Sunday, February 27

Cutting off the Reward Center

Did you know that the activity in the reward center of the brains of obese people is exactly the same as cocaine addicts?  I’ll say it again just in case that question didn’t sink in: when I am eating, my brain activity is the same as someone who is taking cocaine.
You’ll want to share this link I was reading with anyone who says people can’t be addicted to certain foods.
So what does this mean for us who struggle with our weight and our compulsion to eat?  Science is beginning to prove that high sugar, high fat and high salt foods have addictive qualities for certain people.  This means that some of us will have to be more vigilant than others in trying to control our eating habits.
A few of the most important things to remember:
Build in repetition of your new habits.  You have to create and repeat a new routine for yourself.  This won’t always help you overcome temptation in the moment, but it will give you a firmly planted daily routine to fall back on when you do give into temptation.
Get your blood moving.  Exercise by itself raises the dopamine that your body releases.  Exercise won’t give you the same rush that a piece of cake would, but it could give you enough of that feel-good feeling that you’re able to resist in the moment.
Find non-food rewards.  I caught myself for a while rewarding my good eating habits with the promise of bad eating moments.  To my brain, I was only reinforcing the hold that those highly palatable foods had over me.  Find big and small ways to reward yourself non-calorically, and reward yourself often.  This also means finding new ways to deal with stress.  You need to find ways to relax that won’t lead you straight back to the foods you used to turn to.
Have you found any good ways to stop the pull that food has over you?  Do you feel like there is nothing that could stop it?  How do you see this happening to you each day?

Wednesday, February 23

Cycle of Overeating

Last week, we began to talk about the reward centers in our brains.  The reward center is the area in our brain that is responsible for the feelings we have that motivate us toward certain behaviors—obviously, the behaviors that give us the most pleasure.  Our brains release hormones that drive us toward actions, like eating or social interaction, that give us that sense of reward.
However, because of reaction in our brains when we eat highly palatable foods (foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt), we develop a habitual cycle that compels us to overeat.
I’m sure you’ve found that, after dieting for a while and abstaining from the highly palatable foods that you love, you begin to build up your expectations and memories around those foods.  You’ve been on your diet perfectly for weeks, but now you’re remembering those amazing doughnuts they sell down the street.  You remember how perfect they tasted, and you find it’s all you can think about.  However, when you finally give in to your craving, your first bite isn’t as good as you remember it.
Even though you’re a little disappointed at the memory of that food, you’re brain is still darn happy that you gave in.  Our brains are driving us to give in constantly—after all, our brains are programmed to seek the things that trigger our reward centers!
I’m sure you’ve also found that, after consistently giving in to those cravings for a while, you find that you no longer crave the one food you wanted and now crave a different food.  This is because the rewards center in our brains can become immune to the response that a food previously triggered.  This is exactly what is happening when you cave and eat an entire sleeve of Thin Mints (those horrible Girl Scouts will be out soon, prepare yourself).  You finish off the cookies, but find that now you’re craving potato chips.  Your brain says, “Ok, I’m done with the cookies.  The magic is gone.  But you know what would do the trick?  Something salty!”
I’m sure you see how overeating can become cyclical in these instances.  It’s so tempting to run from one highly palatable food to the other, keeping that “high” in our brains constant.  Do you see this cycle in your own life?
We’ll be talking once more this week about stopping this cycle in its tracks.   There is hope!

Wednesday, February 16

Making You Fat Is Good for Business

You may not realize this, but the American restaurant industry has perfected the science of making you fat.
Through research and scientific examination, we now know that certain foods trigger the pleasure center or the rewards center in our brains.  Foods high in sugar cause a reaction in our brains that drives us to seek out more of that food and eat more than we need to eat of that food.  Take that high-sugar food and add fat—you get a stronger reaction; take that high-sugar, high-fat food and add salt—you get the strongest reaction.
The restaurant industry employs scientists and researchers to help their chefs create food that is highly palatable (longtime readers will recognize this phrase right away).  These highly palatable foods are engineered to make you strongly desire them and overeat them.  Restaurants layer salt on fat on sugar and then sit back as you dish out your money to them. 
For example, fast food French fries.  At the processing plant, they slice up potatoes (a carbohydrate that your body immediately processes into sugar) and fry them in salted vegetable oil (fat with added salt).  They are also sprayed with a sugar solution to help them brown (more sugar).  The French fries are then flash frozen and sent to the restaurant.  At the restaurant, the frozen fries are tossed again into frying oil and then salted before they’re served (more fat and salt).  What’s a French fry?  It’s sugar layered with fat and salt, more sugar, and more fat and salt.
No wonder our brains seek out these foods exactly like an addiction.
I’ll be talking more in the next week or so about our reward centers.  Our long term success depends upon understanding how our brains work and creating a plan on how to deal with our addictions.

