Monday, December 29, 2008

Go Zen for the New Year

Starling Fitness recently expanded on a post by Zen Habits about the 7 keys to turning bad habits into good habits. I would argue that diet is one of our most ingrained habits. These tips are useful for dealing with cravings that don't represent true hunger. We may get used to turning to food when we are bored, or angry, or upset. After all, we are creatures of tradition. We tend to establish a pattern, and stick with it.

The tips are:
For each habit, identify your triggers. 
Is it boredom? Loneliness? Does tv make you want to snack when you're not hungry? It will be helpful to write them down.

For every single trigger, identify a positive habit you’re going to do instead. 
For me, it's best to try to do something productive, such as blogging or working on my internship applications for this summer. But it could be anything, like calling a friend, writing a song or reading.

For at least one month, focus entirely on being as consistent with your triggers as possible. Perfect timing for a New Year's Resolution, perhaps? In this amount of time, your goals will be well on their way to becoming new habits.

Avoid tempting situations. Laura at Starling Fitness points to parties or buffet dinners. As the holidays wind down, maybe it will be spending too much time on the couch that will lead to overeating. Maybe it will be late dinners and drinks with friends. Suggest you try sushi instead of steaks and fries, or a wine bar over beer and appetizers.

Realize that your urges will be strong, but they will go away after a few minutes
It's important to realize that true hunger will not go away. Leo at Zen Habits suggests, "Find strategies for getting through the urges — deep breathing, self massage, eating frozen grapes, walking around, exercising, calling a friend who will support you."

Ask for help. It may feel like the hardest thing in the world to talk to your loved ones about food issues, but more than likely, they will be willing to support you if they know it's important to you.

Staying positive is key! You will, at times, feel like giving in to old habits. If you mess up, bounce back. You didn't undo days or weeks of effort with one slip-up.

Bonus: If you fail (and many of you will, at least once), don’t give up. Bad habits have been ingrained into your daily routine for years. It will take longer than a month to truly give them up. Best of luck!

Fitness Goals for 2009

College Candy has posted some tips for stepping up your workout, New Year's Resolutions That Work. They're good tips for any time of year. 

Personally, I've found that even listening to new music while working out can be a little extra motivation. I especially like listening to the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, or No Doubt (just picturing Gwen Stefani works too.) 

Do you plan to step up your workout as a resolution this year?

Photo courtesy of J.C. Rojas.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

After the Holidays, Now What?

     Did you overindulge during the holidays? Let's face it, most of us do. My carefully-orchestrated plan didn't quite work out as planned. I was going to spend only a few days home for the holidays, but ended up going home shortly after finals ended. As a result, I have been surrounded by the savory smells of baking and my family's constant snacking for a week.I have kept up an exercise routine, and I have tried to only give in to foods I will truly savor, like traditional holiday favorites rather than fattening snacks I could have any other time of the year.
     But still, there were times when I did overeat. So I now have to come up with a new plan. As someone who suffered from an eating disorder, I know that dieting, for me, is just not going to work. I will instead try to eat even more healthily than normal, by choosing the healthiest option at each meal. I will still choose foods I enjoy, but when faced with several options, I will choose to most filling for the lowest calorie count. I will probably be eating a lot of soup and salad. But I will no longer allow myself to go hungry as a sort of "punishment" for my sins.
     If you've also had problems with disordered eating and gained some weight this holiday season, you know that it takes 3500 calories to make a pound. Even if a single dinner came to 3000 calories (which would assume you had no reservations about partaking of everything), that still doesn't equal a pound of weight gain. If your weight is up, a majority of it is probably also bloat. Try to eat especially well for a week or so. It will be helpful to get back into a normal weight management routine, and then assess the damage, rather than assuming you've gained weight by believing the scale right now. Remember the average American only gains a pound during the holiday season. And keep in mind that small dietary changes are ultimately more beneficial than any crash diet.
     And even if you've never had an eating disorder, it's really not necessary to diet for a pound. By just resuming your normal diet and exercise plan, one pound will melt away on its own. The stress of school will be here all too soon. Cash and home-cooked meals will soon be scarce. Enjoy the rest of your vacation!
     So have you gained any weight over the holidays? Or were you able to stick to a plan that worked for you? 

Saturday, December 20, 2008

My Favorite Posts

I've compiled a list of my favorite posts of the past and added it to the sidebar for new readers. I hope you'll take a look and comment!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Are Carbs Really That Bad?

College Candy posted a useful post yesterday about the why we shouldn't avoid all carbs. Check it out! 

I like Kelly's realistic perspective, although I also agree with commenter Coco's perspective on pizza. 

What do you think? Have you ever tried a low-carb diet?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Navigating the Holidays for the Eating Disordered

Newsweek has a much-need article right now on "Holiday Help for Those with Eating Disorders." The tips are aimed at the families of the eating disordered. For those whose parents don't know, I hope they at least suspect, and will take the tips to heart. They are:

1. Strategize. 
"(sometimes just having such an abundance of food can trigger bulimic episodes) So plan ahead. Whether it's making some foods available or just making others less obvious."

2. Don't Force.
"Insisting that an eating-disordered family member attend the big Christmas brunch or pile on another few slices of ham can be very harmful."

3. Don't Focus on the Food.
"The season's focus on food and cooking means that people with diagnosed disorders feel that their eating habits will be watched closely, and people who are trying to hide disorders will be especially worried about being caught."

