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.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Thinking You're Unhealthy is Associated with Later Weight Gain

     I read an interesting study today. The Danish Nurse Cohort Study, which analyzed the weight changes and "self-reported health" of 13,684 women, found that those who reported poor health at the beginning of the study were the most likely to gain weight. It seems believing you are in poor health can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
     In 1993 and 1999, the nurses completed surveys about their lifestyle and health. To determine how healthy these women believed they were, the researchers asked "How would you rate your health in general?"
     While the researchers suspected that BMI and self-reported health would be related, they were surprised at the results. Women who were of normal weight, but reported poor health, were more likely to gain weight over the course of the study. Overweight women who lost weight did not report better health at a lower weight. Perceptions about our bodies are hard to shake.
     The researchers proposed that women with unhealthy lifestyles were likely to report poor health. Underlying illness is also a factor. But I suggest that the women's feelings about their body also played a part. 
      This study is of special interest to young people, because we're currently developing lifelong habits. If you're thin now, but engaging in other unhealthy behaviors, they will catch up with you later in life. And if you don't feel good about your body, and you don't recognize it's capacity, you likely won't take care of it.

How to Prepare for Back to School

     You know what supplies to buy for your courses. You know to find your classrooms before the first day if you don't want to show up late. But do you know how to prepare your body for the shock of college starting up?

Adjust your sleep schedule. Study after study reminds us that lack of sleep is associated with weight gain. If your body is used to sleeping until noon every day, start preparing yourself for the change. Set your alarm for a little earlier each day, and get in bed a little earlier every night. Stop using the computer a couple hours before sleep. Turn the lights down in the evening as you wind down for sleep. The first weeks of school will wreak havoc on your body if you're not well-rested.

Go grocery shopping the weekend before. Purchase cereal and milk for the mornings, healthy snacks to take with you to class and dinners that don't take a lot of time. For snacks, trail mix/mixed nuts are satiating and nutritious. For dinners, stick to fish, chicken, brown rice and lots of vegetables. Buy things you can use for more than one recipe. Purchase lettuce and other ingredients for a salad, chop everything up the weekend before and store in containers in the fridge. Then you can quickly throw a salad together throughout the week. 

Buy good shoes. If you can, I highly recommend walking to class. And if you can't, having comfortable shoes will make you more likely to take extra steps during the day.

Buy some dumbbells. Between studying and other activities in the evening, pick up your weights and do a few reps. It's convenient, and it's good for your body.

If you're out of the dorm, clean your place up. It will be one less thing to worry about during the week and will leave you time to go to the gym.

Finally, when school does begin, enjoy catching up with your friends. Don't worry about skipping a trip to the gym or going out to eat this week if it means a chance to catch up with friends you haven't seen all summer. You're going to want a supportive social network to combat stress, and it's only one week. 

Any other tips, college students?

Photo by H is for Home

Less Than an Hour a Day Needed to Maintain Weight Loss

     Several weight-loss blogs have covered a recent study about exercise and weight loss. The subject has been researched at length, but there was still debate about the amount of exercise required to maintain weight loss.
     The study followed the weight loss efforts of 201 overweight and obese women for over three years and found that the women who were able to maintain the most weight loss (10% of their body weight) exercised more than the women who didn't.
     Have you seen the study? I've noticed that Diet-Blog claims the study found an hour a day was needed. LA Times and BBC News both covered the story as well, with headlines announcing the need for an hour of exercise a day. Although they both clarified an hour a day was only needed five days a week in their stories, I just wanted to point out that this is not the only solution. The study actually found that the women exercised about 275 minutes a week, equal to 39 minutes a day. Even assuming the women formally exercised 5 days a week, we shouldn't assume they got no exercise at all over the weekend. 
     For college students' lifestyles,  it may be preferable to exercise 40 minutes every day than an hour 5 days a week. Since each day's schedule can be so different, it might even be more convenient to work out only 20 minutes one day and an hour the next.  An hour a day isn't our only choice.
     Keep in mind that "exercise" can be short walks during the day as well. Walking to class has been the best weight-maintenance trick of my college career. 
     The news stories also haven't been publicizing the fact that the "biggest losers'' in the study also ate less than the less successful dieters.
     Basically, this study confirmed what we knew all along. Exercise and eat less to lose weight. But still, 39 minutes a day doesn't sound so bad, does it?

