Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Can Meditation Make You Smarter?

February 25th, 2015 at 10:38 am by timigustafson
  • Comments

People who meditate regularly over long periods of time in their lives suffer smaller age-related decreases in brain volume than those who don’t, according to a new study on the long-term effects of practices like transcendental meditation, yoga, tai chi, and other relaxation techniques.

Some of the study’s outcomes confirm what prior research has shown, namely that meditating may be helpful for improving one’s concentration, memory, verbal fluency, and creativity. Surprisingly, though, this latest investigation also found that loss of brain volume – especially grey matter – due to aging was less significant in habitual meditators compared to their non-meditating counterparts.

Although most forms of meditation are rooted in religious and spiritual traditions, millions now practice purely for the enhancement of their health and wellbeing, according to statistics by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Health Statistics (NCHS). Most commonly, meditation and other relaxation techniques are thought of as an essential part of stress management.

While not all experts are convinced of the effectiveness of meditation in promoting both mental and physical health, it is by and large accepted that therapeutic measures to induce calmness can be instrumental in easing psychological stresses like anxiety and depression as well as physical pain. Some studies have suggested that symptoms of medical conditions like asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), high blood pressure, and even heart disease and cancer can be better managed with meditation. Also smoking cessation and recovery from alcohol and drug abuse show higher success rates when meditation is included in the process.

Even though the jury may still be out on whether, or to what extent, meditation and other practices of mindfulness can materially alter the brain, it is certain that chronic stress causes real damage. Neuroscientists have long discovered that cortisol, the stress hormone, can indeed create lasting changes to the brain structure and detrimentally affect brain functions. Reducing the impact of stress by engaging in effective countermeasures such as meditation can mitigate at least some of those injuries.

Beginners may find it hard to establish a meditation routine. Not everything works for everyone. While there are many types of exercises, all recommend the following:

First, find a time and place where you won’t be interrupted or distracted. Second, choose a style that makes you most comfortable. You may prefer to sit, lay down, move, or walk. Third, choose a focal point that is easier for you to maintain such as a particular word, object, or sensation like your breathing. Fourth, keep an open mind towards all that happens during your session. Let inevitable distractions and loss of focus pass. Do not judge or allow yourself to be discouraged. Fifth, do not measure your progress in terms of what you can achieve by outside standards. This is something you do only for your own benefit and your personal growth.

Regardless whether you turn out smarter or not, it will be worth the effort if it makes you feel better, calmer, happier, and lets you enjoy life. What could be more important?

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Going Gluten-Free by Choice Is Not Always a Good Idea

February 18th, 2015 at 12:51 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

There are plenty of people who must avoid gluten for health reasons. But there are also many who only follow a gluten-free diet because that’s the message they are given in the media, from daytime TV shows to celebrity endorsements.

The rapidly growing popularity of wheat-free and gluten-free food products over the past few years is not necessarily an indication that an ever-larger part of the population is actually suffering from food sensitivities like celiac disease, wheat allergies, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). It just means that there is now a greater awareness that such intolerances indeed exist and that diet restrictions can be helpful in easing the symptoms.

People with celiac disease have an adverse reaction to gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. If you carry the disease and eat gluten, it will trigger an autoimmune response that inflames and damages the lining of your small intestine, which can make it harder to absorb nutrients and potentially lead to nutritional deficiencies, osteoporosis, and even cancer, says Dr. Sue Shepherd, who teaches dietetics at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and who has developed a line of gluten-free foods.

A strict gluten-free diet is the only recognized treatment for celiac disease at this point. Even in the absence of obvious symptoms, sufferers from the disease must adhere to the required dietary restrictions for life, she says.

There are also other intolerances based on allergies to a protein in grains such as wheat that is not gluten, she adds, some of which are developed at a young age. Abdominal pain, distension, constipation, diarrhea, or excessive gas can be caused by an inability to break down a group of naturally occurring sugars called FODMAPS (fermentable oligo-, di- and mono-saccharides, and polyols), she explains. A low FODMAP diet can provide relief, but it is important to consult with your physician first, she says, before you change your diet, since the symptoms can be similar to other sensitivities.

