Posts Tagged ‘Weight Gain’

A Widening Gap Between the Fit and the Fat

November 10th, 2015 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson

More people pay close attention to their physical health and well-being, and yet obesity rates and diseases stemming from weight problems continue to rise. While healthy eating and regular exercise have become commonplace among the educated and affluent, the less fortunate show little signs of improvement regardless of efforts by health experts and government policy makers to change their fate. In fact, studies find that the gap between the fit and the fat keeps widening.

Physical appearance has been an important issue in most societies throughout the ages, but today, how we look has become a reflection of how we live and visa versa, says Dr. Florentine Fritzen, a journalist and historian who studies sociological trends.

Being well-fed was once a sign of wealth, but poor people are now most prone to unhealthy weight gain and related diseases, while the well-to-do enjoy greater fitness and vitality, even longer life expectancy, than ever before.

Life presents itself very differently to these two groups. To which one you belong determines multiple aspects of your well-being, not just how well you eat, Fritzen says.

Your good looks also play a role in how society judges you. For example, if physical beauty and fitness are equated with hard work, discipline and success, overweight can then be identified with laziness and lack of self-control. If slim is thought of as healthy, then fat can be considered as sick.

Numerous studies have investigated how physical appearance plays out in the workplace. Just being overweight can hurt your career, according to Steve Siebold, a self-help coach, business consultant, and author of “Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People.”
“Many employers look at obese candidates and immediately think, ‘this person failed in controlling their own health, how are they going to run a division,’” he warns.

More and more companies actively encourage their workers to stay on top of their health and offer wellness programs and other incentives, which in turn help them prevent productivity loss and lower healthcare premiums. But, as some have reported, there can also be a lot of pressure on those who ‘don’t measure up.’

What gets too often overlooked in all this is how much easier it is to stay in shape for people who have the necessary means to take care of themselves. What is feasible with a good education, financial security, access to supplies and services, a safe home and neighborhood, etc., can be a never-ending struggle without them. And that is not simply a matter of personal choices.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists a number of determinants that decide whether someone’s living conditions are beneficial or detrimental for his or her health. Only one of them is based on biological factors like age, gender, and genetic predispositions. Only one is based on individual behavior such as diet and lifestyle choices. All others are environmental and circumstantial in nature, meaning they are largely outside a person’s control.

To fully understand the existing health disparities and inequities among the public today, we must take into account the social and economical disadvantages that affect individuals or entire groups in ways they cannot easily influence but expose them to heightened risks, the agency says. To narrow the gap towards greater health equality, it urges aggressive investing in broader access to healthcare services as well as health education.

Obviously, we have a long way to go.

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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.” (


No Need for Weight Gain When You’re Away from Home

March 16th, 2015 at 3:30 pm by timigustafson

It’s almost a foregone conclusion. Travel – for business or pleasure – likely results in unwanted weight gain, and not much can be done to avoid it.

True, once you venture outside your own kitchen, it gets harder to make optimally healthy choices, and who wants to constantly think about diet restrictions anyway, especially on vacation.

So, shall we just accept the inevitable and try to undo the damage after returning home, or is there a better way to stay on track regardless of the circumstances? I believe the latter is possible and deserves to be pursued.

Maintaining your weight is a realistic goal during your getaways, whether it’s work- or vacation-related, says Dawn Jackson-Blatner, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) and author of “The Flexitarian Diet” (McGraw-Hill, 2009).

While traveling may not be the best time to begin a weight loss regimen, it doesn’t mean your good intentions and otherwise reasonably sound eating habits have to fall completely by the wayside the moment you leave home.

When you are on the road, you probably eat out a lot. But besides dining at restaurants, you can find other ways to exercise at least a bit of control over your eating pattern – for example by going to a grocery store and bringing your food back to your hotel room where you can keep items in the fridge or even cook small meals from scratch, if a small kitchen or microwave is available.

Being prepared often makes all the difference, says Kathleen M. Zelman of WebMD.

Whenever you travel, whether by plane, train, or automobile, bring a few healthy edibles along so you won’t have to make do with whatever is available, she recommends. Don’t wait until you become too ravenous, only to fall victim to the next temptation that comes your way, like fast food or snacks out of a vending machine.

Instead, make sure you eat a healthy breakfast that carries you through the day until you have a chance to eat a proper meal. For ‘in-between’ eating occasions, keep some high-quality, easy-to-pack foods on hand, such as nuts and dried fruit, to give you a quick boost if your energy level falls too low.

Also remember that even when you can finally relax at your destination, the opportunities to deviate from your regular diet are plentiful. Excuses like “It’s happy hour,” or, “I’m on vacation,” easily lead to the assumption that, at least for the time being, anything goes.