4. It's Not Personal.
"The rest of the family will dig in, so if you're a host or hostess, don't be offended if a particular guest has a light plate."

These are excellent, appropriate tips for family members, and I would have had a much easier time in years past if my family had followed them. But my family, while I assume they suspected, has never confronted me about my disordered eating habits. So, I will modify these tips for those of you in similar situations. 

1. Strategize.
This advice still applies. Start thinking now about how you will handle the holidays. In my case, I will not be spending the week surrounding Christmas with my family, but only a couple nights. I don't want to be surrounded by that much food for that extended period of a time. I realize this is not the most healthy behavior either, but right now, it's right for me.

2. Don't Force.
Plan ahead exactly what you will say if you are being pressured to eat when you're full. A simple, assertive "No, thank you, I'm not hungry," should do the trick. 

3. Don't Focus on the Food. 
The holidays are filled with downtime. I try to pack my day with activities like shopping, visiting with friends, and watching movies. If your mind is on socializing, it won't be obsessing about the food and the calories in it.

4. It's Not Personal.
If you do want to have a light plate of food, just be sure to tell the hostess how much you loved everything. In a time of year that can be so triggering for disordered eaters, you need to be prioritizing your own well-being. Your eating does not have an effect on other people.

What are your plans of attack?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Finals Stress and Your Perception of It


     There are a variety of forces colliding right now that could really make a college student stressed out. The economy is crashing, and I'm definitely feeling it. The weather is dull and dreary, and it makes me want to stay on the couch instead of going to the gym. And at my school, it's dead week, meaning finals are just around the corner.
     As I've discussed, we know stress can wreak havoc on a healthy diet, as it has a negative effect on health in general. We hear a lot of advice about how to deal with it. We know to get enough sleep, eat well, and take study breaks. But there are a few other ways to manage stress that are less often discussed. When we have a lot to deal with, how we handle it is all about perception.
     In small amounts, stress can actually be a good thing. According to MSNBC, moderate amounts of stress can help people perform tasks more efficiently and even improve memory. "Stress is a burst of energy," says psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Tan of Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "It’s our body telling us what we need to do." 
     Whether we react negatively to stress depends on our perception of it. If we regard it as motivation, we won't be as bothered by it. If I consider the weather to be "bad," my mood will be down, but I've actually been using it as a reason to give myself permission to relax.
     While it may seem like the final exams comprise a huge chunk of course grades, your GPA will reflect the entire semester's worth of effort, not the "cramming" at the last minute. 
     And your GPA is not as important as your mental health. No one is going to ask you your GPA when you graduate; putting it on your resume is optional. Realize that many people take 5 years to graduate, and 12 credits a semester shouldn't be out of the question. Don't worry yourself about things that aren't going to matter 10 years from now.
     If you've had problems with disordered eating, this time of year may present new challenges, so be prepared. It may be tempting to use studying as an excuse to "forget to eat." To keep myself from doing this, I try to remind myself that starving myself will catch up with me. And I don't want to be tempted to overeat later, especially during the holiday season. Whatever your own challenges are, try to come up with an actual plan of action rather than pushing the thoughts out of your mind.
     Surviving College Life has some excellent tips for tackling finals. 
     WebMD has a list of foods to combat stress. Hint: complex carbs is a big one.

What other tips did I miss?


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Perfect Cold-Weather Food

In the winter, I live on soup. (It's usually salad in the summer.) I've always suspected it helps me eat less. This knowledge has finally been validated. In a study of yearlong dieters, those who regularly consumed soup lost more weight than those who didn't. Broth-based soup, not cream-based is filling, with a low calorie content. I also think it may have something to do with hydration.

My personal favorites are the vegetable soup at Panera Bread (150 calories per serving) and Wolfgang Puck's Chicken Tortilla (170 calories per cup).

I try to avoid the crackers due to the trans fat.

What are your favorites?

Photo from Dinewise.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

It Is Only A Pound...

     After reading an excellent post over at the Disordered Times, I feel compelled to clarify the reasoning behind my previous post. While a one pound weight gain is not a big deal, people tend to gain and keep it on, year after year. And it's much easier to prevent than to lose. 

     If you suffer from disordered eating, realize that a one pound weight gain this year does not necessarily mean you'll do the same every year.... if you're struggling now, or are newly recovered, this year will present new challenges that you will be better equipped to deal with years down the road.

Have a healthy, happy Thanksgiving!


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Preventing Holiday Weight Gain While Home from College


     It's that time of the year again when newspapers begin publishing their holiday weight gain stories. They're always full of tips on how to prevent the weight the typical American gains during the season. (Average weight gain is actually only about one pound, not five like many believe.) But most of these tips are aimed at those actually doing the cooking. Chicago's "Daily Herald" has an opinion column out with some advice.

     The article says:
     "If you've been watching what you eat and have either lost weight or kept it off this year, map your strategy now for navigating the treacherous stretch from Thanksgiving to New Year's." This tip applies to college students. It's always a good idea to plan early.

     "Elevate your activity levels: Starting now, park farther from the mall or supermarket entrance. It'll be easier to find a spot, and while you're walking in you can plan out your shopping." This tip is the single most important thing one can do to prevent holiday weight gain. During Thanksgiving break, I have the all the time I need to exercise.  While our family members are rushing to the mall after work to buy presents, we have all day to go to the gym or go on walks with older family members. 

