Posts Tagged ‘Weight Gain’

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

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Emotional Eating, a Common Phenomenon During the Holidays

December 19th, 2012 at 3:36 pm by timigustafson

In all likelihood, many Americans will gain some weight over the holidays. It may only come to a few pounds, but statistics show that even small nudges on the scale can stubbornly persist and add up over time. The annual spike may not surprise anyone, but if partying and celebrating almost inevitably lead to overindulging, there are also other elements at play that make it harder to resist temptation this time of the year. One of them is stress.

Whether you look forward to the holiday season or dread it, either way it’s an emotionally charged time. Choosing gifts, preparing festive meals, attending family events and office parties can give cause for joy or misgivings. Feelings of loneliness and isolation can become more intense for those who feel left out.

“Many people use eating as a way to cope with difficult emotions, not only bad ones, but also happiness, excitement and celebration,” says Alexis Conason, Psy.D., a psychologist at the New York Obesity Research Center, in an interview with the Huffington Post.

To handle their emotions better, some people find their greatest comfort in food. Food can have, among other things, a numbing effect. Emotional eaters, she says, often eat to cushion themselves against the challenges they’re facing. Especially when food is as plentiful as it typically is during the holidays, these responses are easily triggered and overeating occurs as a result.

Emotional eating is commonly identified as a behavior pattern where food is used for other purposes than just stilling hunger – such as to deal with stressful situations or as a means for reward. Unlike physical hunger, which increases gradually, the emotional need for food can emerge suddenly, demanding instant attention. It cannot easily be stilled by filling one’s stomach because the emptiness it is based on may persist beyond the physical satisfaction. Additionally, emotional eating can leave a person even more distressed by triggering feelings of guilt and shame in the wake of the eating event.

Not all emotional eating leads to compulsive disorders like binge eating or bulimia nervosa. But the risk of developing dysfunctional behaviors over time is greater when emotional eating is misunderstood or unnecessarily demonized, according Dr. Pavel Somov, a psychologist and author of “Eating the Moment.” When it results in mindless overeating, it can be both psychologically and physically unhealthy, he says.

To prevent such consequences, it is important to identify the sources that trigger certain emotional responses. The next step is to find alternative solutions when negative emotions strike. If the natural tendency is to reach for comfort food, it may be helpful not to keep certain items around the house or the office. The harder it is to get to a juicy burger, a sugary donut or a bag of candy, the better the chances will be to overcome sudden cravings. Sometimes, this will take a bit of strategic thinking, but it’s doable, even during the holidays, and over time it will get easier to avoid the traps that worked all too well in the past.

Of course, these can only serve as intermediate measures. The ultimate goal is to find the source of the inner void and fill it with something that isn’t food but is truly satisfying.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Emotional Eating – A Widespread but Poorly Understood Health Problem.”

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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Beware of Hidden Calories in All the Good Holiday Cheer

November 21st, 2012 at 2:01 pm by timigustafson

Whether we celebrate at home with family and friends, attend lots of parties or take a vacation to get away from it all, the holidays always tempt us to consume more food and drink than we normally would – and more than may be good for us.

The average American adult devours about 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat in one Thanksgiving meal alone, according to surveys by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), a non-profit fitness advocacy organization. Those figures can quickly swell to 4,500 calories and more when all the feasting is considered.

Many people start by snacking throughout the day, which combined with the meal can lead to substantial overeating, according to Dr. Cedric Bryant, an exercise physiologist at ACE. However, those casually added calories are rarely remembered.

Another source of uncounted calories are often alcoholic beverages. It’s no secret that alcohol consumption escalates during the holiday season. The distilled spirits industry alone makes more than 25 percent of its annual profits from Thanksgiving to New Year, according to reports by Forbes, based on data from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS).

“Many may not realize that even a little daily drinking can lead to weight gain over time,” says Dr. Samara Joy Nielsen, a senior fellow at the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

She admits that even health experts tend to forget how many calories from beverages contribute to the total calorie intake among adults. “Although the risks of excessive alcohol consumption in terms of injury and chronic disease are well known, less is known about the calories consumed from alcoholic beverages. As with calorically sweetened beverages, alcoholic beverages are a top contributor to calorie intake but provide few nutrients,” says Dr. Nielsen in a study report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While people are becoming increasingly aware of the effects of sodas in terms of weight gain, alcoholic beverages have so far escaped similar scrutiny.

Of course, the impact of alcohol on the waistline is not limited to the holidays. About one-third of men and one-fifth of women in America consume calories from alcoholic beverages on most days, according to the CDC report. For most Americans, the average intake is less than 100 calories per day, however, 20 percent of men and 6 percent of women consume more than 300 calories from alcohol on any given day.

