Friday, January 25, 2008

Coping With the Cold

Dealing with exercise in the winter can be difficult. This writer, with visions of May mornings and August evenings, takes the positive approach to running in the cold.

For the past few weeks, every single run I have undertaken has been overshadowed by a single stark fact of nature; in Michigan, this was the second coldest December on record. Now, I certainly am glad that I was not around during the coldest one, but I was here for this one, and as an intrepid runner, I must cope with the cold as best I can. What does that mean? The running version of common sense, of course. When you are out there, you are surrounded by the raw cold and the unforgiving remnants of winter precipitation, not central heating and blankets and a cozy fire. You have to prepare yourself accordingly. Obviously, that isn't exactly a new thought to an experienced runner, so what I am going to talk about here is how I prepare to run in the cold weather and what I do if it is simply too cold to run outside, which I am certain everybody who runs will find very, well, clever in a strange way.

I have to spend about an hour numbing myself mentally in order to really face the cold. As someone who was born and raised in a state where five months of the year the state is virtually uninhabitable, one would think that I would be able to cope and, if I am really strong, not even notice the cold weather. I am really not that strong, and when walking outside in the snow, you notice the snow, and that is about all. Therefore, even if you live here, you have to pretend not to see it. What does that mean? Well, first of all, it means that you should dress in two or three layers of thick cotton or wool, and make sure that everything is loose-fitting too, for you don't want to freeze in place while you are moving to desperately avoid freezing in place. Secondly, it means thinking warm thoughts. When you first walk outside and encounter the snow and sleet and all the things that turn your route into a large unreasonable facsimile of a fjord, think of what that same route is like on a morning in May or an evening in August. Well, that might be a little hard when the wind chill is well below zero and the only other runner you see you have to talk to through a scarf, but try it anyway. You do have to dress right in order to avoid frostbite, but you should think about it in a way less dismal than the weather. That way, you don't collapse into a freezing heap on the side of the road shouting "Take me now!"

There is also a unique training that should be undertaken when it is cold and otherwise dismal outside. I need to stretch my legs especially, as they are usually the coldest of the extremities when I run anyway. It is vital that one feels especially loose and relaxed before running in the cold, because you are going to want to pick up the pace and run as fast as you can in order to get back to your car or home. Well, that's my motivation anyway. It takes me about 15 to 20 minutes to stretch, and I do it while I am standing outside too, just so I can be loose in relation to the cold. Yes, I do believe that you should stretch in the same weather in which you intend to run, because that acclimates you to the conditions, whether they are dismal or perfect. What I like to focus on, although sitting on the ground in the winter is a risky proposition at best, is sit-ups and butterfly stretches (I THINK this is what they called them when I was forced to take physical education in high school), so my lower back and legs are especially prepared, as they are typically the first to go if I do not stretch appropriately.

Now, when it is simply too cold to run, and there are a few of those days in our winter here in the Great White North, there is something that I like to do that not only permits me to get in at least a little training that day, but is also extremely fun to do as it annoys the heck out of everyone in my home. For about 45 minutes, I take the time to adjust all the furniture so it is away from the wall in the living room. Now, I did calculate how many times it would take me to make one mile by running the perimeter of the family room. Although it is almost 90 times, I am perfectly willing to do this in order to get some exercise in. Not having a treadmill, and always being someone to pick the more creative, though impractical solution, this is also the only alternative short of re-establishing my membership at the local recreation complex. That would likely make the most sense of any of the suggestions my admittedly warped mind could come up with, but then again, just how common is common sense? Uncommon enough that I do not possess it, so it appears.

If you followed the things that I have stated here in order to better cope with cold weather, I am certain that you would find that you probably figure all this out a long time ago. If you are a beginner, then you have, believe it or not, a valuable reference from someone who knows rather a lot about his sport, although it probably doesn't seem that way given my presentation of the material. If you live in warmer regions, then you'll read this and find no value in it, although you are getting a taste of what we know all too well this year, so perhaps this is useful after all. In any event, running in the cold is a rather dangerous proposition, but if you can see it coming and prepare for it, you can at least survive long enough to see better weather.

Moms Get Motivated to Work Out

For years, it’s been my favorite line -- Yeah, I work out, my washer and dryer are in the basement and all our bedrooms are on the top floor. After all, I’m busy with two preschoolers.

Before my first pregnancy, I did exercise a little. I took an aerobics class after work two evenings a week, and my husband and I enjoyed bike riding on some weekends, although we weren't all that committed to regular exercise. But pregnancy, for me, was all the excuse I needed to give up the aerobics class - I didn't want to take any chances in a class not geared for pregnant women, and I didn't have any energy to spare anyway. (I didn't bother to find out then the many benefits there are to workouts during pregnancy or to learn which exercises would be perfectly safe.) Suddenly, I realized five years had passed since I had done any serious working out.

One evening I stood at the kitchen sink, finishing up washing dishes and planning my reward: ahhh, cappuccino chocolate chip ice cream awaited me in the freezer and would be so satisfying to eat in a clean kitchen. It was one of those perfect evenings -- no wind, gorgeous sunset, cool air after a hot Colorado summer day. I was actually tempted to go outside to walk instead. Walk instead of ice cream? Me? So I gave in to the temptation and left my husband in charge of finishing the bedtime routine for our two kids. I put on my old Nikes and hit the sidewalk. It was glorious. The view of the sky, the fresh air - I even found the energy to do a little running. Even more encouraging, after just a few weeks of working out about every-other evening, I could run most of my two-mile route.

That beautiful evening's walk was the beginning of a new routine. I don't go out every day, that's not really possible, but I've found that if I plan and remain flexible, I can get out about four times a week. I'm convinced that no matter what the health benefits are, the way I feel after a workout will keep me committed to doing it, even when the weather changes and offers me new excuses.

It is tough for moms of young kids to exercise. Kathryn Schmitz, a researcher at the University of Minnesota found that after the birth of their first child, up to 20 percent of women reduce the time they spend working out. While it seems obvious that having children would cut into time previously devoted to exercise, it seems equally obvious that moms need the benefits of exercise.

Losing the extra weight gained during pregnancy is just one reason to get busy exercising again. For those lucky enough to not be overweight, many, many more good reasons may help spur you on and ignore those old excuses. You probably already know about many of the benefits of exercise, but how about the benefits that could change your health and your life.

Stronger bones. You will not likely notice the bone strength benefits of exercise until you get older and are confronted with bone loss since bones tend to shrink with age. Regular weight-bearing exercise (like walking, jogging or lifting weights), along with consuming enough calcium helps maintain the bone mass. Take heart - you'll be able to see and enjoy your stronger muscles a lot quicker!

Mental health. If you are a mom of preschool-aged kids, you're in one of the highest risk groups for developing mild to moderate depression. All women are at higher risk for depression, ranging from a temporary case of the blues to serious clinical depression.

According to the Surgeon General¹s Report of 1996, Physical Activity and Health, "In general, persons who are inactive are twice as likely to have symptoms of depression than more active persons". It cites six research studies that associate exercise with reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety and improved well being. Workouts alone will not magically cure serious depression; but whatever the degree of depression, workouts can be a powerful tool in helping you feel better.

Time away. Moms, you love those cute little munchkins, but enough is enough, right? Good moms need a break. You can actually be a better mom if you get some time to yourself. Use the kids' daddy time, swap with a neighbor, hire a teen you trust to baby-sit or check to se if your health club has a supervised children's play area. Use your alone time to exercise. It may not be your first activity choice when you have so many other things to do, but once you get started, you just might that exercise helps you clear the clutter out of your mind and makes getting other things done more easy.

Energy. For years, I didn't exercise because I was already tired. I didn't have any energy to spare. I've heard that exercise gives you energy, but the thought of it just made me more tired. Surprisingly, I found that my most energetic days are the days after I've worked out. Yes, I'm tired right after I finish, but after going a few days without a workout, I begin to drag and feel exhausted. Honestly, I can easily cut out many other energy zappers; exercise actually helps me rather than zapping me.

Lack of sleep, too much television and poor diet are my real energy drainers. Working out also helps to promote better sleep and encourages me to drink more water. Give yourself the gift of three workouts this week and prove and see for yourself.

A model for your kids. You know they watch and mimic you. They use your phrases, they carry a bag because you carry one, and they hate cauliflower since you hate it. They will probably approach exercise the same way you approach it. If you show them that working out is a normal and fun part of life, they'll be more likely to make it a lifelong habit themselves.

"The number one person kids look up to is the parent. Making physical activity a family affair teaches children to value a healthy lifestyle," says exercise physiologist Shannon Sukovaty as quoted in August 2000's Colorado Parent magazine. Start exercising now while they are young, and they will most likely follow a healthy lifestyle when they get older. My four-year-old son loves to ask me about my running time and he cannot wait to get big enough to join me. I'm looking forward to that, too.