     When shopping, it's also a good idea to eat a filling breakfast before you go, and plan where you'll eat lunch. At mall food courts, Chick-fila or Subway are decent options. 

     "Volunteer at a local shelter or community organization. During this season, and with this economy, groups need volunteers to do everything from wrap gifts to serving and even delivering meals. You'll get a true holiday feeling when you help others and burn some extra calories." If you're staying in town for the holidays, this is excellent advice. But not if you're going home for the holidays. And going home is often where the real trouble starts... In my small town, it's so boring. To combat this boredom, I try to make plans with friends from high school I don't see very often.

     "Eat before you eat: Before you go to a holiday party, eat something light, like an apple or pear (they're both in season). You won't be hungry when you arrive and you'll make better eating decisions when your stomach isn't rumbling." Good point. However, realize that an apple or pear isn't going to satisfy a craving for pumpkin pie. If you're really craving something, allow yourself to have it and prevent the craving from returning with a vengeance later. 

     It's also worth noting that on Thanksgiving day, I am always the only one in my family who eats breakfast... and I'm also usually the only one who doesn't go back for seconds and thirds, as well. 

     "Don't diet on Jan. 1: If you make eating decisions thinking that you're going to go back to or begin a weight-loss program after the first of the year, you're giving yourself permission to eat too much now. So get those thoughts out of your head right now." In my disordered eating days, I was always setting a date. Decide to be healthy now, not to be skinny then.

     "Think whole grains: Making stuffing for Thanksgiving dinner? Consider using whole grain, whole wheat bread cubes." The problem with the holidays for college kids is that we're usually not the ones making the dinner. Sure, we can make suggestions, but is Grandma really going to listen? It's probably a more realistic idea to fill most of your plate with vegetables and turkey and eat starches like mashed potatoes and biscuits in moderation.

     If you are cooking, WebMD suggests
  • Use fat-free chicken broth to baste the turkey and make gravy.
  • Use fruit purees instead of oil in baked goods.
  • Reduce oil and butter wherever you can.
  • Try plain yogurt or fat-free sour cream in creamy dips, mashed potatoes, and casseroles.
     Consider steaming your vegetables instead of having a green bean casserole. Or a green bean salad. Choose pumpkin pie over more calorie-dense, nutritionally-lacking desserts. 

     "Go skinny dipping: Bring a platter of colorful, fresh vegetables and low-calorie dip to the party." College kids are going to different kinds of parties than older people. But the last time I had a party, I actually did provide a vegetable tray and it was actually a big hit.

     "Pass on the nog: A jigger (1.5 ounces) of any 80-proof liquor (gin, rum, brandy, whiskey) delivers almost 100 calories - before adding any mix. A cup of spiked eggnog delivers an astounding 400 calories." Eggnog is just asking for it, unless you really love it and want to indulge. If you don't have a strong preference, a few glasses of wine is not going to derail your diet. 

     "If you're still hungry after your first pass, wait 15 minutes before returning to the buffet."
Of course.

     If you've dealt with disordered eating, and going home is a trigger for you, begin a plan of attack now. What will you do if you feel the urge to binge? Keep yourself busy by making plans for shopping and movies with high school friends. Ask your parents to have healthy foods available for you. If I didn't ask, mine never would, and being surrounded by the junk foods they normally keep in the kitchen makes me nervous. Don't feel obligated to spend the whole week at home if it makes you uncomfortable.

     So what are some other good tips for the holidays?

Photo courtesy of CarbonNYC

Sunday, October 26, 2008

High Levels of Fructose May Lead To Overeating

       A recent study from the University of Florida found that rats who ate a diet high in fructose developed leptin resistance, a condition that contributes to overeating. 
     Leptin is a hormone that signals fullness.
     When the rats were given a high-fat, high-calorie diet, the leptin resistant group gained more weight than the others.
     If these results are applicable to humans, they help shed some light on the obesity epidemic in our country. Added sugars are in everything!
     Fructose can be added or natural in foods.
     It's in fruits and fruit juices, cured or breaded meats, sweetened milk, honey, and 
maple syrup, some vegetables and some bread and cereal products, according to the Mayo Clinic.
     It’s also in soft drinks, pastries, ketchup, jellies and many processed foods, according to 
       In food label ingredient lists, sucrose also refers to fructose. Sucrose is white sugar, which contains fructose.
     Of course, high-fructose corn syrup is also major source of fructose. It represents over 40% of the caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
     But for those who decide to watch fructose consumption, it's important to not focus solely on high-fructose corn syrup.
     If someone is specifically trying to avoid high-fructose corn syrup, they may reject a product that contains it for another food with a different type of added sugar.
     If you regularly go out to eat at certain restaurants, look at the ingredients lists available at some restaurants’ websites. For instance, at Burger King’s site, high-fructose corn syrup is listed as an ingredient in the sandwich buns and Tendergrill chicken filet.
     Websites that provided nutrition information, like are also helpful.
     The easiest way to limit fructose is to quit drinking soft drinks.
     Another convenient method would be to switch out reduced-fat or fat-free salad dressings, very high in fructose, for more satiating, regular versions.
     If craving sugar, have some. 
     But if you don’t specifically want something sweet, it might be wise to get an idea of how much fructose you're actually consuming.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

What Are You Really Craving?

      Did other colleges just get done with midterms too? Between 4 extracurriculars, my graduate assistantship, and school, I already had to make a concerted effort to blog. I posted way more regularly in the summer, and my blog is aimed at students in college! Then, in the lead-up to midterms, Student Body got even more neglected . Sorry it's been so long!

