Thursday, July 31, 2008

I Wonder How Much That Girl Weighs

     I recently discussed how some girls are not the best judge of whether they really need to lose weight. We can't view our bodies objectively, so we probably don't have an accurate picture in our head of what we really look like. I talked about how the best predictor of our health is how we feel.
     However, I do understand the curiosity. We want to know how we appear to others. In the past, I've asked my boyfriend or friends "Am I bigger or smaller than that girl?" or even asked them to name someone of similiar size, because I wanted to know if my own perception was realistic. But as you can imagine, my bf was a little hesitant to answer that question, and you can never be sure if you're getting accurate answers.
     So finding two sites on the Internet that could help me out was a big help! Illustrated BMI Categories on Flickr and this Photographic Height/Weight Chart provide large photo collections of people of various heights and weights. 
     On Illustrated BMI Categories, you will have to click through each individual person to find one close to your measurements, but the time is well-spent. It's interesting because the creator has already calculated the subject's BMI. So if you know your BMI, you could find an approximation of what you'd look like if you were much taller or shorter. It seems like the goal of the site is too demonstrate the absurdity of BMI, because most people labeled "obese" look like very typical Americans, but I don't think we should accept the fact that they look average to mean that they are healthy.
     On the height/weight chart, you will only have to find your height on the side of the chart and weight at the top, then find where they meet to see a picture of a girl with stats close to your own.
     Of course, take into consideration different body shapes, muscle mass and fat. But I still think you'll find it interesting!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Learn to Keep Track of Calories

      The studies are often quoted. Many underestimate calories! But in this study, participants "almost perfectly estimated the number of calories in smaller meals."
     It was for larger meals that "participants strongly underestimated the number of calories." (By 38% in one version of the study, and 22.6% in the second.)
     So what does this mean for college dieters? Small meals do bode well for the college lifestyle. They also keep your metabolism constantly active.
      But if you must have a large meal, pay attention to portion sizes. I often hear about the benefits of food scales, but even I never went that far. It's just as effective to simply visualize.         
      These are the rules of thumb. Source

1 oz. meat: size of a matchbox
3 oz. meat: size of a deck of cards or bar of soap—the recommended portion for a meal
8 oz. meat: size of a thin paperback book
3 oz. fish: size of a checkbook
Medium potato: size of a computer mouse
2 Tbs. peanut butter: size of a ping pong ball
1/2 cup pasta: size of a tennis ball
Average bagel: size of a hockey puck.
1 oz. cheese: size of 4 dice

     Then, until you memorize the calorie content for the foods you typically eat, use a web calorie counter. FitDay is my personal favorite. Do you use another?

      I like FitDay because it has an enormous food list, which you can add to if needed. You can also figure out calories burned from your activities, the calories you burn in a typical day, and track how you have progressed at your goals, whether you're trying to lose weight, stay within a calorie range, or even eat more iron-rich foods. It's definitely worth checking out.

     I do have a caution. Do not use the site to enter your consumption every day. I check in every once in a while, on a typical day, to see if my diet is missing out on any critical nutrients. Or if I am unsure about the nutrition content of a new food, it's a good resource. But entering your calories every day becomes extremely tedious. Usually, I would just come up with a number very close to the one that I'd already estimated on my own, in a much shorter length of time.  You will eventually become adept at coming up with a figure in your head.  I know it may seem tempting to find the exact number, but it is a lot of time spent when you could be doing something you enjoy.  

     Hope this helps!

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Big Question: Do I Need to Lose Weight?

     Maintaining your weight throughout college is hard enough, but it seems like all the girls are trying to lose weight too. Sometimes it seems like they’re always on a diet to lose “the last five pounds.” Constantly striving for an unattainable goal is not only disappointing, but it’s priming yourself for a lifetime of an unhealthy relationship with food and body image.

     Are you one of those girls? Are you always trying to lose that "last five pounds?"

     One big problem is the perception of a “perfect” weight. You could spend half your life Googling “ideal weight” and come up with a million different answers. ( I have.) You could make yourself crazy.