Photo by mikebaird

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Are College Girls' Bodies Still Developing?

     Apparently, college students don't actually gain 15 pounds their freshmen year. The typical weight gain for a female is more like 3.2 pounds. And a major contributing factor for that weight gain is likely the change in lifestyle.
     But there's another important factor to consider. I've always heard that girls don't grow in height after a young age. One commonly cited stopping point is three years after your first period. I was about 5'4" then, and last year I discovered I had hit 5'5"! (Which definitely made my day.)
     We also often hear that our bodies stop developing their curvy shape after a certain age as well. I've heard that breasts stop growing after age 17 or 18. That's not true in my case as well. I'm a full cup size bigger now (and it's not due to weight gain; I weigh less).
     My hips are fuller now too. I used to be straight up and down. My body was just not finished developing in high school. College women might gain weight because their girlish bodies are becoming more womanly. You can tell a college woman from a high school girl because she looks like a adult.
     I know there will be as many development stories as there are people. Some girls are done growing in middle school; some women may find their hips widening in their mid-twenties. But it shouldn't be ignored that part of this weight gain is a completely normal and healthy part of growing up. What do you think?

How Many Calories Should I Eat Per Day?

     When I first started becoming weight-conscious, I spent entirely too much of my life entering my body weight into calorie calculators on the web, trying to figure out how many calories I needed per day. I wanted to be sure not to eat too much, and rather than choosing to stop eating when I was full, I wanted a number.
     But these calculators were almost as frustrating as the thought of not knowing how many calories I was supposed to eat. At my high school weight and height, I was informed I should eat anywhere from about 1200 to 2500 calories a day.
     With the rise of both Google and informational health websites on the Internet, it is easier to find more accurate ones now. Since Google puts the most popular links on the front page, it seems the most credible ones have found there way there. Still though, I tried out the first few pages of results for "calorie needs calculator," and the answers ranged from 1,586 to 2,622 calories. The results did seem to cluster around a middle range of 1900 to 2300 calories.
     But because the results had such a wide range, and rarely take into account factors besides weight, height, age and activity level (such as genetics), I highly advise against using them. They're so abundant, it can become addictive to try to find the "right" one.
     My problem was that I would be continuously curious, and click on each to find out if what it said was different from the others, but I never found an answer that made me stop. It was never as if one number popped out at me, and I knew "Aha! This is the real answer!" I just kept looking.
     I didn't know which result to choose, because they were just numbers. I am never going to be able to look at a number, and know that it's right for me. The only way I can tell if I ate an appropriate amount of food is by how my body feels. I try to eat three meals a day, with small, healthy snacks, and stop eating a few hours before bed. As a result, my calorie intake tends to be around 1900 calories in the summer, and 2200 when I increase activity during the school year. The calorie calculators don't account for that change
     The best way to determine your calorie needs is to determine how many calories you are eating on average over the long-term, and if your weight is stable. If you're maintaining your weight, you're eating the right amount. If not, adjust accordingly. If you're really at a loss, a calorie calculator can be a helpful starting point.( I linked two that gave me very different answers, but answers that represent an appropriate range of calories.) But spending too much comparing them is too much time spent thinking about a way to restrict yourself... and making rules for yourself will encourage you to break them. 
     What do you think? Have you been addicted to using all those calculators too?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

What Kind of Body Do Men Really Like?