Yoga – Getting Started

Madonna practices Yoga religiously. Jerry Seinfeld and Richard Gere meditate for hours everyday. You know all about the benefits of yoga and have decided you'd like to give it a try. So how do you get started?

In ancient India, students would choose a teacher, known as a Guru, who would enlighten and instruct the student in all the ways of Yoga, meditation, and spirituality. In return, the student would have a place to live in a school, known as an Ashram, and the student would do light work like cook or clean in return for the priceless instruction.

In the West, things are a lot easier and simpler. Yoga has become on of the most popular recreational activities in the United States. One can easily begin by going to a local Yoga school. This is highly recommended because it follows in the tradition of finding a Master or Teacher for personal instruction. Of course, there are many different types of schools and instructors. The best is one with which you feel comfortable as there are many styles to choose from.

Hatha Yoga is the most widely practiced form of Yoga. It is a series of stretches, aerobic exercises and later on, a lifestyle and way of living. There are hatha practices that use pillows, saunas and now even partners. New hatha techniques continue to be perfected.

A lot of orthodox yoga practitioners recommend the more traditional and spiritual practices. You may look in the phone book for your local school, usually the first class is free so you can go and check them out to see if you like their style or if it suits your particular needs.

The next best method is to buy a Video or to go to a Bookstore or Library. A video is good because if you are really new and aren't familiar with Yoga then it would be a great way to see what it is all about. Many videos are well produced and the Yoga routines are very pleasing. Many advanced and intermediate Yoga practitioners also enjoy videos that offer new techniques or postures and definitely enhance motivation.

After watching a video you will get a better idea of Yoga and some of the techniques and can try them safely in your home. Then you can either follow the video's routine, or better yet come up with your own and practice for a while before going to an actual Yoga class or school. If either of these options is not available, then hopefully you can get a book from the local library or bookstore. These are also valuable sources of Yoga information because they tend to have many photos and detailed instructions.

Now some of you may be wondering if there is any special equipment or material that you need in order to begin. Well the answer is both yes and no! Traditionally, Yoga students just used a loin cloth! Then they also had a religious text that they would read as often as they could, it is known as the Bhagavad Gita. Some just call it the Gita. It is a very interesting religious book that ties in with Yoga. Although Yoga exercises and instructions are not in the book, other important lessons and parables are, if you get a chance you may want to read it and see the helpful hints and advice for yourself.

Nowadays there is a wide variety of special equipment, clothing and accessories to choose from. Although some may not be so traditional, they do enhance and can make yoga more fun or easier to practice. Many modern day practitioners find use a yoga mat. It is a foam rectangle that can be rolled up and rolled out onto the floor so you can do your stretches and exercises in comfort without getting dirty or scraped from the floor.

Then, the list goes on to pillows, special clothing and so on. Again if you find that these are helpful or beneficial than you should use them to help you further your practice and fun. Yoga is supposed to be fun and something that you look forward to doing!

Many people find that it is very relaxing and helps them to reduce stress and tension. They actually look forward to their yoga practice because it makes them feel so good. You can see the expression on people's faces after their yoga workout or routine. They are usually smiling, very happy and radiant. And for a good reason too! After a Yoga Session all of your internal organs have been stimulated and feel rejuvenated from the increased circulation, many tension blockages have been healed or have been removed.

Many muscles have been stretched which induces a feeling of well being and relaxation. Blood pressure is usually reduced and the body feels a sort of euphoria from the gentle exercises. The list of benefits continues! Also, if you attend a yoga class or school, you may find that other yoga practitioners are the most interesting people that you will ever meet! Many are very active, are artists and musicians or are just really interesting vibrant people. They are usually very interested in being fit and are concerned about staying taking good care of themselves. So Yoga can be a social activity as well. There have been cases where "soul mates" have met or marriages have developed as a result of going to a yoga class or school. This is not the purpose of attending, but it is an interesting result nonetheless.

Also a key aspect of Yoga is relaxation. This balances out the aerobic and physical aspects of Yoga. Yoga is about achieving balance in your life through exercise, diet, positive thinking and relaxation. Relaxation is so important, especially in modern times. To cope with the stress and tension, the body and mind need to relax.

In Yoga, meditation is a good way to relax. Again there are many techniques and styles. A good one for beginners is to sit in a cross-legged posture on the floor or on a chair, close the eyes, breathe normally and rhythmically, try to not think about anything and to try to relax completely. This is a very basic technique but it is a good one. There are better meditation exercises and even more complex ones that involve special breathing techniques and sitting postures. Again, a teacher, book or video would be most helpful for learning more. But we all know how good relaxing feels! So let's go out there and get started, there is no better time than now and you have already begun a healthful journey by finishing this article!

Finding an Athlete in a Surprising Place, the Mirror

My dad recently called me to wish me a happy birthday. When he asked what gifts I had received, I started to list them off: a free-standing punching bag from my husband; running shoes and marathon books from one friend; running socks, carbohydrate gels and tiger balm from another. My dad laughed and asked me, "What does that say about you?" Later that night I thought about the conversation with my dad. What did those gifts say about me? The answer made me laugh out loud in amazement. Those gifts say, "I am an athlete."
Two years ago, the word "athletic" would be the last word anyone would have used to describe me. The words obese and lazy would have been more appropriate. After a massive pregnancy-induced weight gain, I found myself tipping the scales at 245 pounds. Eventually, I got tired of being so miserable about my size and decided to do something about it. I knew that if I wanted to lose the weight, I would have to start exercising (along with improving my diet), but exercising was not something I enjoyed doing. In fact, I can say that I hated exercise.

My dislike for exercise dated back to grade school. I was never good at any of the sports we played in gym class. I was picked last for every team. When I was up at bat during baseball games, the outfielders would all take a few giant steps forward, expecting that I wouldn't be able to hit the ball very far (they were right). Soon, I learned a trick to get out of gym class. I would tell my teacher, a man in his mid 20s, that I had horrible menstrual cramps and couldn't play. He would get visibly uncomfortable and tell me to go sit down on the bench. It's funny that he never questioned the fact that I had my period for a good three weeks out of the month. I got through junior high school doing as little exercise as possible.

By the time high school rolled around, my period excuse didn't work anymore. I had one of those grumpy, drill sergeant types of coaches who didn't want to hear any of my sissy excuses as to why I couldn't play. So, I had no choice but to suffer daily humiliation. I was the only kid in class that couldn't run a mile under 12 minutes. I could never get up that darn rope we were supposed to climb. I can't tell you how many times I was hit in the face with basketballs, hockey pucks and even ping-pong balls, because I hadn't learned the art of getting out of the way of a moving object.

Sadly enough, I couldn't find even one sport at which I was halfway successful. I wasn't even able master square dancing! I would trip over my own feet. I managed to pass gym class with a very low C and was glad to be done with it. My high school experience cemented my hatred for exercise and my belief that I wasn't cut out to be an athlete. Besides being uncoordinated, my fear of looking stupid out-weighed any desire I had to try to excel at a sport. I figured I was a lost cause.

As the years went by, I managed to avoid exercise as much as possible. As my weight crept up during my first pregnancy, my obstetrician suggested that I start doing some light exercise. He must have seen the look of horror on my face because he never brought it up again.

After having my second baby, I was smacked in the face with a dose of reality. While going through the application process to get a new life insurance policy, I was given a higher rate because of my weight. That is when it really hit me that being overweight was more than just feeling bad about the way I looked; it would one day affect my health. The insurance company saw my weight as a risk. That scared me.

As much as I didn't want to admit it, I knew that I had to exercise to lose the weight. My very first attempt at exercise since my high school humiliation was step aerobics. I went out to my local Walmart and bought a video and a step. I thought it wouldn't be too hard; you step up and then you step down. I could handle that. As soon as I got home, I popped the tape into the VCR. I tried to keep up with the video, but ended up quitting in frustration. I had no idea what a V step was! I couldn't even step up on the thing without feeling like I was going to fall off, let alone do any fancy moves on it! Disappointed, I retreated my favorite spot on the couch with a bag of potato chips.

During one of my channel surfing sessions, I caught the end of a Tae-Bo infomercial. I thought the exercise, which combined Tae Kwon do, boxing and aerobics, looked like fun. I am still not sure why I did it, but I ordered the tapes. They arrived a few weeks later. I still remember the first time I nervously put the instructional tape into the VCR. I had already decided not to expect too much. After all, exercise wasn't my thing. I knew I probably wouldn't be any better at this than I was at step aerobics or baseball, or any of the other activities I had failed miserably at in my lifetime.

I was very surprised and proud when I made it through the whole tape. Tae-Bo was hard, but it was actually a lot of fun. That was the first time I enjoyed doing something that resulted in sweat. I wasn't very good at it, but I listened to Billy Blanks preach at me through my TV screen to work at my own pace. I kept at it, week after week, and found myself getting better with each session.

