Sunday, December 29, 2013

It's That Time Of Year Again

It’s that time of year again when everything slows down and people take time to reflect on the closing year.  Whether or not you call them New Year’s resolutions, most people aspire to do more for their health in the coming year.  I believe New Year’s resolutions get a bad rap – and failure-by-February is frequently mentioned in the media.  In studies it shows that people who make resolutions do report higher rates of success 6 months later than those who did not make resolutions.  So it’s not New Year’s resolutions that are bad, rather it’s how people go about following through with them.  Here are a few suggestions to help you succeed for getting it right in 2014!
Focus less on weight and make it more about developing healthy habits!   We put too much weight on weight!  Yes, weight loss is often the goal with New Year’s resolutions.  But the reason this can backfire is weight is often a symptom of a bigger problem.  Focusing on weight makes up more apt to choose extreme approaches to eating and exercise that are difficult to maintain when the weight loss slows or stops.  Focus rather on the reasons for the weight – and make changes there – you will be better off.  Stopped being active?  Make goals to get more activity every week.  Getting less sleep?  Go to bed early for a week and see how you feel.  Stopped making meals a priority?  Focus on easy ways to plan healthy meals.  When you attack the source of the problem the symptom goes away.
Instead of doing what you think you should do, make your diet and exercise plan enjoyable.  When it comes to resolutions, people often choose what they feel they should do in terms of eating and exercise instead of what they enjoy.  So if you hate spin class (or broccoli), drop them from your life.  Focus on activities and healthy foods you enjoy – and build from there.  Let’s face it:  very few people continue to do things that they don’t enjoy.
Instead of vague goals like “eat healthfully” or “exercise more,” be specific.  It’s hard to stay motivated when you don’t have specific goals.  So instead of “eat healthfully,” make an initial plan to add a fruit or vegetable to your meal each week.  And “exercise more” could start with 5-10 minutes of daily walking.  When each goal is met and feels like a keeper, add on a new one.  Keep a journal and watch your progress, or try an app.  There are plenty to choose from.  The key is to keep making changes to become healthier one step at a time!
Instead of letting the business of life get in the way, give your new behavior “goal clout:” No matter how motivated you are to make healthy changes, life stressors get in the way.  When your behavioral goal has clout you feel more compelled to fit it in, even if it competes with other important items on our “to do” lists.  When you replace a healthy behavior  with something else “important” on a given day, the full return on the behavior (happiness, energy, focus, productivity) usually far outweighs the benefits from checking off one more item on our “to do” list.
Instead of giving up and saying you have no time, identify your true barrier.  As you make your healthy changes, you will run into snags.  Instead of giving up, look deeper for the true barrier.  Maybe you no longer enjoy the form of physical activity you are doing or your work hours have changed, meaning meal preparation has to change too.  Bottom line:  Be ready to modify eating and exercise when things in your life change. 
When making dietary changes, start small and set realistic goals.  The path to a healthier lifestyle begins one little habit at a time.  Make the commitment to healthy change and by this time next year, you’ll be in a much better place, with a whole new set of resolutions to take you to the next level!



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Portion Distortion

SuperSize:  The New Abnormal

Portions have steadily increased over the last several decades, both in restaurants and in homes.  The general population is aware of this, but many don’t realize how this affects what we see as “normal”.  The kids I teach now think a 20 ounce soda is a “normal” size.  When I tell them that a 12 ounce soda was the size when I was growing up they respond with, “Well that’s not enough”.  Granted you can now find sodas in an 8 ounce size, but they defeat the purpose when instead of just a 6-pack they sell them in an 8-pack size.  Who are we kidding?  The 8 ounce soda you can slurp down in one gulp and only leaves you wanting more.  (I must tell you that I haven’t had a soda since 2000.  But while I’m targeting soda, this can be any sugary drink.  My vice:  coffee).  Let’s take a step back and look how much things have changed - and why it matters.

The average restaurant meal is four times larger than it was in the 1950’s.  For example, a hamburger in the 50’s was 3.9 ounces, French fries 2.4 ounces, and soda 7 ounces.  Today those numbers have jumped to a hamburger that’s 12 ounces, French fries 6.7 ounces, and soda 42 ounces.   Another good example I give the children when I’m teaching them is with the bagel.  A bagel has increased from a 3-inch diameter (130 calories) to 6 inches (350 calories).  I bring in the bagel thins and the “mini-bagels” to show them that those “mini-bagels” are really what a bagel should look like.  Bagel thins keep the 6-inch diameter but remove the middle to minimize calories – another creation in our distorted view of portions.  All of these are BIG changes, pun intended! 

