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Posts Tagged ‘Weight Control’

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.” (


As a child, my mother taught me many popular sayings. One of them was: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” That was back in London, England, where I grew up.

In many European countries, especially in the southern regions, that was the way most people planned their meals. A big breakfast allowed for an energetic start. Lunch was the main eating event of the day, often followed by a siesta for digestion. Dinner, on the other hand, was more like an afterthought, consisting of little else than a sandwich or some leftovers. Only on holidays a more elaborate meal would be served later in the day.

Here in the United States, the schedule is almost reversed. Many Americans skip breakfast, work through lunch and then make up for the day-long deprivation with a big helping in the evening. Or people don’t observe any regular mealtimes at all any more and graze all day on snack foods instead.

study from the Czech Republic, which was recently presented at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions Conference in Chicago, found that participants who had only two large meals during the day and no dinner at night were more likely to lose weight than their counterparts who ate three regular meals plus three small snacks, despite the fact that the amount of calories consumed in each group were the same and other factors like exercise and lifestyle remained unaltered.

These findings stand in sharp contrast to the idea that distributing food intake in form of smaller portions throughout the day may be a better way to control weight. Yet, experts on the subject are not too surprised by the study outcome. Eating six times or more a day makes it much harder to keep track of your calorie counts than if you only have to deal with two meals or so.

The concept of spreading out your food consumption may not be such a bad idea if it didn’t lead to constant grazing, as it often does. “Six mini meals turn into six major meals, and people wonder why they’re not losing weight,” said Madelyn Fernstrom, the diet and nutrition editor of NBC’s TODAY show, in a comment about the study. “The real-life takeaway here is less about skipping dinner, and more about simply eating less frequently.”

To be sure, snacking, even frequent snacking, by itself is not automatically a bad thing. What makes snacking healthy or unhealthy is what you eat and how it fits into your daily lifestyle, said Dr. Richard D. Mattes, a professor of nutrition at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, to WebMD. “If your snacks add a lot of calories that are not offset by eating less at other times or increasing physical activity, it will cause weight gain.”

The reason why snacking is now considered one of the likely causes of the obesity epidemic is that it occurs with growing frequency. Today, the average American eats almost five snacks in addition to regular meals, an increase of nearly 30 percent since the 1970s. By comparison, portion sizes of sit-down meals, although often lamented, have only grown by about 12 percent, according to U.S. government surveys.

The ubiquity of snack food is what seduces people to consume so much of it, according to Dr. Lisa Young, a professor of nutrition at New York University and author of the blog “The Portion Teller.” Wherever you go, gas stations, drugstores, you name it, there is food staring you in the face, she says. In this food-filled environment, “we need to be conscious of when we eat, how much we eat, and what we eat.”

Eating the European way may not be feasible or even desirable for many Americans. Taking long lunch breaks, let alone afternoon naps, doesn’t go very well with our busy lifestyles. Constant snacking, on the other hand, is not a good alternative and can cause problems over time.

There are many ways to find a workable middle-ground, though. For example, you don’t want to allow yourself to get too hungry during the day to avoid overeating later on. If snack foods are an irresistible temptation for you, you shouldn’t keep them within reach. Whenever you eat breakfast or lunch or anything in between, choose only highly nutritious ingredients that give you energy but don’t fill you up too much. If you need a small snack now and then, make it a healthy one as well. And drink plenty of water. Your hunger pangs may actually be symptoms of dehydration.

How you time all of this is up to you. You just have to make it work in your favor.

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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.” (


Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment

October 28th, 2012 at 12:48 pm by timigustafson

More and more companies are enrolling their workforce in health and wellness programs to cut staggering health care costs, reduce absenteeism and foster productivity as well as morale and loyalty, according to several studies on recent changes in employer-based health care policies. There is a fast growing interest in taking preventive measures such as promoting weight control, physical activity and cessation of tobacco use, not only among big corporations but also small and mid-size businesses.

Lifestyle-related (and therefore preventable) illnesses make up approximately 80 percent of the burden of health care costs for companies and 90 percent of all health care costs, according to one study.

Health and wellness incentives have long been considered a luxury only large corporations can afford, not a strategic imperative for all businesses to keep ever-increasing health care costs at bay, say the authors of a study published in the Harvard Business Review. That view is rapidly changing.

There is no shortage of examples where investments in employees’ social, mental and physical health has paid off. For instance, Johnson & Johnson has estimated that their wellness program, which started out in 1995, saved the company about $250 million in health care costs over a decade, according to the report.

Despite of these encouraging case studies, many wellness programs continue to evolve and companies are still trying to figure out exactly how or if their initiatives affect their bottom line, according to analyses by business insurance companies.

To be sure, not all employees welcome these programs in their place of work. Sometimes additional incentives such as reductions in premiums and co-payments and other cash bonuses are needed to get them to join.

A few employers have begun requiring health risk assessments and biometric screening for their workers to qualify for health care coverage, a step some may consider an undue intrusion in their private affairs.

Experts warn against an antagonistic climate around the issue of health in the workplace. Employers should design their policies and programs around the needs of their employees, advises Judith A. Monroe, MD, State Health Commissioner of Indiana. If there are a number of smokers in a company, offering cessation counseling may be important. If weight problems are of concern, access to exercise and nutrition programs could be provided.

“One of the components that is key to the overall success of wellness programs is the development of a culture of health within the organization,” says Dr. Steven Noelder, a consultant with Total Health Management in Newport Beach, California. “Not only do you need top-down support, you also need support at the grassroots level.” In other words, only when everyone feels that the measures taken are in his or her own best interest can health and wellness programs produce the desired outcome and make a difference for the better.

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

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