     According to the BMI, a 5’5” female like me could weigh anywhere from 111 to 149 and still be considered healthy. I have never been above that, and I haven’t been below it since freshman year of high school, but I know I have been overweight and slightly underweight while still within that range, because of how my body felt.

     The Met Life height/weight tables are also highly quoted around the Internet. Originally, the Met Life Insurance Company devised them to determine what weight ranges were associated with the lowest mortality rates. Now, they’ve somehow picked up the label of “ideal” weights. Depending on your frame size and height, you are provided with a “healthy weight range.” For example, since I am 5’5’ with a small frame, I should weigh between 117-130. If I was large frame, I should aim to weigh between 137-155. So according to the Met Life tables, the range is 117-155, but according to BMI, it’s 111-149. If I weighed 112 or 150, I wouldn’t be too sure which to trust.

     The bottom line when determining whether you need to lose weight: What is the lightest adult weight you have ever been? Were you able to maintain that weight for a significant amount of time? Did you feel hungry all of the time? Unless you’ve always been overweight, you’re probably not going to be lighter than the lightest you’ve ever been. After all, you’re only getting older, right? If you were 115 pounds for 2 days in high school after you had the stomach flu in , that’s not a realistic goal. And it’s worth noting that if you don’t feel good at a certain weight, you don’t look good either.

     According to a recent survey, 75% of women exhibit some form of disordered eating. 53% are trying to lose weight, while at a healthy weight. Are you one of them?

     I used to be. When I first lost weight my freshman year of college, I still felt as if the weight was attached to me. I thought I needed bigger spaces to walk through than I did. I thought I needed to wear a bigger size. I felt like everyone was looking at me and thinking that I was fat. My beliefs were so extremely real to me that it would have been classified as a mental illness, body dysmorphia, had it not been related to another mental illness (my eating disorder.)
     Even if you don’t have an ED, there is a good chance that as college woman you have an unrealistic view of your body. Remember everyone is not looking at you. They are more likely to be worrying about their own bodies than judging yours.

     If you are sick of being on a diet, ask yourself if you feel good at the weight that you are. Do you feel as if you could go hiking if you wanted to, or run a mile? Do you feel energetic? Answering these questions will help you discern what your body needs more than picking an arbitrary number of pounds you think you need to lose. Make new goals instead. Aim to run a little bit farther, or eat a little bit healthier. Nobody has to see the number on the scale but you.

I want to know. Do you really need to lose weight?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Taco Bell

I tried to avoid fast food for years, but it wasn't fun. It meant driving around at night trying to find somewhere open not considered "fast food," and usually ending up at some bar with food that was even worse for me, just because "fast food" has such negative connotations. When I finally realized that with my budget and schedule, it made much more sense to eat it occasionally, I found some some decent items on the menus, especially as Americans have become more health-conscious in recent years.

Taco Bell is a personal favorite, so I will cover them today.

They have a Fresco menu, which consists of regular menu items without the cheese, and salsa added. Of the items included, the Ranchero Soft Taco has the least amount of calories (170), sodium is on the low side comparatively, and protein is on the high side. If you are looking for something more filling, the Zesty Chicken Border Bowl (without dressing) has the most fiber with 10 grams, but 350 calories. Don’t forget to say “Fresco style.”

If you don't want anything on the Fresco menu, as a general rule at any Mexican restaurant, a couple tacos are a good bet. At Taco Bell, the Spicy Chicken Soft Taco has the least calories at 170.

I would stay away from the other tacos due to the saturated fat content. If you want something with cheese, I would recommend the Chicken Gordita with Nacho Cheese over a different taco, because it only has 2 grams of saturated fat, compared to the other tacos and other gorditas, which have 5 or 6. Gorditas also generally have 70 calories less than chalupas. 

Burritos and nearly all the items on the Specialties menu have a humongous amount of bloat-inducing salt.

Mexican rice is the lowest-calorie side (110 calories.)


What do you eat when only fast food will do?

Photo by soundman1024 under these terms.