     There's been a lot of buzz in the health and weight loss community lately about Fabulous Magazine's body survey. The headlines scream "Men prefer a size 10!" (UK sizing, in the US that would be an 8)
     But I don't put a lot of trust into this survey because of its sensationalistic tactics. Fabulous claims that "women's ideal" is a size 8 (US 6), but only 32% said so. 24% said size 12, 22% said size 10 and 14% said size 6. Sure, the majority, when forced to choose, picked size 8, but wouldn't a better analysis have been that there is not a clear, one-size-fits all "ideal?"
     The shoddy way in which they came up with the "men's ideal" was even less logical. They didn't ask "What female size is most desirable to you?" They asked, "What size is your girlfriend?" Of the survey questions listed on their website, I can't see any other way that they came up with the "Men's Ideal" they listed on the photo. Are we to conclude that men only date women who have an "ideal" body type?
     Men choose partners based on many other factors besides body shape (sense of humor or intelligence, perhaps?!).  And unless only women with an "ideal" shape have boyfriends, it's more sensible to conclude that the shape of these men's girlfriends represents the shape of an average woman. It's also very possible that these men's wives and girlfriends are actually the national average, size 16, but the men think they're 12's. There are all kinds of theories.
      Australian FHM conducted a similar survey, and seems to have used better research methods. They showed men images of size 8, 10 and 12 models, (or 6, 8 and 10) and the results were varied. 41% of men preferred the size 10, 39% chose the 12, and 20% chose the 10. (Note that we know absolutely nothing about what these bodies looked like other than their size.) But yet the magazine still chose to perpetuate the idea of an ideal. If 41% picked one model's body over a choice of two others, does that make it an ideal?
     I don't know why the media, especially the magazine world, insists on allowing the notion of an "ideal size" to persist. Yes, if you put pictures of women's bodies in front of men and demand a preference, they will choose. But it's not because of the dress size of that body. It might be a curve of the hip or a slim ankle. He might be especially enthralled by her butt, her boobs or her waist. Men's opinions about women's bodies are as varied and nuanced as every other view they have. Let's not simplify them.

(Photo from Fabulous Magazine's website)

Monday, August 4, 2008

Does Eating Late Really Cause Weight Gain?

     It's another common weight loss tip: Don't eat late at night. This is one rule that's especially hard for college students to follow. We don't have lunch at noon like many working people; we eat after class around 2 or 3. Then, the rest of the evening is filled with studying, socializing and hopefully exercise, until dinner at 8 or 9. I've even found myself eating as late as 11 or 12. So is this really a weight control mistake?

     No. Not necessarily. It's a problem if it causes you to consume more calories than you burnt that day, which as a practice will eventually result in weight gain. If you waited too many hours before eating (usually about 4 hours) and your body has gone into "starvation mode," you're more likely to overeat. It could also occur if you've already eaten your calorie allotment for the day, but you're snacking out of boredom.
     So what to do? If dinner is hours away and you're starting to feel hungry, listen to your body and eat something. Despite how busy you are, make time in the evening for small, healthy snacks like nuts, granola or whole wheat pita chips. If you're exercising, it's especially important to eat carbs before and protein after if you don't want to be famished by the time you eat your evening meal.
     If you've already eaten your meals for the day, and you're still up and feel like snacking, stick to low-calorie snacks (my go-to snack is popcorn). And remember if you eat too close to bed, you won't feel like eating breakfast, which has been associated with lower BMI.
     As long as you're conscious about what you're putting into your body, there's nothing wrong with eating dinner when you feel hungry for it. In college, you will most likely go to bed late. So forcing yourself to eat dinner too early would mean you'd be feeling hunger pangs again before bed.  
     Eating dinner early is just not conducive to the student lifestyle. Trying to force yourself to do so would be an attempt to follow "rules" made for people with different lifestyles and different needs.

Breakfast and BMI

You've heard the advice. "It's the most important meal of the day." You know you should eat breakfast, but it's hard to find the time before that 8 a.m. class. It's tempting to drag yourself out the door with only a cup of coffee to sustain you.

