Friday, October 29

Preventing Colds with My Gym Membership!

It’s Friday and, at least in my office, it’s payday!  I was checking out my accrued sick hours on my pay stub—laughing with a coworker that I can now officially be sick for half a day as I have four sick hours accrued!  I kidded her that sick days are far more efficiently spent when you can use them and not be sick.  It made me think for moment: when was the last time I was sick?
I have to say this isn’t the first time I’ve noticed that since I have built regular fitness into my daily life I haven’t been sick (over a year now).  Now, it might just be luck of the draw—no one says you must get at least one cold every year.  But I’ve always been one of those people who gets stuffy and congested every spring and fall.  Something about the changing of the seasons messes with my sinuses.  But not this year!
There are some doctors out there who believe physical fitness can reduce your risk of catching a cold.  One study in 2006 showed that people who exercise are less likely to catch colds (sedentary people in these studies caught four times the colds!).  Some research has shown that during moderate exercise cells related to our immune systems circulate through the body more quickly, which allows them to better kill bacteria and viruses.
This is definitely not to say that if you’re feeling ill you should go out for a run or attend you regular cardio class.  I am definitely in the camp of people who believe if you’re sick, you need to stay home and keep your butt far, far away from me!  But this is to say that daily exercise could potentially help you ward off any bugs you might be hanging around.
So now that we’re creeping into cold and flu season, don’t skip those workouts!  Have you noticed similar health in your own fitness journey?  Or has the regular use of gym equipment made you more susceptible to germs?  ;)

Wednesday, October 27

Eat Your Veggies!

Did you know that only 1 out of every 3 adults in the US eat more than three servings of vegetables each day?  The CDC recently published some state numbers on how many servings of fruits and vegetables we’re eating every day.  There’s some fascinating information (and a couple of maps that would make you gasp) under the Health Professionals section here:
Are you surprised by that number?  I asked around my work to see what others thought, and one coworker replied, “I like vegetables, but I just don’t buy them often.”  This was me not that long ago.  I kept commenting to my nutritionist as I was doing the 20/20 Lifestyles program, “I forgot how much I love veggies and fruit!
We all have different reasons for not eating the veggies we need daily.  Some of us live in veggie-hostile environments.  My husband refuses to eat anything that grew out of the ground, so I’m the only person in our house who consumes vegetables.  Some people are unsure of what to buy or how to buy produce.  I knew how to buy good carrots and zucchini, but until I moved to Seattle produce like avocadoes and brussel sprouts were foreign territory to me.  And some people just don’t know what to do with the veggies once they have them.  Cooking some veggies takes a little practice, and not everyone loves boring, warmed, unseasoned vegetables.
I’ll chat about some specific veggies in later posts (so let me know if you have any requests!), but here are a few ideas of how we can build more produce into our diet every day:
·         Veggies (unadulterated) are always low-calorie.  You can absolutely include a little in every meal: a hand full of cherry tomatoes with your snack, a salad with your lunch, and grilled veggies with dinner are easy.  The key is to commit to keeping veggies around your house so you can pack them to go and snack on them at home.
·         Consider how you can use veggies to compliment what you’re already eating.  Don’t skip the lettuce and tomato on your burger.  Throw some broccoli in that mac ‘n cheese.  Add eggplant to your lasagna for a little excitement!
·         Consider how you could replace high-carbohydrate or calorie-dense foods with vegetables.  Instead of having bread as an appetizer, get a salad (watch that dressing!).  Instead of pasta, have your chicken or meatballs with asparagus and zucchini (or spaghetti squash as great substitute).  Instead of a bun for your hamburger, try portabella mushrooms or large leaf lettuce.
Do you find it hard to build veggies into your daily diet?  Are there specific days or times that are easier to get your servings of vegetables than others?  How have you found ways to work in fresh produce?

Monday, October 25

This Is How Skinny Feels!

