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Posts Tagged ‘Healthy Living’

Body Image Cuts Both Ways for Teenagers, Studies Find

July 30th, 2015 at 2:50 pm by timigustafson

Satisfaction with one’s physical appearance is at an all-time low among today’s adolescents, and eating disorders are on the rise at an ever-younger age, according to reports by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Much of the blame goes to the media and fashion industry and their standards of beauty and fitness that are nearly impossible to reach for normal mortals.

On the other hand, too many young people don’t take warnings about overweight and obesity seriously enough and underestimate the health risks they will be facing as adults. One recently published study concluded that inaccurate self-perception of body weight among teenagers and young adults often prevents important changes in eating behavior and physical activity.

“Overweight adolescents who do not perceive their weight status properly are less likely to desire weight loss, and are more likely to have a poor diet,” wrote Dr. Jian Zhang, an epidemiologist at Jiann-Ping Hsu College of Public Health, Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, and lead author of the study report, in a press release published in the Elsevier journal.

The misperception oftentimes originates with parents who are unaware of or unsure about weight issues concerning their offspring. In fact, one study found that most parents perceived their kids’ weight as “about right,” despite ample evidence to the contrary. And even those who saw a problem believed that it was only a temporary matter that would resolve itself over time.

According to research, people in general derive their norms and ideals from their social environment rather than from set standards. Especially adolescents, who are highly impressionable and vulnerable to peer pressure, tend to measure themselves against their immediate surroundings. If the prevailing message is that only thinness is acceptable, the risk of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia may increase. Likewise, if excess weight is perceived as normal, that message may lead to unhealthy eating habits with their own set of undesirable consequences.

Becoming more conscious of and admitting to existing or developing problems is a necessary first step to adopting behavioral changes for nutritional health as well as successful weight management. It is important to find a good balance from early on. As studies have shown, once the tracks are set, it becomes much harder to implement corrections that produce lasting results later on.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


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

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

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.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


What Determines Longevity Remains a Mystery

November 19th, 2014 at 3:04 pm by timigustafson

More people than ever live past 100 years of age. So-called “supercentenarians,” those who reach 110 and beyond, are rising in numbers all over the world, 75 individuals to date and counting.

What are the causes of such extreme longevity and what is different about these ancient folks that lets them outlast normal mortals by decades? A new study tried to find answers by investigating the genetic traits of a small group of participants between the ages of 110 and 116.

By sequencing the genomes of 16 women and one man, all of whom were living in the United States at the time of the study, the researchers hoped to find genetic commonalities that could help explain their extraordinary life spans. Unfortunately, their findings were inconclusive.

“Our hope was that we would find a longevity gene,” said Dr. Stuart Kim, a professor of biology and genetics at Stanford University and lead author of the study report to Reuters. “We were pretty disappointed.”

Regardless of his study’s meager outcome, Dr. Kim remains optimistic that more research will eventually be able to identify genetic causes as the driving force behind longevity.

“This marks the beginning of the search for key genes for extreme longevity,” he said. “These supercentenarians have a different clock where they are staying really highly functional for a long time. We wanted to know what they had. It’s pretty clearly genetic.”

The reason why it is hard to pinpoint specific genetic characteristics that may be responsible for greater life expectancy is that the genetic effects are likely very complex and involve mechanisms in the body that are not yet fully understood, he said.

While experts have long debated whether nature or nurture is ultimately the decisive factor in how well we age, whether some of us are born to last longer or whether diet and lifestyle play a role, it is clear for Dr. Kim that genetic make-up outdoes anything we can add in terms of healthy living. Among the participants in his study he found no especially health-promoting eating or exercise habits. About half of them were even long-time smokers.

Also, there is no evidence that the achievements of modern medicine are extending the maximum life span today’s humans can hope for in comparison to their ancestors, according to Dr. Leonard Hayflick, a professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco and author of the gerontology classic, titled “How and Why We Age” (Ballantine Books 1994).