     I've heard from a few new readers! Thanks for commenting. I hope you look through the categories on the left and find posts that have covered areas of concern. If there's anything you'd like to see covered, please let me know.

     Right now, I'm struggling with recognition of true hunger. I mentioned in my previous post that studying makes me hungry. Since then, I've realized that there is more to it than that.

     Mid-study session, I often feel the urge for a snack. I explained before that mental exertion actually has been shown to lead to hunger. However, I've noticed that a lot of times, I am craving something other than food. For instance, I'm tired, and my body needs to rest. If I don't sleep, I turn to food. 

     It could be simply a need to ease my mind. It might be just a wish to let loose and have fun for a moment, or be social, or just process what I'm learning. But when I'm in study mode, I don't like to give myself permission to take a break. I prefer to plow through and finish, then rest at the end of the day. Yet for some reason, I do give myself permission if it is to eat. After all, I can't just let myself skip meals all day, or I would binge at the end of the day. So I let myself stop, but only if it's for a "good" reason, like eating.

     The problem with this kind of thinking is that there's nothing wrong with taking a break to nap, or relax, or talk, or whatever. Taking a moment for my mental health is just as legitimate as taking time to eat. Food is a necessity, but so is allowing myself to be happy.

     So my goal is to change this kind of thinking, and ask myself what it is that I'm really craving when I start thinking about a snack. I'll let you know how it goes....


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Studying Makes Me Hungry

     Has anyone else noticed that since school started, they've been more hungry???

     I noticed this right around the time I read this article. Apparently, there is some preliminary research that suggests mental strain, while not burning any excess calories, might make us more hungry. 

     I can see why. We need energy for work. Food is energy, and mental tasks are definitely still work. But it just doesn't seem fair!

     I am at a job all day where I sit and stare at a computer screen. It actually makes me miss the days when I was a waitress!

     The best advice I can think of: take short walks during the day in which you give your mind a rest and your body some physical exertion. Exercise is also a good way to get energy without taking in any calories.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Exercising on a Time-Crunched Schedule

     According to my poll, some of you want to read about exercise and have trouble fitting it in to your schedule. I feel your pain.
     Between an assistantship, classes, clubs and time with friends and family, sometimes I wonder how I will fit exercise into my day. But I still manage to go to the gym at least 5 days a week. 
     How do I fit it in? Well, I'm that girl. I'm the one on the Stairmaster reading a text book. And I definitely did not have time to dress up before I went to the gym.
     It's true that reading on the machines doesn't bode well for a vigorous work-out. But, moderate workouts are beneficial too. They may not burn as many calories in the same amount of time, but they conserve energy, so you can work out longer. They might not have as many cardiovascular benefits, but it's better for your body than lying on the couch. I try to fit in a few vigorous workouts, but if I need to study, I see nothing wrong with slowing down and reading on the elliptical machine.
     And this type of exercising may have a side benefit as well. In one study I previously discussed, moderate exercisers didn't quit eat as many calories as vigorous exercises, despite burning the same amount at the gym.
     There are lots of tips out there about fitting exercise into your day, but they usually involve moves to do at the office, or advice like taking the stairs rather than the elevator. College students have different needs. We aren't stuck in the office. Let's take advantage of it while we can!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

100-Calorie Packs are Not the Answer

     Everyone's been talking about the 100-calorie packs and how great they are for dieters. Now that school is back in session, maybe you're in need of some quick snacks that you can buy on the go, and these mini-portions of junk food sound tempting.  After all, they're only 100 calories, right?
     Put aside the fact that the idea of snacks in small-portion packaging is anything but innovative. Before the days of "super-size," those were normal servings. Ignore the fact that most bags of chips and cookies should probably be that size.
     Ignore the environmental effects of the enormous amount of packaging that is being used.
     Then consider this. College Candy recently posted about healthy snacks, and while I generally agree with several of their suggestions, I take issue with their assumption that if you ate from a "real bag of Ruffles you'd end up eating way more," so you should eat from these 100-calorie packs.
     Research has found that's actually untrue, because "large packages triggered concern of overeating and conscious efforts to avoid doing so, while small packages were perceived as innocent pleasures, leaving the consumers unaware that they were overindulging." (ScienceDaily
     Some of the study participants had just been weighed and given body image surveys, so if they were prone to feeling bad about their weight, these feelings may have been even more pronounced. They may have felt like the other participants were watching them and judge for their consumption. I have felt that way, so I know others have as well.
     So, it's not true that you'll eat less if you eat from 100-calorie packs. But, there are more individual factors to consider. If you're not just watching calories, but trying to eat healthfully, remember that even eating a small amount of high-fat or sugary food will make your body crave more. It's the long run that matters. 100-calorie packs add up.

     But if you are one of those people who worries about digging into a big bag of chips in front of others, at least know that you are not alone. And if you're not trying to give up junk food, but feel hesitant to eat from a big bag, it might be a good, small goal to set for yourself. If you feel judgmental vibes, try to convince yourself that you're imagining it... because you ARE. 

     It may seem like I've contradicted myself, but I'm trying to recognize that the answer is not the same for everyone. If you're trying to become more healthy, these snacks aren't going to do it for you. If you're trying to lose weight and normally eat a whole bag at one sitting, maybe they're a good small step. And if you suffer from disordered eating, or just bad body image, maybe the real issue is you don't want to look like you're eating too much, and if that's true, it might be a good idea to think about the negative effects of that kind of mindset on your life. 

