Posts Tagged ‘Weight Loss’

For a Kinder, Gentler Approach to Weight Loss

January 15th, 2014 at 1:13 pm by timigustafson

You have heard it all before: Crash diets – the ones that promise you to shed lots of weight in no time – don’t work, at least not in the long run. And yet, they continue to rank among the most popular plans because people want to see results pronto.

This year’s resolution season will be no different. Advertisements for quick fixes get the most attention. For some it will do the trick. But for many, it will be another round of disappointments. Initially pounds will come off, mostly through loss of water, and then they will come back with a vengeance, and in all likelihood even more will be added. It’s a vicious circle that can be devastating.

Weight loss, at least the intentional kind, is an unnatural event. Our bodies cannot readily be willed into deprivation. In evolutionary terms, we are programmed to ingest as many calories as possible when food is plentiful, so we can survive when scarcity sets in, which inevitably happened to our ancestors of yore. But those days are thankfully over for most of today’s population and perpetual overeating with all its detrimental health effects is the more likely scenario.

Some experts say that instead of attempting to cheat our genetic make-up, a better approach would be to take a good look at the lifestyle we adhere to now and navigate our present food environment to the best of our ability.

For example, people like Tom Rath, bestselling author of “Eat Move Sleep – How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes” (Missionday, 2013), propose taking small steps that are within our immediate reach, rather than trying to follow some grand strategy like a complex diet plan or other regimen that interferes with our established routines and makes it thereby so much harder to maintain.

Most of us are not cut out to look at the “big picture” when we make choices concerning our diet and lifestyle habits. Instead of torturing yourself over which foods to eat and which to avoid, recognize that sitting too much and moving too little is considerably more detrimental to your health than the occasional dietary lapse, says Rath. So make inactivity your primary enemy. The same goes for chronic sleep deprivation, a serious health concern that afflicts millions.

When it comes to weight loss, most people are too fixated on counting calories. Yes, those numbers matter, especially when they stack up. But it also matters where those calories come from. Contrary to what you may have heard from some “experts,” a calorie is not a calorie, regardless of its source. Some calories are loaded with important nutrients and others are empty and have little or no nutritional value. Regrettably, the latter are richly present in (mostly processed) foods that dominate the Western diet. Just by limiting your choices to more nutrient-dense items like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein sources, you can vastly improve your chances for successful weight management right away and with lasting results.

Good health is always a work in progress. You will never arrive at a point where you achieve perfection. Not even professional athletes and fitness fanatics can do that. But abiding by a few simple rules and sticking with them for the long haul can create a good foundation you can keep building on.

In my own life, I have also included other categories that go beyond the physical part of my well-being. In addition, I try to work on the emotional, intellectual, and also social and relational aspects, and check where things stand every day. It’s nothing fancy or complicated. But I know that if I allow myself getting off course too far or for too long in one area, all others will suffer as well.

Most of all, I try to be as kind, gentle and patient with myself as I am (hopefully) with my clients. I know that harshness and self-flagellation won’t get me anywhere. And I rather take another small but achievable step in the right direction than live in a fantasy that will never come to pass.

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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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It’s the time of the year again when purveyors of diet and weight loss programs vie most fiercely for our attention, hoping to convince customers that their product can do the trick much faster and more effortlessly than the competition. But the fact is that what makes one approach more promising than another depends on a variety of factors, many of which have little to do with what’s being sold to consumers.

According to an annual report published by U.S. News, some diets are indeed superior to others in terms of effectiveness, success rates, and health benefits. A panel of experts with professional backgrounds in nutrition, weight loss, diabetes, heart disease, and psychology of eating behavior reviewed 32 of the most popular diet programs and rated them in different categories, including short-term and long-term effects, safety, user-friendliness, and nutritional completeness.

The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) came in first as the overall best program, followed by Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC). Weight Watchers won in the best weight-loss diet category, ahead of the Biggest LoserWeight Watchers also beat its competitors as the best commercial diet plan. The DASH diet showed the most health benefits, while the Mediterranean Diet ranked highest among vegetarian regimens. The so-called Paleo or Caveman Diet and the Dukan Diet took last places.

Letting independent experts rate commercial diet programs and products is certainly not a bad idea, especially when considering the onslaught of fad diets with their oftentimes unrealistic and unfounded claims that can border on outright fraud. Thankfully, the government is increasingly scrutinizing such deceptive practices and has recently imposed serious fines on several companies.