Also, celiac disease and IBS can be difficult to diagnose because they affect individuals differently, showing severe symptoms in some, or none at all in others.

What’s important to know for those who decide to cut back on grain-based foods or take up a gluten-free diet regimen by choice, not by necessity, is that grains, especially whole grains, provide a host of essential nutrients that the body shouldn’t be deprived of.

A recent study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that eating more whole grains can decrease the risk of death, particularly from heart disease, by 15 percent. Much of the benefits come from the bran, the fibrous coating that is unfortunately removed by food manufacturers in the processing and refining of wheat and rice. Higher bran intake alone was linked in the study with up to 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease.

People are mistaken if they think of a gluten-free, wheat-free diet as healthy eating, warns Dr. Shepherd. Many food items that happen to be free of gluten are nutritionally deficient, and people who observe these diet restrictions lack some of the most essential nutrients, including fiber, folate, vitamin A, magnesium, calcium, and iron.

So if you choose to eliminate certain foods or food groups for whatever reason, it matters greatly that you still diversify your diet as much as possible to make up for the losses you inevitably incur.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Even the Health-Conscious Prefer the Fast Lane

February 11th, 2015 at 2:48 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Fast food seems to be losing its grip on America’s eating culture. The industry’s behemoth, McDonald’s, is struggling with reportedly significant drops in profits, leading to the recent resignation of its top executive. The reason? It’s called the “Chipotle effect.”

Chipotle, the Mexican restaurant chain, has come to define the category of what is now called “fast casual,” an industry section between fast food and full-service casual dining. Since the late 1990s, it has grown by over 500 percent, ten times as much as its fast food competitors during the same time period, according to Euromonitor International, a leading consumer research firm.

What makes fast casual so attractive? Price, for one thing. Average prices per meal range from $9 to $13, roughly twice what one would typically spend at a fast food joint. But there is also the perception of better value in terms of food quality, service, and ambiance. In addition, there are other elements now more predominantly on customers’ minds like transparency of food production and sustainability. Also, flexible offerings and the ability to customize nearly all items on the menu are welcomed.

Especially Millennials, those who came of age around the year 2000, have embraced the fast casual dining idea. They are less inclined to eat junk food because they view it as unhealthy, but they still expect quick service and affordable prices, according to surveys by the NPD Group, a market research company.

The economic downturn beginning in 2007 lead to an uptick in fast casual dining among people who tried to spend less on eating out but were also conscious about their dietary health needs, the researchers say. Companies like Chipotle, Panera, Boston Market, Noodles & Company, and Zoe’s Kitchen all benefited from these trends.

But fast food places like McDonald’s and Wendy’s did not just sit idly watching their customer base diminish, according to CIT, a commercial financing, lending, and insurance firm. Traditional fast food chains now increasingly mimic their new competitors by offering some similar features. For example, McDonald’s recently introduced a “build-your-own-burger” format, and Wendy’s tries to provide a more inviting atmosphere in its restaurants.

“[All this] points to a future in which the quick service food industry looks a lot more like Chipotle and a lot less like, well, McDonald’s,” says Roberto A. Ferdman, a reporter for Wonkblog who covers issues of food and economics.

The question is whether the desire for healthier eating is met by these newly favored outlets, or whether the greater value they claim to offer is merely perceived as such.

When you visit a Chipotle restaurant or go on the company’s website, you can find a vast variety of food choices, many of which can indeed be categorized as healthy. I also applaud their efforts to make nutritional information easily accessible with their nutrition calculator that includes data not only on calorie amounts but also on fat, sodium, and sugar content, all of which are of concern when it comes to fast food.

But still, it is important to remember that all restaurant food is ultimately beyond your control. Even being able to make multiple modifications doesn’t give you the same kind of control over ingredients and cooking techniques you have when preparing meals from scratch at home. For optimal health, this is and remains your best option.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Trying to Cut Back on Salt Is Hard to Do

February 4th, 2015 at 6:17 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

The warnings have been loud and clear for a long time: High levels of sodium (salt) intake are hazardous to our health. Especially the so-called “Western diet,” which is dominated by processed foods, is notorious for its sodium content that is often obscured in hard to decipher nutrition facts labels and ingredient lists. That makes it difficult even for health-conscious consumers to keep their daily sodium doses down.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends 1,500 mg of daily sodium intake for people age 51 and older, those who suffer from hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, and African Americans in general; for everyone else, 2,300 mg is considered the tolerable upper limit. The average daily intake for most Northern Americans is about 3,400 mg – way above what is believed to be safe.