     Let me know what situation you fit!

Monday, August 25, 2008

Diet Soda Might Make You Hungrier

     If you're weight-conscious, drinking diet soda may seem like a smart choice. After all, for years health educators recommended using low or no-calorie sugar substitutes for weight loss.
     But the truth is that no-calorie sweeteners may make it harder for dieters to control their intake.
     Researchers speculate that the body associates sweetness with high-calorie foods. When no calories are actually consumed, people may overeat because their body is "looking" for those missing calories.
     When I read about this study, it made sense to me. I've never been a big pop drinker, but when I do, I notice that it makes me really full for a couple hours, but then the sensation seems to abruptly disappear and I get really hungry. Maybe at that point, my body is realizing I didn't really consume any calories.
     It is important to note that the study was on rats, not people, and it only studied the effect of saccharin, not aspartame (Splenda.) Diet Coke includes both saccharin and aspartame.
     Another study found that aspartame, as a replacement for sugar, is effective for weight loss. The important difference between the two studies? In the first study, the rats ate according to natural impulses. In the second study, the participants were replacing sugar with aspartame, so they were eating less overall calories.
     So, my conclusion is that if you are going to consume "fake sugars," (and ignore other possible negative health effects) consider the fact that they may make you hungrier, and you may have to keep a closer eye on your calories than if you were skipping diet soda.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Best Ab Exercises

     I realize that exercise doesn't have a huge place on this blog, and it's missed, according to the poll. I've talked about the importance of exercise in general, but I haven't shared any specific moves
     45% of women say their stomach is the body part they'd most like to change, according to Fabulous Magazine. I've read this in other magazines as well, and heard several friends and peers complain about it as well.
     Putting aside the fact that womanly bodies are always going to have that "pooch," there are some exercises that are better than others for building muscle (remember, strength exercises don't burn fat or nearly as many calories, so they won't remove that stomach fat.) I realized recently that I've been doing the first three exercises on this list for awhile, and they are definitely more effective than the crunches I used to do years ago.
     Since coming upon the list, I've been adding this move to my routine, because even though it is meant for the whole stomach, I can feel it in the lower stomach (that stubborn "pooch").

     If any of these exercises are new to you, let me know what you think.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Connection Between Drinking Alcohol and Eating Sweets

     I've discussed the relationship between alcohol and (female) body weight on this site before. Alcohol consumption doesn't necessarily mean a higher BMI, like one would imagine. In fact, moderate consumption is associated with a lower BMI (while binge drinking is associated with a higher weight).
     I've also discussed the role of blood sugar in our hunger levels, and how low blood sugar can slow our metabolism and make us ravenously hungry. This problem is common the day after drinking. 
     Well it turns out that even though alcohol can lower blood sugar, we crave it when our blood sugar is already low. 
     Some researchers speculate that sugar cravings might explain why women who drink in moderation don't gain weight, because the consumption of candy and sugar goes down when alcohol intake goes up. Think about it. A bowl of ice cream with a beer doesn't sound very appetizing to me.
     So, maybe some women are replacing a 4-500 calorie bowl of ice cream with one or two 100 calorie beers. 
     Not exactly diet advice there. Of course I would never condone drinking for weight loss. But my goal is to educate, and it is something to think about. Next time you're craving a beer, think about whether you could be craving sugar. Then maybe in the future, make small changes to your diet, in order to reduce your sugar intake. Many health professionals believe reducing sugar intake leads to less cravings.

     Just some food for thought...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Back to College Classes Stress: Tips

     This will be my fifth year as a college student (first in graduate school), and I've still been a little stressed the past two days. The change from the relaxed days of summer to the scheduled hours of the school year is a shock to my system every time. 
     Stress is not only an altogether unpleasant experience, but it's also a big factor in college weight gain. Chronic stress is associated with changes in your metabolism, cravings, blood sugar levels and fat storage. Stress can also contribute to making unhealthy choices, such as choosing fast food, skipping exercise or eating in response to emotion rather than true hunger.
     While my life is far from stress-free, I do see things a little differently now than I did a few years ago. I have a more realistic perception of the importance of my tasks, and this knowledge helps me to stay sane. If there are any younger students reading who are feeling overwhelmed, hopefully I can help out by sharing a few tips specifically for college students.

Don't take too many credits. I recommend always at least signing up for 15 credits, so that if you drop one, you will still have a full-time course load. But don't be afraid to drop a class if you feel especially overwhelmed. If you're afraid of not graduating in four years, summer classes are actually really laid-back and not that bad. Online classes are also extremely convenient and available during the summer. Whatever you do, just remember that your mental health should be your top priority. No one is going to care in ten years that it took you five to finish college.

Take study breaks. It's easy to get yourself into a "zone" and feel like "I have to finish this now," but that's not always the case. Sometimes procastination will require that intense effort and concentration, but save it for then. In the meantime, don't feel like you have to get all your schoolwork done during daytime hours. There is nothing wrong with taking a break during the day and studying at night. Or if you'd like to have the night free, even a short break is so helpful and even makes the work seem easier upon your return.

