Monday, July 30, 2007

Blood Pressure Readings and Training With Hypertension

Do you understand what blood pressure readings mean? What is systole and diastole? What is a normal reading and is it possible to train with hypertension?

Systolic blood pressure is the upper blood pressure reading that occurs each time the heart contracts and pumps blood out of its chambers into the aorta. Diastolic blood pressure is the lower blood pressure reading that occurs when the heart relaxes between beats and refills with blood flowing in from the large veins.

If the pressure in the left ventricle is higher than the aorta, the aortic valve is open (systole). Systole refers to the contraction of the heart, and systolic arterial pressure is the highest pressure developed in the arteries during the ventricular contraction of the cardiac cycle. If the pressure in the aorta is higher than in the left ventricle, the aortic valve is closed (diastole). Diastole refers to a relaxed heart muscle, and diastolic pressure means the lowest arterial pressure during a heart cycle.

A blood pressure of 120/80 mm hg is normal, but different people have different bodies and different blood pressures. Normal ranges are between 100 and 130 for systolic and between 60 and 90 for diastolic. Chronic high blood pressure, called hypertension, occurs when the systolic reading is 140 or more and diastolic reading comes close to or exceeds 100.

According to the American Heart Association, the following is a table indicating the various ranges of blood pressure readings and what they mean:


Is it possible to exercise with hypertension? According to American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) guidelines Stage 1 patients can use low intensity training to help keep their blood pressure levels in check. Stage 2 patients can do aerobics, but cannot do heavy straining or lifting. These patients may have some organ damage due to increased pressure over time and may also have left ventricular hypertrophy. Stage 3 patients must have the approval of their physician before exercising and they should not train until their systolic reading is below 140 mm hg. These patients may have advanced blood pressure and heavier organ and heart damage.

Training on an exercise bike is preferable because it allows an instructor to monitor blood pressure readings before, during and after exercise. After exercising for at least one month and a conditioning effect has taken place the training program can be expanded.

One medical research study showed that patients with mild hypertension who did circuit weight training showed the benefits of lower blood pressure.

Some examples of good aerobic training are:

  • The use of an exercise bike as stated before -- For the first week start with three to five minutes, working your way up to five to 10 minutes the first month.
  • A walking program -- Walk every day for 10 to 20 minutes at an easy pace.
  • Water exercise -- Water jogging or water walking for 20 minutes, three to four days a week.

It would be a good idea to hire a fitness trainer to help you find an appropriate training program that will fit your individual needs. Be sure that the trainer you hire is knowledgeable about hypertension and has experience in that area. Not everyone has a choice to make, but you have mild hypertension and had a choice between exercising and taking medication, which would you choose?

Getting Started in Tai Chi

Having only seen Tai Chi in a couple of books I had read, I came across a videotape about Tai Chi Chuan while browsing through a New Age bookstore. I'd always been fascinated by Martial Arts like judo and karate, but never pursued them because of the violent way they were depicted in films. Tai Chi promised a non-violent method of working with and moving energy, so I took the tape home and watched the form unfold on my TV. That was eight years ago. I've worked with Tai Chi Chuan ever since.

Learning a martial art through books or videotapes has its pros and cons. The upside is that it's cheap and you learn at home at your own pace. The downside, I discovered, is that you can't ask questions and get answers, nor learn the nuances of the skill. Thus after a few months of practicing Tai Chi Chuan using a video, I joined a class. Over the following year, I learned everything I wanted to know, plus a few things I didn't want to know about the martial art.

Tai Chi comes in many flavors. It is up to you to learn what each one provides in style and attitude, and then make a choice, or just go out and join a class. Basic Tai Chi can be learned in less then a half hour, but takes a lifetime to master. The Chinese work with one move at a time until the student expertly performs it. Then, they move on to the next one. Western society is not so patient. Thus basic Tai Chi is taught through its whole form, then the teacher refines each move as the student proceeds.

The primary idea for doing Tai Chi, and most Martial Arts, is to move Universal Energy, or Chi through your body. Now it's there all the time, but the casual observer doesn't usually recognize its presence. The Chi can usually be felt by first rubbing your hands together, then holding the palms a foot or so apart and bringing them together slowly. A resistance, and/or a feeling like that of static electricity can be felt between the palms when they are a few inches apart. A similar feeling will occur during and after performing Tai Chi.

Tai Chi Chuan and similar forms consist of a number of linked movements, each with its own benefit to the performer. It requires a physical space of 80 to 100 square feet or more, depending on the style and form.

Tai Chi Chih is another way of doing Tai Chi and requires very little physical area because it is a series of movements done in roughly the same space. If all you want to do is move Chi then Tai Chi Chih may work for you. But if you really want to feel your body flow in dance-like movements and practice the defensive aspect of the art, then Tai Chi Chuan or a similar form will produce that effect. You could start with one and work toward the other.

One benefit of learning a Martial Art, and especially Tai Chi, is that it requires little external paraphernalia. You can learn and do it in 'street' clothes wearing socks or with bare feet.

Tai Chi is performed from within and flows outward to arm and leg movements creating a 'ballet' describing the Marital Art.

Borrowing a videotape or book from your local library is a great place to familiarize yourself with several styles and forms of Tai Chi, and will help you decide where to begin. I personally think that Tai Chi Chuan is the easiest form to learn. However, viewing a Tai Chi Chih tape and learning its basic movements will prepare you for future lessons, and give you a feel for the basic form.

Prenatal and Infant Nutrition: Eating for Two - The Vegetarian Way

When I found out I was pregnant I worried about my healthy eating habits, or lack thereof. I am a vegetarian, but not one who accurately balances proteins or follows a strict diet plan. Here's what the doctor recommended I do, and how I ate.

The doctor gave me the OK to continue my vegetarian ways, but explained to me the need for certain vitamins and minerals, hence the prenatal vitamins, fiber (oh, the dreaded hemorrhoids!), and overall healthy eating for the well being of my unborn child. I followed his advice and began eating better, less ice cream, more beans, less ice cream, more bran, less ice cream…!

Approximately 300 extra calories a day is what you need now that you are eating for two, a little less during the first trimester, a little more during the third. Of course there are exceptions to this rule, such as carrying twins, teen pregnancies or starting your pregnancy at the low or high end of the height/weight guidelines -- seek the advice of you doctor.

You need to try to get these calories in the healthiest way possible. Don't go to Dairy Queen every afternoon at 3:30 for a Peanut Buster Parfait -- go once a week! Don't deny yourself the cravings you may have, but limit them if they are a high-calorie, high-fat food.

An overall, well-balanced eating plan must include grains and legumes, fruits and vegetables, high protein and calcium. You want to eat low fat as well, but not fat free --approximately 30% of your calories should come from your fat intake. Fat is essential to the growth of your baby so do not cut it out of your diet.

Grains provide energy and fiber

  • Wheat bread
  • Cereal
  • Brown rice

Legumes provide proteins and essential oils

  • Black beans
  • Lentils
  • Kidney beans

Fruits provide vitamins and minerals

  • Apples, red and green (fiber)
  • Kiwifruit (Vitamin C)
  • Bananas (fiber, Vitamin C, potassium)

Vegetables provide vitamins and minerals

  • Spinach (calcium, Vitamin A, fiber)
  • Carrots (beta carotene, Vitamin A)
  • Sweet potatoes (Vitamin C, beta carotene)

Protein -- pregnant women need approximately 60 grams per day

  • Tofu and other soy products
  • Cheese
  • Milk

Zinc is necessary for baby's growth and development

  • Raisin Bran, Special K
  • Almonds
  • Wheat germ

Calcium helps bones and teeth develop properly -- eat four or more servings per day to get proper intake

  • Cheese milk, yogurt
  • Fortified orange juice

Iron is needed to help with the formation of your baby's blood as well as sustain your increase in blood volume

  • Cream of Wheat
  • Prune juice (may also keep hemorrhoids at bay!)

Folic acid (vitamin B9) -- low intake during pregnancy can lead to low birth weight and neural tube defects

  • Kidney, pinto, black beans
  • Asparagus
  • Sunflower seeds

Fats -- look for unsaturated fats, remember to eat in moderation

  • Avocados
  • Walnuts, pecans

You must eat a well-balanced diet now that you are eating for two. Try a wide variety of foods to ensure that you are getting all the nutrients that you and your unborn child need. Make sure you are taking your prenatal vitamin as prescribed by your doctor.

Remember, a healthy child begins in the womb!

Circulation: The Circulatory System and Your Body

How exactly does the circulatory system work and why is it so important? Most people believe that it pumps blood but beyond that they're lost. They have no idea just how important and complex the circulatory system really is. The average person goes through their whole life never knowing how marvelous the body truly is, nor do they realize the genius behind it.

How the Blood Travels:
Your blood makes two distinct journeys through your body by leaving the heart and returning back again. The pulmonary circulation, sometimes called "used blood," is pumped to your lungs where it picks up oxygen and eliminates carbon dioxide. After this process, it returns back to your heart.

From there the oxygen-fresh blood is pumped all over your body in a process called the systemic circulation. Its goal is to supply nutrients to all your tissues and pick up waste products before returning the blood back to your heart. The arteries that have the job of carrying blood away from your heart have thick muscular walls. This helps them to cushion the peaks of blood pressure that occur each time your heart beats.

The main artery in your body is known as the aorta and has an internal diameter of about 1 ¼ inches. It branches out into smaller arteries throughout the body then into tiny arterioles and ultimately into microscopic capillaries. These capillaries have thin honeycombed walls that allow easy exchange of nutrients and oxygen for waste products between the blood and the tissues.

In a successful attempt, the capillaries unite to form venules and form soft-walled, pliable veins, who takes on the job of returning oxygen-depleted blood to the heart. Did you know that your blood does not flow at an even rate to all parts of your body? The rate will vary according to the amount of blood needed by particular tissues at the time of a necessity.

How Does My Blood Flow When I Run?
When you run, blood is redirected to your leg muscles by the action of your abdominal organs. When you run, your legs will need more blood so your abdominal organs make it all happen. Another example would be the uterus of a pregnant woman. Her uterus must make a greater demand on her body's circulation, but it's all taken care of by the body.

Sometimes after we eat a large meal, our organs may need to get more blood to aid in the digestion process. Did you know that when you go outside in the cold, less blood flows in blood vessels near your chilled skin? That's because more blood has to flow to the deeper vessels in order to conserve heat for your body. When you get hot in summer, this procedure works just the opposite and you become overheated.

