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March 25, 2009
What to Eat...& What Not To
Joining Twitter has certainly put me in touch with the world at large. I've been able to get an overview of popular thoughts about healthy weight, weight loss, diet, fitness...all those subjects that interest the women who come to Green Mountain at Fox Run. (Of course, I don't have any time to do anything else anymore, but that's a different story.)
This is a lead-up to the fact that today's post features my thoughts on a few items that came across my desk computer in the last week, most of them courtesy of those I follow on Twitter. (Thanks, Twitter friends!)
So if you're interested in...
- whether we have to eat organic to eat healthy (& a great recipe)
- whether we need to eat things we don't like if we want to eat healthy
- how to eat like a French woman
- the latest on weight loss supplements
Do we have to eat organic to eat healthy?
I've loved Mark Bittman's recipes for a long time; recently, he has been bitten by the health bug, and he's doing some wonderful work on lighter recipes that taste fabulous. (Check out his great mixture of dandelion greens and potatoes; I made it last week for company, and we were all transfixed. Really, we did like it that much. I left off the bread crumbs because I am gluten sensitive, and it's still very yummy.)
His recent New York Times article "Eating Food that's Better for You, Organic or Not" is a good brief on some of the issues surrounding organic foods, which he summed up like this, "...when Americans have had their fill of “value-added” and overprocessed food, perhaps they can begin producing and consuming more food that treats animals and the land as if they mattered. Some of that food will be organic, and hooray for that. Meanwhile, they should remember that the word itself is not synonymous with “safe,” “healthy,” “fair” or even necessarily “good.”"
Bottom line: Good doesn't always have to be organic, and organic isn't always good.
Do I have to eat foods I don't like if I want to eat healthy?
A recent survey showed one in three Britons eat foods they don't like because they think it's good for them. The article quotes a nutritionist saying she is astonished that so many people don't realize there are other choices for nutrients than foods they don't like. For example, abhor spinach? Try beef or dried apricots to get iron. Bonus: iron from beef is even better absorbed than that from spinach so you might end up better off for it, at least as far as iron goes.
Bottom line: We don't have to eat what we don't like to be healthy. (Caveat: If we think we don't like anything but highly-processed food that's devoid of much in terms of good nutrition, we may need to work on changing our tastes. It's worth it!)
French women do get fat but fewer of them do than Americans.
I love to read someone who is talking about really appreciating good-tasting food; this wasn't about that. :) But it's where we can get to when we start paying attention to enjoying our food. Psychology Today featured an article with a title referring to the French paradox; it was a discussion of mindful eating comparing French and American eating habits. Has some useful tips for helping yourself slow down and start paying attention. So does our FitBriefing we wrote a while ago looking at the book French Women Don't Get Fat.
Bottom line: Enjoyment is not just in the taste of what we eat, but also in how we eat it and how we feel after doing so.
One more reason not to use weight-loss supplements.
To end this discussion about what we eat I thought I'd focus on what a lot of folks do to help them not eat: diet supplements. The Food and Drug Administration last week expanded its list of weight loss supplements that are tainted with drugs such as antidepressants, amphetamine, diuretics and experimental obesity drugs.
Bottom line: Not only do weight loss products represent quick weight-loss efforts that don't work for most (any?) folks, now they come with additional risks. Or maybe they did all along....
Have you recently read any interesting info about food and weight that's worth sharing?
March 20, 2009
In Pursuit of a Healthy Weight: One Woman's Green Mountain Experience
Today's post comes from Beverly Dame of Lyndonville, Vermont. After staying at Green Mountain at Fox Run for a week, she wrote a letter to friends and family to explain her experience with our program. We're sharing parts of it here to give women an idea the kind of changes that they can expect when they begin to make themselves a priority. Thanks for sharing, Beverly!
It has been almost a week since I came home from my week at Green Mountain at Fox Run. It was such a wonderful experience (life-changing, paradigm-shifting, revelatory) that I want to write about it. Women come from all over the country and the world to stay at Green Mountain. Honolulu, Hawaii; Chicago, Illinois; Alexandria, Virginia; Kingston, Ontario; Montreal, Quebec; northern Georgia; Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York; New Haven and New Canaan, Connecticut; and Croatia all had women there. Young women in their 20s and women like me in their 60s and in between. All had been dealing with food and body issues for most of their lives. Some like me were staying for one week; many for two and a few lucky ones for a month or more. What we came for was a comprehensive way of dealing with the size and shape of our bodies. Notice, I’m avoiding the use of the word “weight.”
