Getting Real About Holiday Weight Gain

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An often-cited statistic is that the typical American packs on 1-2 pounds over the Holiday Season. While that might not sound like much, if you do this year-in and year-out, on top of other weight gaining factors…things could get heavy!

So why do people tend to gain weight over the holidays? A number of factors could be at play:

  • Stress – the Holidays can be stressful for many reasons, and some people turn to food when emotions run high
  • Greater availability – face it: you don’t see cookies and cakes and candy ever as much as you do around the Holidays, there’s just more bad food constantly in our faces!
  • Less activity – cold weather can be a deterrent for physical activity; if you’re not offsetting your calories with motion, pounds can creep up
  • Alcohol – the Holidays mean celebration, and many celebrations come hand-in-hand with alcohol and their added calories

With parties and gatherings galore, it can seem challenging to keep your health in check. So here are a few tips to help fight the heaviness that sometimes gets associated with the Holidays:

  • Make a plan – exercise earlier in the day if you know you have a party later; bring your lunch to work if dinner means drinks and food with friends…keep in mind that, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.”
  • Never show up hungry – you’ve likely heard this one before, but don’t show up to the festivities when you’re famished. Have a snack ahead of time to ensure you don’t overdo it at the party.
  • Walk it off – the Holidays are a great time to get together with friends and family, so why not get everyone together outside for a brisk walk after dinner? You can spend time together in places other than on your butt!

Whatever your holiday has in store – don’t forget that it doesn’t HAVE to involve weight gain. Stay active and savor small versions of what the season has to offer!

Does Your Shape Matter More Than the Number on the Scale?

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For individuals struggling with overweight and obesity, focusing on body mass index (BMI) or the number of the scale may be the wrong health indicators.

An emerging body of literature suggests that an older measurement, the waist-to-hip ratio may be more valuable when assessing the impact of weight on health.

A new study published in the journal Obesity found that participants with a high waste-to-hip ratio had a higher risk of heart attack.

People with a high waist-to-hip ratio are often described as being “apple” shaped. Apple shaped individuals hold fat around their important vital organs. This type of fat leeches into the bloodstream easily and causes a negative effect on cholesterol and other blood fats.

The World Health Organization states that a healthy waist-to-hip ratio is less than 0.9 for men and less than 0.85 for women. It is important to note that there are no particular exercises you can do to reduce fat in one particular area of your body. “Spot reducing” does not work; rather, cardiovascular and strength building exercises can help convert fat to muscle and lower overall body fatness. For tips on calculating your own waist-to-hip ratio, click here.

Soda Sales See Serious Slide

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There’s a bit of good news on the nutrition front, and that is the continued decline in US soda sales.

Recent Nielsen data from all channels including grocery, drug and convenience stores shows an 8.2% decline in the 4 weeks leading up to October 31, compared to the same period 1 year ago. Dollar sales are also on the decline, down 5.5% in that same 4 week period compared over 1 year.

Diet Pepsi has sen the most precipitous drop with an 11.4% decline in sales and 8.9% drop in dollar sales.

Soda is the low-hanging fruit, so to speak, in tackling overweight and obesity. It provides no nutritive value and contributes only sugar-fueled unnecessary calories to its drinkers’ diets.

But Americans’ intake of sugar-sweetened beverages doesn’t start and stop with soda. Other contributors of useless calories include energy drinks, vitamin waters and fruit drinks – and these category winners are also owned by the big soda companies.

When it comes to sippin’ smart, keep in mind the following tips:

  • Water is sufficient for hydration for nearly every individual with a few exceptions (elite athletes, underweight individuals, those exercising in extreme conditions)
  • If you consume dairy, stick to non-fat or low-fat (1%) milk products and avoid added sweeteners
  • Energy drinks provide “energy” primarily through caffeine and amounts are rarely disclosed on the packaging

For a great read on the entirety of Big Soda, including unscrupulous marketing practices and its contributions to the current global obesity crisis, check out Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning) by esteemed nutrition author and educator Marion Nestle.

 

Low-Fat vs. Low-Carb: Who Wins?

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As the end of 2015 approaches and the nutrition world anxiously awaits publication of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, it’s worth taking a moment to consider where the world of research falls with regard to fad diets.

