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From Me to Oprah, Week 3: What’s Your Bikini?

December 28, 2009

I finally did it…I bought a bikini for the first time in I don’t even know how many years. While I consider myself active and fit (relatively speaking, of course..I can’t climb mountains, or run marathons, but I do sweat when I exercise several times a week), my body is far from perfect. Part of me feels that despite losing and keeping off more than 30 pounds for years, my body is not truly bikini worthy, so buying one for me was uncharacteristic and at the same time, monumental.

Admittedly, I have always felt that wearing a bikini should be reserved only for those who are slim. But anytime I’ve looked around at  ladies, young and old, at the beach or at a pool wearing a bikini, I’ve observed a wide variety of body shapes and sizes. Sometimes I have said to myself  “she looks great in that,” and at other times, I’ve asked myself  “how can she seriously think that looks good on her?” I’m ashamed to admit it, but I can’t help making judgments when I see women who wear bikinis like they own them, even when they don’t, at least in my mind, fit well. (Perhaps all women secretly–or in some cases not so secretly– do this? Or is it just me?)

Maybe when I’ve looked at all the bikini-clad women, what I was doing was not judging them so much as measuring myself against them. If I can’t wear a bikini, how could someone bigger or heavier than me wear one? Maybe here’s where I’ve gone wrong all these years…even though I have always felt proud of my weight loss and have come to terms with and even feel relatively good about my body, the overweight, insecure teenager inside me rears her head at times, and perhaps my own lingering feelings of  inadequacy about my own body has made me pass judgment (if only in my own mind) on others; I know that’s what has also made me stick to one piece bathing suits despite my weight loss and the fact that I have maintained a healthy body weight.  Maybe the women who wear bikinis are truly comfortable revealing themselves, and who am I to pass judgment on them and say they’re too heavy, or have too large a belly to wear a bikini? Perhaps instead I should applaud them for having enough confidence to wear what they want in public despite what anyone thinks.

I’m not really sure what prompted me to buy a bikini…but accidentally forgetting to pack my bathing suits for a family trip to Florida this week provided me wih an opportunity to go bathing suit shopping (not my favorite pasttime). So we went to a local department store. After I tried on countless suits, my husband decided his favorite was the one blue bikini I slipped into. Despite my reluctance and hesitation, I bought it. When we got back to our hotel room, I cemented the transaction by ripping off the tags and having my husband take a photo of me wearing the blue bikini. I then compared that photo with a photo I keep in my wallet…it’s one of the overweight, seventeen year-old me wearing a one piece suit, taken when I  worked as a waitress at a so-called “fat camp.” Some have asked why I carry the  photo in my wallet…I do it  because I find the photo of the old me empowering. It makes me realize how far I’ve come over the years and how exercise and regular fitness (alongside more healthful eating habits) have helped me transform my body despite gravity, giving birth to two children, and being 40.

I may not have a perfectly toned, trimmed, flawless body, but if the bikini fits, I have decided that yes–I’m going to wear it. So what’s your bikini? Is it running a race? Hiking a mountain? Doing a triathalon? Wearing skinny jeans? Becoming an actor? Identify what it is you’ve been avoiding, or telling yourself you can’t do, or wear, or be and either do it, wear it, or try to become it. Go outside your comfort zone, outside the box in which you live. If you challenge yourself and take a risk, you may surprise yourself and learn something along the way. I know I have. Ask yourself “what am I waiting for” and be bold, take a chance. If not in 2010, then when?

Diet Do #5: Get Real About Your Ideal Weight

December 25, 2009

If you ask anyone if he or she would like to weigh less, chances are the answer would be a resounding “Yes!” Fitting into a favorite pair of jeans, looking better in a bathing suit or in workout clothes, wearing a smaller size, or simply seeing a lower number on the scale are goals that many men and women have (even if they’re at what others consider a healthy body weight).  

The start of a new year is like a “do-over” for many; it inspires and motivates them to trim their calorie intake and increase physical activity in an effort to work toward their weight loss goals. Of course with hard work, determination, focus, and perseverence, many people can successfully lose weight (and in some cases, get to what they consider to be their ideal or “dream” weight).