What advances in medical science have produced, however, is a greater possibility to delay the effects of illnesses commonly associated with old age.

Both social changes like greater hygiene, reduced rates of smoking, better diet, and other personal health and lifestyle choices, as well as medical intervention have increased for many more people the number of years they enjoy in good health and vigor and decreased the time spent in illness and decline. This phenomenon is known as “compression” because it compresses age-related susceptibility to diseases into a shorter period. It is that growing vulnerability and lessening strength to fend off illnesses that make us become more frail and eventually succumb.

And here is where nurturing can help us to fare better. By adhering to a healthy diet, controlling weight, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, managing stress, and so forth, we are indeed able to fortify our natural defenses and, as Dr. Kim suspects, slow down the clock.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Promoting Bone Health Can’t Start Too Soon, Scientists Say

October 4th, 2014 at 8:23 am by timigustafson

Insufficient Calcium and Vitamin D intake during childhood and adolescence increases the risk of osteoporosis later in life, according to a new study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Unfortunately, many youngsters don’t get enough of these important nutrients in their diet, and sedentary lifestyles and indoor activities like watching television or playing video games don’t help.

Children and adolescents should be encouraged to eat more foods containing calcium and vitamin D like milk, yogurt, and cheese. In addition, they should also regularly exercise to promote bone strength, the authors of the study report said. Greater sun exposure, a natural source of vitamin D, is also recommended. A sufficient supply of vitamin D is important because without it, only 10 to 15 percent of dietary calcium is absorbed in the body, they said.

Children who are overweight or obese, are malnourished, and have a sedentary lifestyle run the highest risk of developing weak bones, according to the study. Unsurprisingly, low-income families and minorities are most threatened by these deficiencies.

Bone health has far too long been considered an “age” issue, especially for women.

“Most people don’t start thinking about the health of their bones until midlife or later, by which time it can be too late to do very much to protect against serious bone loss and resulting fractures,” said Jane E. Brody, a columnist who writes on health issues for the New York Times. “Concern about the strength of one’s bones should start in childhood and continue through adolescence, when the body builds most of the bone that must sustain it for the remaining years of life.”

About a quarter of total adult bone mass is accrued around the age of puberty, roughly the same amount that is lost between the ages of 50 and 80. That is why this time of growth spurt is most crucial, Brody said.

“Although nothing can be done about three factors with the greatest influence on bone mass – age, gender, and genetics – two others under personal control can make the difference between suffering crippling fractures in midlife and escaping the effects of osteoporosis. […] Those are physical activity and bone-building nutrients, calcium and vitamin D.”

In addition to widespread dietary deficiencies, today’s children and adolescents also face a serious threat to their bone health from consuming large amounts of sodas. Carbonated drinks contain high levels of phosphoric acid (phosphate) and carbonic acid, which can cause an imbalance of calcium in the blood stream. For growing kids, this imbalance can have especially harmful effects on their still developing bone structure and density.

While dairy products are considered the best source of calcium, many people, including children, are lactose intolerant or choose not to include them in their diet. Fortunately, there is a vast array of calcium-containing food sources that is not dairy-based. Alternatives are calcium-fortified soymilk, tofu, sardines, salmon, turnips, kale, bok choi, broccoli, and almonds. Good sources for vitamin D are found in fatty fish like salmon and sardines, and also, to a lesser degree, in egg yolk.

If all else fails, vitamin supplements can cover some of the gaps. If you feel that you and your family are not getting enough calcium and vitamin D from your regular diet, you may want to consider making up for the difference with a daily multi-vitamin. Before giving children any supplements, however, you should first consult with their pediatrician.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


It Takes a Town to Be Healthy

August 23rd, 2014 at 4:49 pm by timigustafson

How healthy you are, or can hope to be, depends on multiple factors, including where you live.