Your circulatory system has many potential problems that could occur such as blood clots forming to cause blockages. Your circulation is highly complicated and if the heart, which is the central pump, does not function properly, it can result in serious health problems. Medical issues can also develop within your blood vessels. One condition is known as hardening of the artery or arteriosclerosis. This is caused by fatty deposits in your blood vessels and a weakness in an artery wall causing an artery to harden.

There are many disorders of the circulatory system and as we grow older, most of us have a hardening of our arteries. But today, with more people engaging in exercise, modern medication and a much healthier diet, we can expect to live a longer life even if we do have circulatory problems. Proper lifestyle, treatment and medication are making growing older a pleasure rather than a fear.

Cardio: Commencement—The First Stance

Our first posture in Tai Chi is the Commencement. We simply stand. We observe. We feel and experience. Our minds begin to empty slowly. This time is the preparation of our inner selves.

This time is not to be rushed. How long does it take? Whatever time we need. We wish to be healthy, fit, alert, alive and strong. As Westerners, we are in a hurry to DO something, to begin to move and get going. But the Commencement is so profound, so important, so fundamental to our health and well-being, we would do well to allow that healing to begin to occur.

Where are we? Rooted in the Earth, reaching for the Heavens.

We focus on several significant points on the body. We work from the ground up.

First, focus on the bottoms of the feet, just behind the ball -- our first connection, the Bubbling Well or the Yongquan point. Relaxing the toes and the bottoms of the feet, we allow the breath to travel up from Earth into our feet, focusing on the Bubbling Well. The feet, ankles and calves relax. We begin to feel the flow of energy up through our legs. We breathe.

Next, focus on the perineum, the bottom of the torso. In Chinese medicine, this is the Hui Yin point. In Yogic practice, this is the Mulha Bandha. The energy flows and the physical body relaxes. We release more thoughts, the noise of the mind. We continue with our preparation.

Each inhale brings healing, strength and awareness. Each exhale is a release of tension and fear. The breath guides us to ourselves. The breath and energy travel up the spine to feed and nourish the body.

Through the body, up to the Tan Tien, our core. Near the center of the body, the Tan Tien can be considered the place from which our energy radiates. It is pumped like a bellows, gently healing where our body needs it; awakening and generating power where our body needs it. All motion and every action originates in Tan Tien and moves to the limbs from there.

Continuing through the body, the breath guides the Chi to the heart center. In Yogic tradition, this is the Anahata Chakra. We allow the heart to open and release. We do not consider aggression or attack. From here, the Chi moves through the arms, down to the hands. In the center of the palm is the Lao Gong point, the pericardium meridian. The heart and hand are connected.

Through the torso from the heart, lungs and chest relax. The spine is soft but strong. Our joints have softened. Legs and arms are heavy and resting. Not sleeping, resting. With each breath, we are more alert and ready. Our bodies become spring-like and energy-rich.

The throat and face relax. The eyelids are soft. We are not gazing blankly off into the distance; we are not staring at the floor. We see everything with remarkable clarity. From the spine, up the back of the head, to the last point, the Yang point of the body. The Bai Hui point. This lies at the crown, not the top, of the head. Our connection to the universe and its eternal energy. We continue to breathe and feel the connection from Earth to Heaven.

As new students, we follow our teachers as they guide us through this practice. We want to MOVE. We want to play our form. Our impatience pushes us quickly through this time, but as we practice on our own, as our teachers observe us, we learn to slow ourselves down and gather what we need from and for our energy. Time passes and we discover that everything lies in these few minutes of silence, self-awareness, and Chi.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A Workout for Traveling

So there you are, in your hotel room at the end of a busy day. You would really like to work out, but this hotel doesn't have a gym and it's too dark to go running. You forgot to bring your resistance bands or those fold-up weights you fill with water. All is not lost. Here's a body weight circuit you can do just about anywhere.
You can start with a few minutes of jumping jacks or marching in place to warm up, then finish with some stretching. Do each exercise for 12 repetitions or until you feel sufficient muscle fatigue and that you are losing your strict technique. Go directly to the next exercise. Note we alternate upper and lower body exercises so you will not be using the same muscle groups on successive exercises.

Ready to go? Put on those shorts you just bought at the thrift shop (because you forgot yours) and warm up. Then do your exercises in this order:

  1. One-leg squat
  2. Pushups
  3. Hamstring bridge
  4. Reverse fly
  5. Calf raise
  6. Military press
  7. Crunches

For the one-leg squat, balance yourself by putting your hand on a sturdy chair or dresser or you can just slide your hand up and down the wall (the hand on the same side as the leg you are working). Sit back bending at the hips before the knees, stay as upright as possible, keep your knees over but not beyond your toes, and lower yourself to the point where your thigh is parallel to the ground, or until you start to wobble or round your back. Do all reps on one side before switching to the other leg. If this is too hard, do your squats with both legs at once and arms crossed in front of you. Don't be surprised if you don't get to 12 reps.

Do whatever you want in the way of pushups. If pushups are hard for you, do them from your knees; if they are easy, do 20 slow reps or elevate your feet on a chair.

The hamstring bridge is done lying on your back on the floor with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Contract your hamstrings and glutes and lift your body so it forms a straight line from knees to shoulders, with only your feet, shoulders and head on the floor. Do this one leg at a time if you can, or with both together if one leg is too hard.

Do a slow-motion reverse fly for your back. Sit down and lean forward until your chest rests on your thighs. Bring your arms up to the sides with your hands at shoulder level and arms almost straight and then pull your shoulder blades together at the top of the movement. As an alternative, you can do pull-ups if you can find something to use as a bar that will support your weight. If you haven't unpacked your suitcase, you can use it for one-arm rows.

For standing calf raises, just come up on your toes with your knees straight, both legs together or one at a time. If you can put the ball of your foot on a step or small board and let your heel sink a little, you can make it harder.

Work your shoulders with military presses against a wall. Stand facing the wall and bend over from the waist, positioning yourself with your hands flat on the wall and your head almost touching it. Push yourself back from that position, moving your feet back to make it harder. Keep your knees bent a little.

Do whatever kind of crunches or abdominal exercises you like to do. You can go to 20 reps if you want, but not more.

Do these exercises at about five seconds per repetition. If you want to make them harder, go slower. Keep up a good rhythm but do not speed up. After you finish the circuit, rest long enough to catch your breath and repeat. Keep this up for 20 or 30 minutes, and you won't feel guilty that you've missed a workout!

Pilates: Everything You Need to Know

Imagine an exercise routine that works all of your muscles equally, both large and small. An exercise routine that doesn't include jumping around or stress on your joints. This routine would provide you with stretching, control and improved posture.

Other benefits could include better concentration and the ability to focus and breathe correctly. Throw in the added bonus of a flatter stomach along with the elimination of back pain. If this sounds good to you then a Pilates class might be just what you're looking for.

WHAT IS PILATES?
The Pilates Method is a safe, no-impact exercise routine that strengthens and stretches all the major muscle groups in a logical sequence, without neglecting the smaller, weaker muscles. Its dance-inspired moves are designed to change your body from the core while minimizing stress and making you stronger and more flexible. One of the advantages of Pilates is that its methods can be modified according to an individual's personal needs. The approach is based on quality of the movement, not quantity.

JOSEF PILATES
The name Pilates comes from its creator, Josef Pilates who was born in Germany in 1880. He developed his method in the early 1900's by combining Eastern forms of exercise with his Western physical studies in an effort to overcome the pain he suffered from rickets, rheumatic fever and asthma. After immigrating to the United States in 1926 he opened a physical fitness studio and his methods soon became part of the dance world. The Pilates Method has been improving flexibility, muscle balance and helping dancers with injuries ever since.

PILATES IS NOT JUST FOR DANCERS
Although originally the Pilates Method was embraced by the dance world and although it is still popular among dancers today, you don't need to be a dancer to benefit from the exercises. Debi Weiss can attest to this theory, as she is quick to point out to participants in her class that she never could dance and never will be a dancer. Debi is certified by the Physicalmind Institute to teach Mat Exercises and not only teaches the Pilates Method but she is also a participant in them as well. She began using the methods in an effort to elongate her muscles, which tend to bulk up quickly when she strength trains. "Most anyone can benefit from Pilates because you follow a method specific to your needs," Ms. Weiss advises. "But participants who are looking for a high impact, high energy routine will have to look elsewhere and Pilates may not be suitable for those who are easily frustrated." She advises that Pilates should not replace your aerobic or strength training program but that it is done in conjunction with, to enhance your program.

WHAT HAS CONTRIBUTED TO THE RECENT POPULARITY OF PILATES?
Ms. Weiss explains that the current trend in the fitness field has moved toward the mind and body venue in recent years. "Pilates as well as Yoga has found its way into the mainstream of the fitness world." The fact that the Pilates Method can be individualized so anyone can participate also has added to its popularity.

WHERE CAN YOU TAKE PILATES CLASSES?
Most fitness centers are offering mat classes as well as some dance studios. Before signing up be sure to ask if the class size is limited. Because Pilates requires more personal supervision than other traditional exercise programs, mat classes work best in small settings of 6-8 participants. The instructor should be certified to teach Mat Exercises.

"You will feel better in 10 sessions, look better in 20 sessions, and have a completely new body in 30 sessions"

-Josef Pilates

Do Low Carbohydrate Diets Really Work?

"If a fad diet plan tells you to eat less then 50 grams of carbohydrate per day, DO NOT DO IT. The human brain requires at least 50 grams of carbohydrates per day just to maintain brain function."
Low Carbohydrate diets sometimes work and sometimes they do not. It all depends on how you use them. Understanding the different types of carbohydrates and when and how to eat them can help you live a more healthy and lean lifestyle.

Low carbohydrate diets are quite the fad. Many have experienced great success by losing ten, twenty pounds or more. But does this type of diet keep the weight off permanently? In this article we will discuss the facts and realities of low carbohydrate dieting. Also, we will introduce some common sense, realistic approaches on how to alter your carbohydrate consumption lifestyle so you can lose the extra fat and keep it off.