It’s no surprise that unfortunately, many who lose weight end up gaining some if not all of the weight back eventually. Some are “successful losers” as evidenced by research from the National Weight Control Registry. But for most, weight loss is only temporary. But why? Of course there are many reasons why people regain weight. Having worked with many clients over the years and seeing family members, friends, colleagues, and acquaintences repeatedly lose and gain the same 10, 20, 50 or more pounds, I’ve noticed that most who have had trouble keeping lost weight off set unrealistic body weight goals for themselves; to achieve those goals, they had either gone on too restrictive a diet (drastically cut calories, avoided carbohydrate-rich foods, and/or gave up sugar or alcohol), overexercised, did something more radical like gastric bypass surgery, or did any combination of these things. Weight loss was also often quick; rapid weight loss can be motivating, but it can also mean lots of lean muscle mass lost, a slower metabolism, and it can lead to medical problems like gallstones or other adverse health effects.

When setting goals for weight loss, I’ve always encouraged others to first focus on creating food and fitness behaviors (that they believe have a high probability of turning into habits they can maintain). Cutting 200 to 300 calories a day and increasing physical activity to burn more calories can promote a weight loss of 1 to 2 pounds a week for most people; that may not sound like a lot, but making such small, do-able changes over time can really add up in terms of pounds lost (not to mention help preserve your metabolism).

I also encourage people to be realistic about what weight they think they can achieve and maintain long-term. Before embarking on weight loss, it’s important to ask to yourself how much you’re willing to sacrifice in order to get to and maintain a certain body weight. If you feel like you have to work out an hour a day, eat so little and/or ban sweets and alcohol for life (or whatever favorite indulgence items you have), not go out to meals with friends or family, and avoid high risk food situations like cocktail parties and such, how realistic is it for you to be able to maintain your new body weight? Is it more important for you to get to an ideal or dream weight that will be almost impossible to maintain, or one that you feel is comfortable for you, that allows you to live and function fully in the world, that you can maintain by engaging in healthful (but not extreme) food and fitness behaviors? Be honest with yourself,  and tell yourself that true happiness is not about what the scale says but about how you feel both mentally and physically at any size. Losing even just a small amount of weight and maintaining it over time (and overcoming the yo-yoing in body weight that so many of us experience) can improve your health, help you feel lighter on your feet and better in your own skin overall.

Diet Do #4: Create Solutions, Not Resolutions

December 23, 2009

If you’re like most people, the start of a new year makes you think about all the things you want to change about yourself, all those negative habits you want to overcome or healthful habits you want to incorporate into your life to improve your life. The problem is, despite good intentions, many tend to make resolutions that are idealistic or require drastic changes in eating, fitness, or lifestyle habits.

Some common resolutions including “I’m going on a diet,” “I’m not going to eat bread,” “I’m going to exercise every day,” or “I’m giving up sugar” may in fact help some people jump-start their lives and engage in more healthful (or less harmful) behaviors. But for the most part, rigid or extreme resolutions like these can often set people up for failure and sabotage otherwise good intentions to lose weight, increase muscle mass and lose body fat, or generally improve health.

I am a firm believer that you need to know where you’re going before you can get there. I’m also a big fan of the idea that small changes yield big dividends. So this year, instead of making fast and hard resolutions (such as going on a so-called “diet” ), try to first think about what your specific goals are; maybe you want to lose weight, lower your blood cholesterol or blood pressure, have more energy to run around with your kids, or simply be more physically fit. After identifying one or more general goals, think about the specific steps you can take in order to work towards achieving that goal. For example, if you want to lose weight, you know that consuming fewer calories is one thing that will help you achieve that goal. Perhaps you can start keeping a food journal using your PDA, phone, or a good old-fashioned notebook to record everything you eat or drink for a few days; once you see your eating patterns, you’ll be able to identify the meals or times of day that challenge you or sabotage you most. If, for example, you find you often overeat at dinner, make that the first thing to tackle; take one or more small steps to lighten your caloric load at dinner  (such as eating on smaller plates, cooking a smaller amount of food, minimizing distractions, or ordering less food when dining out). Breaking down goals into small solutions you can employ more often (if not each day) can help you overcome behaviors that undermine your efforts to eat healthfully and mindfully. Taking small steps like this, one at a time, can add up and help your mind and body adapt to your new, improved behaviors and hopefully turn them into life-long habits.

Remember, you don’t have to go it alone…seek a friend, family member, or colleague for support, and contact a health or fitness professional to provide you with the tools to help you create and maintain more healthful habits. A registered dietitian can help you improve your food, nutrition, and lifestyle habits; to find one in your area, contact the American Dietetic Association at http://www.eatright.org. To get expert help improving your exercise and fitness habits, you can find a reputable personal trainer by contacting organizations including the American College of Sports Medicine (www.acsm.org), the National Strength & Conditioning Association (www.nsca-lift.org), or the American Council on Exercise (www.acefitness.org.)

