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!