But ratings alone cannot guarantee success when it comes to the individual consumer who is trying to lose weight, treat an illness, or simply wants to feel better. The members of the panel readily admit they did not take into account the importance of exercise and other lifestyle changes.

Also, the high costs of many commercial weight loss products were not part of their investigation, although money concerns prevent many would-be-followers from taking up or sticking to these plans long-term.

It is a simple fact that when it comes to weight management, food is only part of the equation. What and how much we eat is just one thing to consider. Why we reach for food even when we are not hungry – e.g. to cope with stress, boredom or addiction, or for other physical or psychological reasons – is an equally important question. Some people may find it hard to make the smallest lifestyle changes because of work-related circumstances such as travel, lack of sleep, or being forced to frequently eat out. Or they don’t get enough support at home, which can be crucial for their chances to make improvements. And then there is lack of education. It is no secret that many of us (experts included) are ignorant or confused about the ins and outs of staying healthy and fit. Also, what works well for one person can result in total failure for another – because, as they say, the devil is in the details.

So, instead of looking for one-fits-all solutions, my recommendation for this year’s resolution season is this:

• If you had successes in the past, try to recall what happened then and re-implement what you did. Also, ask yourself what made you fall off the wagon again.

• If a particular commercial program has worked for you once, go back to it. If it left you unconvinced, try another, but carefully study the differences.

• Most importantly, keep in mind that everything you do in your life is connected. You may have to cut back on your calorie intake, but you also want to eat more nutritiously. Regular exercise is a must, no matter how closely you watch your diet. Stress management and getting enough sleep count as well. The more you step back and look at the whole picture, the more likely you will reach your goal and be able to maintain your achievements.

I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.

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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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Get Back on Track in the New Year with a Healthier Diet and Lifestyle

January 1st, 2014 at 10:41 am by timigustafson

Making New Year’s resolutions is a time-honored, albeit tiring, custom. It basically forces you to admit you were wrong to indulge in all these wonderful dinner parties and treats over the holidays, and that you must now atone for your bad deeds. Not much fun in that, is there?

Still, the scale doesn’t lie and neither do your cloths that must have shrunken mysteriously while you were out having a blast. So, what can you do other than change your “evil” ways?

Transitioning to a new routine
First of all, there is no point in chastising yourself for what’s already happened. You’ve gained a few pounds and feel uncomfortable about it. But it’s not the end of the world. In all likelihood, you’ve been here before, perhaps several times. Maybe you remember how you managed to turn things around the last time, and chances are it will work for you again.

On the other hand, it would be nice, and also healthier, if you could avoid the notorious yo-yo effects of your weight control efforts once and for all.

So, before you look for the next fad diet that promises to do the trick in no time and without a struggle, imagine yourself as the person you truly want to be – one that isn’t plagued by regrets and doesn’t need self-flagellation because he or she knows exactly what a healthy body requires and looks like.

The fact is that it doesn’t matter what kind of weight loss method you choose. All you really have to focus on is that your food intake is less than what you burn off. A 500 calories deficit per day will allow you to shed about a pound a week. Replace the junk with more nutritious foods, add a regular exercise regimen and you are on your way.

Beyond that, you just have to be a little patient with yourself. Remember that changing your eating and lifestyle habits puts you in a stage of transition, meaning that you are in an especially vulnerable spot. It will take some time to get your body used to a new routine. Temptations are still rampant after the holidays, and feeling deprived or punished doesn’t help you stay the course.

Believe it or not, it also matters greatly what you are communicating to your metabolism: Is the change in your behavior for real and will it last, or is it short-lived and not worth the trouble? Quick-fix diet programs are notorious for messing up people’s metabolism for this very reason – they are too short-termed for your system to catch up.

Make it work for you
Also keep in mind that no commercially available weight loss plan is just designed for you. That means you are basically asked to follow other people’s recommendations based on their experiences. But in reality, those may or may not apply to you.

A better way is to trust in your body’s wisdom. Listen to it and how it signals its needs to you. For instance, you may have the urge to snack, but you may also ask yourself, Am I really hungry? Or, What healthier food would satisfy my desire for something sweet or salty just as much and without downside effects?

Knowing your weaknesses, you can also avoid setting yourself up for failure, for example by circumventing certain aisles in the supermarket or by stocking up on healthy items only. Examine your daily routines and habits, and question which ones are important and which ones have crept in over time without much notice.