Diet Do #3: Fit in Fidgeting

December 22, 2009

Does the term couch potato apply to you? Would you much rather sit around than be on the move? Are you constantly on the go, moving from one thing to the next like a chicken without a head? Or are you somewhere in between–you like to be active, but you also enjoy your down time and take full advantage by slowing down when you have the time on weekends or when on vacation?

I most definitely fit into the first category; I have trouble sitting still and am always on a mission, doing something. I do enjoy sitting down to read a book or magazine, or watching a movie, but usually I’m on the go trying to get things done. It’s definitely in my wiring to be like this. In fact, researchers agree that one’s genetic makeup has a lot to do with how much spontaneous, non-exercise physical activity one gets on any given day.

Studies have shown that the people who engage in more non-exercise physical activity (including fidgeting) tend to gain less weight over time than those who are less active. A well publicized study done in 2005 and published in the journal Science also found staggering differences in daily calories burned between lean and obese people. In that particular study, those who were obese sat about 2 hours more per day and fidgeted or moved around in general a lot less than their lean counterparts. The lean subjects also burned about 350 extra calories per day compared with those who were obese.

So my Diet Do #3 is to fit in fidgeting. Today (and everyday!), try to find ways to fit in more non-exercise physical activity. You’ll be surprised that all those small movements you make all day–house cleaning, folding laundry, gardening, walking a few extra blocks, getting out of your chair to walk somewhere, reorganizing a drawer or closet–will add up to calories burned. You may not lose weight (unless you’re dramatically upping your daily movement), but at the very least, you’ll probably have an easier time keeping weight off or not gaining more weight as the clock ticks (this in and of itself is an accomplishment).

Don’t give up on your regular exercise routine; exercise is key for maintaining weight and providing all the other health, physical, and mental benefits it provides. But at the same time, don’t make the mistake of thinking that going to the gym, taking an exercise class, or going for a run or bike ride outside is enough to keep you healthy, strong, and at a healthful body weight; even mundane activities can provide you with another way to burn calories (without even thinking about it) — and who wouldn’t want that?!

Sources: http://bit.ly/mkHJ0; http://bit.ly/5d1Dhe

Diet Do #2: Pare Portions & Sideline Servings

December 21, 2009

Are you portion-challenged? When you eat or drink, do you often find it difficult if not impossible to stop eating or drinking when you’ve had enough, even when you’re full?

You’re definitely not alone…countless people have just the same problem leaving a few chips or cookies in a bag, leaving soda in a can, or leaving unfinished food like pasta, steak, or whatever on a plate. I know I once did, too. A friend once asked me “How can you throw that away?” after I ate only half of a small ice cream cone? I simply told her that after years of dieting and deprivation (in my late teens and early twenties), I have learned to have what I like, savor and enjoy it, and stop when I’m comfortable..I don’t need to eat the whole thing. I never feel like not finishing the food on my plate or beverage in my cup or glass is a bad thing; I don’t try to be wasteful, but when I’ve had enough, I’ve had enough.

Years of practicing portion control have helped me truly learn to 1) enjoy whatever food or beverage I consume; 2) incorporate a wider variety of food into my eating pattern; and 3) no longer associate meals or snacks or any foods or beverages with guilt–because I allow myself small portions of whatever foods I choose, I never feel deprived and instead, feel satisfied when I eat what I enjoy, but simply don’t have too much of it.

So, my friends, the Diet Do for today is to pare your portions when you can. I realize this is no easy task, given we live in a world in which supersized portions are the standard. And while it’s tough, but not impossible, to find smaller portions at fast food and other restaurants, at convenience and grocery stores, and at ball parks and other sport- or entertainment-related venues, practicing portion control is like an art form and must be practiced to be near-perfected (after all, none of us can nor should we want to be perfect…how boring that would be!).

Here are some ways to decrease portions painlessly at home or when you’re out and about:

1) Before you buy or consume any packaged or processed food, get all the facts. Nutrition Facts panels on food or beverage packages (including bags, cans, cups, boxes, jars, or other containers) show you how many calories one serving of a food or beverage contains, and how many servings the package contains. Before you dig in (or gulp it down), ask yourself how many servings of the item you plan to have, and take the time to do the math to see if it fits into your daily calorie budget and if it’s really worth it.