Vacations are there to re-energize and refresh you, not to take a break from your health, says Zelman. Use the time when there are no demanding work schedules to fit in more health- and fitness-promoting activities than you normally can, she suggests.

For instance, you may want to stay at hotels that offer lots of facilities for exercise like well-equipped gyms, swimming pools, tennis courts, etc. Patronize only restaurants that accommodate your particular dietary needs and allow for modifications of ingredients and cooking techniques. Don’t be shy to ask. Any professionally run kitchen should be able to satisfy reasonable requests of this kind.

The good news is that it has generally become much easier these days to find healthier options where they didn’t exist before. Even cruise ship operators, once notorious enablers of gluttonous behavior, now offer countless wellness programs, including for weight loss, as well as menus designed to keep you from getting off course, but without making you feel deprived and left out of the fun.

If despite your best efforts you realize that you’ve failed in some ways, there is no need to get upset about it. First, find out how much extra weight you’ve actually put on. Perhaps you are just dealing with some minor weight fluctuations due to higher than usual sodium (salt) intake that causes you to retain more water in your body. If you have gained more than that, simply go back to your former eating habits and gradually shed the unwanted pounds.

What you shouldn’t do in your remorse is to aggressively start dieting by restricting your calorie intake too extensively, warns Dr. Mike Roussell, author of “Your Naked Nutrition Guide.” Radical diet changes like these can cause metabolic disturbances and even lead to serious eating disorders long-term, he says.

Of course, how successful you will be in maintaining your diet and fitness routine outside your home depends on many factors, not all of which are controllable or foreseeable. But the better prepared and the more proactive you are, the better you will fare, leaving you only with happy memories about your trips.

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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.” (


Do Something Health-Promoting Every Day

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

“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.

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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.” (


Posting Calorie Values on Menus Shows Long-Term Success

November 13th, 2014 at 4:15 pm by timigustafson

The idea that providing more information about food served in restaurants, such as calorie and fat content, would reduce the risk of weight problems has widely been greeted with skepticism and outright rejection. Now a new study presented at the Second Annual Obesity Journal Symposium in Boston showed that calorie labeling on menus can indeed influence the choices people make once they become aware of the differences.

“Calorie labeling helps people understand what’s in their food, and makes them aware of healthier options,” said Charoula Nikolaou, a dietitian and doctoral candidate at the University of Glasgow, Scotland, and lead author of the study report in an interview with Science Daily.

Unlike some of the snapshot surveys taken in the past when calorie posting was first introduced and made mandatory for larger chain restaurants in places like New York City and parts of California and Oregon, this study followed a group of college students over a total period of two academic years, or 72 weeks.

During the first year, calorie information was displayed in cafeterias on campus for only five weeks, while in the second year the practice was continued for nearly the entire time. As expected, the shorter experiment produced little if any changes in the participants’ food choices. However, in the following period, when calorie information was given consistently and was presented in predominant, easily discernable ways, their eating behavior eventually changed, resulting in virtually no weight gain for most of the students.

“We were glad to see that exposure to our prominent calorie labeling for an entire school year did not just reduce weight gain in these students, but eliminated it altogether for the group,” said Ms. Nikolaou.

Prior studies by scientists at New York University and Yale University found that when calorie postings appeared initially, it had no significant impact on restaurant patrons. Half did not even notice or understand the data, even when they were displayed prominently and explained in great detail. Less than a third of those who did take note said it influenced their choices, according to reports by the New York Times.

So why the difference between now and then? Obviously, there are no simple answers, however, there are some clues we can learn from. First, the study involving the college students took place in a controlled environment (the campus cafeterias), and was limited to a relatively homogeneous group (all university students). This does usually not apply to the public at large. Second, as the authors point out, it is the first long-term research of its kind and is likely to produce different results than prior attempts with a shorter view. Third, the whole concept of counting calories as a means of managing one’s weight is now much more familiar and plausible to people, especially the young and the educated, than it was just a few years ago. So researchers have generally more fertile ground to work with.

What this latest study demonstrates, I think, is that providing information in ways people can readily understand and immediately apply in their lives does indeed help facilitate behavioral changes over time, especially if it yields measurable advantages. Some of these changes must eventually happen, even if they don’t seem palatable at first.