Carbohydrates, what are they? It is appropriate at this time to introduce some definitions and common terms concerning carbohydrates. Carbohydrates act as the primary fuel source for the body. There are several types of carbohydrates. The three main types of carbohydrates are as follows: Monosaccharides (one sugar molecules); Disaccharides (two sugar molecules); and Polysaccharides (three or more sugar molecules).

Monosaccharides and disaccharides are also known as sugars or simple carbohydrates. Other common names for monosaccharides include glucose, fructose, sorbitol, galactose, mannitol and mannose. Disaccharides are also known as sucrose, maltose and lactose. Sucrose (simple table sugar) is made of glucose plus fructose. Maltose is made of glucose plus glucose. Lactose is made of glucose plus galactose.

Polysaccharides are called complex carbohydrates or glucose polymers. Polysaccharides are also known as starch, dextrin, cellulose and glycogen. All of these are made of chains of glucose.

Fibersinclude cellulose, hemicellulous, pectin, a variety of gums, mucilages and algae polysaccharides. Fibers are the indigestible complex carbohydrates that make up plant cell walls.

Glycogenis similar to starch found in plants in that it contains chains of glucose units. Its structure is different in that starch occurs only in plants and glycogen occurs only in animals.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of glucose and glucose is the primary fuel source for the brain and nervous system. Because the human body has a small and limited storage capacity for glycogen, it is important to provide a constant supply of carbohydrates by eating throughout the day.

Some carbohydrates are better for the human body than others. I prefer to divide carbohydrates into 3 categories. The first category is classified as simple carbohydrates. These simple carbohydrates include fruits and sweets. The second category is called Fibrous carbohydrates. This includes vegetables. The final category is classified as starchy carbohydrates. This includes grains, starchy vegetables, corn and beans.

The simple carbohydrates digest quickly and easily. They are high in sugar and sweet to taste. A small amount (2-3 servings max) per day is recommended. In fact, because simple carbohydrates break down into glucose so rapidly, they tend to be higher in carbohydrates and are not as nutrient dense as the other two categories of carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates include all fruit, sugar, honey, corn syrup, etc. When you eat simple carbohydrates try to eat fruit instead of processed or baked sweets.

Eat very sparingly or better yet, eliminate cookies, candy, cakes, soft drinks, etc. These tend to be very high in sugar content and very low in nutritional value. When you commit to living a lean lifestyle, every calorie counts; make each calorie a nutritionally beneficial one.

Fibrous carbohydrates are the most important class for healthy eating and a lean lifestyle. You can eat as many fibrous vegetables as you want. Strive for at least 4 servings per day. Fibrous carbohydrates tend to be low calorie, low carbohydrate and packed full of vitamins and minerals. Fibrous carbohydrates include alfalfa sprouts, artichokes, asparagus, soybeans, zucchini, green beans, bell pepper, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, endive, lettuce, okra, onions, spinach, snow peas, tomatoes, radish, etc. Because fibrous carbohydrates contain lots of water and fiber, they can make you feel full and satisfy your appetite. Fibrous carbohydrates are the key to maintaining a lean body.

Starchy carbohydrates are important too, to achieve and maintain a lean lifestyle. Starchy carbohydrates include potatoes, wheat, legumes, rice, oats, pasta, yams and peas. This type tends to be high in calories and high in carbohydrate count.

What about those no carbohydrate or very low carbohydrate diets?

Stay away from them!! They can be very dangerous. If a fad diet plan tells you to eat less then 100 grams of carbohydrate per day, DO NOT DO IT. The human brain requires at least 100 grams of carbohydrates per day just to maintain brain function. Less than that and you may seriously starve your brain. Dizziness, lightheadedness and inability to think are common effects of too few carbohydrates. A safe range for low carbohydrate consumption is between 100 and 150 grams per day.

Once glycogen enters the body, one gram of glycogen is stored with about three grams of water. When the body uses glycogen stores, water is lost too. Many fad diets that promote a low calorie and high protein regime take advantage of this phenomenon. Liver and muscle glycogen can be depleted in 24 to 48 hours and can result in several pounds of weight loss from water weight alone. Do not confuse this weight loss with fat loss. This is not all fat loss. Also, because most weight loss diets are low in calories, within a few days the body will eliminate much gastrointestinal bulk. This can also be mistakenly perceived as lost body fat. After a week or two, several pounds of water and gastrointestinal bulk may be lost and only a pound or two of fat. This is one reason why quickly, seemingly overnight, all the weight lost over the previous week is gained back.

O.k. so now you know low calorie fad diets are not the way to go. So what is? One rule of thumb that I have always tried to live by is this:

Eat starchy carbohydrates for what you are about to do, not for what you have just done.As mentioned above, eat starchy carbohydrates before your workout or before activity. If you are not embarking on any activity for the next three hours, and plan to sit at your desk or watch TV, then eat only fibrous carbohydrates. If you need a quick pick-me-up or if you are craving something sweet, then eat simple carbohydrates (fruit). The goal is to eat what you can use and burn within 3 hours. Any food not utilized before sleep is more likely to be stored as fat. And as we know, this is counterproductive to losing excess stored body fat.

Calculating Your BMI

What is BMI? You may have heard the term. BMI is an acronym for Body Mass Index, a mathematically derived measurement that calculates an individual's weight to height ratio. Here's how to do it.

Typically, doctors use your BMI as an indicator to estimate your health risk from obesity related diseases and conditions, including cardiovascular disease, hypertension and high cholesterol. Although it's not an absolute indicator (your body fat percentage should be considered as well) BMI is usually the first analysis done to estimate your weight-related health risks.

Calculating your BMI

First, grab your calculator. It's important to be accurate - and honest - in your answers to get a useful result or you can go to DietingPlan.com's BMI calculator and let it do the work for you!

  1. Write down your weight, in pounds.
  2. Multiply this number times 703.
  3. This is Answer A.

  4. Write down your height, in inches.
  5. Square that number (Multiply it times itself).
  6. This is Answer B.

  7. Divide Answer A by Answer B. This is your BMI.

Let's look at a specific example. We'll calculate the BMI of a woman who is 5'5" and 145 pounds.

Weight in pounds = 150 x 703 = 105,450

Height in inches = 64 Squared x 64 = 4,096

Answer A = 105,450 ¸ Answer B = 4,096 = BMI = 25.7

So in this case, our hypothetical woman's BMI is 25.7. Let's take a look at what that value means.

Understanding Your Results

So just what does your BMI mean to you? The National Institute of Health (NIH) recently revised the BMI guidelines. These guidelines state that anyone with a BMI of 25 or greater is at risk for weight-related health problems, and should assess their overall health and begin a proactive program to address their diet. According to the NIH, an astounding 97 million American adults fall into this category (a BMI of 25 or greater).

The following is an excerpt defining these values, and their correlating treatment recommendations, from Lifespan.org.

BMI = 30 or greater

Health Risk: High
You may be at significantly increased risk of obesity-related disease. A weight loss strategy including calorie reduction, increased physical activity and behavior therapy can help reduce these health risks.

BMI = 27-30

Health Risk: Moderate/High
You may be at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, hypertension and high blood cholesterol. It may also be appropriate to modify diet and exercise habits to reduce health risks.

BMI = 25-26

Health Risk: Low/Moderate
You may be at slightly increased risk for cardiovascular and other diseases. While there is no evidence to suggest a weight loss program is needed, prevention of any further weight gain is recommended.

BMI = 19-24

Health Risk: Minimal/Low
Your BMI number indicates you are within a healthy weight range, and do not need to consider a weight reduction plan for health-related reasons.

BMI = 18 or below

Health Risk: High
Your low BMI number indicates your weight, in relation to your height, may be below the safety minimum for your body type."

If your BMI indicates you are potentially at risk, you should talk to your doctor about your results and discuss a program that is appropriate for you. Bear in mind that BMI is only a first-glance indicator, and that body composition (percentage of lean muscle mass to fat) may be a factor as well - even for persons in the low risk category!

By tuning into your body, and calculating your BMI you have taken a positive step toward understanding your body and your health. Talk to your doctor about your personal habits, and work together to devise a plan for healthy eating and exercise that fits with your lifestyle. Today can be the first day in your journey to a healthier body!

Resistance Training: Stretch Bands, Tubes and Stability Balls

Stretch Bands and Tubes Alternatives to Free Weights

Exercise stretch bands are inexpensive, compact devices that can be taken anywhere. You can exercise nearly all the major muscles groups when used correctly. Although you do not know the exact weight you are lifting like you do using free weights, exercise bands build muscle based on resistance. If you're bored with your free-weight workout or you find free weights intimidating, these bands may be just what you're looking for.

Bands vary in thickness and length, both of which are essential in the amount of resistance they provide. Bands can be wrapped around your hands or cut to adjust to your height or to a particular exercise. It is important not to wrap the bands too tightly around your hands to avoid cutting off circulation. For most exercises your hand or a foot secures the band. Distributors of the bands can provide training videos with exercises that at first may seem awkward, but after some getting used to they are sure to become more comfortable.

Some downsides to using bands for strength training are the difficulty of reproducing an identical workload from session to session, and if the band is not secured properly under your foot or to fixed object, it can come undone and snap back at you. To avoid having them break during a workout, stretch bands need to be replaced periodically, as they break down over time or dry out.

Another alternative to the stretch band is the tube, which, like the bands, is inexpensive and just as compact. Some people prefer these because they have handles attached to the ends. The handles may make it more comfortable for the hands, but they can make it more difficult to adjust the length of your tube. Tubes can also be purchased in various lengths and thicknesses and are usually color-coded accordingly.

Whether you chose to use a band or a tube, concentrating on resistance for the full range of motion will be sure to provide you with significant strength gains.

What Is a Stability Ball?

Stability balls originated in Switzerland in the 1900s. They were used to rehabilitate orthopedic and neurological injuries for proprioception (the reception of stimuli arising within the organism) and muscle stabilization. They were called "Swiss balls."

Similar to the Pilates method, stability balls worked their way from rehabilitation to the fitness scene. They are especially effective in strengthening the abdominal and lower-back muscles. The trunk musculature works to balance and stabilize the body.

Benefits of Using a Stability Ball

The exercises performed with the stability ball are challenging but can be modified for different levels. The ball is a tool that can be used for group classes or individual exercise. Stability balls are easy to use and can be used at home or at the gym. When recovering from an injury, the ball can be a great confidence booster because it is fun and simple to use. The stability ball is versatile because it can be used to enhance performance in sports, functional movement for daily tasks or to rehabilitate from injuries.

