Friday, July 23, 2010

Daily exercise is a must. Or so you think.

This stunning spot is at Acadia National Park, Maine,
Park Loop Road.
The whey protein display at the health club pushed me over the edge. So I decided that it’s time to address exercise and your food intake to clear up some myth-information. I realize that my blog readers are not homogeneous—some of you struggle with eating disorders with restrictive intake, some compulsively exercising and some wishing you could motivate and begin to move your body and lose some weight healthily. So I will try to tackle the exercise topic without triggering people (thank you reader for heightening my awareness of this potential problem!).

A popular belief—you must exercise daily or you won’t maintain a healthy weight. Many of you believe that exercise, typically an excessive level, is necessary. I mean every day. Or else. You may feel compelled to exercise for fear that your jeans won’t fit the next day, or that the scale you so rely on will show the damage. Or else you’ll restrict your food intake to make up for the missed workout. Or you may decide that you've blown it if you missed a day, and sabotage your healthy eating habits and activity.

But this is a myth. Your body burns calories 24/7, every minute of the day.  Yes, even while you are sleeping. Sure, you use more calories when you are active, but even at rest, doing absolutely nothing but breathing, you need fuel. And what happens to those calories you consume when your activity is low? Much of it goes into fuel stores called glycogen, stores of starch made from carbohydrate.  And this is the primary fuel source our bodies turn to when we are in between meals and when we are exercising. It is the source of nourishment that helps us maintain a normal blood sugar level, even though we are not being fed every minute of the day.

Eating at every rest stop along my ride!

In fact, over exercising can even prevent you from meeting your goal of maintaining a healthy weight. If you are eating significantly fewer calories than you are expending it is no different than if you didn’t exercise at all and severely restricted your food intake. Neither will work for you. Your metabolism will slow, meaning that your calorie need per day will drop, requiring fewer and fewer calories. And if you’re trying to build muscle, forget it! Your body, desperate for fuel in this situation, will use any available calories just to function.  Building new muscle becomes a very low priority. Whether you eat plenty of protein or not.

And about that whey protein? Fine if you are a vegan just barely meeting your protein need. But most of us consume far in excess of our need for protein. And there is no magic to whey or protein supplements as opposed to food sources of protein for building lean tissue. Building muscle requires just enough protein (about 1 gram/kg body weight), adequate calories, and weight training to work your muscles to fatigue.

At this point you may be thinking that I’m not in favor of exercise. But that is the furthest thing from the truth. For disease prevention, stress reduction, improving sleep, weight control and simple enjoyment, there is nothing like exercise. Personally, I love to hike, road bike, kayak, cross-country ski and snow shoe. But I am no athlete. I love swimming, but I’d love it more if I were better at it. I tolerate the gym, when weather and time prevent me from my true passions.
Brought a hot sweetened beverage and lots of snacks for this winter hike, so we'd still be smiling at the end!
Some what do I recommend?

  • Work hard. That is, to limit over exercising. Plan a day or two of rest per week.
  •  Set a limit on the time spent at the gym. And, on your total workout time, if it is becoming   obsessive. Start by reducing the total workout time by 15 or 20 minutes., even every other day to start.
  •  Observe that you have survived without your feared weight change!
  •  Focus on the enjoyment of being outside—of hearing the birds, feeling the wind in your hair, and seeing the flowers in bloom. Or the personal accomplishment of reaching your goal. And choose activities you truly enjoy.
  •  Remember that you still need to fuel yourself, whether you may feel inactive and undeserving, or you are biking and hear the call for a slush or ice cream
  •  And for the greatest success, please set realistic goals.

For those of you needing assistance with getting the ball rolling with exercise, check out my next blog post.


A Pound of Feathers or a Pound of Gold?

Let’s say you need 2000 calories per day to maintain your weight (actual needs vary based on height, weight, muscle mass and physical activity—this is only an example!)  And suppose you ate 2000 calories each day, but, the calories all came from carbohydrate (“carbs”).  What would happen?