One of the reasons why the consequences of alcohol consumption are not always understood may be that many people don’t even know what constitutes a “drink,” says the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). A “standard drink” in the U.S. is defined as any drink that contains 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol. For regular beer that is equivalent to 12 fl oz, for table wine 5 fl oz, and for 80-proof spirits 1.5 fl oz. For beer that’s about 150 calories and for wine 100 calories. For hard liquors, especially when mixed or combined with other ingredients in cocktails, those numbers can be much, much higher.

Needless to say, drinking alcohol – at any time, but especially during the holidays when there are so many opportunities – can also be hazardous in other ways. Multiple health problems and potential addiction are well documented. And, of course, there are safety concerns. Nearly half of all driving fatalities on Christmas Day are alcohol-related, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), disasters that could easily be avoided.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “Your Drinks Count, Too

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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Weight Gain During the Holidays Is Hard to Undo

November 14th, 2012 at 2:51 pm by timigustafson

Millions of Americans will again become heavier over the holidays. For many it’s an experience as reoccurring as the Season itself. It seems almost inevitable that we overeat too often and exercise too little this time of the year. While the resulting weight gain is not always dramatic, getting rid off the extra pounds afterwards can be a real challenge.

“Americans probably gain only a pound during the winter holiday season, but this extra weight accumulates through the years and may be a major contributor to obesity later,” finds one study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

In other words, even a little uptick in body weight each holiday season can add up over time until it becomes a potential health problem. For people who are already overweight or obese, the situation can be worse. Research by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that the average weight increase in this group was as much as five times higher. “These results suggest that holiday weight gain may be an important contributor to the rising prevalence of obesity,” the NCBI study concluded.

Most Americans who gain weight between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve generally don’t lose that weight ever again, says also Dr. Mehmet Oz, a cardiologist and talk show host on ABC. Some meals people eat during the holidays can add up to 2,000 calories or more, according to Dr. Oz, so they could actually put on an extra pound every day if they keep indulging like this. Once they become used to the higher calorie intake, it may seem like normal and they continue on that level.

So what can be done to prevent us from falling into the same trap year after year? While the holiday season is no time to start dieting because of all the temptations around us, there are a few tricks you can apply, says Registered Dietitian Marisa Moore. She suggests to keep tempting treats as much out of sight as possible. “Just seeing food can trigger the desire to eat,” she warns.

Especially beware of calorie-laden drinks like eggnog, which can have 450 calories or more per glass. When you attend a party where lots of food will be served, “ruin your appetite” before you get there, Moore advises. Rather than arriving ravenous, grab a handful of protein and carbohydrate-rich snacks like nuts or cheese with some fruit. It will leave you less inclined to overload on heavier foods later.

Also, don’t forget to maintain your exercise schedule between your partying. In fact, you may want to increase your workout efforts a bit for counterbalance.

Last but not least, don’t forget to get enough sleep. Your full social calendar can wreak havoc on your body, says Moore. Lack of sleep and resulting exhaustion can contribute to weight gain as well because you are less likely to exercise restraint and keep your eating habits under control.

The more you are aware of your inclinations (some call it weaknesses), the easier it will be to work around them. Always have a plan ready for how much you are willing and able to consume without having to deal with dire consequences later.

Remember that the holidays are primarily there to reconnect with family and friends and to celebrate good times. Enjoying delicious food is certainly part of that, but it shouldn’t be the main focus. Instead of standing around the buffet, you can hit the dance floor, or simply enjoy a good conversation with old and new friends that doesn’t require more than you being your lovely self.

If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy reading “‘Tis the Season for Weight Gain – And What (Not) to Do When Celebrating the Holidays

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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Did I Gain Weight?

October 24th, 2012 at 4:27 pm by timigustafson

Many Americans find it hard to judge whether they are successfully managing their weight or not. Despite of increasing awareness of the obesity crisis in this country and around the world, most people don’t see themselves as being affected by weight issues. What’s more, misperceptions – some call it denial – about weight changes are widespread, according to a recent study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington.

“If people aren’t in touch with their weight and changes in their weight over time, they might not be motivated to lose weight,” says Dr. Catherine Wetmore, a former Fellow at IHME and now a biostatistician at Children’s National Medical Center, who is the lead author of the study report.

For the study, Dr. Wetmore and her colleagues compared self-reported changes in body weight between 2008 and 2009 by using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), an annual survey that was designed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to track health and lifestyle indicators in American adults. The survey included data from almost 400,000 participants in both years.

Based on their self-reporting, most participants actually gained weight between the 2008 and 2009 surveys but were not aware of it or even thought they had slimmed down a bit, although they hadn’t.

There may be many reasons why people misjudge their weight. It’s not always the case that they deliberately lie or live in denial. “It may be related to optimism or vanity or a real lack of awareness,” says Dr. Wetmore.

According to her findings, women seem more in tune with their body weight than men, and younger adults also do a better job than older ones.

Still, she calls the study results “surprising and alarming.” Self-awareness of one’s body weight is an important factor in the fight against the obesity epidemic, she said in an interview with WebMD.