I’m sure you’ve heard it before: “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.  When people say this to me, I usually have to resist the desire to punch them in the face (although, because of my Body Combat class, I’m confident I wouldn’t punch them like a girl).
But really?  Do you really believe that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels?  I mean, if that were true, wouldn’t our country be suffering from an under-weight epidemic rather than an obesity epidemic?  And how many people who use this phrase actually understand what skinny feels like?
I’ll tell you what skinny feels like:
Skinny feels like the burn of sweat dripping into my eyes.
Skinny feels like my screaming quad muscles on the twentieth squat.
Skinny feels like abs so sore I can’t laugh or sneeze.
Skinny feels like my soaking wet bangs sticking to my face.
Skinny feels like my heart pumping out of my chest after an hour of cardio.
Skinny feels like tender feet pounding the pavement.
Skinny feels like peeling off drenched workout clothes.
Skinny feels like legs so weak that I can’t even climb the stairs.
Skinny feels like burning lungs and gasping for air.
Don’t fool yourself.  You might feel the above in getting to skinny, but it’s not like you get to skinny and then never have to work again.  You work that hard every day to stay at skinny.
So next time someone says “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” I’m going to look them in the eye and say “Then you have no idea what skinny feels like.

Saturday, October 23

The Old and the New


I don’t normally get all sappy and introspective here, but I’m going to indulge myself today.  I’m feeling pretty good about where I’m at right now—I’ve been putting up new photos of me and my husband around the house today!  I have to say, I honestly love my old photos.  I was never miserable or depressed about my weight, so I don’t look at those photos with disgust.  And I love having them around the house to remind me of how far I’ve come!
I also wear stripes way better than I used to!
I'm thrilled with my fitness and the control I've established over my weight.  And even though I'm not maintaining a perfect weight (my doctor and trainer keep asking me if I want to lose more now that I'm regularly 175), my weight fits my life well.  I feel like I could lose more weight when I want to, but that I'm liking where I am at now.
I can't encourage people enough: if you think your weight is interferring with your life, if you are unhappy with your weight and your body, you can change today!  Not someday.  Not tomorrow.  Today is the day when you can accept responsibility for your own health and your own emotional well being.  Don't wait!  How are you going to change your life today?

Wednesday, October 20

The Ridiculous Notion of Intuitive Eating

For those who may not be familiar with the term, Intuitive Eating is the notion of trusting your body to tell you when to eat, what to eat and how much to eat.  Intuitive Eating would sound like this: “I just eat until I feel full” or “I only eat when I feel hungry” or “I approach food with common sense.”
Often, Intuitive Eating is described as the opposite of dieting because it doesn’t require you track food or calories.  It’s based on the idea that if we are connected to our internal cues, then it is more difficult for us to be triggered by external forces.  So, you’re out for coffee with a friend and you don’t even glance at the pastries behind the glass; you’re not hungry.  You’re eating your favorite pizza for dinner and stop after one slice; you’re feeling full.  It’s Halloween and there’s a large bowl of your favorite candy sitting by your front door; no big deal.  It’s intuitive.
I need you to know the last sentence of that paragraph was dripping with sarcasm.  If you read each of those real life circumstances and thought they sounded like a nice fantasy, then you’re on the same track I am.
Intuitive Eating doesn’t equip you to handle life, just gives you a set of yes/no parameters around eating: am I hungry?  Intuitive Eating doesn’t give you tools to work with because it doesn’t take into consideration that hunger may not be the only chemical driver affecting our decisions.  When you understand the physical function of the body, you’ll realize that hunger is just a chemical reaction (ghrelin).  When we feel full, that’s a different chemical reaction (leptin).  There are chemical reactions separate to hunger and fullness (dopamine and opioids) that cause us to seek out foods because they make us feel good.
Intuitive Eating doesn’t work because your body and your brain are chemically and behaviorally conditioned.  It is easy to confuse the signals our body is giving us (for example, when I’m mildly thirsty, it feels like hunger to me).  Even if I was able to perfectly interpret signals of hunger and fullness in my body, I would begin to identify different kinds of hunger.  Who hasn’t sat down to eat a large dinner and then “made room” for dessert afterward?  If you just answered negatively to that question, let’s talk again after Thanksgiving.
If eating was intuitive, then the US wouldn’t be facing an obesity epidemic.  Have you ever tried eating intuitively?  Have you had any experience with differentiating the kinds of hunger you experience?  What do you think?