For example, if you call Minneapolis-St. Paul home, you breath cleaner air and will find it easier to exercise outdoors than in most other American metropolitan areas because there are more walk- and bike paths than almost anywhere else. Washington D.C. has the highest number of swimming pools, tennis courts, and recreational centers in the nation, and health care providers are abundant here. Denver has the lowest obesity rate among big cities and the highest percentage of residents who are in excellent or very good health.

Of course, metropolises offer plenty of opportunities to stay healthy and fit smaller communities just can’t afford. But that doesn’t mean that small town residents are doomed.

Any place, the smaller, the better, can become a model in health-promoting living, according to Esther Dyson, a healthcare technology investor and founder of the Health Initiative Coordinating Council (HICCup), a nonprofit organization that sponsors health and lifestyle initiatives in communities all over the country.

So far, her organization has chosen five towns for a five-year trial run named “Way to Wellville,” a program to raise greater awareness of health risks such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – all mostly lifestyle-related ills that could be avoided.

While HICCup will cover initial administrative costs, the selected towns will be responsible for running the program independently.

“First, we want places that can succeed. The Wellville Challenge is not a random selection but a search for places that can make the most of the help HICCup can provide and the connections we can help them to establish,” says Dyson. “But in the end, the communities themselves will be doing the heavy lifting.”

As investors, HICCup and its partners will support Wellville communities in much the same way startup investors support promising business ideas. “In this case, the community is the startup – and the community’s product is health,” says HICCup CEO Rick Brush.

Obviously, the actions of a handful of hamlets won’t have much of an impact on big issues like the ever-worsening obesity crisis. But Dyson hopes that they will establish a model for other small and mid-size communities elsewhere.

“The programs by and large won’t be remarkable,” she concedes. “What’s remarkable is doing them together, reinforcing one another in small, self-contained communities where they will have maximum impact.”

The ultimate challenge these localized initiatives will have to grapple with is how to address the concrete health problems that are most pervasive in the country. Poor diet and lifestyle choices are certainly at the forefront and must be addressed through education and other preventive measures. But so must poverty and limited access to healthcare. Even when more people have access to insurance coverage, doctors and hospitals must make greater efforts to keep people from getting sick, not just treat their ailments. Civic and business leaders can provide incentives and infrastructure, but they cannot make everyone take advantage of them.

Still, the idea of enlisting entire communities in the fight against debilitating diseases that occur unnecessarily and are perfectly preventable is laudable, even if it takes one small patch at a time.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


More People Are Using Antidepressants, Just to Keep Going

August 9th, 2014 at 11:36 am by timigustafson

In 1994, when Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote “Prozac Nation,” an autobiographical account of her struggles with severe depression, which was later adapted into a feature film under the same title, her story was considered an extreme case of a troubled life. What she described then, however, was already a widespread phenomenon that has now morphed into a national malaise and beyond.

Antidepressants and painkillers rank among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States today. In 2011, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics published a report that identified about 11 percent of the American public as antidepressant users, a 400 percent increase since the 1980s when previous surveys were taken.

Worldwide, consumption of antidepressants has been dramatically on the rise over the past decade, and there are no signs of abating. On the contrary, the pharmaceutical industry predicts ever-increasing demands in the U.S. and globally.

According to the CDC report, people who take antidepressants do so not only to treat depression but also anxiety and other disorders in response to stress. In fact, about 8 percent of those taking antidepressant drugs had no current symptoms of depression at all.

Women between the ages of 40 and 59 make up the largest group of antidepressant drug users – about 23 percent. Females in general are more likely to take such medications than males; whites do it in greater numbers than other ethnicities; most users stay on antidepressants for two or more years; less than half ever seek professional help in form of hospitalization or counseling.

Experts have offered a wide range of explanations for the growing demand for psychotherapeutic drugs. The heightened economic struggles over the last few years have added substantially to the stress levels vast parts of the population are exposed to. In the media, pharmaceuticals of all kinds, including antidepressants, are aggressively marketed, and many insurance plans cover them. There is also suspicion that many doctors tend to over-diagnose when it comes to psychological disorders, even in cases where they appear to be temporary and mild in nature.