The potential consequences are multiple. While a small amount of sodium – approximately 180 mg to 500 mg per day – is necessary for the body to function properly, excessively high amounts can cause a wide range of health problems, including heart disease, kidney disease, and certain forms of cancer. At an advanced age, it can also contribute to osteoporosis. And, as a recent study found, even the brain can get affected by an elevated sodium presence, leading to adverse biochemical changes in its neurons.

Still, experts remain divided over the actual effects of dietary sodium on overall mortality. A study just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) concluded that higher sodium intake was not correlated with greater mortality risk from all causes, at least not in healthy older adults, regardless of gender or race.

As it is too often the case, contradictory findings of various studies such as these leave consumers ever more confused. Of course, only by continuously questioning and testing its work science can progress, but first ringing the alarm bells and then backtracking on issues of public interest is not always the most helpful approach. There should be a minimum of what we can agree upon before releasing guidelines and recommendations that are meant to influence people’s behavior.

This, it seems to me, is one these occasions. None of the studies I’m aware of calls for more consumption of salt in any form. None advise against keeping levels low. There is only disagreement over its impact on people’s health and well-being. For this, empirical evidence is hard to come by because it requires large-scale, long-term investigations, which are laborious and expensive. But that doesn’t mean we are completely in the dark without them.

One of the main reasons why people consume so much salt is that they are unaware of its many sources. It’s not the saltshaker that puts us at risk but sodium used by food manufacturers in countless food items, many of which don’t taste salty at all. High amounts can be found in most canned and packaged foods, including breads, breakfast cereals, soups, lunch meats, pasta sauces, pancake mixes, cheese, condiments, salad dressings, pizza, frozen dinners, even medications and nutritional supplements. In other words, sodium is nearly omnipresent in much of our commercial food supply, which makes it next to impossible to avoid.

So, if you are absolutely determined to escape the sodium trap, the best you can do is to stick with whole fruits and vegetables, lean, unprocessed meats, fresh seafood, beans and legumes, and unrefined whole grains.

On a personal note, I decided a long time ago not to even own a can opener. I like my meals made from scratch with minimally invasive cooking techniques like steaming and sautéing. To me, this is preferable to anything that can be purchased in ready-to-eat form. Soups, salads, or pasta sauces of almost endless varieties can easily be created on a whim without using any ingredients other than what Mother Nature provides. Yes, that sometimes comes with a little more work and a little less convenience, but to me, that’s part of my investment in my health and certainly worth the effort.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Too Much Salt and Too Little Potassium Makes for a Deadly Combo” and “Reducing Salt Intake by Small Amounts Could Save Thousands of Lives Every Year.”

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

More Government Advice for Healthy Eating – Do We Care?

January 28th, 2015 at 2:30 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Every five years or so, the U.S. government updates its Dietary Guidelines for Americans, advising us how to eat to stay healthy. 2015 is the next due date.

Starting in 1980, two government agencies – the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Resources (HHS) – have periodically released new recommendations based on their latest findings, which over the years has lead to well-known icons like the Food Pyramid (1992), MyPyramid (2005), and MyPlate (2011). But despite all their efforts, obesity rates and related health problems have soared in this country and elsewhere, and don’t seem to abate any time soon.

The government’s purpose of issuing dietary recommendations is to encourage people to maintain balanced and health-promoting eating habits, manage their weight, and prevent diseases. They also serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs.

But only a small fraction of Americans ever seem to consider the Guidelines or follow them, if at all, only for short periods of time. According to the NPD Group, a leading marketing research firm that studied long-term data on American eating preferences, even many health-conscious consumers live up to the recommended standards for no longer than a week out of the year. The study also found that when people attempt dietary improvements, they often tend to overeat, believing that healthier foods will do them no harm, no matter the quantities they consume.