At Green Mountain it is about mindfulness: being aware and in the moment as we confront choices about food, exercise and responses to all the stresses of daily life. The week combined classes and discussion groups with exercise opportunities. Women who are in their first week have “required” classes including: fitness soul search: the return to intrinsic movement; are you ready for change? Introduction to the behavior component and to mindfulness; the principles of mindful eating; redefining healthy eating; and understanding the emotions that lead you to eat.
I was most impressed by the time and attention the program and staff devoted to sending each one of us home with the materials and support to put all we learned into daily practice. Including the idea that as far as exercise and mindful eating goes, “Something is better than nothing,” and “there will be days.”
We identified the energizing people in our lives and the energy-drainers and talked about how to deal with them. I came up with strategies for dealing with dreaded cocktail parties. I paid for an extra session with the fitness director. We put together a weekly plan combining weight training and cardio.
I also came away with human support. There were six of us of about the same age who formed a group that I loosely dub the “Green Mountain Girls.” Sorry Ethan Allen. We’re emailing each other with support and understanding. Staff encourage us to stay in touch with questions. I’m to check in with my fitness guru at the end of the week after we return from France. She also gave me hints and suggestions for working out while traveling even if the hotel doesn’t have a gym.
Before going I would weigh myself every day; how demoralizing, depressing and defeatist. I’m working on unlearning that habit. Told myself this morning that I could get on the scale but why? I’ve been exercising every day, working on eating more slowly, and having a balanced snack in the afternoon to keep from getting too hungry. And I did well at two eating out occasions this week. All of that is really more important for my long-term health and success than a number on a scale.
How is Beverly doing today, about one month after returning home from Green Mountain?
"I'm trying to stay off the scale. Hard, hard, hard. I know there's a lot of psychological baggage going on with wanting to weigh myself every day.
I think the hardest thing to is being in charge of my eating. I do the cooking and have been trying new healthful things (actually had bison burgers last night) but I can feel that my speed of eating has increased. Need to start putting down that fork or spoon between bites.
And my husband and I need to set a time for an evening meal. He's a chaotic eater and I'm a dieter. Not a match made in Green Mountain heaven. Of course, tonight there is a business dinner which always is a challenge.
The one thing that is much better is that I've stopped beating up on myself for my size and weight. Actually, I'm finding out that there is more to life.
March 18, 2009
On Meghan McCain, Tyra Banks & Hope
Have you been following the Meghan McCain body size debate over the last week? If you've somehow missed it, Lesley at Fatshionista has a good review of what's gone on.
My take on it has to do with dismay, gratification and optimism.
- I'm appalled that a woman dissed Ms. McCain about her body size. Guess I shouldn't be. But I like to think that women are leading the way away from size prejudice, and it's just disturbing to see my belief so publicly challenged.
- I'm pleased Ms. McCain had a prominent, beautiful woman like Tyra Banks as a model for fighting size disparagement. Let's face it, if Tyra weren't beautiful, she wouldn't have as much clout in this issue. But that gets into another subject.
- I'm hopeful these kinds of attacks are becoming more recognized as wrong -- or at the least, politically incorrect. My hope stems from the fact that we've seen what began as a small number of voices over 30 years ago snowball into the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, which is gaining significant momentum.
The basic tenets of HAES are the future of self-care, which is ideally what healthy weight is all about. The tenets -- eating intuitively, moving our bodies regularly in order to feel well, taking care of ourselves in other basic ways, and accepting the bodies that result -- are, in a way, about optimizing our genetic destiny. And accepting we are all different.
Hope, optimism, destiny. They're all good words to help us keep on keepin' on.
What words describe your feelings about the state of size acceptance?
March 10, 2009
Take Our Survey and Pass it On!
What creates the most stress for you: Your weight or the economy? Please take our survey. We'd like to get as many people to participate as possible, so as to get a representative sample. So pass it on! We'll share the results with you in one month, and we hope that they will provoke a fruitful discussion of health in the 21st century.
March 09, 2009
Weight Loss and Taxes: What Can You Write Off?