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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.” (


The Holiday Season, A Time for Emotional Eating

October 30th, 2013 at 7:07 am by timigustafson

As the holidays are nearing, even those among us who mostly manage to stay in shape have to wonder how they can prevent serious damage to their waistline this time of the year. It’s no secret: from Thanksgiving (or earlier) through New Year’s Day, we all indulge in lots of parties, festive meals, and treats all abound. The aftermath, of course, is filled with regrets and renewed vows never to succumb to such temptations again – a.k.a. resolution season. But as many know from experience, those efforts will likely be just as futile next time around as they were in the past. So is there no escape from this vicious cycle?

Holiday bingeing is hard to avoid, not only because of the many opportunities (and excuses) to indulge more than usual, but also because the holidays are a rather emotional time. It may be meant to be a joyous season, however, it also brings negative emotions such as anxiety, depression and loneliness closer to the surface and makes them even harder to bear. Add the extra stress that holiday preparations inevitably produce, and you have the perfect set of conditions where emotional eating can thrive.

Not all indulgence is automatically dysfunctional, of course. In some ways, we as humans are genetically programmed to overdo it now and then. Our forbearers of hundreds of years ago had little choice but to eat as much and as fast as they could on the rare occasions when food was plentiful, to be followed by periods of near starvation. But those times are long gone and, for most of us, every day is a feast by comparison. Combined with our predominantly sedentary lifestyle, the negative consequences of our now considered “normal” food consumption should not surprise anyone.

But there is a much darker side to overeating when it becomes compulsive. Only recently, binge-eating disorder (BED) has been recognized as a medical condition. It is now defined as “a serious mental illness in which emotions and thinking patterns cause a person to adopt harmful eating habits, such as overeating or starvation. Often, these habits are a way of coping with depression, stress, or anxiety.” BED differs from other eating disorders like bulimia or anorexia, as it does not typically include purging (mostly by vomiting or using laxatives) to avoid weight gain. But like those other behaviors, BED is often rooted in serious emotional conflicts.

Not everyone who engages in emotional eating will lose control and end up self-destructing. But if the underlying causes remain unaddressed and untreated, dysfunctional behavior may become harder and harder to overcome.

Emotional eating is eating for reasons other than physical hunger, explains Jane Jakubczak, a Registered Dietitian at the University of Maryland. Studies have shown that 75 percent of overeating, that is eating without being hungry, is caused by emotions. So dealing with emotions appropriately is most important, she says.

So it would make sense to think that because the holidays not only stir up both positive and negative emotions and give us also good excuses to feed them (literally and figuratively), we are more at risk than at any other time to fall into the well-known traps.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way. Learning what triggers your emotional responses is key to avoid them from happening. There are many ways this can be achieved. For example, if being around food and treats is too tempting, try to avoid being in their presence as best as you can. There are many ways to get into the holiday spirit without surrounding yourself with edibles. Resist buying urges. Ask to have food platters or candy jars placed in parts of your office space where you can’t see or smell them. Busy yourself with thoughts other than about food. Instead of partaking in every lunch or dinner party you are invited to, suggest some alternative events like going on a ski trip or some other outdoor activity. For those eating events you cannot escape from, make a plan how to navigate them, including how much you will allow yourself to eat no matter how often you are urged to dig in.

Most importantly, feed your emotions with what they really need: fun, laughter, companionship, compassion… You can never overindulge in these.

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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.” (


Most Weight Gain Comes from Stress, Scientists Say

February 20th, 2013 at 12:08 pm by timigustafson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

February 13th, 2013 at 1:03 pm by timigustafson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


More Realistic Goals, Longer Lasting Results

January 16th, 2013 at 10:58 am by timigustafson

The NBC hit show, “The Biggest Loser,” now in its 14th season, is well known for its rigorous (to put it mildly) workout sessions where contestants are regularly driven to the brink of collapse in the pursuit of rapid weight loss. Of course, all the huffing and puffing during the exercising also adds drama and entertainment without which the show would probably not have lasted this long.

Although the participants come from all age groups, this year’s focus is on obesity among children and adolescents, which is a good idea considering that 17 percent (12.5 million) of Americans age 2 to 19 are now diagnosed as obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Since 1980, obesity rates among the young have tripled, and the latest data show only slight improvements despite of stepped-up efforts by government agencies and advocacy groups to curb the trend.

While it is disheartening to see how much damage the obesity crisis is doing to all generations, programs like “The Biggest Loser” can help convey the message that it is never too early or too late to make positive changes, provided one is willing to put in the hard work. For that they should be applauded. Still, there are some disconcerting elements at play here.

With progressive success in their weight loss efforts, many of the contestants develop a high, if not inflated confidence level. Naturally, a certain amount of faith in one’s abilities is necessary just to stay motivated. However, when I hear a candidate who has still a long way to go to a healthy weight range talk about her plans for running a complete marathon in the near future, I wonder how expectations of what’s possible can sometimes spin so much out of control. Yes, it would be a headline-grabbing sensation if a once morbidly obese person could pull off one of the most challenging athletic performances known to man after just a few month of training – but is that a healthy, even desirable prospect? Why this tendency to swing from one extreme to another?