Misperceptions and denial are also common among those who are already overweight or obese. This is particularly unfortunate because other health problems such as diabetes or high blood pressure often occur in connection with weight gain and can remain undiagnosed and untreated until it’s too late.

For some people accepting their unhealthy weight and not doing anything about is an option they think they can live with. Also, as a society we are increasingly becoming accustomed to obesity and are beginning to see it as an unfortunate but unavoidable part of modern life. According to another recently published study, the number of severely or morbidly obese people (with a BMI of over 40) in the U.S. has increased by a whopping 70 percent over the last decade, making it the fastest growing segment of Americans with weight problems.

As a result, there are many more folks who suffer from weight-related disabilities to the point where they cannot live productive lives anymore. “People may basically be forced into retirement because they can’t work,” says Dr. Roland Sturm, an economist at the RAND Corporation and leader of the study.

Experts estimate that treatment of obesity and related illnesses add annually close to $200 billion to health care costs in the U.S. It is self-evident that these trends are not sustainable.

Obviously, there are no simple solutions and well-meaning measures like curbing soda consumption through taxes and limiting serving sizes, or posting calorie counts in restaurants can only scratch the surface, if that. But something needs to happen and soon. What comes to mind is a song by the late Michael Jackson: “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways.”

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 amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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Emotional Eating – A Widespread But Poorly Understood Health Problem

September 16th, 2012 at 7:21 am by timigustafson

There is no general agreement among the experts on the exact causes of the growing obesity crisis in America and around the world. Easy access to inexpensive calorie-dense but nutritionally poor food and sedentary lifestyles are often named as leading factors. Our culture that promotes ever-increasing consumption my also play a role. But could it be that our eating habits can make us not only physically ill but also harm our psychological and emotional well-being?

In her book, titled “Emotional Overeating” (2012), Dr. Marcia Sirota, a Toronto-based psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of addiction, says that constant eating, especially when it leads to weight problems, is actually a form of psychotic behavior.

“It seems as though we’ve become a society of addicts,” she says. “In particular, we’ve become a nation of compulsive overeaters, hyper-focused on everything having to do with food and eating.”

Even our efforts to control our weight through dieting can fit this pattern, says Dr. Sirota. “We’re compulsive in our eating behaviors, whether this means binge eating, restricting, purging, or a combination of all these. […] Both compulsive eating and compulsive food restricting (dieting) cause a behavioral vicious circle in which overeating leads to remorse, self-recrimination, heightened obsessions and further overeating.” The result is enormous emotional suffering, “suffering from a constant preoccupation with food and weight.”

Dr. Sirota believes that it is actually not desire for food that lies at the root of this kind of addiction but rather an inner emptiness, hurt or loss that needs to be filled. In other words, emotional eating is not about stilling hunger but numbing a pervasive state of unhappiness.

“When it comes to our relationship with food, there is much more going on than we would often assume,” says Dr. Lisa Firestone, a clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara, California. Like any addictive substance, food is often used to cover over or subdue emotional pain.”

But that’s not necessarily the case with all people who eat for emotional reasons. We should not assume that food, especially so-called “comfort food,” is only there to help us get out of a funk, when we are depressed, bored or lonely, says Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam, 2006). Food can just as well evoke feelings of safety, love or belonging and reconnect us with happy memories of loved ones and past events. Also, most people eat more than they should when they are celebrating, when they eat out or gather at the table on holidays. Fewer than half reach for the munchies when they have the blues or the blahs, he says.

Still, he concedes, there are significant differences between physical hunger and emotional hunger. Physical hunger builds gradually and recedes when the stomach is filled. By contrast, emotional hunger arises suddenly, unrelated to the time you last ate, and it persists even after sufficient food intake, thereby often leading to overindulgence. Also, there is no negative psychological fall-out after eating in response to physical hunger. But there can be feelings of shame and guilt after bouts of emotional overeating.

Using food to satisfy our emotional needs every so often does not necessarily have to be considered problematic. “We all eat for emotional reasons sometimes,” says Jane Jakubczak, a Registered Dietitian at the University of Maryland. “When eating becomes the only or main strategy a person uses to manage emotions, then the problems arise – especially if the foods a person is choosing to eat to satisfy emotions aren’t exactly healthy.”

By dealing constructively with our emotions, we can achieve a healthy relationship with food as well, says Deborah Kotz, a health writer from Silver Spring, Maryland. She advises people with tendencies toward emotional overeating to pay close attention to their reactions to stress, sadness or boredom. What actions can you take to avoid eating when temptation arises? Establish some rules before a craving attack takes place and follow through with your plan. Engage in activities that distract you. Avoid dieting, since it can lead to other forms of negative food addiction. The more you learn about the nature of your tendencies, the better you will be prepared to exercise restraint and stay in control when you need to.

Timi Gustafson R.D. is a clinical dietitian and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®, which is available on her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (http://www.timigustafson.com), and at amazon.com. You can follow Timi on Twitter and on Facebook.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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