Your GPA is not THAT big of a deal. I graduated Summa Cum Laude, and honestly, it wasn't worth it. I ended up going to grad. school at the same school I went to as an undergrad, and while it's a good school it's really not that selective. If I could go back and have more of a social life, and more extracurriculars, I definitely would choose to over having a high GPA. No one is going to ask you about it later. It's up to you to put it on your resume. If you want to go to a super-competitive grad. school, then yes, it should be competitive, but extracurriculars and experience in the graduate program subject matter are big factors as well.

You will not be poor forever. I know that when money is tight, it feels like you're going to be in this situation for the rest of your life, and it can feel desperate. But bills will always be there, and there's no sense in worrying about something you can't change. And in my experience, money always just seems to come, somehow. Whether it's a check from your grandparents, or finally finding a job, you will eventually come up with some cash. Temporary employment is also often available on college campuses. And don't be afraid of loans, assuming you've calculated what your payment would be after college and you could pay it while working in your future career. Loans are a lot better idea than credit cards. 

Finally, don't dwell. If you grab lunch while you can between classes, and it wasn't that healthy, there is no point in dwelling on it the rest of the day. I've talked about my dorkiness before, but I picture an imaginary line in my head signaling a new beginning. There's something about actually picturing a symbol that makes it feel more real and conclusive. There are an infinite amount of situations that you could spend your life dwelling on; why that guy didn't want to date you, why you failed that test, but in a few years, you're barely going to remember.

     Enjoy your freedom from overbearing parents and full-time jobs. Experience new things and meet new people. Find out what you like, who you identify with and what your passions are. Don't spend your time thinking about what you can't change and what you're not. Accept yourself now. You're going to have to eventually. Why not do it now?


Monday, August 18, 2008

First Day Back!

Hope everyone is having a good first day back! Enjoy the short classes consisting solely of reading the syllabus while you can!

Don't stress today if you notice yourself being hungrier... you're probably walking more than you did during those lazy days of summer. And don't beat yourself up if you haven't figured out the healthy places to eat on campus yet, or the best options at restaurants nearby. And remember you have plenty of time to come up with a schedule that works for you, consisting of exercise, regular meals and snacks, and of course, studying and socializing. This week is the perfect time to set up healthy habits... but don't expect yourself to get it right on the first try.

Wishing all a healthy and happy semester!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Tips on Preventing the Freshman 15

     There are no shortage of stories this time of year on warding off the freshman 15. For what it's worth,  Elisabetta Politi, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center, offers the following tips:
  • Make a plan. Know when your classes are and plan how to eat healthy between classes and where to get appropriate foods.
  • Eat breakfast. If you're in a hurry, keep it simple by choosing whole grain cereal with milk and a piece of fruit.
  • Have a good supply of fruits and vegetables so you have something healthy to eat when you need a snack.
  • When it comes to beverages, drink lots of water, choose sugar-free drinks, and have a few glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk each day. The protein in milk can help you feel full longer.
  • Use the "plate your portion" strategy to maintain portion control. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit, one-quarter with grains (possibly whole grains), and one-quarter with lean protein. Avoid mayonnaise-heavy side dishes such as coleslaw, potato salad and macaroni salad.
  • Keep a food diary, which will help you assess and change your eating habits.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.

     I agree with most of these, although I would assume protein in other sources besides milk would have the same effect.

     I don't think keeping a food diary is realistic for the long-term ( and she does say to use it for assessment). It's also not a good idea if you're prone to becoming obsessive or nitpicky about your calories. 

     Do you think it's a good list?

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Does Exercise Really Lead to Weight Loss?

     It's standard advice: to lose weight, exercise. But there are some who disagree, because physical activity makes you hungry. Or course, exercise has numerous benefits, but what is its real effect on hunger and weight?  
     The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association even said in a statement that “It is reasonable to assume that persons with relatively high daily energy expenditures would be less likely to gain weight over time, compared with those who have low energy expenditures. So far, data to support this hypothesis are not particularly compelling.”          Research has found that those who lose weight and keep it off tend to exercise. One recent study suggested 55 minutes, 5 days a week (or about 40 minutes every day.) But these studies don't isolate exercise as the sole factor contributing to the weight loss maintenance. In the study I mentioned, for instance, the women who lost weight exercised, but they ate less too.
     So does exercise contribute to weight loss, or do people who have healthy habits tend to exercise? 
     In New York Magazine, Gary Taubes points to Jean Mayer, influential nutritionist and former president of Tufts University,  as the person who pushed the "fitness revolution." Mayer is credited with defeating the current societal belief that exercise was bad for you. He noticed that thinner people exercised more, and concluded that exercise did not necessarily equal increased hunger. But Taubes claims the 2 studies that he used to prove this have never been replicated.
     Recent studies don't suggest that there is no connection between appetite and exercise. But one especially interesting study does suggest that appetite is related to the intensity of the exercise. Researchers studied the effect of high-intensity and low-intensity exercise on appetite in college women. (Low-intensity exercisers took an hour to burn 350 calories, equal to walking, high-intensity exercisers took about half an hour.) They found that high-intensity exercisers ate more after their work-out than low-intensity exercisers and a control group. 
     The study really got interesting when the researchers calculated "relative energy intake," or the calories each group consumed not included the calories they burnt off through exercise. The researchers concluded that there were "no significant differences" between the groups. However, it is worth noting that low-intensity exercises had the lowest food intake when the calories burnt from exercising were subtracted. Low-intensity exercisers consumed an average of 2397 calories a day, but 2100 a day after subtracting calories burnt from exercise. High-intensity exercisers consumed 2580, 2266 for relative energy intake. The control group had 2285. In other words, this study suggest that for those watching their weight, low-intensity exercise is best. 
     Jean Mayer suggested that exercise doesn't have to lead to increased hunger. This study helped show us where the line is. And if you want to engage in vigorous exercise, like I do, at least you'll now be a little bit more informed.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Facebook Photos are Lies

     Facebook is a great time-waster. Browsing profiles and pictures for an hour somehow feels like only a study "break" because I never left the computer! But sometimes, looking at vacation pictures of Facebook "friends" in bikinis is bad for my body image. And somehow, everyone looks thin in their Facebook profile picture. Before you compare your body to their's, remember these Facebook rules.