Just in the last week it was announced that Mega M&M’s® are coming in 2014!  Each candy has three times as much chocolate as a regular M&M, coated with the traditional candy shell.  M&M’s look comically small when we hold them in our chubby North American hands.  Good thing they’ve come up with a solution for that!

So how does this affect our eating?  People eat at least 30% more with larger portions.  Frequent exposure to these bigger-than-life portions affects people’s perception as well, leading consumers to see them as an appropriate size, what I like to call “portion distortion.”  Even while people are eating more with these larger portions, they don’t report an increased level of satisfaction or fullness.

I believe that everyone needs to think about how portions affect intake – and the future intake of their children.  I try and teach children what normal portion sizes are – even though they believe differently already.  Research shows that parents are encouraging their young children to eat more at meals and snacks (because of this distorted view of portions.)  As children age and enter the world of huge portions, this can have negative consequences.  Gone are the days of the “finish your plate so that you can get up from the table.”  We should be teaching them to pay attention to their bodies’ cues:  hunger versus eating because they’re bored; fullness to stop eating versus eating till they feel uncomfortable. 

I believe if more people questioned the value of large portions, split entrees at restaurants, and ordered the smallest servings, we would see some change in what (and how much) is offered. 


Sunday, December 1, 2013

Eating Healthy For The Holidays

Surviving the Holidays

It is that time of year again when we gather with friends and family to celebrate the holidays.  The holidays are filled with lots of tasty food, seasonal goodies, and cheer that can/may result in a few extra pounds that can wrap around your middle. 

Dangerous pounds!  Research shows that most adults will gain a few pounds over the holidays.  Not only will they gain a few pounds but they’ll also lose one or two of those added pounds, and then usually hold onto at least one pound each year.  This slow and steady weight gain creeps up on us over the years and can lead to adults becoming overweight by middle age.

You can take pleasure in the holidays and enjoy delicious foods.  The holidays shouldn’t be a time of deprivation; no one wants to face Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, or any holiday party without being able to enjoy their favorite foods.  The key is having a plan so that you can avoid the annual trap of gaining weight.  Here are a few tips that will help you this holiday season:

·       Keep up your regular physical activity.  Make sure to get in a good workout on the day of the party or event.  NO excuses! 

·       Eat a small, nutritious snack before leaving for the party.  Sometimes we show up to the party famished.  A small snack will help take the edge off of your appetite and allow you to resist the hors d’oeuvres, saving your calories for the meal.

·       Watch your alcohol calories – they add up fast!  Alternate alcoholic beverages with non-calorie beverages such as sparkling water.

·       Look over all the food offerings before you decide what you are going to eat.  If there are foods that you love but know are decadently rich, just sample a tasting portion.

·       Eat slowly and savor every bite.

·       Don’t linger around the food table!  Move to another location that is less tempting.

·       Portion control and moderation are the keys to success (our eyes are always bigger than our stomachs!)

Remember that social gatherings during the holidays are a time to embrace and give thanks for our family and friends.  Spend less time focused on food and more time enjoying the camaraderie of your loved ones.  Holiday time does not need to be synonymous with weight gain.  Make this your year not to gain those few extra pounds that you adamantly proclaim to lose on New Year’s Day. 
Happy Holidays!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Movember – Trying to Change the Face of Men’s Health

They’re sprouting up everywhere, moustaches on men’s faces, around the world!  During the month of November, “Movember” uses the power of the Mo (slang for moustache).  Movember helps raise money and awareness to help combat men’s health issues: prostate and testicular cancer and mental health challenges.  Getting the right screening test at the right time is one of the most important things a man can do for his health.  Screenings find diseases early, before you have symptoms, when they’re easier to treat.  The tests you need are based on your age and your risk factors.

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer found in American men (after skin cancer).  It tends to be a slow-growing cancer, but there are also aggressive, fast-growing types of prostate cancer.  Screening tests can find the disease early, sometimes even before symptoms develop, when the treatments can be more effective.

Tests for Prostate Cancer

Screenings for healthy men may include a digital rectal exam (DRE) and possibly a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test.  Discussions should begin at:

§  50 for average-risk men.

§  45 for men at high risk. This includes African-Americans.

§  40 for men with a strong family history of prostate cancer.

