Posts Tagged ‘Weight Loss’

Where Did All the Food Go?

January 12th, 2015 at 5:24 pm by timigustafson

The holiday season is behind us, and while the cheering was a lot of fun, it is now time to go back to a healthier eating regimen, especially if the scale indicates that you’ve been overdoing it a little. Unfortunately, the pound or two you may have acquired over the past few weeks tend to stick around and will not easily be gotten rid of even with dieting and exercise.

The reason is that most people get used to eating more over the holidays, and while they plan to cut back after New Year, they often still hold on to larger servings, which by now have become the new normal, says Dr. Brian Wansink, author of “Mindless Eating – Why We Eat More Than We Think” (Bantam Books, 2006) and lead researcher of a new study on the subject of holiday weight gain.

Following hundreds of families over an extended period of time that included the holiday season, the researchers found that participants indeed bought more healthy foods like fruit and vegetables in the days after New Year but also kept eating junk like sugary snacks and fast food, which led to hundreds of additional calories, in some cases twice as many as they consumed during the holidays themselves. So much for good intentions.

The problem is that once people start eating larger portions on special occasions, they tend to continue doing so, although they may believe they are not. Insidiously, it becomes a regular habit that leads to ever-increasing food consumption year after year, with all the well-known consequences of unhealthy weight gain, says Dr. Wansink.

And those consequences are no laughing matter. For both men and women it only gets harder to lose body fat as they grow older. Especially at menopause, most women begin to store more fat around the waist, even if they don’t get much heavier.

And as waistlines increase, so do a number of serious health risks, according to research conducted at Harvard University.

Abdominal, or visceral, fat is of particular concern because it is a key factor in a variety of health problems, the study report warns. Visceral fat, which is situated in the spaces between the abdominal organs, has been linked to cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain forms of cancer.

The simplest way to determine abdominal fat amounts is to measure your waist size. A waist circumference of 40+ inches for men, and 35+ inches for women is considered an elevated health risk, although this can slightly vary by ethnicity. Also, abdominal fat can be problematic even in people whose Body-Mass-Index (BMI) is within a healthy range.

So, if you wonder where all the goodies from your recent celebrating have ended up, and your belly size gives you a clue, be advised that you have work to do.

Yes, real, not just perceived, reduction of food servings may be in order. But equally important is to improve the nutritional quality of your diet. In addition, greater efforts in the gym, the pool, or on the bike path may be required. Strength training (a.k.a. weight lifting) is highly recommended. But foremost, make changes in your eating and lifestyle habits for the long run, so you don’t have to start over next time the holidays come around.

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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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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 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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Getting Back in Shape After the Holidays – Don’t Rush It!

December 27th, 2014 at 5:02 pm by timigustafson

Now that the holidays are behind us, the damage inflicted on waistlines and other body parts bearing the marks of every dietary misdeed, no matter how harmless and forgivable it seemed at the time, will be lamented by millions. But I say, no need for self-flagellation. What’s done is done. Let bygones be bygones, we’ll do better from hereon in.

My regular readers know that I am no friend of New Year’s resolutions because they only lead to greater pain and frustration and, for most people, don’t produce lasting results anyway.

Don’t go on a guilt trip
The last thing you want to do is blame yourself for lack of willpower and discipline. Unless you avoided all the holiday cheer by hiding in a place with no contact to the outside world, there is little chance you could stay on the straight and narrow of a perfect diet regimen. It’s just the nature of the beast. So don’t beat yourself up over the inevitable.

Don’t diet right away
If you have been overeating on numerous occasions or for extended periods of time, your body has become used to the higher food intake and will want to continue on that level as the new normal. If you cut back too quickly and/or too substantially, as panicked dieters tend to do, you will feel deprived, and your body will protest with all the hunger pangs it can muster. It’s not a good recipe for successful weight loss.

Take small steps
A better approach would be to wean yourself gradually from your lately acquired eating habits by reducing portion sizes, avoiding sugary snack foods and soda drinks, and decreasing or eliminating alcohol consumption. Remember, you only have to lower your calorie intake by approximately 500 calories per day in order to shed one pound per week. Losing weight at a slower pace also makes it more likely that you can keep it off long-term, which, of course, should be the ultimate goal.

Stay away from crash diets
Because of their initial effectiveness, so-called crash diets are very popular, but they can do more harm than good. Don’t engage in what is known as “yo-yo dieting,” meaning that you slim down real fast but gain everything back – and oftentimes more – soon thereafter. Such weight fluctuations can damage your metabolism and make it even harder to control your weight later on.

Eat more healthy foods
If you decide to cut back on your food intake, you should not only consider the amount of calories you are planning to reduce but also important nutrients you might be missing on a weight loss diet. In fact, it is recommended that you actually increase your consumption of highly nutritious foods like fruit and vegetables, while excluding others of lesser nutritional value such as processed and refined items, to provide your body with the necessary fuel to function properly and to avoid the risk of malnutrition.

Keep stress in check
It’s easy to forget how stressful the holidays can be. You may have enjoyed yourself, but all the preparations and gatherings with colleagues, family and friends can take a toll, whether you are aware of it or not. So, when things start slowing down again, it might be a good idea to pause and take stock. Perhaps it’s time to put your own needs first for a while and be kind to yourself by taking a break. Yoga, meditation, massage, or simply taking long walks – whatever lets you calm down and become yourself again – can be helpful. Also, don’t get too stressed out right after returning to your workplace. This may be easier said than done, but you have to be aware that leftover stress from the holidays plus new stress from the workload you’re resuming can quickly burn you out before the new year has even started.