No one posts unflattering pictures of themselves. Facebook profile pictures are very carefully selected. They represent an image the person wants to convey to the world, so they choose a picture taken in the best light, from the best angle, and on their best day. They most likely look a little skinnier than they are in real life.

They know how to pose. Those other girls on Facebook know the same "rules" you've memorized. Jut out your shoulder and place your hand on your hip. Turn slightly to the side. Suck in your stomach. Chin up slightly so as to prevent a double-chin. 

Pictures are taken with Facebook in mind. Those group pictures that look oh-so-casual? There were multiple takes involved. 

Pictures are taken with careful preparation. Maybe you feel bad when looking at these photos because you're sitting there in your pajamas and everyone looks so glamorous. They're sitting at home in their pajamas doing the same thing. Facebook pictures are likely taken in clubs after hours of preparation before going out. They don't normally look like that.

     Facebook appeals to college students because let's face it, we're prone to body-snarking and being self-conscious. Use it to keep in touch with friends at other girls, and post inside-jokes on your friends' walls, but don't let it become a detriment to your self-esteem.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Quick Tip

     The first week of class, look up the exercise class schedule at the gym. Choose a few that look interesting, and pencil them in on your schedule that very first week. Continue going to the one you like the best. It will be much easier to form healthy habits if you clear a place for them in your schedule from the beginning.

What to Order at Popular Restaurants

     If you've been away all summer, or some of your friends have, you're going to watch to catch up next week. A lot of this back-to-school socializing happens at restaurants. The following list provides you with the healthiest options (in my opinion) of some popular, chain restaurants that don't have the healthiest reputations.

     Texas Roadhouse: Order the grilled shrimp dinner with the butter on the side. It comes on brown rice! For your two sides, I would recommend vegetables, no butter and a side salad. Texas Roadhouse does not provide nutritional information, but I estimate about 650 calories if you skip the bread, leave some rice on your plate and order Italian dressing.

     Outback Steakhouse: Pick one of the Outback Grillers, either filet medallions, chicken, scallops, salmon or shrimp with grilled pineapple, whole grain wild rice and grilled veggies. Ask for the vegetables and meat to be prepared without butter. The Ahi Tuna is a good choice for an appetizer. 

     I never eat at Olive Garden, so I don't want to recommend anything I haven't tried. But I do hear they have whole wheat linguine, which sounds like a good bet.

     I love Chilis for posting their nutrition information. They have a Guiltless Grill menu, but honestly it's not that great. I would rather just order the Classic Chicken Fajitas and eat half ( 490 out of 980 calories.) They also have a southwestern vegetable soup that's only 110 calories a cup.

     Ruby Tuesday also posts their nutrition information. The Creole Catch has only 312 calories. Good side choices would be a salad would be the brown rice pilaf (221 calories) and the green beans (85 calories.)

     Of course, if your friends agree to going to a healthier restaurant, or having a get-together that doesn't revolve around food, even better!

     Where else will you and your friends be going this week? And what do you normally order?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Characteristics of Thin Women

     While I no longer succumb to disordered eating, I still struggle with beliefs that were instilled in my mind years ago. I have an unreasonable fear that if I don't worry about my weight, I will "let myself go." I worry that my weight will balloon if I don't make a constant, conscious effort to keep it under control. 
     These ideas are illogical because I know that I would notice any weight gain before it became substantial, and I could make adjustments to my diet and return to my former size fairly easily. I know that it's not necessary to think about my diet constantly to prevent weight gain. After all, I do enjoy the taste of many healthy foods, and I genuinely like to exercise. But for some reason, it's hard to defeat this belief. Part of me wants to engage in obsessive tendencies, deny myself certain foods and at times, go hungry.
     This study, on the characteristics of thin women, has given me permission to relax. Women who report being thin in childhood, adolescence and adulthood share some traits, including lower rates of dieting and binge eating, greater health satisfaction, higher self-esteem, and lower perfectionism and body dissatisfaction.
     For me, dieting is a trigger for binge eating. And even for those who don't suffer from disordered eating, dieting doesn't often work in the long run. That's why I would rather focus on having a healthy, imperfect diet that I can maintain. When you choose to allow yourself all foods in moderation, it's amazing how those "forbidden" foods lose their appeal.This study seems to support that idea.
     I don't know if these women have high self-esteem because of their appearance, or if their appearance is because of their self-esteem, but either way, it's beneficial to improve your self-concept. These women don't focus on telling themselves what they can't do. Their thoughts are positive. A goal is much more likely to be reached if it is positive than negative. For instance, it's easier to say "I will eat more fruits and vegetables than it is to say "I will never eat junk food."
     If you constantly think about how much you hate your body and how much you want to change it, this can lead to depriving it and abusing it. If you try to think about the good things about yourself, and treat your body well, your appearance will show it.
    I've tried to adopt this mindset as my own, and while I am not "naturally skinny," I choose nutritious foods, and exercise regularly, but I don't deny myself anything, and I remind myself of the perils of trying to be perfect.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Just because I've been talking about blood sugar a lot lately...