Testicular Cancer

This uncommon cancer develops in a man’s testicles, the reproductive glands that produce sperm.  Most cases occur between ages 20 and 54.  The American Cancer Society recommends that all men have a testicular exam when they see a doctor for a routine physical (even if you feel fine, it is still important to see your health care provider to check for potential problems).  Men at higher risk (a family history or an undescended testicle) should talk with a doctor about additional screening.  Some doctors advise regular self-exams, gently feeling for hard lumps, smooth bumps, or changes in size or shape of the testes.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of death from cancer.  Men have a slightly higher risk of developing it than women.  The majority of colon cancers slowly develop from colon polyps: growths on the inner surface of the colon.  After cancer develops it can invade or spread to other parts of the body.  The way to prevent colon cancer is to find and remove colon polyps before they turn cancerous. 

Tests for Colon Cancer

Screening begins at age 50 in average-risk adults.  A colonoscopy is a common test for detecting polyps and colorectal cancer.  A doctor views the entire colon using a flexible tube and a camera.  Polyps can be removed at the time of the test.  A similar alternative is a flexible sigmoidoscopy that examines only the lower part of the colon.  Some patients opt for a virtual colonoscopy – a CT scan – or double contrast barium enema – a special X-ray – although if polyps are detected, an actual colonoscopy is needed to remove them.

Skin Cancer

The most dangerous form of skin cancer is melanoma.  It begins in specialized cells called melanocytes that produce skin color.  Older men are twice as likely to develop melanoma as women of the same age.  Men are also 2-3 times more likely to get non-melanoma basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers than women are.  Your risk increases as lifetime exposure to sun and/or tanning accumulates; sunburns accelerate risk.

Screening for Skin Cancer

The American Cancer Society and the American Academy of Dermatology recommend regular skin self-exams to check for any changes in marks on your skin including shape, color, and size.  A skin exam by a dermatologist or other health professional should be part of a routine cancer check-up.  Treatments for skin cancer are more effective and less disfiguring when it’s found early.

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

Your risk for high blood pressure increases with age.  It’s also related to your weight and lifestyle.  High blood pressure can lead to severe complications without any prior symptoms, including an aneurysm – dangerous ballooning of an artery.  But it can be treated.  When it is, you may reduce your risk for heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.  The bottom line:  Know your blood pressure.

Screening for High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure readings are two numbers.  The first (systolic) is the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats.  The second (diastolic) is the pressure between beats.  Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.  High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, and in between those two is prehypertension.  How often blood pressure should be checked depends on how high it is and what other risk factors you have.

Cholesterol Levels

A high level of LDL cholesterol in the blood causes sticky plaque to build up in the walls of your arteries.  This increases your risk of heart disease.  Atherosclerosis – hardening and narrowing of the arteries – can progress without symptoms for many years.  Over time it can lead to heart attack and stroke.  Lifestyle changes and medications can reduce this “bad” cholesterol and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Determining Cholesterol Levels

The fasting blood lipid panel is a blood test that tells you your levels of total cholesterol, LDL “bad” cholesterol, HDL “good” cholesterol, and triglycerides (blood fat).  The results tell you and your doctor a lot about what you need to do to reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.  Men 20 years and older should have a new panel done at least every five years.  Starting at 35, men need regular cholesterol testing.

Type 2 Diabetes

One-third of Americans with diabetes don’t know they have it.  Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to heart disease and stroke, kidney disease, blindness from damage to the blood vessels of the retina, nerve damage, and impotence.  This doesn’t have to happen.  When found early, diabetes can be controlled and complications can be avoided with diet, exercise, weight loss, and medications.

Screening for Type 2 Diabetes

A fasting plasma glucose test is most often used to screen for diabetes.  More and more doctors are turning to the A1C test, which tells how well your body has controlled blood sugar over time.  Healthy adults should have the test every three years starting at age 45.  If you have a higher risk, including high cholesterol or blood pressure, you may start testing earlier and more frequently.

The bottom line

Stop avoiding the doctor.  Routine physicals are meant to screen for diseases and assess the risk of future medical problems.  Take action to reduce your risks.  Start with healthy lifestyle choices – eat a healthy diet, stay physically active and quit smoking.  The impact of the changes now will be greater than you’ll ever know. 

Movember’s vision:  “have an everlasting impact on the face of men’s health.”


Sunday, November 3, 2013

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

Diabetes - What's Your Risk?

25.8 million Americans have diabetes - 8.3 percent of the U.S. population.  Of these, 7 million do not know they have the disease.  If current trends continue, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 3 people will have Type 2 diabetes by 2050.  Is there any good news about an epidemic that's out of control?  Many health professionals believe that diabetes is an almost totally avoidable disease (type 2).  It's estimated that 92 percent of the cases could be avoided by diet and lifestyle.