How Do I Know What to Buy?

Stability balls come in many sizes and colors and are inexpensive, anywhere from $15 to $50. The size you should purchase depends on your height:

Under 5 feet tall, 17-inch (45 centimeters) ball
5 feet to 5-7, 21-inch (55 centimeters) ball
5-8 to 6-2, 25-inch (65 centimeters) ball
6-3 and over, 29-inch (75 centimeters) ball

For proper inflation and care check the instruction manual, which should include basic exercises. Videos are also available wherever exercise videos are sold. Always check with your physician before beginning a new exercise routine.

Stability balls are a great way to challenge the entire body and improve posture, balance and strength. So get rolling today!

One Woman’s Journey From Obesity: From Stout to Svelte

It's hard enough to carry around a few extra pounds. Most of us are all too familiar with that lethargic, sluggish feeling that literally weighs down our energy -- and our self-esteem. But when a formerly thin woman tops the scale at 230 pounds, the effects can be devastating. Living "large" brings with it a host of physical and emotional consequences.

While it may be cosmetically unendurable, obesity also puts you at greater risk for a myriad of life-threatening health problems including heart disease, some cancers, diabetes and arthritis. While at any given moment, 40% of women are dieting; most are unsuccessful in the long run.

The story began on June 27, 1999 when Phyllis had her annual physical exam.

"Here I was, 5'6" tall and weighed in at 234 pounds. My cholesterol was amazingly healthy, but my blood sugar was indicative that I'd soon be diabetic."

Though concerned about her health, it was vanity that really sparked her commitment to lose weight, once and for all.

"I saw a photograph of myself taken at my in-laws 50th anniversary party. I tried to hide my weight by putting my four-year-old on my lap, but there I was, big as a house."

Phyllis had attempted weight loss in the past, but unsuccessfully.

"I had lost 29 pounds years ago on Weight Watchers. I knew I could lose it, but the biggest problem for me was keeping it off. I read statistics that 98% of people who lose weight gain it back within five years."

And she had heard correctly. Most of the so-called weight loss diets available today may work -- initially. However, most weight lost is due to the elimination of body water, not fat. And restrictive eating not only lacks essential nutrients, but also can lower metabolic rate so that weight-loss efforts become futile.

Recently the National Weight Control Registry examined the lifestyle habits of thousands of successful dieters, that is, those who lost an average of 30 pounds and kept the weight off for at least five years. Researchers looked for a common thread -- what did these people all have in common that made them so successful? The scientists confirmed what we all know to be true: healthy, sensible low-fat, low-calorie eating and daily exercise is the only way to lose weight permanently. There are not short cuts.

Phyllis's inactive lifestyle, coupled with poor eating habits, had caused a progressive increase in weight since she and her husband, Corey, and her two young children moved from suburban New York to rural Vermont.

"I was depressed at times; I had 'food hangovers' after snacks (my big nemesis was crackers and bread) and my sex drive was diminished. My exercise habits were nil at this time, and my work was done by phone at home."

Coupled with Vermont's long, cold winters, Phyllis's sedentary lifestyle was the perfect recipe for obesity.

At first she was prescribed Wellbutrin, an appetite suppressant. The drug helped to jumpstart Phyllis's program. She purchased a few exercise tapes geared for beginners.

"I exercised 45 minutes in my kids' playroom before they awoke, six days per week. I still maintain that schedule."

Though exercise is absolutely essential to any successful weight loss program, the greatest determinant of body weight is what you put in your mouth. And finding just the right balance of healthy foods that fit your lifestyle, food preferences and body's caloric needs is crucial to permanent weight control.

Temporary diets do not teach life-long healthy eating habits. Without a lifetime plan, you may never get off the gain-lose-gain roller coaster.

One of these popular diets that promise quick weight loss is the Atkins plan. At first, Phyllis decided to give it a try, unaware of the potential long-term consequences.

"I recall pushing my shopping cart through the market and filling it with bacon, red meat, cheese -- stuff I didn't like! It was nauseating for me. I then realized two things: I really like to eat large portions of food and I like grains and vegetables.

"I discovered Dean Ornish's book, Eat More, Weight Less, which focuses on very low-fat vegetarian fare -- and it all just clicked. I gathered up recipes, experimented and that's how I lost 55 pounds in nine months. If I needed an indulgence, I'd buy a chunk of Belgian chocolate instead of M&Ms (you need a hacksaw to break off a piece; you can't help but eat it slowly!). Instead of chips, I'd snack on oyster crackers and carrot sticks. It wasn't a diet, it was just different kinds of food -- and heaps of them!"

Probably the most important factor in helping Phyllis stick with her program was the support of Corey.

"He also started a vigorous healthy eating and exercise regimen -- though for different reasons. This contributed greatly to my success. It's crucial to have someone to share this uphill battle with."

Though Corey's exercise program was quite different, they worked out at the same time and shared the same nutritious meals.

One year later, Phyllis has kept off the weight, though she seems to have reached a temporary "plateau" in her weight-loss efforts.

"I exercise the same, but have introduced low fat cheese and turkey into my menu. I indulge once in a while. I could lose another 25 pounds, but I'm involved in a new business that has kept my focus elsewhere."

The best course for Phyllis would be to revise her current exercise program and perhaps, re-evaluate her eating plan. The introduction of a moderate strength-training program will boost metabolic rate so that she'll burn more calories all the time, even during sleep. More frequent, yet shorter bouts of activity may be warranted that will better fit into Phyllis schedule and keep metabolism high.

The Ornish plan is excellent in that it emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, legumes and fruits, the mainstay of a heart-healthy diet. The Ornish eating plan has a few shortcomings, though, but can be modified to fit into your lifestyle. Since less than 10% of calories come from fat, for most people the plan is difficult to follow. In fact, recent research demonstrates that a higher-fat diet (but from unsaturated sources) may be more conducive to heart health, as long as calorie intake remains within appropriate ranges.

Furthermore, since the Ornish plan does not include animal products of any kind, the diet lacks several important nutrients, like vitamin B-12, zinc, iron and calcium. However, if you make an effort to consume a variety of foods and take a multi vitamin-mineral formula, the Ornish plan will not only help you lose weight, but teach you how to eat healthy for a lifetime.

The road from obesity to a healthy body weight is indeed a difficult one. And though Phyllis will continue on this path throughout life, she is not the same woman who walked into that doctor's office one year ago.

"It's a lifelong struggle for me," says Phyllis. "I love to eat! Watching how thin people eat has taught me many lessons. I was thin as a young adult and have been fat, too. People treat you differently. You also treat yourself differently. I knew that gaining 20 pounds could easily segue into 40 pounds, and poof! Suddenly you're obese. I just had to put a stop to it. Eating is one of my life's greatest pleasures, and since it's heard for me to eat less, I decided to eat smarter. And I swear I feel taller after I exercise!"

A Busy Woman’s Guide to the Exercise Habit

With all of the demands in our lives - work, family, social obligations, etc. it seems that making time for exercise just never quite makes the list! So how can you prioritize exercise and place it on the list?

Why Exercise?
First of all, exercise provides a great number of benefits. Not only does exercise significantly improve health (cardiovascular conditioning, calorie burning, fat loss, strength and flexibility), it also provides significant mental health benefits.

Huh? Yes, that's right. Women who exercise regularly usually report significant mental health improvements. These include stress relief, decreased tension and increased self-esteem. Lots of women tell us that they feel better after exercising, even if they can't see immediate physical results. Is it the endorphins or just the rush of knowing you burned off enough calories to enjoy dessert without guilt? It could be both, but the important part is that you'll probably feel good about yourself after you exercise.

That leads us to the second important point. One of the best gifts that you can give your family is health. By exercising regularly, you're not only increasing your own health - and hopefully increasing your odds of sharing a long and happy life with them - but also showing them by example that exercise is important.

Today's youngsters spend very little time in actual physical activity. Television, computers and telephones have replaced outdoor activities, and there are more overweight youth today than ever before. When you give exercise priority in your life, you're sending a message to your whole family that this is important!

Finding the Time
So how can you find time for exercise? Today there are so many options that it's harder than ever to find an excuse not to exercise. Fitness clubs are often open 24 hours a day and many clubs offer high-quality day care for a small fee. Club memberships can often be obtained for a minimal charge, especially if you have health insurance (there are usually significant discounts for certain insurance policies, the incentive for their members to stay fit).

You can exercise in your home too, if you prefer. Videos such as "The Firm" offer aerobic and strength training in only thirty to forty minutes, with guaranteed results. You can buy Step Aerobics equipment, weights, and even high-end cardiovascular equipment for your home. Of course, if you're just getting started, you might want to start out slowly simply by buying or renting a few videos and then see what works for you. You can try step aerobics, low impact aerobics, kickboxing or even weight training in the privacy of your own home with a trained professional on video to guide you.

If you want to get out and exercise outdoors, the options are nearly unlimited. Bicycling, rollerblading, jogging, even fast walking can get you out - and active. Try walking around the block and carrying hand weights. Give cross-country skiing a go if you live in a cold region. Swimming is fabulous exercise indoors or outdoors, of course, and with a few basic steps, you can do water aerobics in any pool or spa.

Some women work out early in the morning, before their day begins. If you're married, ask your spouse to cover for you until you finish exercising. After all, he'll benefit from your improved health as well! Or, you can exercise late in the day. If you're home during the day, take advantage of the kids' naptimes (if applicable) to pop in a video and exercise…there will be plenty of time to clean later. Take the kids with you to the gym; the daytime classes are far less crowded than evening ones!

Make Exercise a Habit
No one is saying that it's easy to make exercise a habit, we are all extremely busy. Habits, both good ones and bad ones, have to start somewhere. So drag out your exercise shoes, check your calendar and make a decision. It's time to start doing something good for yourself. Why not start right now?

Gender Differences in Body Satisfaction

"Women guessed that men would prefer a thinner shape than they actually did, and men guessed that women would prefer a larger shape than they actually did."
Men and women have different perceptions of their bodies and in what they consider a healthy and attractive body weight. Unhealthy body images can have a deleterious effect on both a man and a woman's social and emotional well being.