How about if you instead managed to take in 100% of your calories from fat—shall we say, for instance, 16-17 Tablespoons of oil or the equivalent?  I know, I know, it’s a gross concept.  But what would happen to your weight, assuming again that your body needed 2000 calories per day?

It’s kind of like that old, not funny riddle “Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” From a weight standpoint, your body couldn’t care less whether the calories come from carbs, fat or protein.  The foods you eat get digested, and those chemical bonds that make up carbohydrate, fat, protein and alcohol molecules get broken and energy is released.  And your body only cares that it is getting the energy it needs.  It is true, that per gram, protein, fat, carbs and alcohol each provide different amounts of energy. Know which one gives the greatest? Fat.  Followed by alcohol, and finally by protein and carbohydrate which tie for the lowest calories per gram.

So should you be worried about taking in carbs? Or fats, for instance?  Not at all.  If the total intake matches your need, regardless of the source of those calories, you’re safe, from a weight standpoint.  (And in later posts I will address just how to find that balance.)

Now let me clarify a few points.  You certainly still need all three nutrients (alcohol excluded). You need adequate protein, fat and carbohydrate for your body to be healthy, in addition to vitamins and minerals to prevent disease. So I’m not suggesting you eat only carbs, for instance.  But tomorrow morning when you are contemplating eating some cereal or pancakes or a bagel, rest assured that it doesn’t go right to your hips (or butt, or waist). And having a modest intake of fat may also contribute to your eating pleasure and satisfaction.  And perhaps prevent you from feeling denied and deprived.

If you don’t believe me, try it out.  And keep in mind, it takes 3,500 surplus calories (beyond what your body needs for maintenance) to gain a single pound (or 3,500 calories less to lose it).

The only way to really trust is to experience it. So go ahead and step out of your comfort zone tomorrow.  And when you find that nothing bad happens, please post a comment on the blog and let me know!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Dessert is a right. Lessons for vacation eating and weight management.

It won’t be easy. You’ll go out to eat and people will be watching, observing your every step. They’ll take note and judge what you order, how much you eat. And they’ll especially note whether you have the willpower to pass on dessert.
I know that’s just how you can feel. But really I’m thinking about Michelle. Michelle Obama. I mean the first lady who speaks out publicly and frequently with a passion to conquer childhood obesity, equating a high BMI with such evils as violence and inequalities in education. And, who most recently stated that “dessert is not a right”.
Michelle and her kids (and of course her husband) will be vacationing at one of my all time favorite places—Acadia National Park in Maine. So I’ve pulled together a few recommendations to guide her as our role model for truly healthy eating on vacation.

1) Eat the popovers. You can’t vacation and avoid the foods that are truly pleasurable, and at Acadia that means Jordan Pond House popovers. They arouse the senses as they arrive steaming hot right from the oven, tender and flaky to the touch. And the taste is to die for. Skip the butter they serve, but enjoy the fruit-filled, flavorful jam. And time the visit to fit with a meal, perhaps lunch, but include a salad or soup to add some balance and satisfy. Don’t worry about the portions—in spite of the cost, portions are quite modest.  Combine the visit with a stroll, hike or bike ride around the pond. Or simply linger on the grounds, which are absolute eye candy.
2) Keep snacks handy. Be sure to stop at the local markets (there’s a great organic one downtown Bar Harbor) and carry them when you are out, for you and the kids. Then when you get hungry, you’ll be less likely to be vulnerable to the allure of the ice cream and fudge shops that abound. And it will make portion control when eating out much easier.

 3) Sample the ice cream. I don’t mean that literally, of course. You can order more than those tiny tastes on wooden or plastic gelato spoons! But request the kiddy size. Yes, even if they don’t list it on the menu, you can ask for it. Even this portion is typically ½ cup or more, as size inflation has taken over to justify the high costs they charge for such items.

4) Stay in and cook a couple of nights. If you have a kitchen (never mind the staff that may come with it) take advantage of the produce in season. Accompany the multitude of vegetables with some grilled fish (check out Pectic Seafood), lean meat or even a veggie burger (perhaps with some delicious chutney or a spread of guacamole).