What's Your Risk?  Many people who have pre-diabetes - and many others who have diabetes - don't even know it.  The only way to find out is to get your blood sugar tested (at least every three years starting at age 45).  Your risk is higher if you:

  • Are age 45 or older
  • Are overweight
  • Are African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino-American, Pacific Islander, or American Indian.
  • Have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes.
  • Have high blood pressure (above 140 over 90)
  • Have low HDL ("good") cholesterol (less than 40 for men; less than 50 for women)
  • Have high triglycerides (250 or more)
  • Had diabetes when pregnant or gave birth to a large baby (over 9 pounds)
  • Are active fewer than three times a week
Want to avoid diabetes?  Keep your weight - and especially your waist - under control, and spend more time on your feet than on your seat.  Making a few lifestyle changes can dramatically lower the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

  1. Control Your Weight.                                                                                               Excess weight is the single most important cause of type 2 diabetes.  Being overweight increases the chances of developing type 2 diabetes seven fold.  Losing 7 to 10 percent of your current weight can cut your chances of developing type 2 diabetes in half.  Losing any excess weight - and keeping it off - is the best defense again diabetes.
  2. Get Moving - and Turn Off the Television                                                                Inactivity promotes type 2 diabetes.  Working your muscles more often and making them work harder improves their ability to use insulin and absorb glucose.  This puts less stress on your insulin-making cells.  Long hours of hot, sweaty exercise aren't necessary to reap this benefit.  Walking briskly for a half hour every day reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 30 percent.  Limit the time you spend sitting at work, at home, or in between.
  3. Tune Up Your Diet                                                                                                        Four dietary changes can have a big impact on the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  • Choose whole grains and whole grain products over highly processed carbohydrates.  Whole grains don't have a magical nutrient that fights diabetes and improves health.  It's the entire package - elements intact and working together - that's important.  The bran and fiber in whole grains make it more difficult for digestive enzymes to break down the starches into glucose.  This leads to lower, slower increases in blood sugar and insulin, and a lower glycemic index.  As a result, they stress the body's insulin-making machinery less, and may help prevent type 2 diabetes.  Whole grains are also rich in essential vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that may help reduce the risk of diabetes.
  • Skip the sugary drinks and choose water.                                                          When it comes to diabetes, sweet beverages seem to be a double-whammy.  Their high-fructose corn syrup and other sugars increase the demand for insulin and have a high glycemic load.  The sugar you sip may add flab more than the sugar you chew.  Liquid calories don't seem to lead to satiety and the reduction in subsequent food intake that you might have with solid calories.  It's easy to take in a large amount so easily.  Think your drink.
  • Choose good fats instead of bad fats.                                                                    The types of fats in your diet can also affect the development of diabetes. Good fats, such as the polyunsaturated fats found in liquid vegetable oils, nuts, and seeds can help ward off type 2 diabetes.  Trans fats do just the opposite.  These bad fats are found in many margarines, packaged baked goods, fried foods in fast-food restaurants, and any product that lists "partially hydrogenated vegetable oil" on the label.
  • Limit red meat and avoid processed meat; choose nuts, whole grains, poultry, or fish instead.                                                                                                         Why do red meat and processed red meat appear to boost the risk for diabetes?  It may be that the high iron content of red meat diminishes the insulin's effectiveness or damages the cells that product insulin; the high levels of sodium and nitrites (preservatives) in processed red meats may also be to blame.
4.    If You Smoke, Try to Quit.                                                                                       
        Smokers are roughly 50 percent more likely to develop diabetes than nonsmokers, and 
       heavy smokers have an even higher risk.

5.    Alcohol Now and Then May Help.                                                                                  
       A growing body of evidence links moderate alcohol consumption with reduced risk of
       heart disease.  The same may be true for type 2 diabetes.  Moderate amounts of
       alcohol - up to a drink a day for women, up to two drinks a day for men - increases the
       efficiency of insulin at getting glucose inside cells.  If you already drink alcohol, the key
       is to keep your consumption in the moderate range, as higher amounts of alcohol      
       could increase diabetes risk.  If you don't drink alcohol, there's no need to start - you
       can get the same benefits by losing weight, exercising, and changing your eating

The bottom line to prevent type 2 diabetes:  Keep your weight - and especially your waist - under control, and spend more time on your feet than on your seat!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Beyond the buzz

Beyond the Buzz.  Is what you’ve heard true…or just new?

With so much information – and misinformation – out there, it’s hard to know what to believe.  Here’s the truth about some of the latest buzz.

Drink chocolate milk after exercise?