In these uncertain economic times, we're all trying to count our pennies and every bit counts. So with tax season looming, it helps to know what you can safely write off. If you've made a concerted effort to lose weight and have been directed to do so by your doctor, you may be eligible to write off expenses related to your weight loss. IRS Form 502 breaks it down:
"You can include in medical expenses amounts you pay to lose weight if it is a treatment for a specific disease diagnosed by a physician (such as obesity, hypertension, or heart disease). This includes fees you pay for membership in a weight reduction group as well as fees for attendance at periodic meetings. You cannot include membership dues in a gym, health club, or spa as medical expenses, but you can include separate fees charged there for weight loss activities."
Smart Money also offers this tip in "Can I write off this Case of SnackWells?":
There may be another way you can get the tax break: by participating in an employer-sponsored medical-expense reimbursement arrangement (often called a "flexible spending account" or a "cafeteria benefit plan"). These plans allow you to set aside part of your salary in a special account, which isn't taxed. You then turn in copies of your uninsured medical bills and receive tax-free reimbursements from your account. In effect, this is the same as getting a deduction.
Photo by brittanyculver via flickr.
March 04, 2009
Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs: Helping, Not Harming
As children around the world have gotten fatter, adults have watched with concern. And sometimes acted on their worry by launching school-based programs that have concerned eating disorder professionals even more. Programs such as sending home 'weight report cards,' banning 'junk food' in cafeterias and even classroom birthday parties, limiting vending machines in school, and launching campaigns emphasizing the dangers of excess weight. The problem? Not only do these efforts likely not work, they may inadvertently cause kids to focus inappropriately on weight and shape and begin unhealthy weight control practices.
The reason for concern among eating disorder professionals is based on a large body of evidence that shows an emphasis on appearance or weight control can foster disordered eating. Example:
- When peers or parents make it clear that being thin is their preference, and encourage dieting or other practices whose sole aim is weight control, body dissatisfaction, dieting, low self-esteem and weight bias is the result among children and adolescents.
- What's more, weight control practices reliably predict greater weight gain than that of adolescents who do not engage in such practices.
So how are we supposed to help our children stay healthy? The same way that's recommended for adults. Focus on health, not weight.
To help schools and communities who want to really help their children, the Academy for Eating Disorders has just issued guidelines for childhood obesity prevention programs. The guidelines make a number of important points that anyone working to establish effective childhood obesity prevention programs should consider. They describe the ideal program: "...an integrated approach that addresses risk factors for the spectrum of weight-related problems, including screening for unhealthy weight control behaviors; and promotes protective behaviors such as decreasing dieting, increasing balanced nutrition, encouraging mindful eating, increasing activity, promoting positive body image and decreasing weight-related teasing and harassment."
Take the time to read the whole document; it's important.
While we're talking about studies, a word about the latest diet study that 'showed' calories, not carbs, fat, or protein content, is what matters when it comes to losing weight. Headlines were abuzz with the 'news,' but somehow failed to mention the fact that all the study participants were slowly regaining lost weight, regardless of the type of diet they had followed. My point is obvious (I hope): I agree that carbs, fat, protein, etc., is not an accurate predictor of healthy weights. But then again, neither are diets. Healthy lifestyles are, and accepting the fact that there is a wide range of healthy weights that goes beyond that generally accepted.
February 25, 2009
Is Breakfast a Must for Healthy Eating?
My 17-year-old son is finally showing a glimmer of interest in healthy eating. And just because he's male doesn't mean he's immune to the diet mentality. Given our society's obsession with weight, the potential is great for the diet mentality to lurk behind even the most innocent-seeming question about what or how we eat. So when he asks questions like the one above, I always look at it from a dieter's perspective.
If you look at it from a dietitian's perspective, it's clear. Studies show breakfast is an important meal; it gives us energy to get through the morning, and we're not distracted by hunger. Ever try to really focus on something when your stomach is calling? It's almost impossible.
But from a real-life perspective, eating breakfast depends on two things: 1) Are we hungry? and 2) Can we tell if we're hungry (and if we can, do we care)?
Using Hunger as a Guide
The real life of a 17-year-old male is worth exploring in answering whether we're hungry. (No, I won't go into the details. :-)). I'm talking about the fact that many teenagers stay awake into the wee hours, and get up past noon. My son is definitely one of those. So when he goes to bed at 2 am, and isn't hungry when he has to get up early the next day, I don't push it. He probably ate within a few hours of going to sleep, and he really isn't ready for another meal yet. I am confident about this because I know he is clear when he is hungry and needs food. I'm also confident that he usually eats when he is hungry, unless it's not possible at the moment. If he's going to be in a situation where he won't have access to food, I might push him to take something with him.