2) Remember that one serving of a packaged item may not necessarily be an appropriate portion for you during one meal or snack. For example, one tablespoon may be the serving size listed on a food label for mayonnaise when one or two teaspoons during one meal may be a more appropriate portion or amount for you to have. Also, just because a package of cookies says 3 cookies is a serving does not mean we should be having 3 cookies in one sitting or on one day (especially if the cookies are more than 50 calories a piece).

3) Invest in smaller sized plates, bowls, and cups. When preparing meals, fill them with the amount you want to consume–not too much, and not too little. If you give yourself a smaller portion than you’re used to and eat it with smaller utensils, you’ll likely end up consuming smaller portions. If you make extra food you plan to use the next night or another night, be sure to refrigerate or freeze it right away (before you even sit down to eat) to help you eat only the portion you doled out for yourself.

4) When you have snacks, pre-portion single-serve amounts using dixie cups or snack-sized plastic baggies (think of them as your own 100 or so calorie packs). Just as with main meals, planning ahead and preparing appropriate portions of healthful (and sometimes not-so-healthful foods like candy or cookies) can help reduce your risk for over consuming calories and at the same time, satisfy your cravings without derailing your “diet”. You may also find it helpful (if not a bit anal-retentive) to carry around a few extra baggies in your purse or bag; this way if you buy a snack in too large a portion and want to control the amount you have, you can put the amount you want to consume (and no more) into one and save the rest for another day.

For more information, go to nutritionatyourfingertips.com.

5 Simple Diet Do’s To Eat Better & Get (& Stay) Fit in 2010

December 20, 2009

“Don’t procrastinate”…..growing up, I heard that expression in my home over and over from my dear (dare I say old) dad. I don’t think my dad was speaking specifically to me when he said it (maybe he was talking to my mom and brother, the creative, perhaps less organized ones in our home). I was and am still very much like my dad–we are a bit type A, like things to be organized and to always have on hand extras of whatever we need (in case we run out). And with the exception of writing thank you notes and such, I was never nor am I now a put-it-off-til-tomorrow kind of girl, especially when it comes to anything work-related. I always like to be prepared!

To help you ring in the new year on a healthier note, I had planned to write a blog with simple tips for eating and living better; but I think my dad, a smart and successful attorney (or as he likes to call himself, a country lawyer) was on to something when he told us to not procrastinate or put off til tomorrow what we can do today. In honor of my dad, I decided to write “5 Simple Diet Do’s to Eat Better and Get (and Stay) Fit” over the course of the next week and a half to celebrate the last days of December.

Now I’m not a scrooge (I swear!)–I know it’s holiday and vacation time for many, and the temptations are overwhelming and routines and schedules are different. But holidays, celebrations, weekends, and other challenging times are just part of the fabric of our lives. To live a healthier life and be successful at long-term weight management, we need to treat ourselves well–or at least better than we typically do–each and every day (or at the very least, on most days).

I hope my 5 Simple Diet Do’s inspire you to get a jump start on changing your food and fitness behaviors one step at a time. It is my hope that applying these tips to your life will help you not only be healthier, but that they’ll pay you dividends in 2010 and beyond.

Diet Do #1: Eat Only When You’re Hungry

Hunger is a basic sensation that drives us to eat; it’s shaped by a variety of factors including our genetic makeup and the environment to which we’re exposed throughout our lives. Appetite is a mental desire for food and may have nothing to do with hunger; the sight or smell of tempting food can boost appetite and lead us to eat when we’re not hungry.

If you’re overweight and want to take a few pounds off, or if you’re an emotional eater, learning to eat only when you’re hungry (and not in response to visual or olfactory cues or when feeling stressed) can help you eat less, curb your calorie intake, and lose some weight.

So the next time you eat, ask yourself “Am I really hungry?” before you dive into the meal or snack. If the answer is no, wait a bit longer before you eat. If you can work a little longer, run errands, or do something else that doesn’t involve food until you truly feel hungry (but not ravenous), great. I realize this is easier said and done, and sometimes because of your school or work schedule you don’t always have control over your time (especially your meal times). So if you’re at work or school and only have breaks at certain times and know if you don’t eat when you have the chance you’ll end up starving (and overeating) several hours later, have something to eat, but keep the portion small (for example, have a small snack like a low fat yogurt and/or some nuts, or have only half of your lunch like 1/2 sandwich).