Make sure you understand that choosing a healthier diet and lifestyle is not something you just do in one step. It is an ongoing process where you – and only you – set priorities and values for yourself and pursue them in a manner that is right for you.

Substitute the good for the bad
Once you have identified what got you off course in the first place, you can take stock and make changes – if necessary one or two at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself with a lot of dos and don’ts. Be realistic. Even your less-than-perfect habits once materialized for a reason.

If other components in your life can’t be altered – say, you travel a great deal and are forced to eat out a lot, or you can’t find appropriate outlets for exercising – you may have to be at bit creative to keep yourself on the right path. Identify new opportunities and remove as many obstacles as you can.

In any case, always stay focused on the larger picture and go about your goals with sufficient determination but also with the necessary patience and forgiveness.

Happy New Year!

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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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No Such Thing as a “Natural Diet” for Humans, Scientists Say

November 23rd, 2013 at 4:36 pm by timigustafson

Diet plans like to make all sorts of claims in terms of their effectiveness for weight loss and better health. Most emphasize certain food groups while eliminating others. Almost all assert their guidelines work best because they reflect how we should eat.

One of the regimens that has been growing in popularity in recent years is called the paleo diet, a.k.a. the caveman-, stone age-, or warrior diet. Its premise is that we ought to return to the eating styles of our ancestors from way back – because it’s more in keeping with our genetic makeup.

The underlying theory is that civilization has corrupted our food supply through unsound food production and manipulation, which has lead to the onslaught of diet-related illnesses like obesity, diabetes and heart disease we are facing today. The only way out of this misery, proponents say, is to mimic the eating behavior that once ensured the survival of our species for many thousand years.

For humans, ancient or modern, the paleo diet is the optimum diet, says Dr. Loren Cordain, a professor in the health department of Colorado State University and author of “The Paleo Diet,” who calls himself the “world’s foremost authority on the evolutionary basis of diet and disease.”

Genetically we have not been able to adapt to our modern food choices, i.e. the so-called Western diet, which is largely based on processed foods and laden with fat, salt and sugar, he says. Consequently, we are now plagued with diseases that are caused by our acting against our nature.

The solution would be to dispense with most, if not all, man-made foods, especially carbohydrates and dairy products. Instead, followers are encouraged to eat meats, seafood (wild caught) as well as certain vegetables and fruits, as long as they can be found in their original, unmodified state. Intermittent fasting is also recommended.

Some nutrition experts and biologists, however, are skeptical of these restrictions.

The paleo diet is basically a fantasy, according to Dr. Marlene Zuk, a professor of ecology, evolution and behavioral science at the University of Michigan, who gave an interview on the subject to the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

“Its supporters assume that, at a certain point in time, our ancestors were perfectly adapted to their environment. But those conditions presumably never existed,” she said.

Other scientists agree.

“Scientists find it appalling that a number of proponents of the supposed stone-age diet claim to be knowledgeable about a period of time that lasted around 2.5 million years and ended in about 8,000 B.C.,” said Dr. Alexander Ströhle, a nutrition physiologist at the University of Hannover, Germany. “On the whole, the feeding behavior of prehistoric man […] was very flexible.”

Besides that, “our modern food products are well removed from their wild ancestors. They have been extremely modified and, as a result, are more calorie-rich, easier to ship, or simply better-tasting than the original. So, even if we wanted to, we couldn’t live exactly the way our ancestors did,” said Dr. Zuk.

As far as the health benefits of the paleo diet are concerned, they are so far undetermined. Some studies have linked the regimen to reducing blood pressure, LDL (bad) cholesterol, and triglycerides (a fatty substance in the arteries that can increase the risk of heart disease and stroke). But the strong emphasis on eating meat, including red meat, has its own well-known disadvantages. Also, followers of vegetarian eating styles (for religious, cultural or other reasons) will not easily be able to adhere to this diet.

That doesn’t mean there are no benefits to be had from the paleo diet. For those who are interested, there are plenty of food guides available on the Internet, like the Ultimate Paleo Guide, to name just one. More importantly, however, dieters should still focus on the healthiest food choices, no matter what philosophy appeals to 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 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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Diabetes, the Hidden Killer

November 13th, 2013 at 12:28 pm by timigustafson

Like many other so-called non-communicable diseases (NCDs), diabetes is on the rise worldwide. Here in the United States, 17 million have been diagnosed with the condition, but more strikingly, about one third of those affected don’t even know about it, according to surveys by the Centers for disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Not unlike heart disease, diabetes is considered a “silent killer” because it cannot be detected through clearly identifiable symptoms, which contributes to the discrepancy between diagnosed and actual cases.

Diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death among Americans, after heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents and Alzheimer’s disease. It is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, lower extremity amputations, and also increases the risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the CDC.

Diabetes alone accounts for well over $100 billion in direct medical costs and an additional $60 billion in indirect costs such as loss of productivity and disability annually.

Researchers say that the most common form of the disease – type 2 diabetes – is preventable in large parts through lifestyle improvements like weight control, healthy eating and regular exercise.

The easiest way to diagnose diabetes is through a simple blood sugar test. Outside of that, there are a number of symptoms that can indicate whether someone either has or is at risk of developing the disease.

One common sign is frequent urination as well as excessive thirst. The urge to urinate is caused by the kidneys’ struggle to get rid of high amounts of glucose in the blood. The heightened thirst is a response to the need for replenishing the lost fluids. So, for example, having to go to the bathroom repeatedly during the night can be, among other reasons, an indication that the body has difficulties managing high blood sugar.

Other possible symptoms are rapid weight loss (without diet or lifestyle changes), excessive hunger pangs due to sudden drop in blood sugar level, fungal infections (including yeast infections), slow healing of wounds, skin problems like dry skin and skin darkening around the neck and armpit areas, blurry vision, and tingling and numbness in hands and feet, along with pain and swelling because of progressive nerve damaging.

There are several exams available to determine whether a person is diabetic or pre-diabetic, which is a serious health condition in itself. The most common is a blood sugar test administered after a minimum of eight hours fasting. Amounts under 99 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) are considered normal. 100 to 125 mg/dL indicates you may be pre-diabetic. Levels above 126 mg/dL means you have the disease.

Untreated diabetes can have dangerous, even life-threatening outcomes. Besides medical intervention, dietary improvements can make a significant difference. While there is no such thing as a specific diet plan for diabetes patients, cutting back or eliminating processed foods that are filled with fat and sugar, and following a regimen that includes plenty of fresh produce is an important step. Weight management (and weight loss, if necessary) as well as fitness training are also essential. Of course, as always, prevention is preferable to any treatment, medical and otherwise.

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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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When Choosing a Diet Plan, Separate the Wheat from the Chaff

October 20th, 2013 at 7:22 am by timigustafson

If your goal is to lose weight, almost any diet that restricts calorie intake will do the trick, at least for a while. What should be met with suspicion are weight loss plans and programs that promise quick results and lasting success with little effort. In the real world, no such thing exists.

So-called “fad diets” hit the market almost daily. In essence, they all make the same claims: You will see positive changes almost immediately, you don’t have to forego your favorite foods, you won’t feel hungry, and, best of all, you don’t have to exercise.

What they also have in common is that it’s nearly impossible to follow them over time. According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, even the most popular diet plans have low long-term adherence. But, as any health expert will tell you, stick-to-itiveness is a central component of successful weight loss.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND), the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, there are no foods or pills that let you magically burn fat and lose weight. There are no super foods that can alter your genetic code. Worse yet, some ingredients in weight loss products can be outright dangerous and even deadly. The bottom line, the AND says, is that “if a diet or product sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Rapid weight loss, which is what most commercial plans aim for, is not even a desirable goal. A slow but steady loss of ½ to 1 pound per week is an appropriate pace, according to the AND. If you lose weight more quickly, it will not only affect your body fat but also your muscles, bones and water balance.

Moreover, sudden weight fluctuations make weight loss less sustainable. So-called yo-yo dieting, where lost weight is gained back time and again, can put enormous stress on inner organs and is linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

While calorie restriction is an intricate part of dieting, deprivation of essential nutrients by withholding certain foods or entire food groups – e.g. carbohydrates – is not recommended. Also, the ADA says, there is no scientific evidence that certain food combinations or eating particular foods at specific times can support weight loss, as some diet programs advertise.

Unfortunately, the word “diet,” as it is most commonly used, is almost exclusively associated with “eating less” or “not eating at all.” That by itself may lead to the wrong approach. In its original form, diet means simply “the way someone eats.”