"Only the underweight women and men were similarly satisfied with their bodyweight and shape"- to this conclusion the Department of Psychology, Chicago Medical School came surveying 320 college-aged men and women to examine gender differences in body image perception and satisfaction or dissatisfaction. Results indicated that, for both genders, satisfaction with body weight and shape decreased as body mass index (BMI) increased. Women, however, showed significantly greater body and weight dissatisfaction than men at most weight categories. As BMI increased, women became disproportionately more dissatisfied: both normal-weight and overweight women expressed greater dissatisfaction than comparable men.

"Although men and women show similar rates of obesity, women more frequently engage in weight loss efforts, with potentially adverse health consequences."

College-aged women also attributed progressively more importance to both weight and shape as BMI increased, unlike college-aged men, who considered body weight equally important to (or slightly less important than) self-esteem as BMI increased. We discuss implications for the self-esteem of obese women and men.

Women guessed that men would prefer a thinner shape than they actually did, and men guessed that women would prefer a larger shape than they actually did (Percept Mot Skills 1996, 83(2): 569-70).

The results of a survey conducted in Massachusetts by Dr. Sharelene Hesse-Biber have shown that:

  • Only 23% of female college students were under the influence of medical standards;
  • While a shocking 77% were influenced by cultural standards!
  • What's more, these two were quite different standards, with cultural expectations being an average 20 lbs. below the lowest medical norm (for men, the difference was only 5 lbs)!

The consequences of this social pressure for both physical and emotional health are devastating.

Especially common among young girls are eating disorders that derive from an unrealistic attitude toward what is considered the ideal beautiful body. The death toll is as high as 20 percent among sufferers (Foreyt JP, Poston WS, and Goodrick GK. Future directions in obesity and eating disorders. Addict Behav 1996; 21:767-78).

Researchers at the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, School of Public Health, University of South Carolina, analyzed body size perceptions and weight management practices of black and white adolescent females and revealed that, "White adolescents are more likely to perceive themselves as overweight and are more likely to engage in unhealthy weight management practices than black adolescents." (J Adolesc Health 1997 Jun;20(6):459-65)

The distorted body image has a strong adverse effect on personality problems and the development of depression in early adolescent girls (Adolescence 1997; 32(127): 615-24).

The findings of the Department of Health Education at the University of Maryland suggested that body size perceptions were distorted among both underweight and overweight women and that thin was the ideal body profile for the majority of the women (J Am Coll. Health 1997; 46(2): 69-74).

Hydrotherapy: Stretching in Warm Water

Hydrotherapy is a term that may sound familiar. However, many people don't understand the various forms and the benefits. Here's a look at Watsu.

Have you noticed the occasional grumpy body-builder who walks funny? Or the step enthusiast whose high-pitched shoulders match her highly strung personality? Maybe you've wondered if all that virtuous aerobic or macho weight-bearing exercise you do could be causing you more harm than good?

The pain of contracted or over-inflated muscles and the consequent distortions of posture are a big price to pay for that momentary, natural pain-reducing endorphin rush - no different here than a large scotch? Isn't it an insult to the innately graceful beauty of a human body?

Muscles that are long and supple and joints that are loose and limber allow us to move through our lives with greater physical and, interestingly, emotional flexibility. The key is the primitive art of stretching, as practiced by cats and dogs. Sadly, for many, this slow and sensual experience is considered an indulgence or, if left until too late, yet another source of discomfort. But there is one way to tap into the ecstatic experience of movement and override the pain -- and that is to be floated, quite effortlessly, in warm water. This relatively new form of hydrotherapy is called Watsu™(water shiatsu).

The practice of Watsu is a celebration of freedom and flexibility. It translates the qualities of water for our bodies to integrate into a new language of movement.

The physical benefits of Watsu include:Diminished muscular tension; increased range of motion; augmented circulation and respiration; normalized muscle tone; and clearing of metabolites such as lactic acid. The aim is to release the body from physical (and often psychological) tension. This reminder of an inherent capacity for grace can then carry over into a desire to stretch actively on land by oneself.

Here are some of the reasons why Watsu in warm water can help your stretching.

  • Heat reduces the viscosity of muscles and increases circulation.

  • Buoyancy causes joint decompression and unloads the resistance to stretch.

  • Hydrostatic pressure increases lymphatic and venous return, helping to clear waste products.

  • Sensory input (warmth, turbulence, vestibular stimulation) can help to inhibit sensations of pain that restrict movement.

  • Movements that increase range of joint motion help to distribute synovial fluid evenly over joints so that they are more responsive to stretching.

  • Gentle massage can help to restructure shortened fasciae tissue, release contracture and remove metabolites.

Watsu makes use of many static and dynamic passive stretches -- your job is simply to relax and let go as much as possible. Immersed in water, all movements are three-dimensional so that the stretches are full-body stretches. The upper body can be held so that the lower body moves freely and fluidly in ways impossible on land. The support of the water makes it possible for the practitioner to carry and mobilize you almost effortlessly. Accelerating the movement through the water against water resistance or lifting you partly out of the water can enhance the stretch. There is little need for verbal discussion with you or active participation on your part. Your body receives direct messages about its capacity for movement and release of holding patterns. You learn how important breathing and timing are to achieving a full stretch in movement. If you choose to stay present to what is happening in your body, your self-awareness is enhanced and you discover new ways to move but not abuse your body.

If weight lifting, step aerobics or any other activity is your passion, you can still enjoy it knowing that you have the skills to help you treat your body with respect -- pace, stretch and sufficient recovery. Be warned, though, after a while you may find yourself drawn to meditative practices such as yoga, tai chi or aikido.

Common Workout Mistakes that Cause Injury

I’m sure you have heard the old cliche, no pain, no gain. In some cases pain is the limiting factor to your strength and weight loss progress.

How many times have you gone to the gym, grabbed a pair of dumbbells off the rack and started your routine. Ooops! You just committed one of the most common workout mistakes? You forgot to warm-up.

Warming up and cooling down are just two of the most common mistakes made by new and experienced health enthusiasts. Most of my clients say they don't have time. I don’t buy it. If you have time to exercise, you have time to warm up and cool down. It really doesn’t take that much time and the benefits far outweigh the injuries that you can occur, taking you out of the gym for weeks or even months at a time.

Benefits of warming up and cooling down
• Increases blood supply to your muscles, and improved oxygenation of muscles
• Increases joint flexibility and range of motion
• Enhances athletic performance
• Reduces risk of injury to connective tissue

Warming up may consist of:
• Between five and eight minutes of low-intensity treadmill-walking or stationary biking, followed by stretching.

Cooling down may consist of:
• Between five and eight minutes of lower-intensity activity. For example, walking at the end of your run coupled with stretching.

Another common mistake is not stretching enough.
A few quick stretches after your workout won’t cut it. You should stretch for at least 15 minutes after your workout and throughout the day if you feel tight, cramped or extremely sore. Vary your stretches to make sure you hit your muscles from every angle. Another option is Yoga. According to Barb Fazio, a nationally certified yoga instructor; “Yoga works your body from the inside out, increasing your tendon and ligament flexibility, therefore decreasing injuries. Yoga also oxygenates your entire body making you feel energized and good all over.

Additional benefits of stretching:
• Improve your posture
• Help flush lactic acid that accumulates in the exercised muscles
• Aids in healing and recovery


Over the years I have seen some pretty interesting exercises being performed. I understand some exercises must be modified to fit your specific needs. However, seeing someone perform an exercise that seriously compromises his or her joints, spine or lower back is one of the easiest and quickest ways to serious long-term damage. For those of you who are new to the gym, I suggest you make an appointment with a personal trainer to have him/her show you how to use the equipment correctly and help you develop a program that will support your fitness goals. Even those of you who are experienced can benefit from a refresher-session once in awhile.

Don’t let your ego cause your next injury. Lifting too heavy, especially if you are new to the exercise scene or trying a new exercise can cause serious injury. I’m talking months, and in some cases even years. I suggest starting with a lighter weight until you can successfully target the muscle group(s) you are focusing on.

I’m sure many of you can relate to this mistake, especially when you’re new to the gym. Doing too much, too soon. Moderation is key. Start with one or two exercises for each muscle group; one or two sets of 12-15 reps each. Limit the number of days to two or three until your endurance increases and you’re not sore for several days in a row. Your body needs time to recover and repair.

As you can see, it's easy to sustain an injury. However, training smart and educating yourself allows you to exercise injury-free and reap the benefits for life.

Much success with all your fitness endeavors,

Eat Your Magazine! It’s Easier Than Following Their Diets!

I would say that most ladies have their favorite magazine that they like to get comfy with and read once a month, right? How unusual is it for your favorite magazine to have a headline such as, "Lose 50 Pounds by Christmas," or "No Energy -- Burn Fat and Feel Energetic in 10 Days." These titles are grabbers. They are the reason we buy the magazine in the first place. Sure, we want to feel more energetic, right? These terrific articles are exactly what we need, and then we will be happy, thin and have enough energy to swing our children on the beach and frolic until the wee hours of the morning, right? Well, let's see.

I am the first to admit that I read the same magazine every month. Without really telling you which one, maybe you can guess by my description. The cover is always the same -- a really, really perky and happy person, with the caption over the picture stating, "Burn Fat Now!! Lose that Weight Today." I buy this magazine every month and the format is the same: The first 10 pages or so (not including advertising) are comprised of beauty and health tips. The middle section is comprised of that very special diet you read about on the cover, but what do you see after this? Another 10 pages devoted to the "Magic of Chocolate Cooking," or perhaps, "Comfort Foods for People Who Need Comforting" -- these pages are screaming NOTHING BUT PURE CARBS, FAT and SUGAR!! It is at this point, after you've decided you want to follow their plan, you begin to feel hopeless. These magazines, though high in entertainment value, are not necessarily geared for for nutritional guidance.

When you finally arrive at the diet section, sandwiched in between articles with headlines like, "You Can Have Courtney Cox's Hair" and "It's Raining Chocolate," you arrive at the miracle diet section that you bought this magazine for in the first place. You open the page and there is a woman now half her original size with a great big smile. You figure, this should be easy. Obviously this lady did it, so can I, right? So you tell yourself: I can lose this weight, one, two, three, but NO!! There is this incredibly complicated, "Know your BAT" or "Know your Body Type (Mesomorph, Endomorph, etc.)." And then, and only then, can you follow our easy plan. To me, it becomes much more of a science project than basic weight management and diet. What is this magazine REALLY telling us?