After two years of Tae-Bo, which resulted in a 95-pound weight loss, I have found the confidence to try other exercises. I have started running with the hopes of completing a marathon one day. I have joined a gym and started taking kickboxing classes and lifting weights. The changes in my body have been amazing, but the changes in my self-confidence and self-esteem have been even more incredible. I am no longer afraid of exercise. I am not afraid of looking stupid or tripping over my own two feet. I went from doing anything humanly possible to avoid exercise to actually loving it! I have discovered that exercise can be a lot of fun if you find an activity you like to do and have the patience to develop your skills.

There are so many things I want to try now that I never had the confidence to try before. A few of the things on my "to do" list include running a marathon, learning a martial art and taking up rock climbing. It took some time, but I found my inner athlete. The funny thing is that she was there all along; she just needed the courage to come out.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Nutrition and Estrogen Metabolism

Epidemiological and animal studies have identified estrogen exposure as a risk factor for cancer of breast, endometrium, ovary, testis, prostate and thyroid, increasing risk associated with increased exposure

Many nutritional factors influence how estrogens and other hormones act on the body tissues, how they are metabolized (broken down for excretion from the body), and how the metabolites (breakdown products) affect human health.

Dr. Douglas C. Hall, M.D., wrote an article in Applied Nutritional Science Reports, January 2001, entitled, "Nutritional Influences on Estrogen Metabolism," in which he documents many of these nutritional influences on the very complex interplay of hormones. He cites 81 references in this very thorough coverage of this topic, and I will attempt to summarize some of the most important areas. This paper focuses mainly on estrogens. However, this is not to say that other hormones like progesterone are not also important in modifying the results of estrogen effects on tissues.

It is well known that excessive estrogen exposure, both from inside and from outside the body, is one of the most prominent causes of breast cancer and many other health problems in men and women. Estrogens (estradiol, estrone and estriol) and their metabolites affect a variety of tissues throughout the body in both men and women, and not just in the reproductive organs.

The estrogens are changed in molecular structure in the liver so they can be excreted through the bile, feces and urine. Dr. Hall details the numerous metabolic pathways of estrogens that result in a variety of end products. Each one of these metabolites of estrogens has a different biological effect on the body tissues, some beneficial and some not so beneficial.

In Phase I detoxification, estrone and estradiol can be transformed into 2-hydroxyestrone (2- OH), a safer metabolite with weaker estrogenic activity, or into 16 alpha hydroxyestrone (16 alpha-OH) and 4 hydroxy estrone (4-OH), both of which promote tissue proliferation, breast cancer and estrogen dominance (imbalance with other hormones).

Phase II detoxification further modifies estrogen metabolites. The 2-OH and 4-OH metabolites could be oxidized into quinines, which can cause DNA damage and cancer, were it not for a methylation process that renders the (4-OH) less harmful and makes the (2OH), now 2 methoxyestrone, actually an inhibitor of breast cancer.

Vitamins A, E and C, N-acetylcysteine, turmeric, green tea, lycopene, alpha lipic acid and flavonoids reduce the oxidation of the estrogen metabolites. Folic acid, Vitamins B2, B6 and B12, and magnesium promote the methylation reactions. The overall detoxification of estrogens in Phase I and Phase II is promoted by turmeric and the aforementioned B-vitamins, flavonoids and magnesium, and D-limonene, the oil in citrus fruits.

The other important Phase II reaction is glucuronidation, where glucuronic acid is conjugated, (attached) to the estrogen molecule to help it to pass through the bile and out the intestinal tract. However, an enzyme in the intestinal tract -- beta glucuronidase -- which is promoted by a high fat and meat diet, can split the glucuronic acid off the estrogen molecule and allow the estrogen to re-enter the circulation and further increase estrogen activity in the body. Things that inhibit beta glucuronidase are probiotics (acidophilus and bifidobacteria, found in yogurt and food supplements), high fiber, low fat foods and calcium d-glucarate.

What are the hazards of too much estrogen? One of the major areas of concern is that of carcinogenesis (promotion of cancer). Epidemiological and animal studies have identified estrogen exposure as a risk factor for cancer of breast, endometrium, ovary, testis, prostate and thyroid, increasing risk associated with increased exposure.

The 16 alpha-OH and the 4-OH metabolites are implicated in toxic effects on DNA and on altering gene expression toward proliferation of cells, while the 2-OH metabolite may inhibit cell proliferation and thus prevent cancer.

Dr. Hall cites a five-year prospective study (Epidemiology, 2000; 11 (6) 635-40) of 10,786 women, which found that a high 2-OH:16 alpha-OH ratio predicted 40 percent lower incidence of breast cancer. Two other studies also confirmed this relationship.

This 2-OH:16 alpha-OH ratio is decreased by pesticides, obesity and certain drugs (including Tagamet). This same ratio is increased by intake of cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, cauliflour, etc.), Indole-3 carbinols (found in the cruciferous vegetables), soy products, flax seeds and isoflavones from soy and kudzu.

Some sources of increased total estrogens are obesity, high insulin levels (Syndrome X), alcohol intake (even in moderation), oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy, hormones from meat and mild products from agriculturally added hormones. Environmental toxins can cause harm by mimicking estrogens. Some of these are in pesticides, herbicides, plastics and plasticizers, and solvents.

Isoflavones, fiber and the lignans in flaxseed can increase SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), thus decreasing the amount of unbound or free circulating estrogens.

The isoflavones and lignans and Indole-3 carbinols also modify estrogen receptor activity to decrease some of the harmful effects of the already present estrogens on the cells and tissues.

Low vitamin E levels are associated with elevated estrogen levels. Too low dietary protein can result in decreased Phase I detoxification of estrogens.

These are some of the nutritional factors that affect the metabolism of the estrogens, and there is much more yet to be discovered. It is important to pay attention to them because we may be able to affect hormone balance with beneficial results, without always having to supplement with hormones or hormone-blocking drugs.

The research supporting Dr. Hall's article is cited in 81 references, some of which include the New England Journal of Medicine; the Lancet; the Journal of Endocrinology; Epidemiology; British Journal of Cancer; Cancer Research; Nutrition and Cancer; Journal of the National Cancer Institute; Gynecology and Oncology; International Journal of Cancer; Biochemistry and Pharmacology; and Carcinogenesis.

Additives in Our Foods

Consumers are concerned with food safety issues and the use of food additives. However, consumers are also responsible for the increased use of these additives, as they look to manufacturers for convenient, fast and inexpensive meals.

In the United States, approximately 150 pounds of food additives are consumed annually. Most of these additives are familiar foods like sugar, salt and vegetable coloring.

What Is an Additive?
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) defines a food additive as any substance or mixture of substances other than the basic foodstuff, which is present in food as a result of any phase of production, processing, packaging or storage.

There are more than 2,800 FDA-approved food additives used for many purposes:

  • Sweeteners, salt and spices are used to improve flavor
  • Added vitamins improve nutritional value in foods such as refined breads and cereals
  • Preservatives help to increase shelf life and prevent spoilage
  • Emulsifiers, stabilizers and thickeners aid in manufacturing and final product performance
  • Artificial flavors and colors make the food aesthetically pleasing

Testing and Approval
Manufacturers are responsible for testing and proving their additive product is safe. Testing is usually done to determine if the additive has potential to cause cancer. Additives are tested on animals, typically rats or mice, and the results are the basis of FDA approval for safe human consumption. The FDA reviews the results and approves additives that meet their guidelines. As part of their guidelines, the FDA sets the maximum quantity of an additive that may be used in a food at one percent of the level at which test animals had no adverse effects. For example, if a test animal showed no adverse effects at 100 milligrams or less, then the maximum amount of the additive allowed in a food is one percent of that one milligram.

Consumer Beware
While most additives are safe, improve food quality and reduce risk of bacterial growth, others have been reported to cause allergic reactions, are potentially cancer causing or are otherwise questionable. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), these additives should be avoided: sodium nitrite, saccharin, caffeine, olestra, acesulfame K and artificial coloring. CSPI also cites sugar and salt as risky additives simply because we consume them in such large quantities.

Common Food Additives
The effect of additives on health is a growing concern for consumers. Many households rely on packaged foods such as cereals and breakfast bars, canned pastas and frozen foods. Take a look at some of the most common food additives.

The following table shows food additives in alphabetical order, their uses and any safety concerns.

Let's compare two similar products.