“Got milk?  Try chocolate.”  This classic childhood beverage has taken the spotlight when it comes to recovering from intense exercise.  When we talk about recovery from endurance exercise, you’re trying to restore muscle glycogen.  Glycogen is a long chain of glucose (blood sugar).  The body converts glucose to glycogen in order to store the glucose in muscles and in the liver.  The problem, we don’t have much glycogen.  So, during an intense, prolonged activity, you can run out of glycogen.  This is where chocolate milk comes in.  Milk has naturally occurring sugar (lactose) that is half glucose.  The protein in milk helps speed up glycogen synthesis in the body, and its electrolytes will help you rehydrate.  So why chocolate milk?  Low-fat chocolate milk has four times more carbs than protein, and this may be the optimal ratio to rapidly replenish glycogen stores in muscles.  You can also restore the glycogen if you eat a meal within an hour.  Most people aren’t running marathons or cycling competitively and then doing another intense workout within 24 hours.  A recovery beverage therefore isn’t necessary.  If you’re taking a brisk walk/jog with the end goal to lose weight, you wouldn’t want the 170 or so calories in a cup of chocolate milk.  Bottom Line: You don’t need chocolate milk (or any food) to recover unless you’re doing prolonged, intense exercise on successive days (or more than one strenuous workout on the same day).

Skipping breakfast makes you fatter?

The idea is that people end up overeating later in the day because they think that if they skipped breakfast then they can eat more at lunch or dinner.  Recently researchers tried to debunk this common obesity “myth” and they concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to prove that eating breakfast protects against weight gain.  Bottom Line:  There isn’t any evidence that eating – or skipping – breakfast makes you lose or gain weight. 

Avoid fast food to dodge asthma?

A recent study in the U.S. News and World Report said that, “Fast food is linked to severe asthma in children.”  The study that was conducted reported that kids that ate fast food at least three times a week were more likely to have severe asthma than those that ate fast food less than once a week or never.  This type of research can’t say whether fast food caused asthma.  While it’s not clear what’s accounting for the increase in asthma worldwide, some researchers are speculating that the rise may be due to an increase in “Westernized” diets.  Bottom Line:  There’s no good evidence that eating fast food – or any other food – increases your risk of developing asthma.  However, if you do have asthma, losing extra weight may help control your symptoms (less wheezing and shortness of breath, and fewer puffs from an inhaler).


Taking garlic pills protects your heart?

Here are some claims on some popular garlic supplements:  “Supports your cardiovascular system”, “Cholesterol’s Natural enemy” – seems like taking a garlic supplement would surely help keep heart disease at bay.  Or does it?  A recent study randomly assigned a quarter of the participants to eat four grams (1 ½ teaspoons) a day of raw garlic (let’s face it, the raw-garlic eaters knew which group they were in).  Another quarter was given a powdered garlic pill, while a quarter got aged garlic pills, and the remaining quarter were told to take a placebo.  After six months, LDL cholesterol, HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and triglycerides were no different in the garlic eaters and the garlic-pill takers than in those who took the placebo.  Remember the industry wants to sell pills.  Bottom Line:  Leave the garlic pills on the shelf.  If your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is above the “optimal” (if it’s 100 or more), cut calories if you need to lose weight, exercise more, and eat a healthy diet.

Eating wheat packs on the pounds?

In the book, Wheat Belly, recently published they make the claims that if you “lose the wheat, you’ll lose the weight, and find your path back to health.”  The author claims that if you cut out the carbs, like bread, pasta, bagels, tortillas, pizza crust, cookies, cakes, doughnuts, etc., then you’ll make a dent in your weight.  The truth is that there isn’t a good study out there to have been tested to show that wheatless diets are any better for losing weight – or keeping weight off – than other popular weight-loss diets.  The truth:  you can lose weight on just about any diet that cuts calories.  Avoiding wheat isn’t the answer.  For those people who have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance they need to avoid wheat.  This is just another fad diet that too will run its course.  Bottom Line:  Eliminating wheat won’t help you lose weight or keep it off, unless you cut your total calories.

Dairy foods cause ovarian cancer?

