is that food is available at all times and without delay. Its existence is never questioned. And because it is there, it gets consumed, often mindlessly, as Dr. Wansink would say.

Giving kids more control over their eating patterns with the help of food pouches and the likes may be convenient and time-saving. But it also has the potential of making bad things worse in the fight against childhood obesity. Parents who use these items should be advised to do so with caution, just as they must limit snack foods and sodas. Their children’s nutritional health deserves absolute priority.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Healthy Eating But Not Dieting Recommended for Pregnant Women

June 21st, 2012 at 6:38 am by timigustafson
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A new study on dietary recommendations for pregnant women concluded that healthy eating and calorie control during pregnancy can help prevent obstetric complications. Also, pregnant women who are overweight or obese can lose weight safely by improving their eating habits but not by dieting.

The study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health in the United Kingdom and published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), was based on the results of research involving more than 7,000 women. Both in Europe and North America, up to 40 percent of women gain more than the normal amount of additional weight due to pregnancy, which can cause a number of health problems associated with excess weight.

The researchers said that following a healthy diet instead of “eating for two” can help prevent the risk of a host of complications during pregnancy. However, current guidelines do not advocate dieting for weight loss during that time. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) warns that calorie restriction for the purpose of weight loss during pregnancy may harm the health of the unborn child.

Observing healthy eating habits, of course, is important at any time in life, but it matters even more for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant. A low-calorie, nutrient-dense diet that includes lots of fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein sources is beneficial for both mother and child. While there is no specific “pregnancy diet,” nutritional balance in both quality and quantity of the food an expecting mother eats is key.

Most women feel more often hungry than they did before their pregnancy, tempting them to overeat on occasion. To prevent this from happening, it is perfectly permissible to break with one’s usual eating pattern of three daily meals and nibble instead on several smaller servings throughout the day. Healthy snack foods can help with sudden hunger pangs. This approach can also work if nausea, food aversions or indigestion make it uncomfortable to eat and digest regular-size meals.

The most important issue is to eat as nutritionally healthy as possible. This includes having good sources of protein, calcium, folic acid and iron as well as vitamins and minerals. Going through pregnancy on a strictly vegetarian diet is possible as long as a sufficient supply of complete protein is maintained. To avoid nutritional gaps, it can be useful to take a multivitamin supplement. Before taking supplements, however, pregnant women should consult with their physician. The same goes for prescription drugs and over-the-counter medications.

There are also certain foods that should be restricted or completely avoided during pregnancy. For instance, raw seafood like oysters or sushi, undercooked meat, raw eggs (in dressings and sauces), unpasteurized milk and cheese made from unpasteurized milk are all potential carriers of bacteria that can harm a fetus. Some fish species (both wild-caught and farmed) may have high amounts of methyl-mercury from environmental pollution. It has been shown that traces of metals such as mercury in the food supply can be harmful to the developing brain and nervous system of fetuses and infants. For this reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises pregnant women to limit their fish consumption to two serving per week.

Alcoholic beverages in any form should be completely avoided during pregnancy. Cutting back on caffeine, including coffee, tea, cacao, colas and even chocolate (ouch!) is also highly recommended. The best choices for drinks are plenty of water (non-chlorinated), fruit juices (made from real fruit) and low-fat or non-fat milk. Empty calories and excessively high amounts of sugar from sodas benefit neither the mother nor the baby and should be kept to a minimum.

Last but not least, it is a good idea to create a health-promoting environment. That includes a thorough inspection of the refrigerator and pantry. If necessary, nutritionally inferior items should be tossed out and replaced with better ones – before temptation strikes.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Marital Bliss Can Promote a Healthy Lifestyle

June 17th, 2012 at 12:11 pm by timigustafson
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Couples who eat and exercise together have a better chance to manage their weight and stay fit, according to a study from the University of Michigan School of Public Health. What matters most is good communication and a shared commitment to a health-promoting lifestyle.

When both partners take responsibility for their own as well as each other’s well-being, they have a much better chance to succeed in their efforts. If those goals are only pursued by one of the partners, it can be a frustrating experience.

Married men, more than women, tend to make lifestyle changes “to keep the peace” rather than out of conviction, according to Dr. Derek Griffith, one of the authors of the study report. If men don’t like their wives’ food choices, they often make up for the deprivation when they are away from home, sometimes in form of binge eating. “The key to married men adopting a healthier diet is for couples to discuss and negotiate the new, healthier menu changes as a team,” he said.