5) Be vocal and order what you wish for. When eating out, assert yourself and inquire how foods are prepared. Then specify any modifications you would like to see. I had a patient, a vegetarian, who had gone so far as to order “the ham and cheese on whole wheat, light on the mayo—and could you hold the ham and the cheese?” That’s not exactly what I had in mind! But you could ask for the food light on the oil, or with the sauce on the side. And definitely ask for an extra plate! It’s a lot easier to manage your portions if you immediately separate the amount that looks appropriate from the rest.

6) Don’t forget the kids! “Kid friendly” is unfortunately equated with unhealthy when dining in restaurants. The choices frequently include very high fat, calorie rich items such as fish and chips, burger and fries, and macaroni and cheese, to name a few. Veggies are few and far between. And the portions would typically satisfy a couple of large adults. You might also be encouraged to order a beverage (such as soda), which may even come with free refills.
So what’s a parent to do, particularly a parent campaigning against childhood obesity? For starters, order (for your children) from the adult menu, where foods are tasty and can easily be prepared healthier. And consider sharing meals; parent and child or two kids will generally find the portions adequate enough to split. Consider going out for pizza (Rosalie’s in Bar Harbor is a must.)  Have them cut the pizza into 16 pieces versus 8 (I know it’s the same but somehow it really does make a difference having more pieces on the plate). It will be easier to feel satisfied without overeating. And order a salad to accompany the meal, dressing on the side.

7) And remember that dessert is a right! That is, if you are hungry. So perhaps if you and your family have had an early meal and you find your self a bit hungry later, (having managed your eating so well at dinner), you’ll bring something back to the cottage where you can control the portions and even save some for another day. Because restricting dessert or pleasurable foods to only special events is likely to increase the demand for these items. And if you feel that having dessert is such a treat, you’ll be more likely to overeat on it, with a “now or never” mentality. So Michelle, and readers, remember that dessert is a right.

Good luck, Michelle, while eating in Acadia, and try to have some balance when you are role modeling for women and families concerned about healthy eating. And hopefully readers will find these tips valuable, on vacation or even trying to manage take out or dining out throughout the year.

(PS: The pizza shown on the previous post is at Rosalie's.)

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Full of it.

Knowing when enough is enough.

You eat your meal and 10 or 15 minutes later you don’t feel full—but you expect to. Because you were told that you would know if you had had enough. Or maybe you were instructed by some diet plans to wait 20 minutes and then you would know. But that still doesn’t seem to do it. So how do you stop eating? Must you count calories to know when enough is enough? If you’ve read my previous posts you know calorie counting is not the answer. So how do you know?

Well it’s complicated. Fullness or feeling that you’ve truly eaten enough occurs on several levels. If you’ve had a large bottle of water, or diet soda or coffee providing zero calories, you’ve noticed that you might feel full. But that fullness is not sustained, it doesn’t last for long. You are not getting the fuel you need to get through to the next meal. Similarly, have a large bowl of lettuce or broth soup and you might feel quite full right after eating. That’s the short-term fullness that gets satisfied. But decreasing your appetite and feeling satiated involves many other processes in your body. It’s affected by the amount and the type of calories you eat and your blood sugar levels. And there are numerous chemical messengers in your digestive system and your brain that impact your sense of fullness and satisfaction with eating.

What’s the point of telling you this? To help you realize that your expectations are not realistic. If you expect to eat, feel comfortably full, and stop eating think again.  It’s not so natural.

Consider this. You get a headache, swallow two Tylenol, and your headache remains. Do you immediately pop two more Tylenol? No! Because you know there is a delay in its action, a need to wait for it to take effect, and that overdoing medication is dangerous. Now substitute food for Tylenol. Instead of expecting immediate gratification, expecting to feel satisfied immediately after putting your fork down you need to “think Tylenol”, and remind yourself that it is both ineffective and unhealthy to just keep popping more food.