Though I know writers mean well, they make the diets so complicated, it is nearly impossible for you to figure them out. And, if that isn't enough, some of the suggested meals are outrageously difficult to construct. I live in Northern New York -- do you know what a hot commodity fresh fruits and vegetables are between October and May? Are you in the habit of eating three ounces of yellow fin tuna, seared with green peppers for lunch? These are actual diet plans I've considered following. I am so unimpressed by the pictures of the "suggested lunches," that I vow never to complain about my "Fat Free and Fancy" hot lunches that I microwave each workday!!

These articles may also suggest that you take a variety of supplements: CoQ-12, enzymes, Tonalin, Pyruvate, etc. How do I know, because I have DONE this!!! Yes, I admit it! I am looking for the cure in the capsule, too. I am sure most of these herbals are safe. Do they take into consideration each reader's general health, regular medications or other basic factors?

I can tell you that the principles will always be the same. Cut calories, increase activity and watch the weight come off. There is no magic potion or secret ingredient to your weight loss. The principles that worked in thousands of doctor's offices and clinics can't be wrong. There does not seem to be some magical shortcut, and I have nearly died trying to find it myself. What I have found is that as long as I keep my aerobic activity up, I seem to be able to eat what I want without gaining weight. These diets in the magazines say this, but in a roundabout way. After all, would a title like, "Cut Calories and Increase Activity To Lose Weight," sell many magazines? Probably not.

Twenty-Five Ways to Get Your 5 Fruits and Vegetables a Day

I was recently asked, 'Name the one most important thing you can do to have a healthy diet.' It wasn't difficult to answer. My immediate response was, 'Get your five a day!' That is, get your five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

While it may not sound like a daunting task, most Americans do not meet this minimum Food Guide Pyramid guideline of two fruit and three vegetable servings per day. According to the Produce for Better Health Foundation, just 27% of women and 19% of men report eating the daily recommended five servings of fruits and vegetables. And, unfortunately, a large contributor of Americans' vegetable intakes is French fries.

Our fruit intake needs a makeover, too. While we do OK trying to get our vitamin "C" by sipping our morning OJ, we lack the big "V" -- variety.

Why do we need five a day? In a mouthful, fruits and veggies are tasty, vibrantly colored, nutrient-packed, fiber-filled, often inexpensive, naturally sweet or savory bites of wholesome goodness all rolled-up with their own mostly-edible packaging. Most importantly, eating five a day can help reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes and many other illnesses.

So, is there any good excuse why you can't get five a day? Nope! Not even the "I don't have time" excuse works. I like to call fruits and veggies "Mother Nature's original convenience food." How long does it actually take to pop a grape into your mouth or peel a banana?

Try these quick and easy tips to get your five a day everyday:

  • Mash a banana on your toast for breakfast on-the-dash

  • Need a flavorful thirst-quencher? Sip real fruit juice instead of soda

  • Pair meat with fruit, like pork tenderloin with warm applesauce, instead of drowning meats in artery-clogging sauces or gravies

  • Grab a handful of zingy dried fruit instead of greasy, salty chips

  • Freeze grapes or blueberries. Pop 'em into your mouth like mini-Popsicles.

  • Keep a package of raisins in your briefcase or purse for a quick energy boost

  • Have a fruit bowl in site (make sure it has fruit in it!) for planned snacking between meals

  • Spice-up your food with salsa -- on almost anything. A half cup counts as a veggie serving

  • Have a V8!

  • Make sandwiches "top heavy" with extra lettuce, tomatoes, onions and peppers

  • If you're not already a vegetarian, plan a vegetarian day each week

  • Wanna nibble? It's hard to beat baby carrots for their pure crunching satisfaction

  • Don't forget about convenience veggies -- frozen or canned. They count, too!

  • Move over meat and poultry. Make them side dishes so your veggies become entrĂ©es

  • Start the day by spiking your breakfast. Spike cereal with blueberries, sliced strawberries or dried fruit; spike eggs with diced green and red peppers

  • Slurp a smoothie. Simply blend apple juice with frozen strawberries and bananas -- no ice required. Slurp away

  • Double- or triple-up! It's OK to eat all your fruit or veggie servings at one meal

  • Mix and match you fruits with veggies. Sprinkle currants into cooked spinach; toss your salad with apple or orange segments

  • Need a chip fix? Go for a veggie chips

  • Chop up veggies and place in convenient one-serving baggies to grab as a snack on-the-run

  • Opt for entrĂ©es like stir-fries and kebabs with meat or poultry and veggies

  • Instead of water or salty broth, simmer or poach fish or chicken in fruit or veggie juice

Use your imagination. Create excitement to stir up your veggie appetite. How 'bout mashed carrots instead of mashed potatoes or sweet potato fries instead of French fries? Search a cookbook or Web site -- day or night -- for new fruits and veggie ideas.

Print and post this article on the fridge for your daily five a day reminder!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

A Very Special Present: try out for a semi-pro football team

I decided to give myself a very special present for my 31st birthday. A present that I would cherish for the rest of my life. A present that would make my son proud of me.

I decided to try out for a semi-pro football team. What makes this so odd? I was told by the college coach of a small 3-7 football team that I was too old, at 29, and I would just get in their way. On the day I turned 31, January the 22, I made a semi-pro team.

To really understand the path I chose, we really need to go back to the beginning because this is not really a story of how I made it as much as it is a story of how anyone can achieve their goals no matter their age or physical fitness level. All you have to do is get real and stick with it. I must first say that before anyone takes the advice in this article you should go to your doctor and get a complete physical because the advise in this article is real world and very intense.

I woke up, at 28 years old, on the day of my 10 year reunion from high school and noticed that I was fat and out of shape. At around 5'8", I weighed around 220 or so and it wasn't much muscle. With my build, I wasn't exactly obese, but I didn't feel good. I was starting to have problems with my blood pressure, I couldn't run half a mile without stopping and when I saw pictures, oh brother, I was embarrassed.

I decided that I needed to get back in shape and nothing was going to stop me, right after my next pizza. For the first couple of months, that is exactly how I did it. I was always going to start tomorrow until one day I decided that this was the day.

I have always loved lifting weights so that was how I started, eventually I added a mile run to the end of a 30-minute workout and all-in-all, I lost about five pounds.

I started to give up when I remembered a saying I had heard years before when I was competing in bodybuilding, "if you want to look extreme, you have to be extreme." I took this saying to heart and started training extreme and somehow, contrary to popular ideas about training, it worked and it worked pretty fast. I must once again urge that anyone starting a program like this should get the OK from a doctor first.

Are you ready? Here it goes!

The first thing I did was set down and formulate a program that incorporated aerobic fitness and muscle strength along with a pretty well-balanced diet. I set down a few "laws" and started working toward them knowing that I had set them so high, I couldn't help but be in great shape when I hit them. I wanted to be able to run five miles, squat 405 pounds, bench 315 pounds and comfortable fit into 32 waist jeans. I knew that if I hit all four of these goals, I would be where I wanted to be.

First of all, lets start with the diet. I believe it to be the base from which all the others factors hinge. I knew I needed enough calories, but not too much so I set a base line of 2,500 to start with. I only ate four meals per day because in the real world, it is very hard to fit in the six that are typically recommended.

Although this worked for me, you need to experiment for yourself.

There were about six days per week that I didn't want to stay on this diet but I made myself and oddly enough, every time I used a little self-discipline, I grew stronger.

The next area of my training I want to talk about was aerobics. I was so out of shape when I ran I would get dizzy. I would always stop when I got dizzy until I decide I would rather fall out and die than stay fat and out of shape and somehow the dizziness stopped.

As I stated before, I knew that when I was able to run five miles, I wouldn't have to worry about being too fat and out of shape. Guess what. It took much longer than I had planned to get to the five-mile mark. I was so heavy for my build that I kept getting shin splints and sore ankles so I started doing my aerobics on the Stairmaster, 45 minutes six days per week. I also started on some jumping and sprinting exercises to increase my vertical jump and 40-yard dash time, but these were sport-specific exercises you would only really need if you were going to be graded on them. You may have to adjust your training too and this is OK as long as you really need to adjust and your not just doing it to make it easier.

The last part of my training was the weight lifting. I decided to go a little crazy. I worked into supersetting antagonistic body parts for 20 sets (really 40) for anywhere from five reps to 20. For example, I would pick one exercise for each body part and do them back to back with no rest. I supersetted thighs/hamstrings, chest/back, shoulder/traps, abs/low back, bis/tris. This is one area where you can pretty much use your own favorites.

I was able to used this intense work out to get in the shape of my life and accomplish a dream. The main thing someone really needs to realize is that it took me over a year to achieve the goals I mentioned before and get into great shape. I first came down to a very lean 182 pounds and then built up to around 198 - 200 while still wearing my 32-waist jeans.

There is nothing special about me that would make me accomplish this while someone else could not. I tend to think just the opposite, if I can do it, anyone can. I see so many people, men and women, in the gym just going through the motions and not pushing to get to the next level. I think it is actually a fear of something, maybe getting hurt. If you do fear getting hurt, just do safe exercises and use machines but above all push, push, push. I feel confident that anyone could use this type of program of intensity and attain just about any goal he or she set for themselves but first you need to do one thing, start.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Attitude Determines Your Altitude in Fitness

Since starting my Tae-Bo and fitness journey, I have tried many other types of video workouts including other cardio-kickboxing, but most of them just make me appreciate Tae-Bo even more. Why?

Probably because of the man behind Tae-Bo who is the personification of a positive attitude: Mr. Tae-Bo, himself, Billy Blanks.

Besides being very charismatic, Mr. Blanks appeals to folks yearning for a healthier lifestyle because he promotes working from the inside out, focusing on how Tae-Bo makes us feel instead of how we look. Many who do not know the man think it is all about making money, but everyone who has had the opportunity to meet Billy at his World Training Center in California or on the road has always reported finding the genuine thing in Billy. Even his daughter Shellie exudes goodness and a positive attitude. Plain and simple, Billy Blanks wants to make this world a healthier place for anyone willing to work at it, and this message comes through loud and clear on his videos and in his live classes. This attitude of changing from the inside out is contagious to everyone who gets bitten by the Tae-Bo bug or "Billy Bug." Mechanically, he has made Tae-Bo as simple, effective and safe as possible, yet has also made it mentally stimulating and fun. More than anything else, it is Billy's attitude that is responsible for the exercise sensation known as Tae-Bo.