The good news for college students is that there's no need to take the time to cook yourself scrambled eggs. In a study of the relationship between type of breakfast consumed and BMI, researchers found those who ate a breakfast mostly consisting of meat, eggs or dairy products had the highest BMIs. Those who skipped breakfast were not far behind. The study participants who actually ate quickly-prepared breakfasts like ready-to-eat cereals and cooked cereals had the lowest BMIs.

The other breakfast categories included breads, quick breads (like pastries), fats and sweets and fruits and vegetables. Eating a breakfast from one of these categories, which largely represented breakfasts "on the go," is better than going without, but the brain does not register grabbing something on the way out the door as a meal. The act of sitting down and savoring your food sends signals to your brain that you've been nourished. A bowl of oatmeal or cereal only takes a few minutes,  but it's a more satiating experience.  This could explain why foods that are commonly eaten on the run, such as candy bars (in the "fats and sweets" group), toast (bread) or a banana (fruits and vegetables group), were associated with higher BMIs than those who sat down to eat cereal.

It will take time to train your body to be hungry in the morning. I know I used to eat shortly before going to bed and never woke up hungry. But if you stop eating a few hours before bed, and consistently eat breakfast for a few weeks, your body will adapt.  

Dieting vs. Lifestyle Changes

     I read a lot of diet advice. It is pretty much ingrained in my mind that 3500 calories equal a pound. I realize that to lose weight, I would need to eat less calories and exercise more. Despite the fad diet of the day, the science remains the same. And there's no doubt about it, it works.
     But any time I've ever dieted with the sole goal of calorie restriction, whether it be by 500 calories or by 1500, the same thing has happened. I lose the weight (quickly, because I'm young I suppose), and immediately gain it back upon completion of the diet. Even when the diet doesn't end in a binge. Even when the diet is accepted as "normal," like eating 1500 calories a day. The weight always comes right back.
     The only times in my life when I have lost weight and kept it off were when I permanently changed a lifestyle habit. For example, when I got over my ED, I lost weight because I was no longer binging. But it can be small changes much more subtle than that.
     According to the WebMD metabolism calculator, a 5'4'', moderately active, 18-year-old female who weighs 130 pounds requires 2,226 calories per day. At 120 lbs., she would burn 2,159 a day. That's a 67 calorie difference. Imagine these two theoretical girls in your head. Doesn't it seem like the heavier girl must eat so much more than the other? It's not true.
     If the first girl cut 67 calories out of her day, theoretically, she would eventually weigh 120 lbs. Of course, it would be difficult to monitor your calories that closely, and you would wait a long time. She would need to permanently change her habits, so there would be no need to obsessively keep track of calories. And then, as the weight gradually falls off, it will be gone for good!
      FitDay lists 1 tablespoon of mayo has having 98 calories. 2 tablespoons of Ranch dressing have 147, while two tablespoons of honey mustard have 101 (46 calories less) The difference between a Tall Iced Caramel Macchiato and a Grande Iced Caramel Macchiato is exactly 70 calories. (170 vs. 230) Get where I'm going with this?
     Cutting 500 calories out of your day is hard to do with small changes. Instead, dieters resort to depriving themselves of their favorite foods. They ignore hunger pangs while thinking "it's only temporary." So when the diet ends, they haven't changed how they think about food or altered their habits at all.  They go right back into their old habits. Then, they find themselves dieting again and again. 
     To prevent this cycle, find the areas in your diet in which you won't mind a little compromise. I'm always here if you'd like to share what you decide.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What I've Learned About Disordered Eating