In a report out by CBS news in 2004 it stated that, “milk was linked to ovarian cancer.”  Dairy foods – low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese – supply calcium and Vitamin D for bones and may protect against colorectal cancer and high blood pressure.  How is it then that dairy could be associated with ovarian cancer?  Researchers found a “weak” link in women that consumed at least 30 grams of lactose (the naturally occurring sugar in milk) a day.  To get 30 grams, you’d need to consume 2 ½ cups of milk, 2 cups of yogurt, 3 cups of ice cream, or 27 pounds of cheddar.  So in the studies it shows that lactose raises the risk of ovarian cancer, while dairy does not.  The question then arises, “could dairy foods have other nutrients that lower the risk and counteract the lactose? “Could genes play a role?”  The American Institute for Cancer Research state that there isn’t enough evidence to reach a conclusion about dairy’s effect on the risk of ovarian cancer.  Some other risk factors that we do know:  a family history of ovarian cancer, having used hormone therapy, never having been pregnant, or excess weight.  Bottom Line:  There’s only weak evidence that large amounts of lactose (equal to the amount in 2 ½ glasses of milk) increase the risk of ovarian cancer.

Nutrition is a science that is always evolving.  Sorting out the research and separating food fact from fiction can be difficult.  Pay attention to reputable sources of information.  And remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A few Nutrition tips to help you in your next race!

It’s that time of year, when all the runners are out.  Whether you’re training for a 5-K, half-marathon, or marathon, special attention should be placed not only on training for your runs but also on your nutrition.    Maybe you’ve heard that you need to load up on your carbs, drink lots of water, and stay away from the fiber.  But the question is, are you doing the right thing?

The food that you choose to fuel you through your run can make a big impact on your performance.  Runners tend toward extremes:  overdoing food or drink, cutting back on foods that give them fuel, or eating/drinking foods that may cause digestive disaster (aka runner’s trots).  Here are some tips to not only help you avoid those common mistakes but also guide you in what to eat and drink.  Having the proper nutrition before, during, and after the race can help you perform at your best.

The Mistake:  Eating a box of pasta

Runners like to feast on carbs the night before a race.  And why not, right?  You’re going to burn through them the next day.  But overloading your system with more carbs than it can handle may only lead to digestive problems  (I’ve actually seen it happen during a race.  Believe me, it wasn’t pretty).  Running to the porta-potty every mile isn’t performing at your best.

The Fix:

The key is to consume moderate amounts – not huge portions all at once – of carbs several days prior.  And make sure before the actual race that you’re trying this out.  What works for one will not work for all, but the key is to train this way (no one wants any surprises on race day).  You can have oatmeal for breakfast, quinoa for lunch, and whole-wheat pasta for dinner.  Make sure you pay attention to your body’s cues – eat to fullness so that you’re not bothered by indigestion.

The Mistake:  Drinking Gallons of H₂O

If you’re drinking too much water before the race it can leave you feeling bloated and can also dilute your electrolytes (those minerals responsible for muscle contraction).  Other side effects from diluting your electrolytes:  muscle weakness or cramping, and in extreme cases, can lead to hyponatremia (a life-threatening condition triggered by abnormally low sodium levels).

The Fix:

The key is to stay hydrated days leading up to your race.  Make sure you’re taking in enough water (refer to the color of your urine to let you know.  The darker, more concentrated in color means you are dehydrated.  Urine should be almost clear in color).  On the morning of the race, you can have ~16 ounces of water two to three hours before the start, allowing your body time to process this extra fluid; drink another one to two cups right before the start (and of course hydrate throughout the race).

The Mistake:  Loading up on Fiber

Eating healthy means including ~25-35 grams of fiber per day.  Fiber should be gradually included into one’s diet – otherwise uncomfortable gas & runner’s trots may ensue.  So if you’re used to having a high-fiber diet, all that roughage right before a race shouldn’t be a problem.  But if you’ve been living on pizza and burgers, now is not the time (a week before race-day) to try to have 25 grams of fiber in a day.  Mix the high-fiber foods with prerace jitters and well, accidents may occur.

The Fix: 

The truth is that one should be training with these foods during your practice runs and then you can see how your body reacts.  But if you think that fiber may be an issue cut back on those foods a few days before a major race.  If you’re racing every weekend, reduce your fiber intake only on race day to make sure you don’t cut all of the fiber out of your diet. (And if you’re doing races every weekend you really should be eating better).

The Mistake:  Skipping Breakfast

There are many reasons that runners skip breakfast before a race:  too nervous or worried about feeling full, don’t wake up early enough, and as is my case, burping ensues the whole way.  Without it, you’re likely to tank in any race.  Why?  Studies show that a prerace meal keeps your blood sugar steady and provides energy to power you through.  If you skip breakfast there’s no way to get enough fuel midrace. 

The Fix:

If you know you get too nervous to eat before a race, try waking up a few hours before the start.  This will allow you to eat slow, letting each bite settle before taking another.  If you can’t stomach solid foods, try drinking a smoothie (bananas, peanut butter, & milk).  These ingredients are easy on most stomachs, provide energy, and won’t leave you feeling overly full.  Make sure to test these out and see which works best for you.