Typically, both men and women tend to gain a small amount of weight after getting married. 10 to 15 percent of additional body weight is not unusual during the first two years of married life. “When you have these kinds of big life changes, your weight can go up,” said Dr. Dmitry Tumin, a sociologist at Ohio State University, who conducted an extensive study on the subject. He found that on average married women are 46 percent more likely to gain weight than women who remain single. Men are also more prone to weight gain after marriage but even more so after divorce. After the age of 30, the risk of weight gain is considerably greater for men than for women when they undergo changes in marital status. “As you get older, having a sudden change in your life like marriage or divorce is a bigger shock than it would have been when you were younger,” said Dr. Tumin.

The takeaway from these studies is that couples have a tremendous influence on each other’s health – for better or worse. It is not just a matter of who does the food shopping and home cooking but even what kind of furniture is chosen, how big the TV is and where it’s located, whether there’s room for fitness equipment in the house, etc, etc. One study found that even the size of the living room couch has a direct impact on its owners’ eating habits. The more comfortable people get, stretching out on the sofa or La-Z-Boy, the more snacks and junk food they’re likely to consume.

“Watching TV and snacking on junk food have become ‘complimentary behaviors’ for many people,” said Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. While watching TV, people don’t get any exercise, they see tons of food advertisements, which stimulates their appetite, and because they are distracted, they quickly lose control over their food intake. “It’s a perfect storm of unhealthy behavior,” he said.

The good news is that couples can encourage each other to make positive changes and lend support when sticking to a health regimen gets tough. Both partners should also be patient and forgiving when some of the inevitable lapses occur.

Instead of trying to “revolutionize” their entire lives, people should take on one or two manageable changes at a time. For instance, instead of tossing out a spouse’s less-than-healthy but beloved stash of snack foods and replacing it with green vegetables, it can be more helpful to add a few more nutritious items here and there and allow for a phase-out period for the rest.

The same goes for exercising. It makes no sense to start out with a bang when one or both partners haven’t been physically active for a while. If one is in worse shape than the other, consideration and patience are most important. Mutual encouragement and shared successes over time will lead to better results.

Last but not least, it is extremely important to acknowledge and applaud each other’s progress. Being seen by one’s partner as attractive and desirable is a crucial element of marriage that never changes. If wanting to look great in sexy lingerie or to make her melt in your strong arms is all the motivation you need, then that’s the way to go.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

Cruise to Lose

June 13th, 2012 at 12:16 pm by timigustafson
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It is a common and often lamented phenomenon that people gain weight while on vacation. Especially cruises are known as food traps where travelers tend to quickly lose control over their calorie intake. With all the fantastic culinary displays, all included in the prepaid fare, how could anyone resist overindulging? Well, it depends on your itinerary. Nowadays, you may come home leaner and fitter than you left.

Just take Celebrity Cruises, for example. The 2,850-passenger “Celebrity Eclipse” offers highly intensive weight loss programs on the scale of NBC’s reality show, “The Biggest Loser.” Participants can join all-day exercise classes, wellness lectures and healthy cooking demonstrations. Bob Harper himself, one of the show’s principal trainers, has been hired to give keynote speeches about getting motivated and adopting a health-promoting lifestyle. Those who sign up for the “Loser Cruise” will also have access to special weight-loss-friendly meal choices that are not part of the regular menus on board.

It’s a great concept. You learn to eat better, lose weight, pick up a few tricks from professional health experts and still feel you’re on a vacation of a lifetime. Who says you can’t have it all?

To make diet and lifestyle changes, it is important to get away from your everyday environment once in a while, said Harper. “The biggest obstacles to healthy living are bad habits we fall into over the years. We hope that people will jump at the chance to take a fun vacation and learn how easy it is to adopt a healthy, active lifestyle.”

Celebrity is not the only cruise line that has discovered this new travel niche. Royal Caribbean’s star ship, “Freedom of the Seas,” has one of the largest and most sophisticated spa and fitness centers at sea today. A 17,000-square-foot workout arena, a rock-climbing wall, ice rink, luxury spa and boxing ring offer a playground the size of a supermarket. Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 with its Canyon Ranch SpaClub® and Costa Cruise Line’s Costa Concordia, whose spa and fitness center covers two entire decks, are even larger.

And it’s not just the mega-ships that do their utmost to accommodate a new breed of fitness seeking passengers. Smaller-size ship operators follow suit, too. Windstar Cruises, best known for its dramatic display of white triangular sails, has expanded its fitness facilities and provides many healthy meal options, including all vegetarian menus.

Obviously, the opportunities for breaking some sweat are not limited to onboard activities. Cruise operators offer programs in almost any sports category imaginable, including many onshore daytrips for hiking, biking, horseback riding, kayaking, rafting, climbing and more.

The bottom line is that getting heavier on vacation is no longer as inevitable as it once seemed to be. “With all the exercise offerings on board of today’s cruise ships, you no longer have to leave your workout regimen at home,” said Anita Dunham-Potter, a travel columnist. “Health and fitness is the new wave in cruising, and that’s something to jump up and down about.”

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian 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.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), 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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