Tuesday, October 19

Exercise vs. Calories

Hoo boy!  It has been a crazy work week and it is only Tuesday!  It’s looking like my schedule is going to stay this way for a while too.  I’ve been forced to start considering my priorities since my time and energy is an absolute premium right now.
I’ve noticed that when this kind of stress arrives, my tendency is to prioritize exercise over calories.  What I mean is that I’ll catch myself not tracking what I eat or how much, as well as making choices to eat a lot of high-calorie comfort foods, but still prioritizing my exercise classes and time at the gym.  I find that, for me, it’s easy to justify those bad food choices because I’m still prioritizing my gym time.  It’s easier!  I like the gym.
So which is more important?  The answer is that both calories and exercise are important to losing and maintaining your weight, not to mention your overall health.  If you’re looking to change your life for good, you’re going to need to make lifestyle changes to both how you eat and how active you are.  And both eating well and exercising complement each other: having the energy for an intense cardio work out is hard when I’ve been loading up on doughnuts all day, and I always feel so tired no matter how well I’ve eaten when I haven’t been to the gym for a few days.
But we all know that life happens.  And sometimes you just can’t both watch your calories and make time for exercise.  Over the long term, making one a priority over the other could be a big mistake.  The choices I have made in the past to prioritize exercise almost always result in weight gain.  Why?  You’ve heard it before: calories in, calories out.  It doesn’t matter if I’m burning 500 calories at the gym every night—if I’m eating 3000 calories in a day, that’s still 1000 extra calories that is going right to my fat cells.  I’ve learned that (if I have to choose) I need to prioritize watching my calories and tracking my eating.
Have you found the same for yourself?  Are there other ways you’ve found to work within limited time and energy periods of life?

Friday, October 15

Maintaining That Body!

I’ve been becoming more and more comfortable with the concept of weight maintenance lately.  When I was finally emerging from my weight loss, I was nervous about being able to maintain my new weight for the rest of my life.
With the momentum from my weight loss at first, it was easy.  But then I chose to have some surgery and lost a lot of muscle mass during recovery.  I had only gained a few pounds, but it made me nervous again that I wouldn’t be able to continue all my good habits long term.  I mean—and I’m sure you know—life happens.  Unexpected work lunch meetings, and stress decisions, and social events happen.  And I’ve been struggling with how I perceive weight maintenance.
I was worried that my weight fluctuation meant that my maintenance was unstable.  I’ve been up and down within about 10 pounds (the lower end being my goal weight of about 170, the higher end being my ceiling that I set for myself of about 180).  I’ve found that it’s getting easier for me to maneuver within that 10 pound range.  For example, I’ll have a couple days at work with lunch meetings and Starbucks trips.  I’ll step on the scale and see that I’m approaching 180.  At that point I know I need to get my butt into gear.  I commit to making the gym a priority and plan out what I eat.  Usually with a couple days, I’m back to being closer to 170.
But this is what had me worried for a while—that my weight was “yo-yoing” and I wasn’t stably maintaining my goal weight.  However, I’ve come to the conclusion that my idea of weight maintenance was a fantasy.  No one gets onto the scale and sees the exact same number day after day.  Even if I could maintain perfect control over my eating and exercising, my weight would still fluctuate within a couple pounds.
I’ve decided that this fluctuation is exactly what weight maintenance is: that I manage to live my life with the unexpected and maintain control over my weight.  It is not that I am maintaining a number on the scale, but I maintain control over the weight I gain and the weight I lose.
How about you?  Have you struggled with the idea of weight maintenance?  Have you reached a point of comfort in maintaining your weight?