Frozen Cheese Ravioli With Sauce (Product A)
Cheese ravioli (extra fancy enriched durum flour (durum flour, niacin, ferrous sulfate, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), Ricotta cheese (whey, milk, cream, skim milk, vinegar, salt, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, guar gum), water, eggs, Romano cheese made from sheep's milk (cultured milk, salt, enzymes), salt, spices, parsley, BHT with citric acid added to protect flavor), tomato puree (water, tomato paste), water, tomatoes, onions, modified cornstarch, sugar, basil, salt, dehydrated garlic, flavoring (maltodextrin, yeast extract, cultured whey, flavor, and salt), spices, xanthum gum, potassium chloride, erythorbic acid

Frozen Cheese Ravioli With Sauce (Product B)
Low-fat Ricotta cheese, filtered water, organic tomatoes, organic whole wheat durum flour, organic semolina flour, onions, low-fat cottage cheese, canola oil, spices, olive oil, grade AA butter, parmesan cheese, sea salt, garlic, romano cheese, wheat gluten, honey

After reading the two lists of ingredients, which one generally seems more enticing? Probably Product B, since most of the listed ingredients are familiar foods. After all, a degree in biochemistry should not be a prerequisite for reading a nutrition label, right? In Product A, there is an ingredient named flavoring. Within the list of ingredients that comprise flavoring, there isflavor. What is flavor anyway?

BHT has questionable safety. It is probably a good idea to avoid this additive. Be aware that BHA is listed as a "Chemical(s) known to the State to cause cancer or reproductive toxicity," CAS #25013165, listed January 1, 1990. BHT is thought to have similar properties as BHA. Potassium chloride is questionable. In fact, an Australian allergy center has listed potassium chloride as a potentially harmful additive if consumed in large quantities.

The other ingredients in Product A appear to be safe. Consumers should be aware of questionable food additives and consider that there are better alternatives. The list of ingredients in Product B is proof that it is possible to make the same product without using BHT, flavor and potassium chloride. My taste-testing results were favorable. Product B was very flavorful even without the flavor additive.

Consumers can reduce the widespread use of harmful additives by supporting those companies willing to prepare foods without the additives. While these more natural foods are usually higher in price than heavily manufactured foods, the overall cost to our health outweighs the extra dollar you will pay for quality. Stay informed and read the labels.

Learn More About It
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
General Inquiries: 1-888-INFO-FDA
Food Safety Hotline: 1-800-332-4010
FDA'S food label info on Web:

Weight Loss Defining the “D” Word

It may come as a complete surprise to some people, but vegetarians and vegans do occasionally face their share of weight problems. Although not generally gaining weight to the level of obesity, there are health risks that come with most significant weight gains.

Contrary to popular belief, vegetarians and vegans find themselves needing to implement a regimented weight loss plan, however the word "diet" doesn't have to be a dirty word.

It is a present day myth that starches cause weight gain. In actuality, they fill the body with much-needed fiber, and far fewer calories than many other foods. Starches like white potatoes, squash, corn, and long grain brown rice all help to maintain a controlled level of insulin, and keep one feeling satisfied. This helps squelch the unhealthy habit of overeating. And since glucose is the body's primary fuel, starches provide most of the body's energy.

In the United States, the consumption of convenience foods has significantly contributed to the level of obesity. This increasing trend is due in part to the lifestyles most Americans choose. The "don't stop 'til you drop" motto has been adopted by so many families that it has become a rarity in this country to see a family sit down together and enjoy a home cooked evening meal. The family meal has been replaced by fast food, and fast food takes its toll on the body, as it is made primarily with extremely high levels of fat and sodium.

To lose weight, one must combine a sensible exercise plan, such as jogging, walking, or bicycling, with a variety of foods with low caloric concentration. In addition to the starches to curb hunger pangs, those vegetables with low concentration may be eaten without restraint. Vegetables in the green and yellow group tend to be the best choices for low caloric concentration. Carrots, wax beans, broccoli, asparagus, lettuce, zucchini and onions are all good healthy choices.

Taking a look at a weight loss plan also involves ensuring that the proper nutrients are included. Although weight loss is necessary in implementing a healthy lifestyle, to do so at the risk of losing out on nutritional value seems pointless-almost like trading one peril for another.

Ask any patron in an upscale restaurant what nutrition is, and the answers will surprise you. It will undoubtedly become obvious that many of them don't actually know how to define the term.

Our bodies need food. Without eating and drinking we will die. Nutrition is essentially how the body uses that food. And certain nutrients contribute to its healthful maintenance and function.

For example bodies lacking in calcium may suffer from lack of bone density. Their bones may become brittle and break easily. A lack of Vitamin C could result in bleeding gums.

There are two basic kinds of nutrients. Macronutrients include protein, carbohydrates, water and fat. Micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. The amount of each of these types of nutrients required on a daily basis varies drastically. Our bodies require far more macronutrients than micronutrients. Macronutrients are measured in grams, or converted to ounces, and micronutrients are measured in milligrams and micrograms. The RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for these two kinds of nutrients varies by gender, age and size.

Is it possible to lose weight successfully, and still nourish our bodies with both kinds of nutrients? It is. And it's a great deal simpler than you may think.

People eating vegetarian and vegan diets have already implemented the necessary dietary additions to supply their bodies with protein, fats and calcium. While conventional dieters tend to rely on meats, eggs and dairy products for these nutrients, vegetarians and vegans have acquired these nutrients from sources like beans, nuts and vegetables. And some of these sources, when not eaten in moderation, can in fact result in unwanted weight gain.

Calories can be the culprit when vegans and vegetarians find they have put on extra pounds. We need calories for energy and to live healthy lives, however there is a bit of a science to discerning how this is best accomplished. It is all too common to fail to match the number of calories taken in with the amount of energy expended. In simpler terms: move more or eat less!

The United States Department of Agriculture along with the United States Department of Health and Human Services has issued a list of suggestions for maintaining optimum health:

  1. Eat a Variety of Foods-It is simple to adhere to the suggested food pyramid of 6-11 servings of grains, 3-5 servings of vegetables, 2-4 servings of fruit, 2-3 servings of milk products, and 2-3 servings of meat per day. Vegetarian and vegan diets simply substitute soy products for the milk products, and rely on beans, legumes, and nuts to supply the protein in place of the meat.

  2. Note: This one is key for weight loss! Balance Your Intake of Food with Physical Activity to maintain or improve your body weight.

  3. Choose Plenty of Grains, Vegetables, and Fruits

  4. Choose Foods Low in Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol-30% is the recommended amount of fat intake-10% is the maximum for saturated fat.

  5. Choose a Diet Moderate in Sugars-especially added sugars like corn syrup and fructose.

  6. Choose a Diet Moderate in Salt and Sodium-although sodium is an essential nutrient, reducing its intake can help lower weight, because sodium attracts and retains water.

  7. Drink Alcoholic Beverages Moderately, or Not at All

Utilizing these guidelines is by far the simplest way to safely lose weight. As trite as it may sound, there have been no natural and healthful breakthroughs in diet and weight loss yielding better results.

The following hints may be beneficial to vegetarians and vegans in jumpstarting a weight loss routine:

  1. Limit the amount of vegetable oils in preparing food.

  2. Limit nuts and seeds, and rely more on beans and legumes for protein and dietary fiber.

  3. Drink lots of extra water.

  4. Stick to whole grains.

  5. Incorporate some form of exercise into every day.

Weight loss achieved in this fashion is the most highly recommended way to shed pounds. It also has the highest success rate of dieters who have maintained their weight loss goal for an extended period of time. It requires little more than common sense, moderation and movement. Introducing a gradual reduction of fats in addition to following this formula will yield an even greater weight loss in less time.

So rev up your energy with well-chosen calories that are packed full of vital nutrients to experience optimum health, and utilize a combination of these practical strategies to trim down and feel great.

* Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Fourth Edition (Washington D.C.: U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1995)

Obesity in young people: 'Mom, I Need To Lose Weight'

According to statistics, more than 60% of Americans are overweight!! Though this is staggering, sadly, a percentage are teenagers.

It's not a surprise with all of the delightful fast food favorites; pizza with friends, and other food-consuming activities. Certainly we know the other side of weight control - anorexia nervosa and bulimia. This is a very scary problem for any parent. So, how do you help your teenager lose weight and keep a good self-image?

Obesity in young people has lifelong side effects. For one, if your child carries most of his/her weight in the upper abdomen, there is a very good chance they will develop heart disease as adults; factoring that carrying around extra weight near the heart causes a strain to the heart. Also, diabetes, high cholesterol and other diet-oriented conditions may haunt your child into adult life.

As a teen, I was significantly overweight. At 5'1", I weighed 152 Lbs. My family doctor would make me feel bad about it, at times. I had a great deal of stress in my life at the time, and felt his comments were caustic, but cautious. He knew that I was headed for a difficult road, and tried to warn me before it became a problem. My weight wasn't always that important to me either. I didn't feel "huge" and I wore large clothes, so I was comfortable. I was not aware of my weight problem until one day when my mother was in the hospital having a minor procedure. I asked her how much she weighed when she was admitted, and she said 140 lbs. I now weighed 5 pounds more than my 47-year-old mother who had bore six children!! In addition, I was wearing a size 14 and in a D-cup bra. I have 5 sisters, and all of then weighed less than 115 pounds, so I knew this wasn't heredity's fault, either.