     The UNC/Self Magazine survey that I posted last night found the following alarming statistics:
  • 75 percent of women report disordered eating behaviors or symptoms consistent with eating disorders
  • 67 percent of women (excluding those with actual eating disorders) are trying to lose weight
  • 53 percent of dieters are at a healthy weight and are still trying to lose weight
  • 39 percent of women say concerns about what they eat or weigh interfere with their happiness
  • 37 percent regularly skip meals to try to lose weight
  • 31 percent of women in the survey reported that in an attempt to lose weight they had induced vomiting or had taken laxatives, diuretics or diet pills at some point in their life.
  • 27 percent would be “extremely upset” if they gained just five pounds
  • 26 percent cut out entire food groups
  • 16 percent have dieted on 1,000 calories a day or fewer
  • 13 percent smoke to lose weight
  • 12 percent often eat when they’re not hungry; 49 percent sometimes do
This survey is a cry for help. It's worrisome and saddening that women in our culture have let weight issues become so important to them that we resort to such extreme measures. Each one of these behaviors is not only damaging to your body and mind, but they don't even work. Trust me, I've tried them all, and my body not only looks better and feels better now, but my mental health is improved. If you've toyed with any of these methods, you know they mess with your mind. Let's discuss.

Banishing a Food Group: Whether it's carbs, fat, sugar, we seem to like attaching "good" and "bad" labels to everything. Maybe it seems like it will be easier that way. We can eat this and not that, no more thinking required. But here's what happens. You know how if you try not to think about something, you can't stop thinking about it? It's the same with food. It's healthier to allow yourself a little bit of everything, but in moderation. Leaving out a food group causes some nasty side effects in your body as well. If leaving out carbs causes headaches, muscle weakeness, and diarrhea, is it really something you want to do to your body? Maybe they'll work, but following more traditional weight-loss advice works too.

Skipping Meals: There are mixed views about skipping meals. One study of overweight people lost weight if they only skipped one meal every other day, equalling a reduction of about 400 or 500 calories. Another study, in which the participants didn't eat during the day and ate all their calories at dinner, resulted in harmful metabolic changes. The researchers concluded that skipping an infrequent meal as part of a calorie-reduction plan could work, but fasting during the day and binging at night is bad for your body.

But we already know that reducing calories=weight loss. Skipping meals makes you ravenously hungry. Even if you're counting your calories and make sure not to eat more at the next meal, it's still preferable to eat two small meals instead of skipping one, since skipping meals lowers your metabolism, decreases your energy level and makes you grouchy.

Restrictive Dieting: Eating less than 1,000 calories a day is how I tried to diet in high school. Eventually, I got to the point where I could no longer recognize true hunger, started binge eating and ended up with bulimia. Don't do it. Your body will never be the same.

Chronic Dieting: Constant dieting implies that you are never truly happy with yourself. If you're constantly hungry, but you're no longer losing weight, you have less energy, trouble sleeping and you probably don't look that great. It's hard to allow yourself to eat more calories when you've been eating so little for a long time, I know. But if you gradually increase your calories, your energy level will increase as well. Use that extra energy to exercise, and you'll be fine.

Being a Prisoner to Calorie Counting: I've talked about this before. It's extremely tedious. Use FitDay to determine the calories in foods you normally eat, and keep a general tally in your head, but there's no need to keep a food journal or become obsessive. Even if you write everything out or enter it online, you won't be exact. It makes more sense with a busy schedule to round the number in your head, because it will be close enough to fit your purposes. A few calories here and there are not worth calculating because sometimes you will over-estimate a little, and sometimes you will under-estimate, and it will even out. 

Also, constant calorie-counting encourages you to eat when you're not even hungry. Say you allow yourself 2,000 calories a day but you're full at 1,800. If you're keeping close track, you'll be tempted to eat more because you can. Your body's natural hunger pangs are a much better indicator of how much you should eat than a random number.

Purging: Some women binge-eat and purge, and some vomit after normal-size meals. You've probably heard all about the horrible things it does to your body, but if you're desperate enough to do it, maybe you don't care. But know that it does not work. After I recovered from bulimia, I actually lost weight.

If you are a binger, your body will retain approximately 1,200 calories after purging. If you ate a normal-size meal, most of the calories will be retained. And not only that, but your body also produces insulin when you eat. If you vomit afterwards, the excess insulin remains in your system, lowering your blood sugar and making you hungry. This is part of the reason why occasional purging can become so addictive and lead to bulimia. 