It is no secret that radical weight loss bouts over short periods of time don’t last in most cases. So-called yo-yo dieting is a well-known phenomenon in the weight loss industry. Many former “The Biggest Loser” contestants have gained at least some of their old weight back. What seems feasible within a controlled environment often doesn’t hold up when people resume their own daily routines.

And there is also no need for that. The intensity and rigor of a concentrated weight loss program cannot and should not continue indefinitely. Studies have shown that most people reap the greatest benefits from light to moderate but consistent exercise such as resistance training, fast walking or jogging for limited distances (up to 20 miles per week). More than that does not produce significantly greater advantages for physical health or longevity, according to Dr. Carl Lavie, medical director of cardiac rehabilitation and prevention at the Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans who conducted extensive research on the subject. “If anything,” he says, “it appears that less running is associated with the best protection from mortality risk. More is not better, and actually, more could be worse.”

His colleague and study report co-author, Dr. James H. O’Keefe, a specialist in preventive cardiovascular medicine, agrees. “In general, it appears that exercise, like any therapy, results in a bell-shaped curve in terms of response and benefits. To date, the data suggest that walking and light jogging are almost uniformly beneficial for health and do increase life span. But with more vigorous or prolonged exercise, the benefits can become questionable,” he said in an interview with the New York Times.

So, instead of going from years of overeating and doing no exercise whatsoever to competitive running, I suggest that the young lady in question finds some middle ground where she can manage her weight and engage in an overall health-promoting lifestyle that can make life so much better for her for the rest of her life. The same goes for the rest of us.

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.


Instead of Dieting, Build a Healthy Lifestyle

January 9th, 2013 at 12:00 pm by timigustafson

Just in time for resolution season when many Americans try hard to lose the extra weight they gained over the holidays, a surprising study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come out, seemingly suggesting that a few additional pounds may not do too much harm after all, and being a bit overweight may even reduce a person’s mortality risk. The findings, which were widely publicized in the press, quickly proved controversial and evoked some strong reactions from health experts and the public. Is this the end of the need for weight control?

“Not all weight is the same,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC department that conducted the study, in an interview with USA TODAY. “If you work out and build muscle mass, you may increase weight and that’s healthy.”

Whether a few extra pounds matter much or not depends on how someone has acquired them, said Dr. Walter Willet, professor at Harvard School of Public Health, in the same interview. “If someone has always been muscular and is active and strong, and their blood pressure and levels of blood glucose and cholesterol are fine, then their health risks are probably minimal. However, if someone has gotten to this weight by putting on 10 pounds or more, has increased their waistline by more than two inches, or has elevations in blood pressure, glucose or cholesterol, then this weight can be a serious health risk.”

The problem is that the large majority of overweight people develop metabolic abnormalities such as high blood pressure, diabetes and many other conditions. That’s why most will benefit from losing weight, even if it’s only a modest amount, he added.

Even those who are still within a healthy weight range should take proactive steps to avoid weight increase by eating right and exercising regularly. Obviously, it is much easier to prevent any damage than to repair it.

Either way, successful weight management does not come in form of quick and temporary fixes but with a firm commitment to your overall health and well-being that lasts a lifetime. This may entail paying careful attention to your eating habits and, if necessary, making some changes, which can range from cutting back on portion sizes to learning entirely different eating styles. It can require going on more walks or making the gym your new obsession.

Those who are significantly overweight and face health threats because of that may have to take some immediate action. Even losing relatively small amounts of weight can be a lifesaver. In extreme cases, more drastic measures under medical supervision may be necessary.

Unfortunately, most dieters still focus too much on calorie reduction, in spite of the fact that deprivation rarely works. That’s why so many encounter a so-called ‘yo-yo’ effect, where they regain the weight they’ve lost and sometimes add more once the dieting is over.

No matter how extensive your efforts will need to be, they don’t have to be complicated. Most experts recommend to start small and set more ambitious goals over time. Aim for balance, variety and moderation in your eating pattern. Develop an exercise regimen that matches your needs and that you enjoy enough to stick with it.

Don’t try changing everything all at once. Allow for occasional treats, count on lapses, but don’t lose sight of your long-term goals. Ask for support from loved ones or seek professional help when the going gets too tough. In the end, what matters most is that you own your new and improved lifestyle and that it becomes part of who you are. And it will, if you try long and hard enough.

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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