Naturally, I needed to accept the fact that I had a problem. So, at age 15, I went to my mother and said, "I need help to lose this weight". She took me to the doctor for a complete physical exam, blood work and a diet plan. I felt very afraid, as I stepped on the scale for my initial weigh in, and my weight had crawled up 5 more pounds than I thought it was. I was sure that if I didn't take control right away, I would become an obese adult, and subject myself to a lifetime of health problems.

The diet was very slow at first. I lost 2-3 pounds per month. The doctor wasn't thrilled either. I told him I was doing the best I could, and I think he finally realized it. I had a typical diet of the following: Breakfast: A bowl of high fiber cereal. Lunch: ½ of a sandwich and an apple. Snack: A cup of yogurt. Dinner: Meat and two vegetables. I started this plan in March 1980. I wasn't that great with it either. I felt sometimes like I had to eat candy with my friends to "fit in". The kids teased me about eating yogurt - (I went to Catholic School - sort of unbelievable, isn't it?). The kids also teased me about being fat, too, but I still had to continue.

The diet was progressing a little slowly, and then something wonderful happened. I transferred to the public high school that was very close to my home - 3 miles. I joined the after school aerobics program, and walked home from school each day. I also started riding my bike. Well, as you can imagine the weight started coming off a little faster. By graduation day in June 1983, I had gone from 152 pounds to 116 pounds!!!

It has been seventeen years, and I am pleased to say at age 35, I still weigh 116 pounds. I've fluctuated below this many times, but my body seems to like the 116 pounds! I do not even exercise as aggressively as I did before either!! I know it probably sounds like it took a long time for the weight to come off, but it was worth it. I never gained it back. Can we say this of the quickie diets we see today?

The best part of the diet experience was that I never developed an eating disorder or an unhealthy attitude about myself. For this, I credit my parents. My family NEVER commented on my weight. They knew I was having enough of a problem. My sisters were not allowed to tease me about my weight, which can also be a problem for teens. My weight loss was a regular part of my life for the next three years.

My mother had ways of showing her support, too: For Easter, we always got great big Easter baskets full of chocolate candy. I did get a little candy, but my mother also put make-up and gift items in my basket to make me feel good about myself. My family was so respectful and supportive, which is all I really ever needed to succeed as a child - and as an adult.

A doctor friend of mine recently told me his daughter was obese. I said, "Can you define your impression of obesity?" He said, "Yeah, she goes a good 30 pounds over normal. He continued, "Last weekend when I saw her (divorced parents), I told her she needed to stop eating so much and start losing that weight before it becomes a problem for her". Did I mention that he weighs well over 200 pounds, and is barely 5'4"? He also has flat feet because his arches have fallen from his own "belly"? Can you imagine? I don't even think he realized how ignorant he sounded, or how ironic that statement was coming from someone like him.

Some people think that telling a child to lose weight is not harmful. Maybe in some cases this is OK, but unfortunately, my doctor friend is not a good father, for a lot of different reasons. He doesn't spend a lot of time with her, and when he does, he crabs about her weight! This poor child will grow up thinking that he divorced her mother because she was fat!!

If your child has come to you with the decision to lose weight, here are a few tips that can help you both:

  • DO try to find a diet that will allow your child to eat similarly to the other members of the family, so she doesn't feel like an odd ball!

  • DO encourage your child to look beneath the surface. Remind her of the positive qualities she has. DON"T talk about her diet 24 hours per day. After all, this is a complete person dealing with friends, school and peer pressure.

  • DO splurge now and then with a personal gift item such as make-up or perfume. After all, dieting and good eating habits are for life. It will offer your child an opportunity to make the most of her good qualities, too.

  • DON'T let your child be exposed to people that you know are insensitive, or ignorant about weight loss and weight management - (i.e. Keep away from people like my doctor friend). I have heard comments from people outside my family that will last a lifetime. Unfortunately, if it is your mother-in-law who is insensitive, you could gently say something like, "Susan is trying to lose weight, but I would appreciate it if you didn't comment to her". This may get them thinking in a positive direction, too.

Finally, I want to say good luck to you terrific parents who will be embarking on this journey with your child. You will be the one who has the greatest affect on your child's self image. This is your best chance to make your child feel good and positive about all of the many wonderful things they are.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Weight loss: Learn How to Divide Your Plate

When you sit down to eat, how do you decide what will fill your plate? Use this Divide Your Plate technique, along with the Daily Balance worksheet, to track the foods you eat and work towards a more balanced diet.

How it works
During each meal or snack visualize your plate divided into 4 equal sections, like large slices of pie. Each section represents one of these food categories:
  • Lean, low-fat protein and dairy
  • Whole-grain, high-fiber foods
  • High-fiber fruits and vegetables
  • High-calorie foods (fats, condiments, pastry, etc.)

Your goals
At meals serve yourself so that you have equal amounts of foods from each category.

For snacks serve yourself only foods from thr first three categories.

The keys to lose weight
Eat sparingly from the fourth category - high-calorie foods.

And, be mindful of your quantities. The food in each section of your plate should be no more than 1 inch high, except for fruits and vegetables. These can be piled as high as you choose.

Track your Daily Balance
Use the Daily Balance worksheet to chart how your food choices balance your plate. Periodically review your entries to provide insight into your eating habits. Each time you eat, you should take notice of several factors: time, length, hunger, foods/beverages and amount, portions, activities, thoughts and feelings.

You can download and print the Daily Balance worksheet to help you chart your day's eating.

Remember: Record everything you eat and drink throughout your day on the worksheet. Do not wait until the end of the day to record your eating for the day. If you write it down as you go, you are more likely to be accurate and accountable to yourself for your eating.

Set your goals
After you have tracked your eating for a few days to a week, patterns will begin to emerge. Then you can start setting small goals that address habits you want to change.

That's it. Simple.

By noticing and tracking how you divide your plate, and following the two keys - eat high-calorie foods sparingly, and, watch your quantities of other foods - you will move toward your weight loss goal.

Q & A: Fasting When Starting to Lose Weight

Q. Will not eating for a few days help me get a quick start on losing weight?

A. Fasting will actually have the opposite effect on your body. While the scale may show a downward shift after a few days of starving yourself, most of what you have lost is probably water weight, which is quickly regained when you begin to eat. Furthermore, when you deprive your body of food and fluid, your metabolism slows down to preserve energy, making it harder to lose weight. To top it off, the natural response to a few days of fasting is a BINGE.

If you really want to get a quick start, use those few days to lay the groundwork for changing your eating habits. Try reducing portions by a third, eat mini-meals every four to five hours, substitute fruit for snacks, eat lean protein sources and switch to nonfat or lowfat dairy foods.

At the same time, begin writing down everything you eat. You will tend to eat less, and you will also begin to understand your eating habits and patterns.

Q & A: Is the Low Carbohydrate - High Protein Diet Safe?

Q. Is the low carbohydrate-high protein diet safe? It seems to work wonders for lots of celebrities, but they always have trainers watching over them. Would it work for me?

A. The popular low-carb, high protein diets work because they decrease the amount of calories you eat, but that doesn’t make them healthy! These diets are dangerously high in fat and saturated fat, which are associated with increased risk of heart disease and possibly cancer. At the same time, they eliminate high fiber foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains, which are known to promote overall health and even guard against some diseases.

The high protein, low carb regimen puts the body in a state of ketosis, a condition in which you burn body protein and fat and experienced reduced appetite. This might sound good, but it’s a very unhealthy state to be in! Ketosis causes significant stress on the kidneys, bones, and cardiovascular system, not to mention very bad breath!

High protein diets have been around for nearly 30 years and still are only a short term solution to what needs to be a lifelong effort.

Weight loss: Tips for the Maintenance Stage

The new habits are working for you, but they are not yet second-nature. Maintenance is a critical stage in making new lifestyle choices stick. Give this stage just as much attention as the previous three.

  • You deserve a reward! Not just for maintaining weight but for maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Each day you practice healthier habits, put some money in a jar. Save up for something special – a new outfit, a massage, a concert or play, or even a vacation.

  • Small changes count. Take body measurements so that you can track more than the number on the scale. This is especially important if you are strength-training as well as eating right. Your body’s muscle-to-fat proportions will change even when the numbers on the scale don’t.

  • Work with your body. A plateau is an opportunity to thank your body for all its hard work. Let your body take a little vacation now and then, and it will be ready to work hard once more.

  • How bad could it be? Write down the worst-case scenario when you face a difficult situation. By writing it down, you acknowledge the situation and become aware of what is really happening. Then strategize on getting past the difficulty.

  • You get to be human – and that means mistakes. You are adopting a healthy lifestyle, not becoming an ascetic. Accept that you will make mistakes, indulge occasionally and make poor choices at times. Remember: It takes 3500 calories to create one pound of fat. Even if you blow it, you are not likely to consume that many extra calories. You are not destroying your entire healthy lifestyle. Next meal, you can get back on track.