Monday, February 14

Love Those Pounds Away!

In honor of Valentine’s Day today—especially considering most of us will both be eating out and skipping the gym—here’s a few ways you can get to your daily calorie burn and get your lovin’ in at the same time:
Grab your hubby’s hand and go for a walk.  A one-mile leisurely stroll will burn 100 calories for you.
If you add some smooching in during your walk, you can burn 2 calories for each minute you spend lip-locked.
Or the two of you could jump on one of those very romantic two-seater bikes.  With the breeze in your hair, a 30-minute pedal with your love could burn you 150 calories.
Let’s say you happen to ride that two-seater to a secluded romantic spot, a little… ahem… “interlude” would add 30 calories to your daily burn.
I’m splurging for the day and doing pizza and a movie with the husband.  How are you spending your Love Day?

Friday, February 11

Spreading Love… and Healthy Living!

I just heard about an exciting movement this week!  It’s called The 100 Women Project.  Not a super catchy name, but wait until you hear their goal.  It’s a movement being run by a mom and daughter duo.  With daughter’s help, mom lost 90 pounds and has learned how to keep it off.  The duo is determined to help other women accomplish similar goals, and their hope is to create a ripple effect of health and wellness that travels far beyond their initial scope.
Here’s how the program is going to work.  They’re looking for 100 women to join the project.  These women will receive all the tools and support they need on their journey: coaching, nutrition guidance, food recommendations, self-care products, recipes, etc.  Participants will learn how to build sustainably healthy lives.
The project will culminate with a book that will not only celebrate the transformations of this initial 100 women, but will serve as inspiration for other women now embarking on their own transformations of health and wellness.
You can check out their story and other program details at
I’m really excited about this project, I’ll be following it as they get started in the next couple of months.  It’s motivating to see others succeed in passing on their experiences and knowledge.  I know that my own transformation made me want to share it with others.
I hope you’ll hop by their website and check it out.  Please pass it on to anyone who you think might be interested in becoming a participant!  There aren’t many people in this world just handing out help with good hearts—you need to accept the help in whatever form it comes.

Wednesday, February 9

Packaging Doesn’t Always Equal Junk

With my job having been so crazy lately, grocery shopping has taken a bit of a dive in my priorities.  Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not sticking to my calorie range and eating as well as I should!  That just means I don’t have a lot of fresh food around the house (or time to prepare it, even if I did).  I realized today when I was packing my lunch that I have a kind of emergency supply of pre-packaged healthy foods for just these seasons!
So here are a few of my favorite quick-to-grab, easy-to-make foods:
StarKist Tuna Salad Pouch – I about fell over from shock when I first looked at the nutritional info on these little 3oz pouches.  There are only 100 calories in one pouch, 13g of protein and only 3g of fat!  Seriously, quickest lunch ever: grab two of these pouches and couple whole wheat crackers.
Brothers-All-Natural Fruit Crisps – Since I don’t have any fresh fruit around the house, these little pouches of freeze dried apples, pears, bananas and strawberries are the perfect answer.  Each little pouch of fruit is 40-60 calories of nothing but fruit!  They also help with those crunchy, munchy cravings.  I like getting the big box at Costco, but you can find them most anywhere.
Birds Eye Steamfresh Veggies – I’m sure you’ve already seen these at your grocery store—they’re everywhere!  If you don’t already keep some bags of the steam-in-bag microwave veggies around your house, you need to.  There’s no quicker dinner!  I’ll throw some chicken on to broil (add a very small amount of BBQ or teriyaki sauce on the side) and a bag of these veggies.  Dinner is done in 15 minutes and I got my veggies for the day!
SnackMasters Turkey Jerky – This one is my new favorite snack to go!  I’ve had turkey jerky before, but this SnackMasters brand just tastes amazing.  Their Teriyaki flavor is my favorite, but they also have Hot & Spicy.  Heck, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try their salmon jerky or ahi tuna jerky!  The turkey jerky is only 70 calories in an ounce, and it’s a quick grab when you’re on the go.
Do you have any favorites in the pre-packaged category?  Does packaging make you nervous?  What are your secret weapons when you’re schedule gets crazy?