If you know you’re not hungry, but for one reason or another the sight, smell or thought of food makes you feel like it’s calling your name (perhaps you’re used to eating at certain times every day, whether you’re hungry or not), try to get yourself out of the habit of eating by the clock or in certain situations by arming yourself with distractions: you can take a brisk walk, listen to music, write an email or text, knit, or simply call a friend. At the very least, you can sip on some water or seltzer, chew a piece of gum, or suck on a strong mint or breath strip. You may find that over time, you break the habit of eating when you’re not hungry; when you do eat, you’ll probably end up enjoying it even more and feeling more satisfied when you’re finished; I know I do!

For more information, please see my web site, nutritionatyourfingertips.com.

From Me to Oprah: Week #2: Shock and Pour: Soda and Obesity

December 15, 2009

For this week’s From Me to Oprah: Weekly Tips for Managing Weight and Life,  I decided to weigh in on the latest ad from the New York City Department of Health. In this 30-second video called “Are You Pouring on the Pounds?”  a man is shown drinking globs of what’s supposed to be fat. The video states that having one sugary soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter in a year. At the end of the video, we viewers are urged to not to drink ourselves fat; instead of soda, we should guzzle water, seltzer, and low fat milk.

I was interviewed about this video for last night’s local ABC affiliate broadcast. I was asked about my thoughts and feelings about the video, and whether it would be effective in fighting obesity and reducing sugary soda consumption. I’ll admit that I’m the last person to advocate making regular, sugary soda a dietary staple; my husband and I don’t drink it nor have we ever offered it to our boys (who are  11 and 7). In general, we seldom consume sugary beverages (including spiked decadent coffee beverages or energy drinks), though once in a while my husband and our 11 year old son, who mostly drink water and low fat milk, will have a sports drink like Gatorade at sports games or practices when they sweat a lot and burn tons of calories. Although I’m not a sugary soda fan, I also don’t think it’s the enemy and the cause of obesity in America.

Here, in a nutshell, are some of my other thoughts about the video:

1) The video uses shock value to get the anti-soda message across; a more understated ad that simply says drink less soda and more low fat milk and water would certainly get lost in cyberspace, so of course I completely understand why the NYC Department of Health went to an extreme in this case.

2) I found watching the video to be a disgusting exercise; and after warning my 11 year-old son about the content of the video, I did show it to him; he doesn’t drink soda anyway, and said this ad would certainly not make him want to either!

3) The video is a bit misleading. On one hand, soda can certainly be over consumed and the calories can definitely add up fast (especially because liquid calories are generally so much less filling than calories from solid foods and because soda portions are often huge–and the more you’re given, the more you tend to consume). On the other hand, studies have not proven that soda is the cause of obesity and overweight. Yes, the more soda you consume, the more likely you are to engage in other dietary behaviors that cause you to over consume calories and perhaps your overall diet is less healthful as well. And yes, sugary sodas provide so-called empty calories and few if any key nutrients, and too much soda can contribute to excess calorie intake (unless other dietary adjustments are made to keep daily calorie intake in check to support healthy weight management). But too many calories from any source–even healthful foods or beverages–can contribute to excess calorie intake and subsequent weight gain and/or obesity. Too little physical activity is of course the other side of the equation and can have a huge impact on your body weight, good or bad.

4) Unfortunately, I believe the healthful message of the video–consuming more water, seltzer and low fat milk–got lost under the globules of fat poured down the man’s throat and onto a plate.

As a registered dietitian, I often use the bees and honey analogy when communicating messages about nutrition and health. It may not get people talking, and may not be controversial or cause a stir, but it can and does help people change their behavior over time. I like to encourage people to focus first and foremost on their overall dietary pattern rather than on single foods. I encourage them to fill dietary gaps with more nutritious foods and beverages like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, and low fat dairy foods. Of course I encourage people to limit fatty, greasy, sugary, nutrient-poor foods (and to keep portions small if and when they consume such foods). For those who like sugary soda, I say it’s ok to drink it, but it should be counted as a treat (it has about the same number of calories as three small cookies).  I like to always point out diet rights and show people what they can and should have more of than point a finger at all the wrongs–the foods and beverages they should avoid because they’re supposedly evil.

Only time will tell if this negative video campaign will get people to drink less sugary soda, and opt instead for more healthful beverages. But for now, as always, I will continue to promote positive nutrition and health messages, and encourage people to consume more healthful foods from all the important food categories, and find ways to fit more physical activity  into their lives. In my mind, that’s a better recipe for long-term health and weight management.

Sources: 7online.com: http:..bit.ly/5heJF8; http://www.youtube.com/drinkingfat

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