So if you are trying to get better in touch with knowing your body’s fullness make the environment less tempting to prevent overeating. Don’t serve the pizza or the casserole from the table where it smells good and invites overeating. It may sound simple, but even having it served from the counter versus the table forces you to ask yourself if you really need the extra serving now. You might need it.  But it might be too soon to tell. And if you typically feel uncomfortably full after meals, try starting with 1/3 less on your plate. And be careful not to overdo the high volume, low calorie items that may be preventing you from truly feeling full.

You’ll be successful with this approach if you also give yourself permission to eat again later, let’s say an hour or so later, if you are hungry. 
But if you set rigid rules about what time or how often you’re allowed to eat you’ll be struggling.

And remember to be patient! It takes some time to relearn how to regulate your eating, to listen to your body’s signals if you’re used to simply following diet rules! 

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Cupcakes Don't Cause Weight Gain.

It's Not What You Eat, It's What You Think About What You Eat. 

Strategies for preventing binging, compulsive eating and overeating, as promised.

"It makes no sense, Of course it's about what I eat! It can't be that eating cupcakes doesn't effect my weight!"

Truth be told, cupcakes don't make you fat. But your reaction, your thoughts about eating cupcakes can. Follow this.

You get hungry and eat a cupcake. But in your mind, having a cupcake equals "ruining it", "slipping", "being bad". So what happens? There are a couple of paths you might go down.

     1) Because you think you blew it, the "What the heck effect" occurs.  You think "What the heck, I already ruined it, I may as well keep going". And so you do. You eat anything, in any amounts, without regard for your hunger or need. And, I might add, you're neither tasting nor enjoying the food you're eating, even if it is food you've longed for. It can be very destructive eating, even having a bit of a self-punishment feel to it.

     The calories from the single item--cupcake, cookies, chocolate, etc--really don't make a dent in your weight.  It takes 3,500 surplus calories to gain a single pound. That's right. Three thousand five hundred calories extra, over and above your calorie requirement to maintain your weight. So let's say, for example, you needed 1800 calories per day to maintain your weight, and you had a snack that you saw as forbidden, unacceptable for managing your weight. The impact of that item would be insignificant, not even measurable on the scale, whatever it is. But what if your thinking tells you you've already ruined your day's eating, what happens? One cupcake may turn into 4 or 5 and that's likely to be a problem.

     2) You may decide after eating cookies that you'll restrict or compensate at your next meal or snack or even the next day. But later you find yourself starving, with little control over your food choices and portions. And so you overeat. Either pattern may continue--restrictive thinking, and serious overeating and more restricting. Or restrictive thinking and overeating, feeling bad, and more overeating.

That is, unless you change your thinking.

What you need to do is move foods from the "forbidden" to the "acceptable" category, to give your self permission to eat them.
There are many books that approach eating this way, discussing this "non-diet" approach. But a few cautions.

     1) Start legalizing only 1 food item at a time. Faced with many "forbidden" foods we get overwhelmed and will struggle more with this approach.

     2) Be sure you truly give yourself permission to eat and enjoy what you are eating!

     3) Keep a second package in reserve. If you're going to start with a yummy chocolate, for instance, have a second bar as back up. Why? Because it will reassure you that you will not run out. Then buy another bar when you have finished the first. This helps you move from feeling that it's now or never for eating chocolate, that after today, it's back to the old rules, which gets you back to the destructive eating pattern.

     4) Take away visual temptation. Simply move food items out of view, off the counters, and away from being the first items you see when you open a cabinet. This allows you to resist the mindless eating triggered by the inviting appearance of food. If you want the brownies, you can find them wrapped up in the freezer, or in an opaque container in the cabinet. But at least you'll be eating them because you chose to!

Cupcakes in photo are from Cupcake Cafe, NYC. Truly the best cupcakes I've ever had (amazing buttercream frosting!). And Chocolove chocolates are a favorite of mine (but they have no nutritional advantage over any others--they simply taste great!)