In spite of all of the folks who get his message, there are many who do not, and others who forget it along the way. Everyone knows why he or she should exercise, though some try to find more reasons not to exercise regularly. Often the excuses given for not exercising are the exact reason why exercise is needed. Some excuses or obstacles are lethargy/laziness, fear of injury/pain, no results/plateauing, undesirable results/bulking-up, lack of time/priorities out of whack, not wanting to sweat/mess your hair, and probably the toughest of all to overcome, lack of motivation because of a myriad of psychological factors causing a negative attitude. Whatever the excuses, the main deciding factor in successfully pursuing fitness is having a positive attitude.

Even folks with that positive attitude, such as myself, struggle with days when working out isn't appealing. If it is because you are truly not feeling well, please do permit yourself some time off. Many times the very reason making the workout less appealing (lethargy) is the exact reason why the workout is needed (to energize). Lethargy is a negative state of mind and the best way to change your attitude into a more positive one is to get moving. Just flip that energy switch on. However, be careful not to over exercise and cause any of the adverse effects of physical fatigue, psychological burnout or injury.

Fear of injury is another excuse although Tae-Bo, if done correctly, is as safe as walking. In fact, you can even do it sitting down, making it safer than walking. Exercise also helps to prevent injuries, making muscles stronger and more flexible. I used to pull a back muscle with a simple sneeze that would debilitate me for weeks. Now, I rarely suffer from such injuries and when I do, they are way more mild and shorter in duration. Sometimes when I do have an injury, it heals faster if I exercise. Although the decision to exercise is usually the healthier one, other times it is best to listen to your body and take the day(s) off to avoid further injury or burnout from over-training. What keeps me going through those off days is the attitude that once my body is rested or healed, I will have a great workout the next day or another day.

Another huge obstacle to a positive attitude about exercise for me has been my infamous plateau. Although I lost weight quickly when first starting Tae-Bo, I haven't budged in over a year. What gets me over that obstacle is remembering where I was emotionally and physically before Tae-Bo and never wanting to go back there again. I have accepted that genetically, I was never meant to be thin but am still seeing and feeling changes indicating that this journey is far from over. The most significant ongoing change has been a constant improvement in my knee pain early in the morning as Tae-Bo strengthens the surrounding muscles. Worse than giving up future changes and slowly losing more recent changes by quitting is the thought of where I would be now if I had never tried Tae-Bo at all and had continued to deteriorate physically. Perhaps a wheelchair? I remember becoming a recluse because walking and standing for just a few minutes became such a painful ordeal because of my weak lower back.

I visit a board for folks over 50 who are trying to lose weight. Most who post there are only interested in the current most touted "fad" diet and turn a deaf ear to the need for exercise to lose or maintain weight as well as to the other benefits of exercise for folks over 50 (primarily stress and pain relief). As a person ages he or she becomes less active and muscles atrophy, which in turn slows the metabolism down, burning less calories. Obesity increases because of the combined slowed metabolism and the decreased activity, bringing all sorts of additional health risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, etc. Our goal as we age shouldn't be to just maintain weight but to feel better and to either reduce these complications or avoid them altogether.

When I explain why folks should do a weight resistance exercise to build muscle, I usually hear the fear of bulking up. Most women will not bulk up because they do not have the male hormones and genetics that build those kind of muscles. Yes, they may hit a transition period where lingering fat is mixed with muscle, giving a bulkier image and a few, like myself, may have genetics working against ever being slim. Genetically, I'm short, large boned and mesomorphic (muscle prone) so I have the tendency to look more bulky.

Physically, would I rather be huskily muscular or huskily fat?

Emotionally, would I rather feel positive as a result of exercise and all of its benefits or negative as a result of feeling miserable because of food deprivation and ultimately failing at dieting? Very few people can lose weight and keep it off permanently with dieting alone because they have to eat less and less just to maintain their weight as their muscles atrophy, and even if they succeed, will dieting alone lubricate joints, maintain bone density, energize, relieve stress?

The most amusing excuse to me for not exercising is the lack of time or not having your fitness quest be at the top of your list of priorities because your workout will facilitate the achievement of the rest of your priorities during your daily hectic schedule as well as help you sleep well to better prepare yourself for your following hectic day. Ironically, the people who complain about this lack of time seem to have plenty of time for sitting in front of a computer, so I have suggested not even signing on till after the workout if time is a factor. Just a 15-minute workout (either of the Tae-Bo eight-minute workouts) can energize. Also, supposedly the mind works best just after a workout so both the body and mind will be more efficient in accomplishing more in less time after a short workout. Just pick a specific time of the day that is best for you to be your workout time and do it. You'll be setting a wonderful example to your children, teaching them to respect their bodies and will be a happier and healthier person for everyone you care about and who cares about you.

Tossing in the lame excuse of not wanting to sweat or mess your hair won't cut it either because the eight-minute workouts do not make you sweat (well, not enough to demand a shower or bath). Besides, don't most people in the civilized world bathe at least every other day? OK say you want a longer workout than 15 minutes and do not have enough time to shampoo and dry your sweat-soaked hair. You can try using a head sweatband because it will absorb most of the sweat, keeping your hair comparatively dry (just ask the guys who witnessed my wringing out of the headband after the QVC workout while my hair was still dry). Also if you keep your workout area coolish, you will burn more calories and sweat less. However, make sure you warm up your muscles fully and safely to avoid injury.

A lack of motivation can be the result of a combination of psychological factors such as depression, fear of failure, low self-esteem and burnout/boredom just to name a few. In addition to finding a workout you enjoy and can look forward to doing, this negative attitude can be adjusted by surrounding yourself with fitness buddies like an online support group with a similar focus to yours or reading articles on sites like this. Comparing notes with others will help you understand your own attitude better; analyzing what exactly is holding you back and how to alter it. These groups and sites can also be great source of tips to try to keep you moving. In fact, my online buddies are the main source of material for most of this article. Join your fitness buddies in a challenge like the one of doing tough floor work once a week for the rest of the year or doing at least a short Tae-Bo workout daily for 21 days straight to make it a habit, but just in the beginning because at least one day off a week is a healthier long-term plan.

Focus on how you feel after a workout. Alter your workout so it energizes you. Try a different workout or do an old workout differently. Pump up the music and MOVE. Make it FUN. This is your time so make it enjoyable. Then treat yourself to a brisk stimulating shower or a long hot soak to soothe those muscles.

People who are inactive and/or overweight have every reason to exercise and no real reason not to make exercise a permanent part of their lifestyle. Fitness will improve the quality of their life as well as perhaps lengthen the quantity of their life. Quality of life is a direct result of one's attitude. Make it a positive one.

Why do those gorgeous people on the videos continue to workout after obtaining their almost perfect bodies?

A Positive Attitude

What keeps me working-out regularly though my weight plateaued for over a year?

A Positive Attitude

Why do so many people see me, a woman who is still obese according to the doctor's scale and medical charts as a source of motivation?

A Positive Attitude

Why Tae-Bo?

Because Attitude is Everything and Billy's Attitude is contagious.

Catch the "Billy Bug" and join me on the endless quest for fitness. Your body will thank you for it. And so will everyone who cares about you. What do you have to lose besides stress, pain and fat?

Dancers: It’s time to Revive!

I was in the bookstore the other day looking at performing art trade papers for the large city centers across the country. Spring has sprung and that means audition season for dancers is in full swing.

With an abundance of summer school programs, summer stock festivals, touring companies holding open calls, dance classes, Pilates studios, and private instructors are jam-packed with potential dancers who are wishing to refine their craft, or to be discovered. For pre-professional students, competition season is winding up, and dance festivals and recitals are filling auditoriums and community center theaters across each state and province. Most university dance programs are concluding their academic year and that means senior students and graduate students are producing their own concerts on strict, high-pressure deadlines. When there are so many demands being placed on the body (rehearsals, performances, performance anxiety, temperamental weather, respiratory allergies) it is imperative to make sure one's body is being cared for more than ever: that means making sure nutritional requirements, as well as sleep requirements, are being met.

Burnout

After a season of spending intense hours in the studio and onstage, it is commonplace to feel the need to spend lots of time resting -- which to many dancers is not welcome for we are so used to exerting physical energy for upwards of eight hours a day. Many of us presume there is something seriously "the matter" with us. Our bodies feel sluggish, and the thought of walking up a flight of stairs seems insurmountable. We feel as though there is cement holding our hip joints together for all the mobility is long gone. Many of us feel a dull throb in the lower lumbar spine, and our feet? There isn't one pleasant adjective to describe how beaten they feel. Our bunions scream, our first metatarsal is blistered and torn, our arches are knotted hard as hazelnuts, and nothing makes the dull aches subside. Burnout does take place with dancers, though it is rarely discussed. Dancers are so familiar with feeling warn-down and tired, that we often ignore the symptoms of burnout accepting them as typical and habitual. However burnout carries with it symptoms that are different than those suffered during day-to-day fatigue. One may experience: a loss of strength and technique, upper respiratory infections, menstrual problems, and a higher incidence of injuries. Burnout can also make one feel anxious or depressed. The usual sense of euphoria that happens after the second exercise of dance class is replaced with resentment. One may feel restless and jittery as though she or he is awaiting bad news, but for no reason whatsoever. There is a hollow feeling in the stomach that no amount of green vegetables will cause to mellow. There is good news though. Rest (especially sleep) can help you bounce back from burnout.

How long should you take time off from class and from exercising at the gym? According to research, dancers who have experienced symptoms for a month or more need three to five weeks off to completely recover. (Dance magazine, April 2001) Mild exercise such as walking is sufficient. It is best to ease back into an intense schedule as to avert the possibility of burnout surfacing again. Reducing stress in other ways also helps in the prevention of burnout as well. Some techniques to consider include massage, saunas, whirlpools, yoga and stretch classes (classes that force you to center on your breathing and to facilitate easing the contraction of the large muscle groups), and aromatherapy. A balanced diet will also help in the prevention of fatigue.