Admittedly, the Guidelines have routinely been vague and confusing to many people, and this year’s latest update probably won’t be much different in that regard.

For instance, preliminary drafts of the coming updates suggest a substantial reduction of calorie intake from added sugars to about 10 percent of all daily calories. Currently it is estimated that most Americans get about 13 percent of total calories from added sugars. Children, adolescents, and young adults consume probably much more from sugary sodas.

Added sugars are now considered by experts a greater health threat than sodium. The problem is that, as with sodium (salt), it is hard to avoid eating sugar since it is present in most processed foods, including those that don’t even taste sweet like baked goods and condiments. So it is up to the individual consumer to detect and calculate the sugar amounts he or she’s getting by carefully deciphering nutrition facts labels and ingredients lists – not an easy task for the most committed dieters among us, and food manufacturers will probably not be too willing to help along.

As they did before, the authors of the 2015 Guidelines will likely caution against high intake of meat products, especially red and processed meats. The current recommendations call for using a wide variety of protein sources, including lean meat cuts, fish, poultry, and also vegetarian alternatives like beans and peas.

One issue that could be addressed for the first time this year is the impact of both food production and consumption on the environment. Here too, increasing meat consumption worldwide plays a significant role. A diet that is lower in animal-based foods would not only be health-promoting but could also help lessen environmental damages, an advisory panel to the government agencies suggested.

If the government’s goal of advising people about their eating habits is to improve public health and cut medical expenditures, its recommendations cannot be in the abstract. The latest version of the Guidelines, MyPlate, has been praised for being more intuitive, intelligible, and actionable than some of its predecessors. But still, when it comes right down to the dinner table (or more likely, the TV tray), to be truly beneficial, the given advice must take a hands-on approach. Let’s hope there’s more progress to be made.

The final version of the Guidelines is scheduled to be released later this year.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Dietary Guidelines to Better Address Environmental Concerns

January 21st, 2015 at 5:57 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

As you may have heard, the city of Seattle, my hometown, has adopted new waste management policies that require food scraps to be disposed of in separate containers, instead of mixing them in with regular garbage. The ordinance, which was approved last September, has gone into effect on January 1st, 2015.

The purpose of the new law is to prevent rotting food waste from ending up in dumps and landfills where it releases methane, a greenhouse gas that contributes significantly more to the risk of climate change than carbon dioxide (CO2), according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Other government agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), are also beginning to pay greater attention to the environmental impact of food production and consumption.

As reported in the press, an advisory panel to the USDA is scheduled to submit new recommendations that not only address healthier diet choices but also concerns about costs to the environment. According to these reports, an early draft of the recommendations suggested that reducing animal-based food intake in favor of greater plant-based food consumption would not only be healthier for consumers but also the environment and would be more sustainable than currently prevailing diet patterns.

One study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that especially raising livestock for food takes a heavy toll on the environment.

“There may be no other human activity that has a bigger impact on he planet than raising livestock,” a Time magazine report stated in reference to the PNAS study.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that livestock is responsible for about a fifth of all greenhouse gases caused by human activity worldwide, a number some critics say is in reality more than twice as high.

Livestock-related greenhouse gas emission is a global problem. Most of what we are currently seeing stems from developing countries, according to the PNAS study. An ever-greater demand for land to raise cattle in particular leads to further deforestation, which is dramatically noticeable in South America and parts of Asia. Increasing appetite for meat in countries with rapid economical growth only adds to the equation.

Some of the steps now considered or taken on local or regional levels may seem insignificant and insufficient in the face of such immense challenges, but they are helpful in raising greater awareness that much of our food production as well as consumption is reaching its limits and won’t be sustainable forever. This is not only a political or economical issue but foremost a matter of personal responsibility. Granted that changing behavior is always a complicated and uncertain undertaking, it is still the only way we can hope to succeed.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Where Did All the Food Go?

January 12th, 2015 at 5:24 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

The holiday season is behind us, and while the cheering was a lot of fun, it is now time to go back to a healthier eating regimen, especially if the scale indicates that you’ve been overdoing it a little. Unfortunately, the pound or two you may have acquired over the past few weeks tend to stick around and will not easily be gotten rid of even with dieting and exercise.