Exercise Mistakes

My goal for this blog is to provide insights for those searching for what dieticions, fitness instructors and other authorities will not tell them. If this is you, you probably will have picked up a women’s magazine and skimmed the weight loss advice. You have heard that to lose weight, you need to eat less and exercise more. The importance of physical exercise and calories has been drilled into your head. Maybe you have a more sophisticated knowledge of nutrition than I did in high school and early college, and you know the importance of protein and fiber, and you can actually accurately calculate your daily caloric needs ( I had no idea about any of this.)

But if it’s your first year of college, you might not have actually put some of this advice into action yet. Or if you have, maybe you haven’t quite figured it out yet. I know some girls are still doing harm to themselves when they think they’re doing good, because I see it every day.

So here is something I don’t see in those articles about “easy” ways to lose weight: If you are going to increase your work-out intensity or length, do not be afraid to increase your caloric content as well (how much you eat.) You may have heard to eat carbohydrates 1-2 hours before exercising, and to eat protein afterwards. Are you only trying to maintain your weight and not lose any? Don’t be afraid to consume more, preferably starting at breakfast the day you plan to have a longer workout! In my experience, attempting to eat the same amount is a form of deprivation. And depriving your body, in the long run, does not work. 

If you are trying to lose weight, I would not recommend increasing workouts and eating less all at the same time. I know it’s what the nutritionists say, but your body just doesn’t like it, and eventually, it will respond as if you are starving. You will either become ravenously hungry, or your metabolism will slow to match your consumption. I know that gradual weight loss might seem tedious and unrewarding (it did to me,) but it’s effective and that’s what matters.

Another common exercise mistake I notice among newbies: Only weight lifting and avoiding cardio (or sometimes vice versa.) I know the advice is generally just to “get active,” but you need to do both. To burn fat, you need to get your heart pumping. As far as weight lifting goes, circuit training ( or not resting between sets) will do that, but more often, I see people sitting on the machine between reps. The ultimate calorie-burner is cardio. I know when you first start working out it’s hard. I am not naturally athletic. When I first realized I needed to work out, I could barely make it around the block. But it does get much easier. If you are doing cardio in the gym, I highly recommend starting out on the elliptical, and then moving to the Stairclimber. It feels much harder.

I hope that I don’t sound like I think I know it all. Trust me, far from it. I just know I made a lot of silly choices when starting college, and I really want to let others know what I learned.


Friday, July 25, 2008

Weight Management on the Weekends

The beginning of the weekend was always stressful to me as an undergrad. While it seemed like all my friends were breaking loose as soon as their last class ended and popping open cans of beer in the middle of the afternoon, I often found myself picking a fight with my boyfriend instead. While my classmates were de-stressing over hot wings and cold brews, I would confine myself to watching television, lethargic and upset.

For weeks, this happened on Friday nights. When I finally noticed the consistency and mentioned it to my boyfriend, he reacted with confusion. “Aren’t you supposed to be happy when the weekend starts? Isn’t it supposed to relax you, not stress you out?”

It is supposed to be relaxing. Except, for a weight-conscious person, the ways in which some college students like to relax instead cause acute anxiety.

As the hectic, fast-paced weekdays went by, I didn’t really have time to overeat. I only ate what I kept in my kitchen, or if I did go out, it just seemed easier to choose healthy options, like a salad. Weekends were when the bf always wanted to order pizza (a food I then considered to be too fattening.) Drinking made me crave high-fat foods. Friends always wanted to go to Buffalo Wild Wings, and I didn’t have a clue what to order. But mostly, the unstructured time made me worried I would be bored and overeat.

Am I alone in this? I don't think it's possible.

Since those days, I’ve figured out how to enjoy my weekends without overindulging too much. I discussed pizza and alcohol yesterday. 

A few more tips:

Buffalo Wild Wings does have some decent options. You don’t have to turn down dinner with your friends because you don’t want to consume calorie-laden wings dipped in ranch or blue cheese. They have a decent grilled chicken salad and a raspberry vinaigrette dressing. If you do want something hot, they have “naked tenders,” grilled chicken, no breading, dipped in one of their signature sauces. Just remember that if the sauce you choose looks creamy, it’s got a lot of calories. Some specifics.