  • Wait – then eat. Urges are temporary, and if you delay they will pass. Try waiting 15 minutes and then see if you still want to eat. Before you eat, take a moment to ask yourself how much you really want the food. Finally, give yourself permission to eat. You are not being “bad” by feeding your body.

  • Shop smart. Shop for foods you want to take center stage in your healthy eating habits. Read labels to learn about portion size, calories and fat content. Look for low calorie, high fiber, high fluid foods like fruits and vegetables, lean meats, soluble oatmeal, nonfat or low fat yogurt, all of which are known to fill you up and satisfy you longer than other foods. If the options in your cupboard and refrigerator are healthy, your eating will be too.

Q & A: How come I have lost weight for the last 5 weeks and now I’ve stopped?

Q. How come I have lost weight for the last 5 weeks and now I’ve stopped? I haven’t changed what I’m doing.

A. You’ve hit a plateau. A plateau is the normal way your body responds to weight loss. It’s like taking a vacation to help us deal more effectively with a hectic, stressful schedule. After a vacation of rest and relaxation, we feel ready to take on additional work or tasks. Our bodies also need time to rest and stabilize, especially during periods of change.

Stay focused on doing what you have been doing. Take the time to review your eating and exercise: Are you still careful about your portions? Do you continue to eat every three to five hours? Are you still exercising regularly?

You might also try varying your diet or exercise program. Sometimes this kind of change will jump-start you again after hitting a plateau.

Q & A: I have only 10 pounds I want to lose

Q. I have only 10 pounds that I know I want to lose but I just can't seem to get started. Any ideas for getting motivated quickly?

A. Make a list of the benefits versus the costs of losing these 10 pounds. Look at your lists very carefully. Do the benefits really outweigh the costs? If so, keep the list of benefits handy so that you can refer to it for ongoing motivation. Then determine a realistic plan and set up weekly menu goals. When you accomplish these goals, reward yourself in non-food ways: Try a pedicure, massage, or even a day at the spa.

Q. I only want to lose 10 pounds. What's the best way to do it?

A. Create a plan that fits your lifestyle and doesn’t demand dramatic changes in the types of food that you enjoy. Consider modifying slightly your current eating for a gradual lifestyle change and weight loss – about 1 to 1.5 pounds weekly. Though the changes occur slowly, notice over the weeks how clothes begin to feel looser. At the same time, add more natural movement to your day.

Q & A: Is remaining overweight healthier than yo-yo dieting?

Q. Is remaining overweight healthier than yo-yo dieting?

A. A number of studies have suggested that weight cycling (and weight loss) may be associated with an increase in mortality. Unfortunately, these studies were not designed to answer the question of how intentional weight loss by an obese person affects health. Most of the studies did not distinguish between those who lost and regained weight through dieting from those whose change in weight may have been due to other reasons, such as unsuspected illness or stress. In addition, most of the people followed in these studies were not obese. In fact, some evidence shows that if weight cycling does have any negative effects on health, they are seen mostly in people of low or normal weight. Some studies have looked at the relationship between weight cycling and risk factors for illness, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, or high blood sugar. Most of these studies have not found an association between weight cycling and harmful changes in risk factors.

Further research on the effects of weight cycling is needed. In the meantime, if you are obese, don’t let fear of weight cycling stop you from achieving a modest weight loss. Although health problems associated with weight cycling have not been proven, the health-related problems of obesity are well known.

If you are not obese and have no risk factors for obesity-related illness, focus on preventing further weight gain by increasing your exercise and eating healthy foods, rather than trying to lose weight. If you do need to lose weight, you should be ready to commit to lifelong changes in your eating behaviors, diet, and physical activity.

Q & A: Losing Weight and Heredity

Q. Could it just be heredity? I have had trouble losing weight for a long time. The only thing that ever worked for me was Acai Berry. I took it for two months and lost 30 pounds before I developed an allergy to one of the ingredients. For the next six months, I still watched what I ate. I also walked four to five times each week, going approximately two to three miles a time. But that whole time, I didn't drop another pound. My body stayed exactly the same size, even with all the exercise and careful eating. I've tried other diets and other supplements like Ephedra Hoodia. I've even had my thyroid checked. I’m just stumped as to why I don't lose weight. In fact, I've given up trying because it's just too frustrating to work at it and never get results. My body type is prevalent in my father’s family. One of my nieces (who is now only 21) also seems to be stuck with this body size. She's also tried many things to lose weight and nothing seems to work for her either. Should I just come to terms with my body size?

A. Yes and no. Heredity does influence our body shape, but it is not the sole determinant. All successful weight management efforts are based on simple arithmetic: take in fewer calories than you burn for weight loss to occur. That said, it’s clear that some people are better burners than others!

Beyond the simple arithmetic, there are other things that can effect your weight management efforts.

  • Duration, frequency and intensity of exercise: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends thirty minutes or more of aerobic exercise five days of the week PLUS strengthening exercises three to four times weekly. You are already doing the aerobic exercise; consider adding some strength training to build muscle. Muscle not only takes up less room than fat; it also burns more calories than fat even when you are resting. By building muscle, you are stoking your body’s furnace.

  • Type of calories consumed: The type of calorie may have an impact on how you produce or store energy from foods. If you have an apple-shaped body (where your waist is the same size or larger than your hips), you may also have a tendency towards slightly increased blood sugar levels. If this is the case, you may want to get tested for insulin resistance. Insulin from our pancreas helps control our blood sugar levels after meals and throughout the day. If an individual is insulin-resistant, her insulin levels are higher and may promote fat storage. You can try reducing your carbohydrates (forty to fifty percent of total calorie intake) and emphasize complex or high fiber sources that may be easier for their insulin to handle.

  • Take body measurements: Use your measurements to help you track changes in your body that the scale may not be reflecting. Focus on inches lost rather than that number on the scale; this is more indicative of fat loss and your firming up

Weight loss: Tips for the Contemplation Stage

At this stage, you are gaining awareness of the links between your habits and your weight.

  • The closer to the earth you eat, the healthier you will be. The more food is processed, the unhealthier it is.

  • Eat fruit instead of drinking it.

  • Aim for rich colors of fruits, vegetables and grains at each meal.

  • Wake up your body by eating something after rising (try fruit, whole grain bread, half a sandwich, a cup of nonfat yogurt).

  • Small lifestyle changes can dramatically improve health. If you cut out 1 pat of butter or margarine each day you will automatically lose 6 pounds in a year. Climb 1 extra flight of stairs each day and you will lose 16 pounds in a year. Omitting one can of regular soda each day will also amount to an annual 16-pound weight loss.

  • Put all your meals on a plate before eating. This will help you become mindful of when and what you are eating.

  • Try to sit while you are eating and focus on the meal. Don’t engage in other activities at the same time. This will slow down your eating.

  • If you go out for a meal, ask when ordering that half the meal be boxed up to go.

Weight loss: Tips for the Preparation Stage

You are ready to begin to change your habits in earnest. These tips can put you on the road to action.

  • Check with your physician before beginning any weight management plan to be sure the plan and your weight goals are appropriate and healthy for you.

  • Write yourself a letter, describing your commitment to changing your lifestyle, the specific steps you will take to make changes (i.e., finding a workout partner, joining a gym, finding and using low-fat recipes), and the date you will begin. Write down the top five reasons you want to make these changes. Keep the letter where you will see it often.

  • Pick a tool to chart your progress and use it on a regular basis.

  • Tell someone you trust about the commitment you have made to changing your lifestyle. Ask for that person’s support and encouragement.

  • Expect that you will make mistakes. Learn from them, and move on. One mistake is not going to hijack your entire effort.

  • Try on a favorite outfit that is slightly snug. Write down how it fits. Try it on again every few weeks and note changes in fit.

  • Try not to be enslaved by the scale! Instead, take body measurements every two weeks and chart your progress that way.

  • If you must use a scale, get on it weekly – no more. Daily fluctuations in fluid balance play with the numbers on the scale, and disappointing readings can throw off your motivation.

  • Keep your focus on health, not on a fantasy of excessive thinness. Reducing your weight by 10 percent can significantly improve your overall health.

  • Keep a record of what you eat.

  • Determine the amount of calories you need to make changes in your weight. A healthy rate of weight loss is 1 to 1½ pounds per week. Remember to account for extra calories burned through exercise too.

Weight loss: Tips for the Action Stage

You’ve committed to change, you’ve launched the new program… now what? Use these practical tips to keep you on track:

  • Since you’re now eating all your meals off a plate, make the plate work for you. Divide it into four sections. One section contains higher calorie items, such as sauces, dressings, butter, etc. The other three sections should all be low-fat, healthy selections like vegetables, lean meats and fruit.

  • Buy snacks in individually wrapped portions to prevent you from taking a bit more than a portion at a time. Alternatively, if you have time, you can buy in bulk and prepare servings ahead of time.