The reason is that most people get used to eating more over the holidays, and while they plan to cut back after New Year, they often still hold on to larger servings, which by now have become the new normal, says Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books, 2006) and lead researcher of a new study on the subject of holiday weight gain.

Following hundreds of families over an extended period of time that included the holiday season, the researchers found that participants indeed bought more healthy foods like fruit and vegetables in the days after New Year but also kept eating junk like sugary snacks and fast food, which led to hundreds of additional calories, in some cases twice as many as they consumed during the holidays themselves. So much for good intentions.

The problem is that once people start eating larger portions on special occasions, they tend to continue doing so, although they may believe they are not. Insidiously, it becomes a regular habit that leads to ever-increasing food consumption year after year, with all the well-known consequences of unhealthy weight gain, says Dr. Wansink.

And those consequences are no laughing matter. For both men and women it only gets harder to lose body fat as they grow older. Especially at menopause, most women begin to store more fat around the waist, even if they don’t get much heavier.

And as waistlines increase, so do a number of serious health risks, according to research conducted at Harvard University.

Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it is a key factor in a variety of health problems, the study report warns. Visceral fat, which is situated in the spaces between the abdominal organs, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.

The simplest way to determine abdominal fat amounts is to measure your waist size. A waist circumference of 40+ inches for men, and 35+ inches for women is considered an elevated health risk, although this can slightly vary by ethnicity. Also, abdominal fat can be problematic even in people whose Body-Mass-Index (BMI) is within a healthy range.

So, if you wonder where all the goodies from your recent celebrating have ended up, and your belly size gives you a clue, be advised that you have work to do.

Yes, real, not just perceived, reduction of food servings may be in order. But equally important is to improve the nutritional quality of your diet. In addition, greater efforts in the gym, the pool, or on the bike path may be required. Strength training (a.k.a. weight lifting) is highly recommended. But foremost, make changes in your eating and lifestyle habits for the long run, so you don’t have to start over next time the holidays come around.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

New Year’s Resolutions That Don’t Stand a Chance

January 6th, 2015 at 5:25 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

We all like to start anew once in a while, get a makeover, leave behind what doesn’t suit us anymore, or simply try something different. Then there is also that nagging feeling that we should change our ‘evil ways.’ When people make promises to themselves this time of the year, it is often about the latter.

Among the most popular New Year’s resolutions are losing weight and getting in shape, followed by kicking bad habits like smoking and drinking. Other favorites include making more time for family, charity, education, travel, and other goals of personal improvement. Interestingly enough, working harder, finding a better job, and earning more money do not even make most top ten lists.

The unfortunate thing about these good intentions is that they usually don’t last and cause only more pressure and stress, according to Achim Achilles, a professional athlete and author of books and columns on sport and fitness issues.

For example, he says, “I will exercise more” is a classic resolution. That’s why gyms and fitness studios are so crowded in the early days of January. But soon things quiet down again. The reason is that such plans are much too vague. They don’t offer specific objectives that can be clearly defined and measured in terms of progress. Consequently, most people lose interest because there is not enough to hold their attention. A better idea would be to take up one particular activity that is fun and provides concrete benefits.

Also, some goals aren’t realistic. If your aspiration is to run a marathon by spring, even though you’ve not been performing on that level for some time (or ever), you’re bound to fail. And if you train too hard, the outcome will be equally as frustrating. The best approach is to have reasonable expectations and work diligently towards fulfilling them. If that means being able to run one, two, or five kilometers at a time, that is a great accomplishment and should be appreciated as such, Achilles says.

Another of these classic vows is, “I will lose weight.” It’s too ambitious and too prone to failure, again because there is no clear definition of success. If losing weight only means lower numbers on the scale, that won’t suffice. Rather than starving yourself for days and weeks on end, ask yourself how the unwanted weight gain occurred in the first place and how its causes can be eliminated. Listen to your body and understand its needs first, Achilles recommends. Then act accordingly.