I thought you might want to know that cinnamon may help regulate it. Sprinkle a little in your oatmeal or coffee in the mornings. 

Pro-Ana Websites

     I won't tell you not to look at a pro-ana/pro-mia website. I wouldn't tell you not to, because I've looked at them, and I am not a hypocrite. I wouldn't tell you not to, because the secretive nature of these websites is a part of their forbidden appeal. When looking at them in years past, I always felt like I was doing something wrong... rebelling, even. I wouldn't tell you not to because I don't think looking at these sites can "make" you an anorexic.
     But I can ask you to analyze what you get out of going to these websites, so you can make an informed decision. Upon perusing a few recently, the following words jumped off the page:

new plan
new plan
I hate living like this.
i REALLY want to be skinny for uni, itll make things so much easier

A girl asking if she is alone:

"this is gna sound weird
but is anyone else afraid of touching fatty foods
like today my friend tries to make me hold her yucky greasy chips and i couldnt
i was afraid of gainin weght throgh my skin

plz tell me im nt the nly one with this fear"

     It is comforting to find that there are others out there who have the same beliefs and fears as you. A strong support network is a basic human need. Talking about your worries just makes you feel better. It's a sense of release to have them out in the open and not pent up inside.
     But we are not defined by our eating habits. Your identity is not anorexic, bulimic or someone with a negative body image. These traits are only behaviors that you've chosen, a small part of who you are. So these communities don't provide all the support you need. 
     These sites suggest the answer to all problems is to simply eat less. It is their solution for stress, loneliness and general unhappiness. If that was the answer, why would the list of words above be so prominent on these sites? While the feeling of control may feel good for awhile, it's only temporary. The same negative feelings come back because the true root of your problems hasn't been addressed.
     If you've turned to these sites looking for support, you may assume that your parents and real-life friends will not understand. And it's true that they wouldn't encourage disordered eating, because they want you to be healthy. They wouldn't want you to continue what you're doing to your body. No one knows your body better than you do, so no one else knows what it needs. I understand this viewpoint.
     That's why I recommend speaking with those who've been in your situation and had your mindset. Support is not only found at pro-ana websites. There are numerous sites on the web for people who've recovered from EDs, or those who are still struggling and need an outlet. Something Fishy has a huge forum. If you're looking for blogs, Breaking the Mirror and the Disordered Times are great starting points with comprehensive blogrolls leading you to more sites. The people who participate in these sites are not going to lecture you or tell you what to do. People who have been through an ED know they wouldn't have wanted to hear that either. 
     You may not always agree with them, but did you always agree with everything said on pro-ana websites? Differing opinions are just a natural part of human interaction.
     Free therapy is often found on college campuses as well. I took advantage of this resource when recovering, and I promise, I never once felt like my psychologist was judging me in any way.
     I will leave you with a few questions to think about. Yes, we need constant contact and understanding from friends. But if you have to visit a website every day to find enough strength to continue doing something, how long can that really last? Can it continue for the rest of your life? 
     And when will you ever have the time to explore other areas of your life that need addressing? Maybe the areas of your life that you neglect when focusing on food. You won't find the answers to those problems on pro-ana websites.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Dressing for Confidence

     Diet and exercise help us to strengthen our bodies and keep them healthy, but we can't change our genes. Our bodies are likely to have a certain general shape throughout our lifetimes. We need to learn to feel confident about this shape. To feel confident, we have to be comfortable in what we're wearing. One way to feel comfortable is to draw attention to the parts of our bodies that we favor.

Pick your favorite feature below, and find the fall trends below that will enhance it. 

Slim waist:
Summer florals are still big for fall. Add a belt around the middle to update the look and show off your figure.

Slouchy pants, the western look (belts look great on you) and high-waist pants are all trends that will work for you. 

Hour-glass figure:
Your curves will look great in skirts with petticoats, hour-glass dresses, and 40s inspired jackets.

If you have a boyish figure with minimal curves, slouchy pants and super wide-legs were made for you.  So were t-shirt dresses.

Continue to wear your summer floral dresses with some bright-colored leggings.
Swinging 60’s mod dresses show off your gams. 

Toned arms:
Sleeveless jackets, off the shoulder tops and dresses

If you’re looking for an overall slimming look, the following trends are ideal:

  • The goth style is typically head-to-toe black.
  • Monochromy in general is big for fall.
  • The boyish look is also typically dark-colored. It’s especially slimming when worn with a tie because of the creation of a verticle line.
  • A long necklace can have the same effect.
  • Jewel tone gowns are big, and they’re often found with an especially loose and forgiving silhouette.
  • Big shoulders create the illusion of a thin waist.

To draw attention to some areas and away from others, the following trends all work wonders:

  • Ombre, or when color gradually fades or darkens across the fabric. Choose pieces that are lightest in areas where you want to draw the most attention.

  • Fabric with holes or slashes
  • Bold, graphic patterns
  • Shine and sequins
  • Sculptural look
  • Lace

Fall trends mentioned were inspired by Elle's feature on the topic.