  • Fresh tastes best but isn’t always practical. Opt for fresh fruits and vegetables when you can, but frozen and canned goods will do – especially when you need something portable.

  • Whenever possible, choose and purchase low-fat alternatives. Just don’t go overboard – low-fat doesn’t mean calorie-free!

  • Avoid foods that rely on fat for their base (pasta salad, casserole, creamy soups).

  • Request all dressings and sauces on the side when you eat out. Then put 1/3 of the serving on your food. You can always add more!

  • When you cook foods in oil – think Mexican, Italian or Chinese – use only half the oil the recipe calls for.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Weight Management: Give Yourself the Right Message

Boosting your body image begins not in the gym but in your head.

"The attitude we start with is extremely important for our day-to-day sanity and how we feel about our bodies and ourselves," says Lauve Metcalfe, M.S., a lecturer and body-image researcher at the University of Arizona College of Medicine. "So if your attitude is, 'Look at all the things I need to fix,' you need to switch that around."

Where to start
A good place to start is by examining the messages you give yourself every day. Engaging in negative self-talk is self-defeating and gives others permission to put you down, Metcalfe says. Replacing negative messages with positive ones helps you appreciate all your desirable traits. "We're all multidimensional," she points out. "When I feel better about myself, then outwardly my interpretation of beauty is different, too."

Positive self-talk also creates the psychic energy and motivation you need to make your body the best it can be.

9 Common Examples
Below are nine common negative self-talk phrases followed by ways to give them a more positive spin. The suggestions were gleaned from interviews with Metcalfe and with J. Kevin Thompson, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and author of "Exacting Beauty: Theory, Assessment, and Treatment of Body Image Disturbance" (American Psychological Association, 1999).
    NEGATIVE: I'm so fat.
    POSITIVE: There are many things I like about my body. I've got great shoulders, legs, and calves. I have beautiful skin and eyes. There are still some chunks of fat that bother me, but I'm working on that.

    NEGATIVE: I hate how I look.
    POSITIVE: My beauty radiates from within. I have a helping spirit that makes me extremely attractive to others. I have wonderful friends who love my vivaciousness. Beauty is defined by so much more than my dress size.

    NEGATIVE: I'm so ugly.
    POSITIVE: I may not look like a model, but that doesn't mean I'm ugly. I have positive features, also. Do I rate other people using the two extreme categories of ugly or beautiful? Perhaps they don't rate me using them, either.

    NEGATIVE: The first thing other people notice about me are my huge thighs (or other body part you are dissatisfied with).
    POSITIVE: It's a bit unreasonable to think that I can read other people's minds. Perhaps they notice my thin waist, my rosy complexion, or my great hairstyle. I don't always notice another person's faults, why should I assume they notice mine?

    NEGATIVE: I hate how I look in this outfit.
    POSITIVE: This outfit doesn't flatter my positive features. I'll find one that does.

    NEGATIVE: I can't seem to lose any weight. I might as well give up.
    POSITIVE: My current weight-loss strategy is not working. I'll learn how to make it more effective.

    NEGATIVE: I wish I looked more like my skinny sister.
    POSITIVE: There is always someone who will be more attractive. If I must compare myself to others, I'll choose a range of people -- not just the best-looking ones.

    NEGATIVE: I have absolutely no willpower when it comes to food.
    POSITIVE: Food is not the enemy. All I need to do is eat when I'm physiologically hungry and stop eating when I'm full. Bingeing when I'm anxious, lonely, bored, or depressed is no longer part of my lifestyle.

    NEGATIVE: I hate to exercise.
    POSITIVE: I will find a physical fitness program I really like. As my body gets stronger, exercise will become easier and more enjoyable. I will even look forward to my workouts.

Positive self-talk may seem strange at first if you are used to putting yourself down. With practice, positive self-talk will become second nature.

According to Thompson, your current body image may have very little to do with your actual level of attractiveness, anyway. "Although commonly thought of as overlapping substantially, in fact one's (body image) is only minimally correlated with actual ratings of attractiveness," Thompson writes in Mesomorphosis, an online bodybuilding journal. "The overlap is an astonishingly low 5%."

Weight Management: Look What You Can Do At Lunch

Go With the Grain
Use whole-grain breads for sandwiches. These breads supply more fiber than white bread and are therefore more satisfying.

Break Tradition Again
If you had that turkey sandwich for breakfast, have a bowl of cereal for lunch (or dinner, for that matter). Use low-fat soy milk or fat-free or 1% milk.

When eating at a sub shop, be particular about what goes in your torpedo roll. Tuna salad is laden with fatty mayonnaise so don't allow any extra mayo to be spread on your roll. Ask for one scoop of tuna on the sandwich instead of two. Get additional lettuce and tomato instead of cheese on your sub. Turkey is the lowest-fat cold-cut you can select. Ask for mustard, ketchup, or vinegar instead of oil or mayo.

Frozen Meals
If you tend to eat large servings, consider eating a frozen entrée, whose portions are controlled. Certain brands, such as Weight Watchers Smart Ones, are relatively low in fat, sodium, and calories and offer a wide selection. Frozen meals are a sensible choice only if you enjoy how they taste. If they seem too bland, you can pep up their flavor by adding spices or hot sauce.

Sneaky Salads
If there is enough cheese, meat, and fat-laden dressing on your chef's salad, you might as well have a burger and fries for lunch. It is best to make your own salad at home or from a salad bar. This way you can throw in some extra carrots and tomatoes instead of cheese and bacon bits. If you are ordering a salad at a restaurant, ask for low-fat or fat-free dressing or vinegar on the side so you can decide how much to use.

Weight Management: Great Dinner Rule-Busters

When Butter is Better
If you have dutifully avoided butter all day, don't deprive yourself at dinner. Just be stingier with the spread. A teaspoon of butter or margarine contains 4.1 grams of fat and 35 calories compared with a tablespoon, which contains 12.3 grams of fat and 108 calories.

Pick Poaching
Poaching--simmering your chicken or fish in wine, orange juice, or another flavorful liquid--is a delicious way to cut fat from the evening meal. You can poach in the oven or on the stove.

Go Grilling
Grilling is another low-fat cooking method because the fat is allowed to drip away as the meat cooks. Spice rubs and low-fat or fat-free marinades greatly enhance the flavor of grilled food. Be sure to use a meat thermometer so you don't undercook or overcook. Grilling is traditionally a summertime activity. However, unless it is snowing or raining, there is no reason you can't use your barbecue year round. Indoor grills offer even more flexibility.

Proper Portions
Think of your dinner plate as a pie. Allocate no more than 1/4 of your plate for the meat portion of your meal, 1/4 for grains, such as pasta, rice, whole-wheat cousous, or bulgar wheat; and 1/4 for your vegetable. If you missed having vegetables earlier in the day, you can make up for it by having 1 1/2 cups of chopped fresh or cooked vegetables or three cups of raw, leafy greens at dinnertime.

Fruity Dinners
Include fruit at dinner by marinating your meat in a fresh fruit sauce, adding chopped fruit as a salsa on top of meat, fish, or chicken; or having a piece of fruit or fruit salad for dessert.

Concerning Condiments
If all you have is salt, pepper, and garlic powder in your kitchen, buy one new herb or spice every week for a few months and experiment with the new flavors. A drawback of a low-fat diet is that it often sacrifices flavor. You can replace that lost flavor with spices and herbs, which add no fat or calories to your dish.

How Do I Maintain My Weight Now? Personal Saga Continued

While not as difficult as losing weight, maintenance requires diligence. Here is what works for me now:

The Scale and Food Journaling
I weigh myself almost every morning. When I'm up a pound or more, I start writing down everything I eat. Almost magically, I'm back down to where I want to be in a day or two. Another trick is eating cereal for dinner that evening. Usually it takes two bowls of a sweet but high-fiber cereal with skim milk to satisfy me, but even that amounts to way fewer calories than a typical dinner.

Eating Out
I try not to eat out more than two or three times a month. I have much more control over my fat and calorie intake when I prepare my own meals. I'm also vulnerable to delectably descriptive menus and sumptuous smells. I stopped my practice of buying a dozen bagels every weekend. When I started Weight Watchers, I was mortified to learn that a single bagel packed a whopping 6 points--before the cream cheese. At first, I missed bagels terribly; after a month or so, I practically forgot they existed. Now, when bagels are served, I don't try to resist them; but I take only half with a thin veneer of light cream cheese.

I drink only diet soda and other zero-calorie beverages. The milk I drink is fat-free. I drink 3 to 4 bottles of water every day. I take water with me wherever I go. Drinking lots of water reduces the amount of fluid the body retains. So I never feel bloated (although I use the bathroom with greater frequency).

The Hunger Quotient
I analyzed my hunger quotient and determined that my appetite is greatest in the evening. Instead of fighting this reality, I opted to limit my food intake during the day when I'm least hungry, but I never skip meals. Skipping meals, or having a Slim Fast shake for lunch, makes me ravenous by 3 p.m. and likely to binge.