In the post-low-fat world that followed the 1990’s fat free and low-fat diet craze, you don’t hear much about a low fat diet anymore. The American Heart Association has moved off of recommending a “low fat” diet for heart disease prevention, and praise is now routinely heaped on the Mediterranean Diet – a relatively “high fat” (but the right type of fat!) eating pattern.

A study published last week in PLOS ONE did take a look at low-fat vs. low-carb diets and found that low-carb diets appear to be slightly better at lowing cardiovascular disease risk.

The meta-analysis looked at 1,797 obese or overweight people who were enrolled in 17 different studies. The overall weight loss was 17.6 pounds in the low-carb group and 13.2 pounds in the low-fat group.

To be fair, both of the groups showed a significant reduction in their 10-year cardiovascular disease risk score, but the study was funded by Atkins Nutritionals – the retail arm of the low-carb Atkins Diet.

The take away message is: when it comes to losing weight and cutting heart disease risk – calories do count. Eliminating added sugars, reducing white carb foods and cutting out excess amounts of bad fat have been shown to be effective ways to trim your waistline and your heart disease risk profile.

Fatherhood, Fat & the Dreaded “DadBod”

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A recent study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health found that males who become fathers experience a bump in their BMI (body mass index).

This study looked at over 10,000 men followed for 20+ years. Compared to the dad group, men who didn’t become dads were actually shown to lose weight over that time. First time dads saw a 2.6% increase in BMI (about 4.4 pounds for a 6 foot tall dad).

Not surprisingly, living with your kids had a greater impact on rising BMI than not living with kids.

So what’s the take away message? Everyone’s metabolism slows as you age, but having kids can exacerbate weight gain due to changes in lifestyle.

Here are a few tips for curbing the pound creep with kids:

  • Kids have smaller stomachs than adults and need to eat more frequently to meet their nutritional needs; don’t stoop to snacking just because the kids are.
  • The kids menu is crap! Kids AND adults should avoid “typical” kids menu foods like chicken nuggets, corn dogs and pizza.
  • Do a color check: if your plate is white and yellow from refined carbs and cheese, work on adding color from fruits and vegetables – a swap that benefits kids and adults alike.
  • Kids can eat a lot because they move a lot: and you should too. Get out with your kids and move and exercise to burn off some of those calories!
  • Stay away from sugary drinks – most kids do not need juice; juice is great if you want to gain weight – try to eat your fruit, not drink it. You’ll save calories and gain fiber in the meantime.

For more information on improving kids (and parents’) food choices, check out the KidsEatRight resources from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the MyPlate Kids’ Place from choosemyplate.gov.

Does Skipping Meals Lead to Overeating?

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Have you ever skipped meals with the hope of losing weight? Do you find yourself eating just one meal per day due to a busy schedule? If so, you might want to rethink your current eating habits. Research indicates that this approach to eating may actually have a negative impact on your health.

In a recent study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers examined the effect of “gorging” in diet-restricted mice compared to mice in a control group that ate throughout the day. The researchers found that the diet-restricted mice developed a habit of gorging their food quickly, and they continued to gorge even after their diets were returned to the same calorie level as the control group. One researcher likened this habit to people who frequently skip meals or eat one large meal per day.

Compared to the control group, the gorging mice were found to have more abdominal fat and reduced insulin sensitivity. These outcomes are concerning as they have been linked to an increased risk for diabetes and heart disease in humans.

Although the research was performed on mice, this study highlights the significant effects of eating patterns on metabolism. Skipping meals or severely limiting your food intake can also make you more likely to over-eat at the next meal and can make it more difficult to obtain the nutrients you need for the day.

Instead, you should aim to consume meals regularly with high quality, nutrient-dense foods. Focus on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products. For more information on a balanced diet, check out www.choosemyplate.gov.

Special thanks to dietetic intern Megan Fobar, MS for her contributions to this post.

Is a Detox Diet Right for You?

With the New Year upon us, people are scrambling for diet resolutions and looking to detox.

With all of the buzz about detox diets, you may have started to wonder if you should start one too?

detox-dietsWhat are Toxins?