With the diet mentality, though, whether we eat breakfast or not usually isn't about hunger. Indeed, many weight strugglers can no longer even tell when they're hungry and when they're not. Instead, dieters are all about trying to eat as little as they can, regardless of hunger. The different complications of this approach to eating are numerous, but have a common outcome. We end up with distorted eating patterns and behaviors that don't get us where we want to go.
So bottom line re breakfast: If the reason we're not eating it is to control our weight, we're probably better off trying to get something down within a few hours of waking.
The rest of us can rely on our hunger cues. They really are trustworthy. And we can trust that they'll generally drive us to get something down within a few hours of waking, whether we wake at 6 am or the middle of the afternoon.
What about you? Do you rely on your hunger cues, and eat breakfast when they tell you to, or does a schedule for eating breakfast -- and other meals -- work best for you? If the latter is true, why do you think that is so?
February 18, 2009
Healthy Eating: Does It Help to Slow Down When We Eat?
At Green Mountain, we’re not proponents of strategies to artificially reduce the amount of food we eat, to try to fool our bodies that we’ve had enough. They don’t work. Our bodies know when we need more food. Even when we try to trick it, the hunger drive wins the vast majority of the time.
It’s not our fault we don’t understand that. We’ve been taught that we can ‘control’ our hunger, but the long-term success of most diets proves that wrong. The good news is many of us have woken up to the fact that our bodies are in charge; we can only listen and respond intelligently if we want to support our best health and healthy weight. ‘Artificial’ strategies just continue to drive us away from reconnecting with our internal wisdom, which is what really works for women's weight loss and healthy living.
So when I read a study conducted at the University of Rhode Island and published in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association that showed eating slowly did, in fact, reduce calorie intake, I was skeptical that it was just another investigation into ‘ways that help us cut calories.” I did not have high hopes that it was about feeding ourselves in a manner that makes us feel well (a better bet for healthy weight loss, if it's in our cards, and healthy weights).
But I was wrong. This study offered some potentially good insight into the practice of feeding ourselves well.
The study looked at whether we could be satisfied with less, even when faced with plenty, simply by slowing down. It wasn’t about trying to restrict, or somehow control what the women who were being studied ate. The women ate as much as they wanted of identical meals twice, once quickly and once more slowly, in random order.
• The average length of meals was 21 minutes longer when the women ate slowly. The results of which support the idea that it takes about 20 minutes for our bodies to start getting the signals that help us know when we’ve eaten enough before we’ve eaten too much.
• The women who ate quickly ate more calories. No surprise there.
• The women who ate quickly reported lower satiety (translated: I’ve had enough) ratings, even though they ate more calories. That’s kinda surprising.
• The women who ate more slowly drank significantly more water during the meal. So does that mean water was responsible for feeling more satisfied with less? Don’t know, except that other studies don’t all show that, nor do they all show that drinking more water reduces caloric intake at a meal. Plus, if we’re drinking water to try to make us eat less, we’re toying with artificial strategies. If we truly need more fluid, drinking plenty is a healthy thing to do. If we don’t, and we’re drinking to fill ourselves up with calorie-free stuff, then it’s a diet technique, a strategy to artificially control our hunger. (See beginning of this post.)
• At meal’s end, those who ate more slowly rated their meal as more palatable (although difference wasn’t statistically significant). Could it be that eating slowly gives us more time to enjoy our food? Go, mindful eating! (Although at least one study showed those who ate faster gave their meals higher taste ratings. Must have been something wrong with the study. I admit I’m biased.)
• Small bites, pauses between bites and thorough chewing ‘resulted in considerably decreased eating rate.’ Some studies show the same thing; others don’t. The best statement about one that showed the strategy didn’t work: “The authors suggested that timed pauses during meals are frustrating and that increased intake reflects the subjects’ frustration.” Ha.
• This study was done on only 30 women. A small number, plus the researchers question if men would react the same way. But we know the answer to that, don’t we? ☺
Bottom line, we don’t know if the findings of this study are relevant to all of us. And that leaves us where we often find ourselves – relying on our own reactions to tell us whether something is right for us as individuals.