And indeed there are diet plans that don’t focus on weight loss at all, but rather on eating highly nutritious foods, keeping portion sizes in check, and also encourage an all-around health-promoting lifestyle. For example, the Mediterranean diet, which is based on the culinary traditions of countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea and is thought of as one of the healthiest dietary guidelines anywhere, or the DASH diet (acronym for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), developed for heart health, both emphasize healthy eating habits from which weight loss and permanent weight control can follow.

Neither of these, shall we call them “inclusive” diets (as opposed to “exclusive” regimens that eliminate foods in both quantity and quality), will let you shed massive amounts of weight in a hurry, but you will be better off for the rest of your life.

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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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For Weight Loss, the Right Kind of Support Can Be Critical

August 16th, 2013 at 7:53 am by timigustafson

Addressing weight issues, especially when it involves others like family, friends or co-workers, is always a delicate matter. Asking for support can be difficult, and trying to be helpful can easily backfire.

Research has shown that the attitude of loved ones has enormous influence on people’s weight loss efforts, both positive and negative. Encouragement and genuine support are essential components for success. On the other hand, criticism, even if meant to be constructive, can do serious harm. So can sabotage and non-cooperation.

For example, one recent study found that urging a partner to go on a diet, even when done with the best of intentions, can lead to serious eating disorders. Almost half of the participants in this study reported that they were more likely to engage in binge eating, bulimia and other dysfunctional behavior around food when they felt challenged by significant others to lose weight.

Fear of rejection and being found unattractive leads especially women to take sometimes drastic and ultimately counterproductive steps in response to outside pressures.

In the workplace, corporate health and fitness programs are becoming increasingly popular, and they can indeed offer many benefits, including promoting team spirit and lowering healthcare costs. But if they are imposed in ways that make overweight employees feel disadvantaged and even discriminated against, they can quickly overreach.

In any situation, it can be hard to make one’s personal needs known, particularly when they conflict with those of others who will also be affected. No one wants to be a spoiler or the weakest link everyone else has to be considerate of.

For instance, it can be very difficult when only one member of the family, or any other group or partnership, is trying to change his or her eating habits, and the rest either doesn’t have to or doesn’t want to, says Linda Spangle, a nutrition counselor and author of “100 Days of Weight Loss” (SunQuest Media, 2006) to WebMD in an interview on the subject.

Asking for support can also be tricky if you are not quite sure what kind of help you actually want and would find useful. Stop and think about what you really expect in terms of support, then take pen to paper and write your “in a perfect world” list, Spangle suggests. This list should consist of ways others could lend a hand in your quest for a healthier you.

Ideally, not just you but everybody around you should be able to benefit from your actions. So instead of isolating yourself or forcing others to join you, it is advisable to point out how positive eating and lifestyle changes can benefit everyone.

For example, you don’t want to ask your family to give up certain favorites because they interfere with your diet program, but rather discuss how eating more healthily and becoming more active can improve the health and well-being of all members. Or, instead of avoiding your colleagues at lunch hour or after-work get-togethers, you can suggest getting more physical exercise such as walking, bicycling or playing team sports – together. You may discover that your co-workers, too, can use some nudging and may even thank you for it.

Good communication is always key when you request help, Spangle advises. Be as specific as you can. Don’t just say, “Be nice to me,” or, “Help me.” Instead, clearly state what you want others to do or not do in your presence.

If you are the only one who needs or wants to make changes, be aware of the potential consequences and give those around you enough space, so they don’t feel inconvenienced and imposed upon. At the same token, stand up for yourself and don’t lose sight of your goals, whether they are seconded by anyone else or not.

Also, keep in mind that different relationships in your life can play different roles. Not everyone has to fit into the same scheme. Your choice of going to the gym early in the morning doesn’t mean your spouse has to jump out of bed with you. Buddy-up with someone who has similar habits or follows a similar schedule.

What matters most is that you can draw strength from your surroundings, not resistance. Losing weight and keeping it off is hard enough without having to fight for it or suffering setbacks caused by others.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Sometimes the Best Way to Lose Weight Is a Change in Venue.”

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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 Americans Don’t Exercise Enough – But Who Can Blame Them?