The truth is that antidepressant drugs are not harmless and can cause a number of unpleasant side effects, among them nausea, weight gain, loss of sexual desire and erectile dysfunction, insomnia, fatigue, agitation, suicidal thoughts, and even greater anxiety.

Experts recommend to switch between different types of antidepressant drugs if debilitating symptoms persist, but they also warn not to take such steps without consulting one’s physician.

Generally speaking, taking medications against depression or anxiety should not always be the first measure to find relief. A health-promoting lifestyle that includes eating a balanced diet, regular exercise, and enough sleep can be very helpful in dealing with many disturbances, both of body and mind. That does not mean to underestimate their seriousness, but at least it can provide a much-needed foundation for recovery.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Creative People Age Better, Study Finds

July 25th, 2014 at 1:30 pm by timigustafson

Do creative and artistically inclined people have advantages over the rest of us mere mortals who can barely draw a stick figure or whistle a simple tune? There are indications that individuals who are able to use their talents also tend to fare better in other ways, including their physical and mental health, compared to others whose existence mainly consists of repetitiveness and routine. Still, scientists have never been able to prove that creativity is indeed a contributing factor to humans’ wellbeing.

Picasso was undoubtedly one of the most creative persons one can think of, and he maintained a zest for life and work well into his 90s. But so was Mozart, who tragically died at 35 years of age. Hemingway, perhaps the greatest writer of his generation, couldn’t pen a single word for long periods of time – mostly because of drunkenness. Some famous artists have looked upon their gift as a curse rather than a blessing. So, should we assume any connection between creativity and wellbeing at all?

One study that looked into the health status and life expectancy of creative people found that creativity may indeed be associated with delayed decline in cognitive and physical health at an advanced age. While it remains unclear whether engaging in creative activities or the use of creative energies actually contribute to the slowing of the natural aging process, it is conceivable, according to the researchers, that creative people find better ways of coping with their diminishing capabilities than their less resourceful counterparts. On the other hand, there are highly creative persons who only function superbly in a specific area of their interest and are not better equipped for problem solving beyond their expertise, for example when it comes to their health needs.

Prior research, including a landmark study from Seattle on the “Relationship Between Personality and Cognition,” has shown that attitude and outlook on life were important components for maintaining the mental health of seniors in their 70s and 80s.

Experimentation, openness to new ideas, and flexibility in dealing with changes are the essence of creativity, and they are also crucial ingredients for healthy cognitive aging, the researchers say.

Thankfully, you don’t have to be a genius or maestro yourself to stay healthy and vital. Even just loving to read, attending art performances, and keeping stimulating social ties can yield enormous benefits throughout life, according to a study on creativity and aging, which was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. Seniors between the ages of 63 and 103 who participated in a variety of weekly art programs were found to be in better health, had fewer doctor visits, and used less medication in comparison to a control group that attended no such activities. They also showed better results in mental health tests, and were overall more involved in their communities.

Creativity can find fertile ground anywhere. But it takes a personal decision and commitment to openness to change as well as acceptance of risk, including risk of failure. Conservatism, hunkering down in the hope that things will remain the same, is not helpful and hampers any creative process. That doesn’t mean everything from the past has to be overthrown and redone from scratch. But it can require rethinking of some old traits that may no longer serve us well. Or, what has been overlooked for some time may regain relevance when seen in a different light.

The beauty of aging is that there is room for new perspectives based on hindsight and greater appreciation for the preciousness of time. It is also a most humbling phase in life when we realize how little, if anything, we are able to accomplish beyond the narrow horizon of our short existence. And yet, it is up to each of us how our days, up to the last, continue to unfold.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Education, the Best Protection Against Obesity and Related Diseases

March 12th, 2014 at 12:43 pm by timigustafson

With growing wealth in many developing countries around the world, diet and lifestyle changes are showing dramatic increases in obesity and related diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. From Central and South America to the Middle East to Asia, weight problems are now among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. But more than rising standards of living, lack of education seems to contribute to these dismal trends.