Monday, February 7

Bouncing Back!

Well, my beloved Steelers let me down yesterday.  But you can’t win them all!  It was a good game, and—at least at my house—even better food!  I couldn’t resist cooking up a Pittsburgh classic: Kielbasa, pierogies and sauerkraut!  It definitely wasn’t a low-call kind of meal, but I have to let myself go every now and then.
I find that I’m getting much better at bouncing back to my normal routine when I let myself have these little caloric vacations.  I didn’t keep any of the leftovers (I know, my mother would be appalled), and I definitely didn’t force them on any of my guests (my biggest pet peeve ever)!  I did bring the extra cupcakes into work, but frankly it’s just payback for my coworkers who always have junk food sitting around their own desks.  I packed my breakfast and lunch today, and I’ve got my trip to the gym planned for tonight.
When living healthy is your daily routine, it’s not so hard to get back onto the right track if you take a small detour!
If you find that bouncing back is harder than you think it should be, take a look at your daily habits and routines.  Do you find that your own healthy lifestyle is your “normal”?  Or is it less a part of your daily schedule than you realize?
If you’ve made many healthy changes to your own life—and stuck to them for a while—do you find that you can bounce back pretty easily from these kinds of days?

Saturday, February 5

Accentuate the Positive

Here’s a challenge for you.  Find a good mirror and take a look at your face.  Take a long look!  Now write down everything that you see as you’re taking in your reflection.  What kinds of things do you find yourself writing?
Most of us will likely have some of those negative, picky thoughts: I see a pimple; I don’t really like my hair today; there’s my big nose.  Everyone has thoughts like this!  The real question is—does your list only have these kinds of thoughts on it?
Or do you have positive observations mixed in?  I’ve always liked the color of my eyes; thank heavens good skin is genetic in my family; hey, my double chin is gone!  You should have a healthy mix of positive in with any of the negative on your list.  These are the things that say: “Hey, I’m not perfect, but I like me!”
The point of this exercise?  Recently, I’m noticing something in more and more people (ok, mostly women) I speak to about losing weight or getting healthy.  So many people make decisions to get healthy, to get fit, or to lose weight for different reasons.  They have different goals and different motivations.  But many of them have something in common—they think that if they make the changes they’re making, then they will like themselves better.
I’ve got news for you: you’re not going to like yourself any better if you lose 100 pounds.  You’re not going to like yourself better if you can do 100 pushups.  You’re not going to like yourself better even when you’re eating 100 percent healthy foods.
There is always something to not like about ourselves!  If your list is filled with negative self-talk, do you think fixing one thing on the list will grant you life-long happiness?  What if you get to your goal weight and decide it’s not enough?  What if you reach your fitness goal and realize you wanted more?  What if you eat nothing but healthy food but find you’re still addicted to sugar and fat?
If you’re going to find happiness once you reach your goals, then you need to find that happiness now.
Why do you think it’s so hard for us to like ourselves?  I challenge you to not blame the media!  Here, I’ll re-ask this week’s discussion question: Why do you think it’s so hard for YOU to like YOURSELF?

Wednesday, February 2

Oh, Those Dietary Guidelines...

On Monday, the USDA released their 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.  My friend Alex, over at I Eat Asphalt, gives a great layman’s breakdown of what changes this announcement entails.  Basically, the USDA is finally taking serious the obesity epidemic that our country is facing.  Most of the changes could simply be summed up as “Eat less and eat nutritiously.”
I’m happy to see the government finally making this step, but I can’t help but feel that they’re still several steps behind the rest of us.  These are their messages to Americans:
Balancing Calories- Enjoy your food, but eat less.
- Avoid oversized portions.
Foods to Increase- Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk.
Foods to Reduce- Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals—and choose the foods with lower numbers.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
Please, oh please tell me that your reaction is “No. Duh.  Really USDA?  This is your news flash of 2010?  The saddest part is—if you followed the directions above while eating a 2000 calorie diet, you would only lose weight if you’re seriously overweight.  If I followed that kind of diet, I would gain 35 pounds in a year!
What do you think?  Do you USDA recommendations to guide your own diet choices?  Are they behind the times?

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