Saturday, January 24, 2009

Making Nutritious Choices Without Sacrifice

     I started this blog because some of the dieting advice out there is just not realistic for college students. We eat out alot, cost, time and convenience are huge factors and sometimes our friends are bad influences. So I'm always grateful when I find plausible tips out there.
     Now that school's back in session, take-out might be tempting. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has compiled the nutrition information for some common Chinese food into a convenient mock menu. The calorie content in some popular dishes is outrageous. General Tso's Chicken can be expected to have 1300 calories, while Shrimp with Lobster Sauce only has 400. Another good tip they suggest: order food lightly stir-fried.
    MSNBC features reasonable advice in "Get Rid of the Guilt! Trade Up to Healthier Treats." For breakfast, it suggests small changes like trading regular cream cheese for whipped. It doesn't expect you to swear off fast food completely, but does point out that if only McDonald's will do, a regular hamburger is a wiser option than a Big Mac. If going out with friends to a Mexican restaurant, choose chicken fajitas over the quesadilla. The article even offers reasonable dessert choices.
     Even with the best of intentions, students aren't going to be preparing themselves three nutritious meals a day, every day. Making realistic food choices, like those featured at CSPI and MSNBC, keep us from spending unhealthy amounts of time planning food intake, and help prevent future overeating. If you don't deprive yourself, cravings won't become overwhelming later. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Things You Never Knew About Your Weight

     The New York Daily News published an interesting article, "8 Things You Never Knew About Your Weight." While I would argue that some of the research covered is actually well-known, some of it has not been highly publicized. My favorite 3 points:

3. Sleep More, Lose More

     "When patients see Dr. Louis Aronne, past president of the Obesity Society and author of the forthcoming book "The Skinny," they're as likely to have their sleep assessed as their eating habits. If patients are getting less than seven to eight hours, Aronne may prescribe more shuteye rather than the latest diet drug. With sleep, he says, "they have a greater sense of fullness, and they'll spontaneously lose weight."

     Why? University of Chicago researchers reported that sleep deprivation upsets our hormone balance, triggering both a decrease in leptin (which helps you feel full) and an increase of ghrelin (which triggers hunger). As a result, we think we're hungry even though we aren't - and so we eat. Indeed, sleep may be the cheapest and easiest obesity treatment there is."

     Anytime I have to get up earlier than normal, I wake up ravenous. If I stay up late working on something, the same thing happens. My body needs energy, and if I don't sleep, it craves fuel in the form of food.

4. Your Spouse's Weight Matters

     "... research shows that weight gain and loss can be, well, contagious. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that if one spouse is obese, the other is 37% more likely to become obese, too. The researchers concluded that obesity seems to spread through social networks."

     Doesn't it seem as if your weight seems to go up and down with that of a significant other? And I actually had a former roommate tell me the other day she thinks she's gained weight because she lives with her boyfriend now instead of me.

5. Cookies Really Are Addictive

     "While food is not addictive the way cocaine or alcohol is, scientists in recent years have found some uncanny similarities. When subjects at Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia were shown the names of foods they liked, the parts of the brain that got excited were the same parts activated in drug addicts. It may have to do with dopamine, the hormone linked to motivation and pleasure, say researchers at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y. If obese people have fewer dopamine receptors, they may need more food to get that pleasurable reaction."
     There has also been some research conducted on sugar addiction in rats. Professor Bart Hoebel and other researchers in the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute have demonstrated that rats who consume high levels of sugar can experience withdrawal symptoms when it's removed from their diet. They're then more likely to binge on it when it's reintroduced later.

     Basically, food has similarities with any other substance that causes changes in your brain. We associate it with pleasure. The problem begins when it becomes a primary source of pleasure. And food or drugs shouldn't be the first thing we turn to when feeling low.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's Not Your Job to Tell A Loved One to Lose Weight

     KCBY of North Bend, Oregon published an irresponsible story on Jan. 2 about how to tell a loved one that he or she is "fat." Charles Stuart Platkin, a nutrition and public health advocate, bases his advice on a study by the University of Colorado that indicated a majority of successful weight-loss maintainers had experienced a "trigger event or critical incident." He says that this event could be "a comment from a loved one that acts as a wake-up call."
     In the study referred to, about 32% of the participants pointed to either a medical trigger or an emotional trigger as motivation. One participant's motivation was "husband left me and my lawyer told me it was because I was too fat." 
     Doesn't that sound like a horrible way to begin what should be a positive life change? Successful weight-loss maintainers should be able to look back at the beginning of their weight loss as the start of their path to a healthier way of life, not the end of a relationship. Even if a talk about weight doesn't lead to a break-up, and it won't necessarily, the start of a weight-loss plan shouldn't be triggered by worry about how a loved one feels about you.
     People who need to lose weight should not be doing it for anyone but themselves. The motivation needs to come from the right place. And they should never be told that they will somehow be a better person because of the weight loss.
     It's likely that an overweight person already realizes they are overweight, especially if female. In fact, it's more likely that a female will consider herself to be overweight when she's not.
     An article in the International Journal of Obesity compared adults' actual weight-status according to BMI and their perception of their status as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Researchers found that 59.00% of male subjects were either overweight or obese, but 44.22% said they were overweight. 
     But for female subjects, they found an opposite trend. For women, 50.49% were either overweight or obese, while 60.09% said they are overweight. 34.83% of healthy weight/underweight female college graduates even believed they were overweight.
     Platkin warns against being judgmental. But how can negative comments about weight be considered anything but judgemental? Telling a loved one that you want them to change means that you view some part of them in a negative light. In other words, you're being judgmental. For someone who already suffers from poor body image, or even disordered eating, these comments can be especially damaging.
     We already know that girls whose families criticize their weight or diet may develop future body image problems. One study found that of 455 college women with poor body image, more than 80 percent said their parents or siblings had made negative comments about their bodies during childhood. The opinions of significant others also play a critical role in one's self-esteem. For some people, the opinions of significant others may be even more important to them than those of their families.
     The article makes valid points about how social support is needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and how couples can resolve to be healthy together. But Platkin completely neglects to mention eating disorders in his story. Someone suffering from binge eating disorder or bulimia knows they when they are overweight. Being criticized about it by a significant other is not going to help. A better approach for significant others would be to simply be there to listen and provide support when their loved one is ready to make changes.... and not one second before.
     Families should of course speak up if they recognize an eating disorder in a member. But comments should focus on concern for well-being. They should never focus on appearances, whether the object of concern is underweight or overweight.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Small Changes has a weight-loss article out today entitled "5 small changes to help you lose weight." They were good idea the first time I heard them, about ten years ago. CNN makes a valid point, that small changes make diets more feasible than radical ones. They suggest swapping whole milk for 1 percent milk, whole bagels for halves, ice cream for yogurt, and whole milk lattes for skim milk. The article concludes with a staggering suggestion.... take a 20-minute walk each day.
     Most weight-conscious people have already ingrained these habits into their lifestyle. For us, making small changes will require more thought and creativity. It will require careful monitoring of one's intake for a substantial time, then consideration of which foods are providing extra calories. I know I tend to get into the habit of consuming certain foods on a regular basis. How can you cut the calories for a food you regularly consume? If you make chicken wraps often, you could swap sour cream for salsa. If you eat a lot of sandwiches, it might mean trading mayo for mustard, or no condiment at all. It's all about common sense... but it's not quite as simple as CNN implies.