Toxins are defined as substances that have entered the body through smoking, pollution, pesticides, or additives found in the food we eat.

Detox diets claim to help rid the body of toxins, provide more energy and help kick start weight loss; however, there is little scientific evidence to support that detox diets actually rid the body of toxins. There is also no way to measure if you are “toxic”, or to justify if you even need to detox!

If You’re Gonna Detox…Do it Right!

Here are few detox tips that are good to know:

  • Your body has a built in system to remove harmful substances: your liver, lungs, kidneys, and GI tract are always in a natural state of cleansing
  • People with medical conditions such as diabetes or certain types of cancer as well as children, older adults and pregnant women should avoid detox diets as they may be nutritionally inadequate or inappropriate
  • Detox diets do have side effects: moodiness, irritability, depression, fatigue, and constipation (from a lack of fiber and other nutrients) may occur
  • Quick fix diets only provide short-term results; most people gain lost weight back…and then some.

The healthiest way to utilize a detox diet – if at all – is for a very short period of time. Most nutrition experts agree that if a “detox diet” is kept to 1-2 days, it can serve as an important psychological break between a period of unhealthy eating (the holidays?) and a new healthier period in the New Year.

Special thanks to Dietetic Intern Jenny Legrand for her contributions to this post.

Spooky Nutrition Advice for Halloween…BOO!

October 22, 2014 by  
Filed under Dietary Patterns, Weight management

Ah, Halloween. Trick-or-treating, candy, ghosts and goblins and too many empty calories! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fabulous holiday that all kids and young-at-heart adults love. But given the explosive rise in childhood obesity and increases in the incidence of type 2 diabetes among adolescent, we should collectively be concerned. Here are some ideas on how to lessen the nutritional impact of this fun holiday.

1) Limit daily consumption of candy as much as possible. A child may have only 100 kcals of discretionary calories available each day to maintain proper body weight. More kcals from junk foods, and weight and adiposity rise over time.

2) Buy your candy a day or two before the holiday. This way, no one is tempted to have a sugar hog fest and you might save money as these items typically go on sale as the day approaches.

3) Have dinner before going trick-or-treating. This one is for rather obvious reasons…less likelihood of snacking on the candy as one goes door-to-door.

4) Have an active evening. Take a longer walk to enjoy the decorations and burn some calories while you’re at it.

5) Practice portion control and know which ones are the healthier choices. Limit the amount that children can eat each day and don’t necessarily trust them to do this on their own. Placing the stash out of their reach or where you can control it is best.

So, have a happy Halloween and stay healthy!

Can Family Meals Fight Fat?

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Could eating with your family help fend off fat? A new study in the Journal of Pediatrics posits that “A Family Meal a Day May Keep Obesity Away”.

Researchers from The University of Minnesota and Columbia University looked at more than 2,200 subjects studied over a 10-year period of time. The study found that all levels of eating meals together, even as little as 1-2 times per week, were linked to lower rates of obesity among family members.

So what is it about eating together that reduces risk of obesity? Experts suggest that the benefits of family meals may come from:

  • Emotional connections between family members
  • Opportunities for healthy role modeling by parents
  • The fact that food tends to be healthier if homemade than prepared outside of the home

To learn more about the importance of family meals check out The Family Dinner Project at www.thefamilydinnerproject.org.

Tracking Tools For a Better You

It pays to keep track!

A recent study from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project found that 69% of American adults keep track of at least one health indicator and 60% of US adults track weight, diet, or exercise routine.

Although people with chronic conditions are most likely to track health indicators – plenty of healthy people are keeping tabs too.

How are People “Keeping Track”?

Of those surveyed who consider themselves “trackers”:

  • 49% track progress in their heads
  • 34% track progress by writing it down on paper or in a journal
  • 21% track progress using some sort of technology

There are a variety of electronic resources out there to help track food intake and energy expenditure. Some of the most popular ones include:

Whether or not these health trackers are more successful at losing weight or maintaining a healthy weight remains to be seen. But if you know you are at risk for the development of certain types of chronic disease – such as heart disease – it may pay to keep tabs on yourself.

For a list of other fitness and food tracking resources, click here.

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