The Mistake:  Trying Something New

If you’ve never had a spicy tuna roll, don’t order it the night before your race.  You won’t know how a food affects you until you’ve tried.  Last minute experimentation could send you straight to the bathroom and might even leave you dehydrated.

The Fix:

Stick with what you know a week before the race.  You can also check the race website to see which drinks and gels (if any) will be offered along the course.  Test them out in advance.  Don’t be afraid to skip the prerace dinner or hotel breakfast.  Remember if you’re not used to it, stick with something you know. For my race in November it’s in Puerto Rico.  I’ll make sure to bring some stuff that I’m familiar with – I always travel with food.

Eat better

If you can find time to train hard, you can also find the time to fuel-up right!  Competitive athletes that don’t show up for meals might as well not show up for training.  You’ll lose your edge with hit or miss fueling.  Make sure to fuel-up with good nutrition – you’ll always win!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's not a diet; it's a way of life.

It’s not a diet; it’s a way of life.

I’ve recently been checking the news online.  Articles appear as I scroll down my phone and not a day goes by that there isn’t an article about “You’ve gotta try this to lose weight”.  Daily articles.  Here are a few I saw just this last week:
If losing weight was a magic pill believe me I would’ve already bottled it up by now.  Why are there so many articles about weight loss/diets?  It’s something people are struggling with and want to have a “quick fix” so they’re always on the search.  They’ll try anything and everything that they think might work – hoping that this time it WILL work.  A local hospital here in Miami publishes a health magazine that came out this past week.  They had an article in this issue about gastric bypass and they featured a teen that had recently had the surgery.  A teen getting gastric bypass?  Yes we have an obesity problem here in America.  There are many reasons why we have this problem:  portion distortion, eating on the go, unhealthy processed foods, too much screen time, a sedentary lifestyle, mindless eating…yeah we have issues.  But to resort to a life-changing surgery in a child that is still growing and will forever be nutritionally at risk (due to the surgery) seems a little extreme to me.  Her problem didn’t happen overnight nor will it go away now that she’s had the surgery.  Too many times we focus on trying to fix the problem in the here and now.  What about the issues she has revolving around food?  Just because her stomach is now physically smaller doesn’t mean that now she has a healthy relationship with food.  Healthy eating and exercise are a way of life, not just a 2 week diet that’ll get you to fit into that dress you’ve been wanting.  It’s a lifestyle change that is a journey.  No one ever said that it’d be easy and unfortunately there are fad diets out there that promise otherwise. 
Here are 5 simple ways to be able to spot that it’s a fad diet.  (My definition of a fad diet:  taking advantage of your desire to drop weight quickly, these diets often give empty promises rather than actual results):
1.     The diet is based on drastically cutting back your calories.  These starvation type diets require the body to fast and promise quick results.  Our bodies aren’t designed to drop pounds quickly – the trick that these very low-calorie diets are relying on is our body’s natural reaction to dump water.  So most of the weight lost on these weight-loss diets is not fat, it’s just water.  Once you start eating normally again your body will absorb this water and you gain the weight that you lost, back, and then some.
2.     The diet is based on taking special pills, powders, or herbs.  If they’re requiring you to buy their product, that’s a red alert that it’s a fad diet.  Diet pills contain laxatives or diuretics that force your body to eliminate more water (dropping pounds quickly just like the low calorie diets do).  Other supplements have claims that their ingredients can suppress your appetite, speed up your metabolism, or even block the absorption of fat.  I’m here to tell you that there is no reliable scientific research to back up these claims.  There I said it.  Don’t start believing their claims – it’s a gimmick!
3.       The diet tells you to eat only specific foods or foods in certain combinations.  This one always drives me crazy.  If you can be THIS restrictive and follow what it is that they tell you to eat (or not eat) then you can adapt healthy eating habits too.  Once again, there’s no scientific proof that combining certain foods works.  And if we start limiting the foods that we eat now you’re messing with getting the adequate nutrition that your body needs.
4.     The diet makes you completely cut out fat, sugar, or carbs.  It should be a red flag once again if the diet is telling you to completely eliminate a whole food group (or nutrient for that matter) that our body needs.  Low-fat/no fat diets were popular back when I was in school and I just remember thinking if they’re taking one thing out they’ve got to put something else back in.  It’s better to eat smaller portions in well-rounded meals (I’ll talk about this later).  Once our body gets the right balance of nutrition, it’s less likely to have intense cravings.
5.     The diet requires you to skip meals or replace meals with special drinks or food bars.  Our bodies need energy throughout the day.  If you skip a meal that only confuses your body.  And substituting meals can also mean that you’re not getting the nutrition you need.  Not to mention you miss out on the enjoyment of sharing a satisfying meal with your friends or family.
Remember if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.  So what is one to do?  Start adopting healthy habits one step at a time.  If you try to take all the changes on at one time odds are you won’t be successful.  Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Here a few helpful tips/suggestions of things that you can change/work on. 
1.     Drink plenty of water.  Water is calorie-free and we often are not getting enough (just check your urine to see how you’re doing.  It should be clear.  The darker more concentrated yellow in color the more dehydrated you are).  High calorie drinks like specialty coffees and sodas can average about ~400-500 calories/drink.  These liquid calories can add up quick and are the easiest place to cut back.  Think your drink and choose water first!
2.     Eat small meals, 5-6, throughout the day.  This usually works out to be 3 main meals with 2 snacks for the day.  Eating this way helps you from skipping meals and overeating.  It keeps your blood sugar steady, so your energy won’t lag.  At each of these meals/snacks, make sure that you’re balancing your carbohydrate, protein, and fat in the right proportions (this can take some effort in learning how to do but makes all the difference).
3.     Fiber.  Fiber aids in digestion, prevents constipation, lowers cholesterol, and can even aid in weight loss.  Most Americans get only half the daily fiber that they need.  Women need 25 grams per day and men should get 38 grams per day (~14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories).  Good fiber sources include oatmeal, beans, whole grain foods, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
4.     Choose whole, natural foods and eliminate or minimize processed foods.  Processed foods are anything in a box, bag, can or package.  This will take some time to implement but really examine what you have in your house and where you spend your time in the grocery store (the inner aisles are where the processed foods are at, most times).  Remember, start with one change and once you’ve got that down, start with another.
5.     Get moving.  Regular physical activity every day is a must for so many reasons.  Not only does it decrease fat, strengthen and build muscle and help you burn more calories when you rest, it keeps your heart, lungs, and bones healthy and strong.  Studies show that even just fifteen minutes a day is the single best way for people to improve their health.  Why stop there?
These are just a few helpful tips/suggestions to get you going on your journey to a healthier lifestyle.  Balance, moderation, variety, and one step at a time.  It’s not a diet; it’s a way of life.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