In China, India and Brazil, where economic growth has been especially dramatic but has also created vast inequalities in their populations, diet and lifestyle changes have had a particularly profound impact on the risk of obesity, according to one study that investigated the effects of rising incomes on people’s health.

In Mexico, which is considered a middle-income country, prevalence of obesity proved to be the highest among those who were better off financially but had little education. Similar findings were made in Egypt, a low-income country, where obesity has become a fast growing problem, especially among women. Here too, increasing wealth is a predictor – but even more so, lack of schooling.

“For the first time, we have studied the interaction between wealth and education and found they have fundamentally different effects on obesity,” said Dr. Amina Aitsi-Selmi, the lead author of the Egypt study.

Greater exposure of emerging economies to global food markets and rising buying power of consumers lead to these consequences. The best way to prevent this from happening would be to invest in education, especially in women who are in charge of food shopping, cooking, and taking care of the health needs of their families, she said.

“Our study suggests that investing in women’s education protects against this effect by empowering individuals to look after their health,” she said to Science Daily.

As ‘gatekeepers’ in their households, women have the most influence on the nutritional wellbeing of children, which is our best hope for breaking the vicious circle that begins with childhood obesity and subsequent, often chronic, health issues during adulthood.

Scientific evidence leaves no doubt that the environment we live in is largely responsible for the obesity epidemic, Dr. Aitsi-Selmi said. We can only change the environment by changing the behavior of individuals. And that is best accomplished through education.

Obviously, providing even a basic amount of health education in different socio-economic and cultural settings is no easy task in one country, let alone on a global scale. But, as this study and others have shown, increase in literacy and greater opportunities for learning have many benefits and can provide the groundwork for attitude and behavior modifications, including improving eating habits.

It also means that greater affordability of food does not automatically lead to better health outcomes – sometimes to the contrary. Only when people understand how their diet and lifestyle choices affect them, they can make appropriate changes and take control of their wellbeing.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Keeping a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle in the Cold Season

September 28th, 2013 at 7:33 am by timigustafson

It’s easier to eat right and be active outdoors during the summer months when the weather is warm and dry, and fresh fruits and vegetables are plentiful. It’s a different story when the temperatures drop, the rain sets in, and there are no more farmers markets to go to. But that doesn’t mean your healthy lifestyle has to change as well.

If you had a nice summer vacation, spent more time with family and friends, or just followed a slower pace, you probably found it easier to sit down for breakfast, enjoy a leisurely lunch, or cook a more elaborate dinner to be shared with loved ones. Now that it’s back to school or back to work, those pleasant and also healthy habits are in danger of becoming extinct again.

The same goes for your workout schedule. Longer daylight made it less forbidding to get up early for a run or swim, or go to the gym later in the evening. It’s much harder to continue with that regimen when it’s pitch dark outside and the weather is nasty.

Still, not all has to be lost.

For instance, eating a healthy breakfast should remain part of your morning routine all year round. It is one of the most important things you can do for your nutritional health. It is also an essential element of successful weight management.

If you have started taking lunch breaks where you focused on eating a healthy meal, instead of stuffing something absentmindedly in your mouth while working or doing other things, stick with your new habit. Mindless eating is one of the major causes of weight gain and should be avoided as much as possible.

When all family members go back to their busy schedules, it may be harder to gather them around the dinner table. Still, you should make the effort, not only because home-cooked meals are preferable to eating out or snacking but also for social reasons. If you had a chance to reconnect with your spouse and children during summer vacation, don’t let that slip away again because of time pressures.

As far as your physical fitness is concerned, you should build on the foundation you have laid over the summer – or undo the damage if your leisurely activities have led you in the other direction. Running, bicycling or swimming outdoors may no longer be possible, but there is the treadmill, the stationary bike or an indoor pool nearby. Don’t let lame excuses creep in and keep a regular exercise program as best as you can.