What you hear often after the holidays is, “I will never eat cookies or candy again.” This, too, is a good intention, but not very practical. Yes, it is helpful to understand how sugary treats contribute to weight gain, and the same goes for other less-than-healthy items like snacks and fast food. But nutrients like sugar and salt are hidden in countless foods we consume every day, so they are not easily eliminated. It would be more constructive to ask yourself how much of these temptations you are prone to fall for and why. Do they give you a boost when you are tired or bored, do they come in handy when you are stressed? If so, perhaps you can find better solutions than reaching for the sweet stuff.

After all the stress from shopping and preparing for celebrations, a lot of people pledge “to spend more time on what really matters.” This one, by contrast to many other resolution ideas, may not be so hard to realize. But it takes discipline and a willingness to set priorities, says Achilles. First, you need to figure out what you want to make time for. It shouldn’t just be another activity or distraction but rather something you can truly profit from. That can be as simple as sitting still by yourself, meditating, or finding something meaningful to do that helps others but also gives you pleasure and a sense of purpose. There is no definition of “what really matters in life” – there is only what you can do to fill the void.

Happy New Year, and best of luck with your plans, whatever they may be.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Do Something Health-Promoting Every Day

December 31st, 2014 at 1:40 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

“Resolution season” is upon us, that notoriously short period at the beginning of the year when people take notice of the fallout from their holiday celebrations. For some, it’s almost an annually reoccurring event, like the holidays themselves. Gym memberships are initiated or renewed, commercial weight loss programs sell like hotcakes, nutritionists and fitness coaches work overtime. Then after a few weeks (at best), things go back to normal as interest in better eating and lifestyle choices wanes or becomes an intermittent afterthought.

I’m not a cynical person, but the numbers don’t lie. According to a report by the New York Times, Google searches for the word “diet” fall to an all-year low in December, especially in the second half of the month, and then jump up sharply on New Year’s Day and throughout the following week, only to descend to an average level shortly thereafter. By February it pretty much bottoms out again, and on Valentine’s Day nobody cares about dieting at all any more.

You might say, that’s human nature. Attention spans are short and distractions are many. It’s just too hard to stay the course when a diet and fitness regimen requires long-term commitment and serious sacrifice. And of course, you would be right. No pain, no gain.

What concerns me more, however, is the apparent idea that taking better care of one’s health and well-being is only necessary in the aftermath of some serious transgression, and that a quick repair job – like going on a crash diet or some other obscure fad promoted by a celebrity or fashionable media outlet – will do the trick.

The truth is that maintaining good health is not a trick but a lifelong task. How well we fare, of course, depends on multiple factors, including genetic makeup, upbringing, education, financial and social circumstances, as well as diseases or injuries we may suffer along the way. But more importantly, the status of our health depends on the lifestyle choices we make every single day – what we eat and how we eat; how much we exercise and what kind of exercise we do; how much sleep we get and how good the quality of our sleep is; how much stress we encounter and how well we handle it; the list is almost endless.

Health-promoting measures are only beneficial if taken on a continuing basis. It’s an ongoing, never-ending process. There is no on- or off-season. There is no time for short-lived observance followed by neglect. It doesn’t work that way.

In my book, “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still have Fun,” I have included a graphic that shows a number of different containers, all connected with one another through small pipes. Each container stands for an important aspect of a healthy lifestyle. Each is filled with content, although not necessarily to the same level. How much is put in each container depends on the person who is filling it. But if one or several of the receptacles run low, the others are beginning to get drained as well by virtue of their interconnectedness through the pipes. So let’s say, if the container named “Nutritional Health” is emptying out, it will also affect the others, including “Physical Health,” “Emotional Health,” even “Intellectual- or Mental Health” and “Social Health.” In other words, what we neglect in one area haunts us eventually in others because they all depend on each other. So, it’s not only important to adhere to a healthy diet – every day, not just once in a while – but to get it right in all departments.

Balancing Your Health Needs

That’s what being healthy really means – an all-encompassing state of wellness. But this is never completely achieved. It is always a work in progress that needs to be attended to at all times, all year round, for a lifetime.

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Getting Back in Shape After the Holidays – Don’t Rush It!