Of course, that’s what mindful eating is all about. Tuning in to find out what feels good and what doesn’t. And slowing down – at least initially – can help us tune in, especially if we’re fast eaters to begin with (and many of us are). We can find out what feels good pretty easily by ourselves, I think, if we give ourselves the chance. The bonus: We get to enjoy our meals longer.
Try slowing down while you eat. Then let us know if it helps you eat less and enjoy it more, not necessarily to lose weight but to feel better!
February 17, 2009
Healthy Living: Blah, blah, blah, blog...
Admittedly, not every day is a blogerific day. In fact, some days it is really challenging to find something interesting to write about – but we try. (Somehow, I still manage to have an opinion about practically everything).
Here’s what’s on the healthy lifestyle news breakfast buffet this morning:
1. Multi-vitamins don’t do a damn bit of good. Marsha?! Is that true? Help us!! We’ve all been swallowing horse pills of every shape, size, and formulation for the past (fill in the blank) years and now we're being told to no avail? (I think you’re going to tell us to eat our vegetables, but I’ll leave that up to you).
2. Big bellies are a headache. Really? No kidding! Seriously, what next?
3. Starbucks may be giving middle management a stroke this past month, but not consumers! And I was feeling guilty about my two gigantor mugs of Starbucks French Roast every morning...
February 11, 2009
Healthy Eating: The Best Way to Resist Temptation
In one of my many conversations recently about healthy lifestyle management, the question came up about the best way to resist eating foods that we believe might not be the best choice for us at the moment. To wit, the upcoming chocolate celebration known as Valentine's Day, which Cindy so aptly discussed yesterday.
Cindy talked about enjoying chocolate in moderation, knowing we can have some again later. But many of us struggle with just eating one or two. We have experienced having one, then another, then another....before we know it, it's all gone.
So how do we break this cycle? The best way is to really not want more. And just how do we do that?
Mindful Eating is the Key
Tuning into what we really want is what mindful eating is all about. When we're paying attention, we're better able to find the point at which we have had enough. Our bodies were designed to be able to tell us that but weight loss diets have taught us differently. Weight loss diets either leave us feeling hungry much of the time, or set us up for feelings of deprivation that leave us in a state that a whole box of chocolates may not even really ameliorate. Especially when we're left feeling guilty for eating the whole thing.
To take care of these two major problems, we teach at Green Mountain two basic principles of mindful eating: regular, balanced eating, and eating what you want.
Regular, Balanced Eating
This one is relatively simple. Just feed yourself balanced meals/snacks on a regular basis. People normally get hungry every 3-5 hours or so (it can vary depending on the person and on how much we eat at any one meal or snack), so if you're not sure when you're hungry, start eating on this 'schedule' for a while, and you'll help yourself get back in touch with what true physical hunger feels like.
Eating What We Want
This one can be more challenging. For some of us, it's just a matter of giving ourselves permission, to get rid of the negative thoughts that cloud our judgment. We can tell ourselves it's okay to eat chocolate (or whatever is our 'thing'), and we can go on to enjoy it in moderation.
For others of us, however, we've been dieting too long. Or if we haven't been dieting, we've been believing we need to be, so we might as well have been as far as our ability to feed ourselves in a way that satisfies is concerned. We might need to move slowly, giving ourselves opportunities to enjoy foods we fear in a relatively controlled way. For example, instead of the whole box of chocolates, we might better enjoy a small package that limits how much we have access to at any one moment. Instead of buying the half gallon of ice cream, we might better manage a trip to the ice cream store to enjoy a cone -- single, double or triple dip, you decide -- or the hot fudge sundae. A triple dip or a sundae is an improvement over the whole half gallon.
Putting It Together
The first step in mindful eating -- eating regular, balanced meals/snacks -- helps immensely with the second step. When we're hungry, it takes more to satisfy us. When we eat foods we fear after a period of feeding ourselves well, it doesn't take as much to satisfy. So we don't have to deal with the fear that arises if we think we're eating 'too much.' That assumes, however, that we're eating the food without feelings of guilt, which will interfere with our ability to feel satisfied.
Remember, too, that it took a while to develop the attitudes and behaviors that confound our eating. Many of us have been dieting -- and binge eating as a result --for years. Being patient with ourselves, knowing we'll have ups and downs (actually, that's a part of normal eating, not just dieting recovery), will help us move forward instead of returning to old behaviors when we think we're not doing as well as we 'should.'
That brings up one of my favorite sayings: Let's stop shoulding on ourselves.
Have a happy Valentine's Day!