May 8th, 2013 at 1:01 pm by timigustafson

Despite plenty of encouragement from the government and health experts to move more, Americans still find it hard to adopt a less sedentary lifestyle. Merely 20 percent are in compliance with the government’s recommendations for physical activity, which advise getting at least two and a half hours per week of moderately intense aerobic exercise like brisk walking as well as some strength training such as lifting weights or doing pushups.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), call being physically active “one of the most important steps that Americans of all ages can take to improve their health.”

The Physical Activity Guidelines are meant to complement the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a joint effort of the HHS and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). They are directed towards policy makers and health care professionals as well as the public at large.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the May 2013 issue of the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 52 percent of respondents to phone interviews reported meeting the recommended guidelines for aerobics, and 29 percent said they did with muscle-strength training.

The survey also came up with some other noticeable statistics. Less than a third of 18 to 24 year-olds met both aerobic and strength-training recommendations. Only 16 percent of over 65 year-olds came close. Hispanics did worse than other ethnicities. Education also seemed a contributing factor. Those with college degrees did on average better than those without. Normal-weight persons were more active than the overweight and obese. Americans living in the Northeast and the West outperformed Southerners. Colorado beat all other states. West Virginia and Tennessee came in last.

Similarly to the Dietary Guidelines, the Physical Activity Guidelines have been criticized as unrealistic and unattainable for many Americans, especially for low-income earners and those living in unwalkable and unsafe neighborhoods.

Multiple studies have shown that walkability in residential areas has a significant impact on people’s health. One study found that residents of neighborhoods with sidewalks, bike paths and public parks had a much lower risk of becoming overweight or obese than those who lived in areas without such amenities.

But unfortunately, issues of walkability and bikeability are still not included in the planning processes of many cities around the country. Walk Score, a Seattle-based company that evaluates major cities and midsized towns in the U.S., releases annual rankings of the most, and least, walkable places and rates them on a scale from 0 (= “car-dependent”) to 100 (= “walker’s paradise”). While New York City and San Francisco routinely qualify as most pedestrian-friendly and are lauded for their extensive public transportation system, smaller towns, especially in rural areas, still make it hard to get around other than by driving your own vehicle.

Physical fitness – like weight control – is considered by many as a matter of personal choice and responsibility. And to a certain extent that is true. However, other factors such as income, residence, access to grocery outlets and opportunities to be physically active within reasonable distance have all been shown to be decisive. If too many of these elements are missing, no appeal to behavioral change will suffice.

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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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Pillars of Wellbeing

April 3rd, 2013 at 10:51 am by timigustafson

I practice a special kind of meditation on an almost daily basis. Perhaps meditation isn’t the right word since it doesn’t require me to sit in silence with my eyes closed and legs crossed or anything like that. It’s more a form of taking stock of where my life is going at any particular time.

For this, I have five issues to consider: my physical health, my diet, my emotional state, my intellectual rigor and my social/relational life. These I think of as the pillars of my wellbeing. Each one matters greatly by itself, but each must also be in balance with all the others. If one goes missing, the rest will suffer as well.

Let me give an example. When I injured my shoulder in a tennis game a few years ago, I realized how much was taken away from me, not just because I had to give up playing for a while but also because a dear routine was interrupted with all sorts of consequences.

During my prolonged absence from the court, I lost my tennis buddies whose comradeship I had enjoyed tremendously. One of them, a university professor and a true intellectual, had not only been a great partner in doubles but also a stimulating presence in my life that gave me many insights in a vast variety of subjects. Due to the reduced physical activity, I felt less energetic and not as motivated in my work. And I had to watch my diet more carefully to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Needless to say, I was saddened about losing a part of my life that was more important to me than I had been aware of. In fact, it made me miserable for quite some time.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: “Health is not everything, but without it, nothing is anything.” I am a great believer in that. I know now that my physical health is the foundation of what I can do in life, whether it concerns work or leisurely activities. It also affects my state of mind, my interest and participation in the world around me, and my ability to relate to others. And it works both ways: The happier I am, the more fulfilled I feel, the easier it seems to stay healthy and fit.

Obviously, my little meditational routine is nothing original. If you are interested in taking up this kind of exercise, I can recommend using the so-called “Wellness Wheel”, which follows a similar pattern. As the name indicates, the different components of wellness relate to each other like spokes in a wheel. Each is necessary to hold the whole thing together, none is expendable.

Wellness Wheel

Good nutrition, regular exercise, weight management as well as avoidance of smoking and alcohol and drug abuse are at the core. But so are stress management and getting enough sleep. Our emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs must be cared for. Having goals, a sense of purpose and satisfaction and fulfillment in what we do are all part of it, just like having good relationships with loved ones, colleagues and community.