Balanced Diet

We all have heard the drill. Eat well so your body can perform at its optimum level. Every dancer in the world who has battled an impossible schedule knows this works in theory, but can be difficult at the best of times especially when one is on the road auditioning. We want to have enough energy to sustain high-energy output, but do not want to consume large quantities of fruits and vegetables because of their gaseous characteristics. It is very important to eat a large breakfast because this sustains the appetite for hours. One simple and very effective breakfast food is oatmeal. It does not cause bloating, and it fills up the tummy without causing that "protruding stomach syndrome" that we all try to avoid on the mornings of important auditions. Having oatmeal in the morning (three hours before class/audition is best) regulates digestion and does not increase insulin production to the point that you will be reaching for the first piece of chocolate you see an hour later.

Milk may produce gas and bloating and should best be avoided on morning open-call auditions. As well, if there is a vocal component to the audition, dairy products cause increased mucus formation and impede singing quality. Skip the cereal and opt for flax seed/ whole-wheat bagels and breads.

If at all possible, try to infuse protein into your diet whenever possible. Protein curbs the appetite, it decreases the craving for carbohydrates, it rejuvenates torn muscle tissue, and in speeds up recovery time when rehearsing for long hours. Protein feeds the brain and therefore complex dance combinations don't seem so overwhelming. It is hard enough to concentrate on intricate footwork and musical phrasing when you are tired: Don't contribute to the difficulty by starving the body and the brain of essential protein.

Stretching

Try stretching out of the dance studio setting. Perhaps try a stretch class in a fitness club where there are no other professional dancers present. The change in tempo and mental set is refreshing. Often in this environment, we can center completely on the anatomical structure instead of a means to an end (visualizing "the dance" all the time). As well, many stretch classes in fitness-club settings offer stretches that compliment many other cross-training disciplines that we as dancers may have forgotten about. Mixing up our stretching repertoire provides a nice refuge and challenges the muscles in new and important ways.

Swimming

A nice form of repose for an aching, over-taxed body is a trip to the pool. Fluid, joint-friendly, non weight-bearing swimming is a nice way to escape the demands of dance class. The methodical repetition of swimming strokes is unlike the fragmented chains of steps that are often performed but once in a dance class. As well, swimming is movement that is not initiated by the feet or the torso. One can feel the length of the body in the horizontal position when swimming vs. trying always to attain the maximum stretch while in the vertical position as in ballet class. Really feeling the stretch through the torso provides vacation for the poor feet. As well, kicking the legs (like when one does the front crawl) utilizes the hamstrings and provides repose for the oft-overused quadriceps. The coordination, timing and phrasing of swimming is different than dancing. As dancers, we are very aware of our breath: While submersed in the water when swimming, the breath is all-important as well. Indulging in breathing in a different way (if nothing else for survival and not drowning in the pool) is a complimentary way of spending time away from a taxing audition or performance schedule.

Dancers take note: Sleep in, feed your body and stretch to combat this grueling time of year.

Making Peace With Codependency and Teen Eating Disorders

Eating disorders among teenagers are rising. With all of the media exposure, competition and concern to look great in a thin body, kids are showing dangerous signs of self-abuse. The numbers are overwhelming. To avoid some of the pitfalls, parents should be aware of how to eliminate some potentially serious problems.

Kids as young as six years old are already beginning to show concerns about their body image, and signs and symptoms of eating disorders. However, it is in the early teen years where we see the beginnings of full-blown eating disorders. A few years ago I was asked to address the topic of eating disorders to a freshmen class at a local private high school. After a three-hour lecture, several teenage girls came to me to talk about their concerns and fears about their own struggles with food. With tears in their eyes, they admitted to being bulimic and/or anorexic. Some were obviously quite ill. They told me that it had been a painful secret not even their parents knew! With early intervention, and a will to get treatment, many of these girls can be helped.

It is a "family affair," stated Dr. Judy Hollis in her book of the same name, which I believe is a great resource for parents wanting to know more. She too has suffered the pangs of eating disorders. The preoccupation with weight and attempting to look like teen idols is natural to a point. However, as teens seek to find their own identity, it is wise for parents to notice how they themselves deal with these issues. A neighbor of mine, a little girl about the age of five or six, shared with me her fear of getting fat! She told me that her mother had already put her on a diet. If I had not been aware of eating disorders and knowledgeable about signs and symptoms, that comment would not have bothered me. However, the comment made me think about what is going on in that family, and with thousands of young girls and boys today. (The number of boys with eating disorders is not as high as girls, but statistics tell us that those numbers are rising.) I wondered what the mother must have been thinking? What is her concern and belief system? How does she feel about her own body image? How can her thoughts about food help or hinder her children? There are many reasons a child eats inappropriately. People need food to survive, and that makes eating disorders one of the hardest cases to treat. If food is used to abuse oneself, there is definitely an issue going on.

The definition of an addiction is this: "The continuous use of a mood-altering or mind-altering substance (including food), regardless of the harmful consequences." Food does alter the mind and mood; there is question about that. But not all people will end up addicted to it. Addiction is about control, regardless if the food is eaten. Whether it is about bulimia (binge and vomit) or anorexia (stopping of food intake), it is all about control.

Why is control a factor?

In a nutshell, people who feel out of control will use the only means of self-control they have. What goes into or out of the body is in their control. They have a sense of control of themselves when they make the decision to eat or not eat. It is empowering when they feel powerless inside. Many things contribute to lack of power. When a child has been abused (sexually, emotionally, physically or any combination thereof) eating disorders can appear. When the home is a scary unpredictable and stressful place, a child may eat for comfort. If a parent is absent or unavailable emotionally or physically, it creates a feeling of abandonment in the child. The food acts as a shield and has a nurturing quality; something the child may not get in her or his environment. A child needs to feel secure.

Having a sense of control over the outside world is welcoming when the world inside is falling apart. With the pressure of being perfect in an imperfect world, having to do everything right and having low self-esteem and low self-confidence, a young teen will lose touch with her or his feelings. Using food or drugs assists in numbing the bad feelings. Binging and purging gives the person a sense of having feelings and having control over something. Even bad feelings are feelings. The temporary feeling that comes with the purge is, at best, a feeling of release from pressure, which gives back control (although almost always coupled with the shame).

Although not all eating disorders can be blamed on family dysfunction, most are. The truth is that most families do have some degree of dysfunction. I know kids and adults who come from somewhat "normal" healthy families, but who suffer the pains of eating disorders. Food does have its chemical makeup which, when turned into sugar, causes imbalances in the brain. Some people lack the necessary release of seratonin in the brain, and find that eating certain foods in abundance gives a boost to this release. Sexual activity does the same thing, as do behaviors that cause a rush. This causes a kind of euphoric feeling, as it is when chocolate is eaten, causing a kind of peaceful, serene and relaxed sensation. Turkey is known to have L-Triptophane, which creates a similar feeling. We just want to fall asleep in a big, fluffy chair after having a big Thanksgiving dinner.

Codependency

So, how can we parents avoid becoming codependent with our children who have eating disorders or potential eating disorders? First, the definition of a codependent is someone whose life is intertwined with the person who has an eating disorder or any other kind of addiction for that matter. It could be alcohol abuse, sex addiction, gambling or even someone married to a computer! A codependent's mission in life is to cure the abuse in those they love and adore. They forget their own lives to help another.

The codependent has often been overlooked in the rehabilitation process (if the family is in rehab). Actually, they are partners in keeping the abuse continuing. In the early 1960s when alcoholism treatment programs were beginning to take form, no one paid attention to family members. It was assumed that these people had no specific needs. We found that when a spouse's drinking stopped, depression sometimes emerged in the partner. Some family members actually worked to sabotage the alcoholic's treatment! Many formerly helpful spouses sought divorce instead. They had stayed during all the bad times, but when change came, they had to leave. They would often leave to marry another alcoholic. Without examining their own needs and wants as codependent personalities, they are doomed to repeat the same endless cycle.

We have all been affected by other people's addictive behaviors. As parents, we want to help our kids. We feel frustrated when we don't know what to do. We must see how much our lives are intertwined with others. I heard a joke one time about a codependent. "If you see someone else's life flash before your eyes prior to death, you know you are codependent." It is safe to say that a codependent is someone who is addicted to another's addiction. They take on curing the addicted person as their mission in life. They become obsessed with solving there loved one's problems. On the one hand, codependents get excited about the idea of discussing their child's eating problems; yet often have great difficulty talking about their own lives.

Sometimes being perceptive, compassionate and aware of another person is an asset. These people make great nurses, doctors and counselors. In some families, however, this codependency can lead to a tangled web where a parent can lose identity in service to the child. It may take long-time counseling to untangle.

Parents and family members who learn to speak for themselves and develop a sense of separateness are healthy. Parents can unknowingly disrespect and rob their kids or even their spouse the chance to feel like an exciting, evolving person if they assume they have them figured out. We don't always know what they are thinking or feeling. Being enmeshed means that parents and family members may easily lose their own identities and needs in the service to others. Codependent parents may insist on being able to solve the problems associated with their children's eating disorders. Anorexic girls often control their mothers by alternately demanding and rejecting help. The mother, being codependent, starts to suffer as much as the child. Parents beware: Real compassion is not helping others solve a problem and feeling it more than they do. We as parents have an emotional involvement with our children. We hurt when they do. We are invested strongly in helping them, maybe more than they are helping themselves.

How would you know if you have impending codependency? Check the following and see:

These are a few of the typical behaviors and thoughts of codependents.

If my child has a bad day, I react. If you have problems, I feel I must come up with a solution for you. I need to be needed. When your are hurting, I often feel it more deeply than you do. I don't develop many of my own interests but respond to yours. I feel safest when I am giving. I know more clearly what you want than what I want. I only feel good about myself if I have your approval. I diminish my social life to get overly involved in yours. I am critical and judging, and then I feel guilty. I think I can convince you to like yourself.

Do you force diets? Do you check on diets? Do you hide food from overeaters? Do you throw food away so the problem eater won't find it? Are you constantly disappointed when you see a relapse in your child? Are you embarrassed by the over/undereater's appearance? Have you excused the erratic, sometimes violent, mood swings resulting from the child's or adult's addictive behaviors?

A family who struggles with these disorders (reminder: It is a disorder, not a judgment against you personally) can feel comfort in knowing there is assistance and hope. Codependency and eating disorders are a matter of life and sometimes death. Learning to become detached for the health of yourself and the family is a gift. When we seek ways to focus on ourselves in order to feel the happiness within, we are also giving to our kids. It gives them permission to love themselves too. Parents can model for their children the idea that it is OK to be strong, independent and self-confident.