Please, just don't do it. 

Laxatives: The idea behind abusing laxatives is similar to purging, wanting to rid your body of excess calories as speedily as possible. But 100% of ingested calories are absorbed this way. All they do is disrupt the normal functioning of your digestive system, cause electrolyte imbalance and make you dehydrated.

Diet Pills: At my most desperate hour, I tried Zantrex-3. I then turned into the most horrible witch in the world. My hunger level was unchanged. 

Whether or not they lead to weight loss, they do cause the following: nervousness, restlessness, insomnia, high blood pressure, fatigue and hyperactivity, heart arrhythmias and palpitations, congestive heart failure or heart attack, stroke, headaches, dry mouth, vomitting and diarrhea or constipation, intestinal disturbances, tightness in chest, tingling in extremities, excessive persperation, dizziness, disruption in mentrual cycle, change in sex drive, hair loss, blurred vision, fever and urinary tract problems. Overdoses can cause tremors, confusion, hallucinations, shallow breathing, renal failure, heart attack and convulsions. 

If it still seems worth it, ponder the question "What happens when I stop taking them?"

Secretive Eating: This was a big one for me. In middle and high school, girls would be barely picking at their lunch, and I felt like if I ate mine, I looked like a "pig". Later, when I started to gain weight, I felt like they were looking at me and thinking, "see, that's why."It was a ridiculously self-absorbed view, and it contributed to my binge-eating, because by the time I allowed myself to eat, it had been hours. In college, you are going to have to eat in public. You will be gone a lot during the day, and if you wait until night to eat, you will be tempted to eat too much. Not eating isn't going to make anyone think that you just don't eat at all any more than eating is going to make them think you're a pig. Really, they're probably not thinking anything at all. Prepare healthy snacks like mixed nuts and trail mix and bring it with you to eat between class. Your friends are more likely to wish they had thought of that then think anything negative.

Over-Exercising: Yeah, I've done this one too. Again, it just makes you more hungry. If you feel like you've over-indulged, going for a walk is definitely helpful, but going and exercising for 5 hours usually just made me feel like eating again. If you are able to keep from eating more, you will be tempted to at your next meal. It has been more beneficial, to me, to either 1)work out 10 or 15 minutes extra on each work-out for the next week or 2)eat extra healthy the next day. 

Letting Weight Affect Your Happiness: This one is tied up in all the others, isn't it? You're not happy about how much you ate, and then you think you'll feel better if you exercise it off.... alll of it off. You let how many calories you consumed in a day affect your mood and your relationships with others

I admit I still have to work on this one. I have made some progress though. It helped when my therapist recommended I draw a pie chart of the important things in my life, and weight was right up there with family and friends. That's a real eye-opener.

When I am tempted to let my mood be affected by my body image, I remind myself of this: when happiness depends on human error, it means I will never truly be happy. I will always make at least one little "mistake." And then, I draw an imaginary line in my head representing a new beginning, and try to let the past stay there.

Not Listening to Your Body: Disordered eating can be summed up as this. It is when, for the sake of physical appearance and societal expectations, you purposely hurt your body. It is when you start letting the clock, calories, scale or size dictate when and what you eat, rather than health, energy, hunger and taste. It is when you have been feeling so bad about yourself, for so long, that the harmful side effects these practices have on your body start sounding worth it. if you would not feel comfortable talking to others about something you're doing as part of a "diet," then it's because you know they would be worried about you. And if they would be worried about you, shouldn't you be?

Listen to your body. It doesn't want to be fat or skinny. Your body wants to have a little extra padding, just in case you need it later. It wants to be lean enough to climb, but curvy enough to carry a child. If you eat according to its signals, and eat what makes it feel good, (not in the form of a temporary sugar high either, but strong and capable), then your health will be displayed in your appearance.