There is usually at least one healthy option at any given restaurant. It may mean specifying “no fries with that,” or “dressing on the side,” but there are options. Keeping in touch with a supportive social circle is integral to getting through the college experience with your sanity intact. Stress is linked to excess weight.

The most important advice I can give you about the weekend: If you crave something, just have it! Allow yourself at least a little bit... or a full serving if you really want it. Then, take of advantage of your "unstructured time" the next day to work out more than normal. Depriving yourself is a recipe for disaster. In my opinion, you’re setting yourself up to binge later. And having more calories on the weekends keeps your metabolism from getting “used” to a specific amount, and then slowing down. I know that it might feel like if you eat it this one time, you will tomorrow and the day after that, but if you care enough about your weight to read this, that’s probably not the truth. In fact, you probably won’t even want to indulge every day. Then, it no longer becomes indulging.

Have a good weekend!

Realistic Weight Control for College Students

A Google search for “freshman fifteen” currently yields an impressive 166,000 results. (Although apparently, the actual first-year weight gain is closer to five pounds.) High school seniors hear the statistics and vow “It won’t be me.” College students, especially women, engage in a constant struggle to prevent putting on pounds, or lose the weight they’ve already gained.

These students are baraged with information about why it happens. Alcohol is charged as a major problem. Fast food is blamed, buffet-style meals in the dorm room cafeteria. Eating food late at night, lack of exercise. There is no shortage of advice on preventing the gain either. “Set limits,” or “Eat breakfast.” We’re told to “get enough sleep” and “exercise regularly.”

But the dieticians doling out the advice seem to have forgotten the 4-6 years they spent in college getting their degrees. College students are in a unique, stressful situation. We know we shouldn’t eat fast food, but we don't have the time or money to cook. We know we should get enough sleep, but we need to finish a paper. We know we should fix ourselves a nutritious breakfast, but something quick and easy sounds much more appealing. (Or maybe nothing at all.) We tend to eat late. Those newly freed from parents and handed responsibility for their own diet and health, need realistic ideas about how to fit a nutritious diet into their lifestyle.

I am a recent college graduate, preparing to begin a Master’s Degree in Public Health in the fall. I understand what it feels like to worry about my weight, but not have time to prepare myself a healthy meal. I too have wondered “Is pizza really that bad?” and “Does alcohol really make you gain weight?” What about you?

Since high school, I have not been content in relying on what a magazine says about these questions. I keep vigilant watch on the latest university diet and nutrition studies, and I’ve already looked up the nutrition information for that restaurant your friends want to meet at tonight. I’ve done the work for you. And every day, I plan to share with you a little bit of what I’ve learned.

An FYI: No, I didn’t gain the freshman 15. I actually lost it.

So what are the answers to those questions, the two I have endlessly pondered?
When faced with the options, no, pizza is really not "that bad." In college, you will inevitably find yourself hungry late at night. It’s better than fast food (although we’ll get to the healthiest options there later) because you can load it with vegetables. Order light cheese and thin crust, and one piece will be approximately 200 calories.(Click on the "Garden Fresh.") Blotting the grease removes another 40 calories (or 4.5 grams of fat). The new whole wheat crust at Papa John’s is another great option, with 6 grams of dietary fiber a slice.(Click a pizza.)

As for alcohol, if you’re anything like me, you’ve heard a range of opinions about its nutritional value. Most dieticians will tell you as far as its effect on weight goes, a calorie is a calorie.(An example) But I’ve never understood why if that was true, adding alcohol calories alone to my own diet, and not any extra food calories, does not result in weight gain. This study backed up my personal experience. It studied the relationship between alcohol and 8-year weight gain and women and found that moderate drinking (or up to 30 grams a day) is not associated with weight gain. (About 11 grams of alcohol are in a light beer.) IMHO, it's the food we tend to consume after drinking that's the problem. So, when it comes to drinking, as I’m sure you’ve heard a million times before, moderation is everything.

Frequent posts on the way...