Get more sleep
Chances are the holidays have left you sleep-deprived, perhaps even more than usual. So you may want to go to bed a little earlier or sleep in for a few days, if you can. There are plenty of things you can do to readjust your sleep pattern, so you wake up refreshed instead of hung over.

Exercise
It is still the best measure you can take to get back in shape. The weather may be less than inviting to go outside, but give yourself that proverbial kick in the butt and put on your running or hiking shoes, then deeply inhale some much-needed fresh air. The gyms may be extra full in early January, but resolution season is notoriously short, and within a few days you’ll be able to find plenty of vacant treadmills and stairmasters again.

Unlike the rest of the crowd, you’ll stick with your program, and all will be well in almost no time. 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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For Lasting Weight Loss, Go Fast or Slow?

October 23rd, 2014 at 3:03 pm by timigustafson

Shedding pounds too rapidly has long been considered by experts as a recipe for short-lived success, almost inevitably leading to reoccurring weight gain, a phenomenon also known as yo-yo dieting. A better approach, so the prevailing thinking went, was to limit the desired weight loss to one to two pounds a week, enough time to let the body adjust and make the changes permanent.

But the idea that slimming down at a reduced rate produces better outcomes long-term may be delusional, according to a new study that found no significant differences for participants in so-called crash diets by comparison to their counterparts who took a slower pace. Eventually, almost all gained much of their original weight back, and in some cases added more.

For the study, which was recently published in the journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, researchers from the University of Melbourne, Australia, divided 200 obese adults randomly in two groups and submitted them to either a 12-week rapid weight loss (RWL) regimen on a very low calorie diet, or a 36-week gradual weight loss (GWL) program that required a daily calorie reduction of no more than 500 calories per day.

As expected, the dieters who took the fast approach showed greater initial successes, but surprisingly, they did not regain weight faster than those who went about their weight loss more slowly. After only three years, weight regain was about the same in both groups.

Based on these findings, the authors of the study report concluded that current dietary guidelines recommending gradual over rapid weight loss may be unsupported if considered for lasting results.

This, of course, is an important caveat. Naturally, lasting results are important for any weight loss endeavor. It is no secret that keeping unwanted pounds off for good is the hardest part of any diet, no matter what method is chosen.

But there are other considerations as well. Radical crash diets that prescribe severe calorie restrictions and even exclude entire food groups can imbalance a person’s metabolism – the rate at which the body turns food into energy – thereby preventing important nutrients and vitamins from getting to where they are needed.

Moreover, rapid weight loss affects not just unwanted fat but also lean muscle mass, which is not desirable. When calorie intake is suddenly and substantially diminished, the body uses energy stored in the liver and muscles. Most of the initial weight reduction comes from loss of water and muscle. In other words, people may lose weight, but not in a way that is healthy.

Still, some experts now say that different approaches to weight loss may be suitable for different individuals. In cases of severe obesity, more drastic measures might be called for, at least initially.

“Doctors should, on the base of this study, feel they can suggest a very low calorie diet to obese patients, if they feel that would suit them,” said Dr. Susan Jedd, a professor of public health at Oxford University, in an interview addressing the study results with the British newspaper The Guardian. “Even if they put it all back on, they will have been at a healthier weight for some time, which can only be good,” she added.

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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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Can Weight Loss Make You Smarter?

September 6th, 2014 at 1:51 pm by timigustafson

Being overweight is associated with multiple negative health effects, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Conversely, weight loss can lower the risk of developing such illnesses, or lighten their burden. Now, a new study from Brazil found that besides physical improvements, slimming down can also produce positive outcomes for the mind.

For the study, researchers followed a group of morbidly obese women who were planning to have gastric bypass surgery to lose weight. Six month after the procedure their average Body-Mass-Index (BMI) had dropped from over 50 to about 37 – still overweight but not considered as severely obese.

Before the operation, the women agreed to a series of exams to assess their memory and other cognitive functions. They also underwent brain scans and blood work. The same tests were repeated six months after the event.

A roughly equal number of normal-weight women (with a BMI of 22 to 23) served as a control group. Both groups took the same tests at the outset of the study. All participants scored by and large the same in the cognitive exams before the surgery, but six months later, as they lost weight, all of the formerly obese women improved their test results in at least one category.

Their brain scans also showed significant differences. Before weight loss they showed greater risks of mental decline than afterwards. The blood tests indicated improvements in insulin sensitivity and reduced inflammation.

Overall, the researchers concluded, weight loss can have positive effects on brain health and may play a role in the prevention of cognitive degeneration and age-related dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease.

This is not the first time scientists have tried to shed light on the impact of excessive body weight on the brain. A study from France, conducted in 2006, investigated the relation between changes in BMI and cognitive functions but couldn’t determine any significant associations between the two in middle-aged, healthy, non-demented adults. More recent research, however, found some indication that weight problems – including underweight, overweight, and obesity – in midlife do in fact increase the risk of dementia in later years.

While there may be no definite answers yet to what extent body weight influences brain health, more and more findings point in the direction that there are indeed connections. At the very least, we do know that chronic conditions like high blood pressure and heart disease, both often directly resulting from weight problems, can contribute to the inhibition of blood flow to the brain, especially when blood vessels become narrowed or blocked. One possible outcome is what is called vascular dementia, which is different from other forms of dementia but nevertheless can lead to similar symptoms. It is the second most common cause of age-related mental decline after Alzheimer’s.

In any case, while there is no certain way to increase mental health or even prevent decline, most experts agree that healthy diet and lifestyle choices combined with consistent weight management and other health-promoting steps can reduce unnecessary risks and should be pursued as much as possible.

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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 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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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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