December 27th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by timigustafson
  • Comments

Now that the holidays are behind us, the damage inflicted on waistlines and other body parts bearing the marks of every dietary misdeed, no matter how harmless and forgivable it seemed at the time, will be lamented by millions. But I say, no need for self-flagellation. What’s done is done. Let bygones be bygones, we’ll do better from hereon in.

My regular readers know that I am no friend of New Year’s resolutions because they only lead to greater pain and frustration and, for most people, don’t produce lasting results anyway.

Don’t go on a guilt trip
The last thing you want to do is blame yourself for lack of willpower and discipline. Unless you avoided all the holiday cheer by hiding in a place with no contact to the outside world, there is little chance you could stay on the straight and narrow of a perfect diet regimen. It’s just the nature of the beast. So don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable.

Don’t diet right away
If you have been overeating on numerous occasions or for extended periods of time, your body has become used to the higher food intake and will want to continue on that level as the new normal. If you cut back too quickly and/or too substantially, as panicked dieters tend to do, you will feel deprived, and your body will protest with all the hunger pangs it can muster. It’s not a good recipe for successful weight loss.

Take small steps
A better approach would be to wean yourself gradually from your lately acquired eating habits by reducing portion sizes, avoiding sugary snack foods and soda drinks, and decreasing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Remember, you only have to lower your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day in order to shed one pound per week. Losing weight at a slower pace also makes it more likely that you can keep it off long-term, which, of course, should be the ultimate goal.

Stay away from crash diets
Because of their initial effectiveness, so-called crash diets are very popular, but they can do more harm than good. Don’t engage in what is known as “yo-yo dieting,” meaning that you slim down real fast but gain everything back – and oftentimes more – soon thereafter. Such weight fluctuations can damage your metabolism and make it even harder to control your weight later on.

Eat more healthy foods
If you decide to cut back on your food intake, you should not only consider the amount of calories you are planning to reduce but also important nutrients you might be missing on a weight loss diet. In fact, it is recommended that you actually increase your consumption of highly nutritious foods like fruit and vegetables, while excluding others of lesser nutritional value such as processed and refined items, to provide your body with the necessary fuel to function properly and to avoid the risk of malnutrition.

Keep stress in check
It’s easy to forget how stressful the holidays can be. You may have enjoyed yourself, but all the preparations and gatherings with colleagues, family and friends can take a toll, whether you are aware of it or not. So, when things start slowing down again, it might be a good idea to pause and take stock. Perhaps it’s time to put your own needs first for a while and be kind to yourself by taking a break. Yoga, meditation, massage, or simply taking long walks – whatever lets you calm down and become yourself again – can be helpful. Also, don’t get too stressed out right after returning to your workplace. This may be easier said than done, but you have to be aware that leftover stress from the holidays plus new stress from the workload you’re resuming can quickly burn you out before the new year has even started.

Get more sleep
Chances are the holidays have left you sleep-deprived, perhaps even more than usual. So you may want to go to bed a little earlier or sleep in for a few days, if you can. There are plenty of things you can do to readjust your sleep pattern, so you wake up refreshed instead of hung over.

It is still the best measure you can take to get back in shape. The weather may be less than inviting to go outside, but give yourself that proverbial kick in the butt and put on your running or hiking shoes, then deeply inhale some much-needed fresh air. The gyms may be extra full in early January, but resolution season is notoriously short, and within a few days you’ll be able to find plenty of vacant treadmills and stairmasters again.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, you’ll stick with your program, and all will be well in almost no time. Happy New Year!

Connect with us on FacebookTwitter and Google+

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).

Write your own blog

Do you have something to say? Are you passionate about a particular topic and can write regularly and coherently? We'd love to talk with you. Contact us today about blogging on this site.

Blog Search
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

*About Community Blogs

Community blogs are written by volunteers. They are members of our community but not employees of this site or newspaper. They have applied or were invited to blog here but their words are their own and are not edited by the editor or staff of this site, and have agreed to abide by our Terms of Use. The authors are solely responsible for their content. If you have concerns about something you read on a community blog, please contact the author directly or email us.

Would you like to have your own blog on our site? Contact us today.