Monday, October 11

Milking the Dairy Debate

When it comes to dairy foods, everyone is pretty divided on whether we should dub it a “healthy” food group and how much of it we should eat.  How much calcium do we need?  Are dairy foods the best way to get calcium?  Should I only consume fat free dairy foods?  Does this mean I need to stop smothering everything I eat in cheese?
Disclaimer:  For our discussion today, I’m completely ignoring the antibiotics/organic debate and looking purely at dairy foods from a nutritional standpoint.  Also, many of my in-laws are dairy farmers so I would appreciate if they stopped reading right here (as I would like nice Christmas presents this year).
Generally, most people need about 600 to 1000 milligrams of calcium each day.  However, your body can only absorb about 500 milligrams at once (about one third of what you need), so it’s impossible to get all the calcium you need in one dose.  Dairy foods are often the easiest, and quickest, ways to get doses of calcium into our diets; but did you know that calcium is naturally found in many other foods?
Salmon, tofu, almonds and broccoli are just a few natural foods that are great sources of calcium.  Leafy green vegetables are the best low-calorie source of calcium (not to mention a slew of other nutrients).  An orange actually has more than half the calcium that a serving of cottage cheese has.  An artichoke has more calcium than a serving of cream cheese.  Interestingly, sesame seeds are the most abundant source of calcium in nature (cup of sesame seeds = 2200 mg, cup of milk = 280 mg).
However, dairy foods can be high in saturated fats, so we need to be careful of the quantity of dairy foods in your diet (remember that small amounts of saturated fat in our diets is fine).  Reduced fat dairy foods are great sources of protein.  There are many fat free dairy foods that actually taste pretty good as well.
So what’s the verdict?  Well, that’s up to you!  Personally, I take daily calcium supplements, sometimes eat greek yogurt for breakfasts, and eat low fat cheese sticks as snacks.  All in all, it really only comes to about 2 to 4 servings of dairy each day.  Do you find that less dairy each day would works better for you?   More?  Just make sure to track those calories and watch the fat.

Friday, October 8

Are You Drinking Your Weight Gain?

Considering my profession, I have an appreciation for good marketing.  I heard about this ad the other day on the radio and just had to look it up:

This ad comes from the New York City Health Department, and I love how they have executed it.  The look on the woman’s face at the end is the kicker.  She’s just absolutely disgusted at him as she sits and drinks her soda.  "You'd never eat 16 packs of sugar.  Why would you drink 16 packs of sugar?"
But I can hear you now, “Yeah, yeah, I know.  But I don’t drink a lot of soda.”  Here’s a study you’d be crazy interested in, then.  Scientists fed people either 450 calories of jelly beans or soda each day for a month.  At the end, the soda drinkers had gained more weight than the jelly bean eaters.  Why?  Apparently, the jelly bean eaters unconsciously reduced the calories they ate in other places, but the soda drinkers didn’t.  This means the term “empty calories” is more true than we know.  Our bodies don’t recognize calories from some beverages as sustenance—our brains continue to tell us to eat the same amount of food even though we don’t actually need the same amount of calories.
Interestingly, the radio article I heard this ad mentioned in was about New York City wanting to stop people from using food stamps to purchase soda.  There are already bans on other kinds of food people can use food stamps on—however, soda is among some high sugar foods and drinks that people are able to get.  Many studies have shown that low income families suffer from the highest rates of obesity than any other social class.  Are you wondering how that could be?  Try it out: take $10 to your grocery store and try to purchase fresh, healthy foods to make a dinner for four people.  You’ll find that your $10 stretches much further if you leave the produce isle.  Carbs and fat are cheap.
So, are you drinking a lot of calories in your day?  Are there any low or no-calorie drinks you’ve found to help keep your taste buds happy?
Finally, if you and your family are privileged enough to afford healthy and fresh foods every day, I would challenge you to consider families without that luxury next time you’re in your grocery store.