That's a Keeper

It’s Sunday morning and it’s time to figure out what to eat for the week.  I’m planning my grocery list so that I’ll have all the items I need to make for the recipes I select.   But how will I decide what to cook?  I go to my “That’s A Keeper” book and see what looks/sounds good.  “That’s A Keeper” started a few years back when my dad and I were eating dinner one night.  He looked over to me after we had just tried out a new recipe and asked me simply, “Is it a keeper?”   I responded with a, “no”, and he said, “well, it’s a keeper for me” and thus began our individualized “That’s a Keeper” books.  The recipes that make it into my book are not always the ones that make it into my dad’s book.  I hate having to try out new recipes for fear that they are not going to be a success.  But at least this way I have recipes that I know will be a success.  My mom is always trying out new recipes and that also helps in adding more “keepers” to my book.  Who wants to cook something if it’s not going to taste good?  Over the years I’ve been collecting all my “keepers” and constantly sharing these recipes with friends so that they too will have “keepers”.   And again maybe it won’t end up being a keeper for everyone, but that’s the beauty of food and recipes that we try, finding the ones that are your “keepers”.  Here are few “keepers” that made it to my book.

This is an easy and quick appetizer to make that’s always a success.  I line the baking sheet with aluminum foil so the clean-up is a little simpler too.


These tacos are light and refreshing.  Just be prepared to have some napkins handy!


Main Dish - Vegetarian:  Linguini with Zucchini and Chickpeas
Here’s another quick and simple meal that you can make on those busy weeknights.  It provides you with all the protein you need, balanced with a vegetable and your carbohydrate.

Salad Dressings:  BalsamicVinaigrette
Salad dressings are too simple not to make at home.  In this recipe I don’t add salt as the mustard is already providing an ample amount (but yet way less than a store bought dressing).  It’s flavorful and you can always double or triple the recipe when you’re making it.
This recipe is definitely a dessert because of the mascarpone that’s added in.  I always get rave reviews when I make this.

So there you have it – a few of my “keepers”.  I still try out new recipes in the hopes that I’ll have more keepers (because I also don’t want to keep eating the same thing over and over).  Today I made a homemade ranch dressing, homemade almond butter, and mini-apple pies – all keepers in my book!!