Your grocery list may or may not be as much affected, since today’s supermarkets stock most food items all year round, including those not in season in your region. But you can also focus on fruits and vegetables that are harvested late.

Fall is also a good time to make heartier meals like soups and stews that give you a cozy feeling when rain and wind bluster outside.

Keep in mind that the cold season requires your body to spend more energy to stay warm and protected. Eating highly nutritious foods, filled with vitamins and minerals, are essential to keep your immune system strong and get you as unscathed as possible through the flu season and other health hazards.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “The Cold Season Diet – Foods That Strengthen Your Immune System” and “Eat to Beat the Cold and Flu Season.”

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Breakfast – Yes or No?

August 13th, 2013 at 8:46 pm by timigustafson

Many followers of healthy eating and lifestyle habits, myself included, get confused every so often over seemingly contradictory messages they receive from new study findings. The latest reports on the importance of a nutritious breakfast are no exception.

For some time now, we have been hearing that eating a healthy meal at the start of the day offers multiple benefits, including for weight control. Two recent studies on the subject, however, have come to opposite conclusions, one confirming the value of eating heartily in the morning, the other negating it. On closer examination, both studies seem to be correct in some aspects but miss the mark in others.

For one study, researchers from Tel Aviv University in Israel enrolled obese women in a 1,400-calorie-per-day weight loss regimen and divided them in two groups. One half was served 50 percent of the daily allotted calories at breakfast, 36 percent at lunch, and 14 percent at dinner. The other half was made to eat in the opposite order.

After three months, the heavy breakfast eaters had lost considerably more weight, had slimmer waistlines, a lower body-mass index (BMI), and declining triglyceride, blood sugar and cholesterol levels compared to their counterparts who had their biggest meals for dinner – all despite the fact that the daily calorie intake in both groups was identical. The logical conclusion seems that it not only matters what and how much dieters eat but also when they eat.

In sharp contrast to these findings stands another recent study, this one from Cornell University, which seems to suggest that skipping breakfast may be helpful in one’s quest for weight loss. Here, researchers fed or withheld breakfast from two groups of participants but left it up to them whatever they wished to eat for the rest of the day. As it turns out, the breakfast-skippers lost more weight than those who stuck to three meals a day.

So, what is going on here? Is having breakfast a good or a bad idea for weight control? The answers to both studies are in fact quite simple.

In the study from Tel Aviv, the breakfast group had a decisive advantage over their dinner-eating peers because after eating they had the entire day ahead during which they could burn off calories. By contrast, the members of the dinner group were more likely to settle down for the evening after finishing their meals, and went to bed relatively full, without much of a chance for calorie expenditure. Naturally, that difference in behavior shows up on the scale.

Unfortunately, the Cornell study is inconclusive from the start because it does not control the total calorie intake of either group and only focuses on one eating occasion in the day. The participants who skipped breakfast may have made up for the deprivation by having a heavier lunch or by adding more snacks in between meals. Those who managed to keep to their usual eating pattern may have lost weight by foregoing breakfast, but they could have achieved the same by omitting any other eating event. The bottom line is that reducing total calorie intake will inevitably lead to weight loss over time. We already knew that.

The reason why I agree with those who emphasize the importance of having breakfast is that eating a nutritious, balanced meal in the morning gives you much needed energy and prevents you from getting too ravenous later on, which often results in overeating. For the reasons I discussed earlier, I also believe that eating the European way – a large breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a light dinner – is preferable to our custom of making dinner the main eating occasion. I also like the breakfast styles there better, including those of the Israelis, which typically include a vast variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole-grain breads, lean protein sources, and low-fat dairy products, instead of sugary cereals and pastries. And let’s not forget portion sizes. They matter at all meals, regardless when you have them.

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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  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (

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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

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