Wednesday, October 6

Those Sneaky Health Halos

We’ve previously discussed Health Halos, which is a fancy word for the perception of “healthy” that we apply to foods that carry certain labels—labels like “low fat” or “sugar free.”  You can check out that post here.
Today I’d like to take a look at another category of labels that are creating health halos all over the place: organic, all natural, or locally grown.
I read a lot of the other blogs in my category.  I find that many of the healthy living blogs that focus on food (you’ll know them by the endless stream of food-photo filled posts) use a lot of the above buzz words.  One blogger in particular is genuinely trying her best to eat as healthy as she possibly can but often shares recipes that have ingredient lists like this: organic flour, all natural sugar, locally raised eggs, etc.  Congratulations!  You’ve just made an organic, all natural, locally supported waffle that has the exact same calories as any waffle at any Der Waffel Haus.
Unprocessed?  Yes.  Healthy?  No.
The worst part is—as is with any health halo—we tend to eat more of a food that we think is healthy than we would if we knew we were eating something that has a higher calorie content.  One of my favorite magazines, Cooking Light, just wrote an article on this: check it out.
When we’re not on our guard, it’s easy to assume that organic is the same as healthy.  Eating unprocessed foods is definitely a healthy goal.  And there are plenty of organic foods that are also low calorie.  But you ask: “Oh how are we to tell the difference?  Oh where are we to find this elusive information?” (I hope you put as much dramatic voice into those questions as I did in my head.)  You need to look right past those labels and headlines to find the nutritional information on packaging.  You check serving size first, calories second and then scan the rest of the info (looking particularly at fat and carbohydrates).
Have you ever eaten a food and only found afterward that it wasn’t as healthy as you thought?  Are there labels that you think you’re particularly attracted to?  Why do you think these kinds of labels work so well on us?

Monday, October 4

Recipe for Success: Support

I left our discussion of support for last because I feel that, in a way, a system of support is the most important ingredient to successful weight loss and long term weight management.  After all the commitments and changes that you make, you’re still only one person.  By ourselves it’s much easier to justify choices that move you away from your success.  But when you build into your life a network of people and resources that can help in the times you need them (and maybe not always even when you want them), then you’re setting yourself up for long term success.
Be purposeful about how you build your support system, and try to cover yourself in different areas of your life.  Most of us have a supportive friend or family members, but our friends and family aren’t with us all day long every day.
Support in my own life aside from friends and family:
  • I have relationships with my exercise class teachers so that, if I were to miss a regular class for a couple weeks, I know I would have an email from them asking where I was.
  • I have a counselor whom I used to visit frequently during my weight loss, but I continue to see him two or three times a year now that I’m working on maintaining my weight.
  • I have a relationship with a coworker who loves to walk at lunch when it’s sunny.
  • I follow a lot of other foodie and weight loss blogs to help keep myself focused daily.
As you can see, I can’t make it through a normal day without encountering at least one person in my support network.  Some people are stronger levels of support than others—my coworker isn’t about to come over to my cubicle and yell at me to go walk, but my counselor is a great kick in the butt if I haven’t been making great choices leading up to one of my appointments.  A good support system will have multiple points of contact as well as multiple levels of support.
What kind of support system do you have?  What are the people who support you like?  Do you feel well covered?  Any holes that might need fortified?

Friday, October 1

Recipe for Success: Lasting Change

In my last post, we talked about the commitment required to make life change happen.  Just making a commitment will help get you through the weight loss, but a commitment to change alone won’t get you through maintaining that weight for the rest of your life.  You’ll need a commitment to life-long sustainable changes.
This is the biggest reason why I am personally against most diets or dieting aids.  The majority of diets out there (by their own definition) are only temporary changes to eating or lifestyle.  How can you expect to keep the weight off as soon as you stop doing what it is that let you lose the weight in the first place?  I could never find a good reason to diet when I had no intentions of continuing it long term.
I was so attracted to the 20/20 Lifestyles program because they were very up-front that what they were selling was life-long.
As I made specific changes to the way that I ate and lived, I consciously made a determination as to whether that change was something I was willing to change forever.  Some changes were easy: Jared and I discovered that we liked most reduced fat cheeses even better than that regular versions.  Some changes weren’t: I like salt.  A lot.  At first, I ate an amazingly reduced sodium diet (no added salt and low salt foods).  I quickly decided that this was not a sustainable change in my life—so this was a change I chose not to continue.
Make sure the changes in your life are lasting—realistically consider the practicality of each choice.  And consider all angles of compromise as well.  If it’s completely unrealistic to think you’ll rarely go out to eat, then consider changing what you tend to order at restaurants.  There are often ways to make smaller changes if a big change is unlikely.
Have there been any changes you implemented in the past that you’ve been able to maintain?  How have those changes differed from others that weren’t sustainable in your life?

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