Not all areas will always be at peak performance. And that’s not even necessary. We can focus on work and put our social life on the backburner for some time. We can take a break from our exercise routine for a day or two and make up for the missed time on the weekend. We can overindulge for a special occasion and then go right back to a healthy diet afterwards. What we can’t do is neglecting or sacrificing entire segments of our wellbeing because, sooner or later, it will affect the whole person.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment” and “Healthy Eating – A Never-Ending Learning Curve.”

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, on Facebook and on Pinterest.

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Intermittent Fasting for Weight Loss, a Bad Idea

March 5th, 2013 at 4:47 pm by timigustafson

A new diet has become all the rage in Britain and is now making landfall on our shores as well. It’s called the “Fast Diet” and millions of weight loss candidates already swear by it.

Like all commercial diet programs, this one promises quick results without much effort and little changes in established eating habits. Followers can eat anything they want for five days but then have to undergo a fasting period of 48 hours where they cannot consume more than 500 to 600 calories per day.

The authors, Dr. Michael Mosley, a medical journalist, and Mini Spencer, a food and fashion writer, claim they both have experienced amazing weight loss successes themselves while experimenting with various forms of intermittent fasting. They also believe their approach can promote overall health and even longevity.

The idea of submitting oneself to periods of food deprivation is nothing new, of course. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors did it, although perhaps not voluntarily, and many religions recommend it as a ritual for cleansing, both physically and spiritually.

“Voluntarily abstaining from eating for short periods of time will allow you to eat what you like, most of the time, and get slimmer and healthier as you go,” the authors proclaim on their website. “The joy of the Fast Diet is that the side-effects are all good,” they say.

But are they?

Even if its true that our bodies are genetically programmed to endure periods of famine, as our forbearers were forced to with regularity when food supplies ran scarce, that doesn’t mean it is a good idea to disrupt your metabolism every so often just to shed a few extra pounds in a hurry.

For example, when the body is subjected to severe calorie restriction, it goes into a different metabolic mode where it switches from burning carbohydrates (glucose), its preferred fuel, to burning fat. This may at first sound like a good idea since body fat is what dieters want to get rid off. However, if this process continues for too long, it can lead to a state known as ketosis.

When fat stores become the primary source for fuel, weight loss will occur – but not without side effects. During ketosis, the body builds up substances known as ketones, which can cause a number of health problems. Loss of appetite, nausea, dizziness, irritability, tiredness and bad breath are among the milder symptoms. More serious consequences include dehydration, gout, kidney stones and even kidney failure.

For healthy individuals, short-term ketosis may not carry serious risks. However for diabetics, restricting carbohydrates in their diet may give rise to complications. In extreme cases, ketone levels can become so elevated that a situation develops where high blood sugar is met with a severe shortage of insulin. This is known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). The results, if not immediately treated, can be fatal.

Many followers of weight loss diets are plagued with one or more of these conditions. Experimenting with one’s metabolism, especially when done without supervision by a medical professional, can only make matters worse.

Last but not least, there are the long-term implications to be considered. Are we to believe that a five-day period of no dietary restrictions followed by two days of disciplined fasting is a viable option for most people? It seems to me such a regimen bears a strong resemblance to many of the crash diets that may produce quick results but inevitably fail over time.

In response to this latest diet craze, Britain’s National Health System has posted a warning on its website that says: “Despite its increasing popularity, there is a great deal of uncertainty about IF (intermittent fasting) with significant gaps in the evidence.”

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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About timigustafson

About Timi Gustafson, R.D. As a clinical dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and, as of late, blogger, she has been able to reach millions of people, addressing their concerns about issues of health, lifestyle and nutrition. As Co-founder and Director of Nutrition Services for Cyberdiet.com (now Mediconsult.com), she created the first nutrition-related interactive website on the Internet in 1995. Many of the features you find on her blog, www.timigustafson.com, are based on the pioneering work of those days. Today, her goals remain the same: Helping people to achieve optimal health of body and mind. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics from San José State University in California and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center in San Francisco. She is a registered dietitian and Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Dietitians in Business and Communications, Healthy Aging, Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition, and the Vegetarian Nutrition Practice Groups. For more information about Timi Gustafson R.D. please visit: www.timigustafson.com

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