I try to eat smart at every meal. For breakfast, I usually have a bowl of oatmeal or oat bran; or a high-fiber cold cereal, such as Kashi Good Friends, Special K, or Fiber One (with strawberries or banana slices, sometimes) with fat-free milk, a small glass of orange juice, and coffee (no sugar) with light or fat-free cream. Lunch generally consists of sushi (a very low-point food), or a big salad with low-fat dressing (I can't stomach the fat-free dressings); or a Weight Watchers Smart One frozen meal. Sometimes I'll have a grilled cheese with a couple of slices of 2% American cheese on light wheat bread--only 4 points. Dinner is usually pasta with low-fat sauce, or skinless chicken, or broiled or poached fish, with rice or potatoes, and a salad or steamed vegetables (no butter). Sometimes I make a crock pot of vegetarian chili (I found a great recipe in the American Heart Association cookbook).

Portion Control and Servings
I gave up second helpings. I realized that if I waited 5 minutes after eating my first helping at dinner, I wasn't hungry any more. I serve bread with dinner about once a week instead of every night, like I used to. I limit myself to one indulgence a day, such as my precious piece of Godiva chocolate or 20 Jelly-Belly jellybeans (yes, I count them).

Fruits and Vegetables
I keep my refrigerator stocked with fresh fruit, baby carrots and other ready-to-eat vegetables. I often grab a piece of fruit or a handful of carrots whenever I leave the house. I also eat fruit between meals to stave off hunger.

I discovered two low-fat, low calorie items that really fill me up: light yogurt (sweetened with aspartame), and soup. I go for vegetable or lentil soups and steer clear of cream soups. When I feel like pigging out at night, I eat a bag of microwave popcorn--the highest fiber, lowest-fat brand I can find.

Now that I'm no longer trying to lose weight, I let myself eat whatever I want at weddings, bar mitzvahs, Thanksgiving, and other special occasions without feeling guilty. Since I'm working out every day, an occasional foray into overeating really makes very little difference on the scale, I have found.

Exercise is Sacred
I no longer treat exercise as an option to be exercised when my schedule permits. Exercise time is sacred time, as important as spending time with my family and earning a living. My husband has come to feel the same way. We enthusiastically coordinate our schedules to enable each other to work out daily. Each workout spans 45 to 60 minutes. That may seem like a lot, but it amounts to a small percentage of my total waking hours.

I take an aerobics class or engage in some other form of aerobic activity after dropping my son at preschool. I add 15 to 20 minutes of strength training two or three times a week. Working from home affords me this flexibility. If I had a full-time job, I would probably work out at lunch and eat at my desk, wake up an hour early to exercise, or stop at the gym on the way home from work.

Add Variety to Workouts
I vary my workouts. Usually I aerobic dance or do step aerobics, but sometimes I'll use aerobic equipment at my gym, such as the cross-trainer or stationary bike. If I can't get to the gym because my son or daughter is sick, I'll jog around my development for 40 minutes after supper, if possible. On nice days, I may bicycle a 60-minute loop amid farmland near my home instead of going to the gym. During the summer, I swim laps. I also belong to tennis and racquetball leagues. Since I strive to exercise every day, missing a workout here or there is no big deal.

During my workout sessions, I put my body on automatic pilot and read, sing, or just let my mind wander. This way I'm not focused on how much sweat is pouring off my brow.
I work out in the morning so there is less time to find excuses not to exercise. On weekends, I try to work out a little longer, but I still do it in the morning.

A Second Workout
I grab every opportunity for a second workout. For example, I might walk the mile to my daughter's school to pick her up when the weather permits. If I have a tennis match in the afternoon, I don't let that preclude my normal morning workout. If I have enough energy at night, I'll do sit-ups or pump 10-pound dumbbells while watching television.

When I was fat, I used to jealously glare at svelte people jogging or biking through my neighborhood. "Sure, it's the thin ones who don't even need to exercise who exercise," I would think.

I now realize how naïve I was. Most people are svelte because they exercise, not in spite of it. I'm proud to be one of them.

-- Robin

Weight Management: Be Active Without Exercise

Try any of these easy-to-do ideas for getting a little more activity - and therefore, fitness - into your day...

Step Out. Take the stairs instead of the elevator.

Out to Lunch. Take a brisk walk on your lunch break.

Person to Person. Walk down the hall to talk with coworkers instead of phoning.

The Old-Fashioned Way. Open the garage door, rake leaves, and shovel snow by hand.

Bus Stop. Hop off the bus a few blocks early and walk the rest of the way.

Outer Space. Park at the far end of the lot, instead of fighting for the spot near the door.

Clean House! Vacuuming, scrubbing, sweeping, and mopping add up to quite a workout.

Double Duty. Ride a stationary bike, use a stair climber, jump rope, or jog in place while you watch TV. Hide the remote, too.

Kid Around. Play catch, frisbee, touch football, or tag with neighborhood children.

Game Plan. Play miniature golf or go bowling instead of the usual movie.

House Beautiful. Mow the lawn, weed the garden, chop firewood, or sweep the front walk.

Aerobic Shopping. Take a few turns around the shopping center. Join a mall walking club.

Rough It at Tee Time. Skip the golf cart or caddie. You’ll score a great workout by carrying your clubs.

Cut the Rug. Turn on your favorite tune and dance around the living room.

Walkie-Talkie. Get a long phone cord so you can pace while catching up on the latest news.

New Horizons. Get outside and try something new — cross-country or downhill skiing, ice skating, roller blading, or hiking.

Special Events. Join a community Bike- or Walk-a-thon to raise money for charity while meeting your fitness goals.

The Buddy System. Walk with a friend or neighbor. Bonus: You’ll keep each other motivated.

What Makes a Weight Management Plan a Good One?

Although nearly all diet approaches may help you lose weight, they’re not all good diets. A good diet not only helps you lose weight, it helps you do so nutritionally, safely, and effectively—giving you all the tools needed to help keep lost pounds off! So, how do you know if the approach you’re using is a good or bad diet?

Whether you seek advice from a registered dietitian, join a program, or choose another diet option, there are ten key components of a good diet. Use—and re-use—this checklist to determine if the plan you’ve chosen is a good one:


1. SAFETY: The diet ensures that my nutritional and energy needs are met. It recommends seeking medical advice before beginning the diet.
2. DISCLOSURE: All potential health risks and possible costs associated with the diet are disclosed.
3. SCIENCE: It’s based on sound nutrition science, not just testimonials or one study. There are several studies or medical associations, such as The American Dietetic Association, that support the science behind the diet.
4. REALISTIC: The diet realistically fits my lifestyle, personal food preferences, and budget. It doesn’t require difficult-to-find foods or other dietary products. The diet can be modified, if necessary. Claims are realistic; they don’t sound too good to be true.
5. GOALS: The diet promotes a slow, steady rate of weight loss—no more than two pounds per week, unless your doctor advises differently. The weight loss goals are individualized, not “blanket” recommendations for anyone. The diet doesn’t promise a quick-fix.
6. MEDICAL: Experienced, credentialed medical professionals, including medical doctors (MD) or registered dietitians (RD), are directly affiliated with the diet. Regular medical monitoring by a physician is suggested when any products, such as dietary liquids, partially replace meals. Mandatory medical monitoring is provided when any products, such as very-low-calorie-diet liquids, replace all meals.
7. SUPPORT: Support is encouraged or provided. The program actively helps you understand and change your behaviors associated with any problematic eating habits.
8. BALANCE: The diet encompasses foods/nutrients from all food groups. The diet doesn’t include lists of “good” and “bad” foods. The diet relies on improvements in eating and exercise habits, not on a product, such as a pill, for weight loss.
9. EXERCISE: Regular physical activity is recommended most days of the week along with the diet.
10. FOLLOW-UP: The diet involves a plan for weight maintenance or follow-up to help you keep your weight off.

Whichever weight loss approach you choose, remember that the most important changes are long-term changes. A slow-rate of weight loss is best for losing fat and, especially, for keeping it off!

Weight Management: Measure Right!

Track changes in your body through accurate measurement techniques. If you’ve committed to a weight management program, it can be helpful to have a guide other than the bathroom scale to gauge your progress. Taking measurements with a tape measure and recording the results is an easy way to keep track of the changes in your body. Just be sure to be consistent in your measurements and follow these simple guidelines for best results.

It’s important to place the tape measure at the same place on your body each time you measure. Try to find “landmarks” on your body or clothes you can use as a guide. For instance, you might note a freckle or birthmark near your tape measure. Next time you measure, look for the same mark.

Hold the tape measure firmly but not too tight. You should always be able to fit an index finger between the tape and your body. It can be helpful to have a buddy help you do your measurements so that you can stand naturally and not contort yourself to see the numbers.

Measure around the fullest part of the bust or chest. Try not to hold your breath, and relax in your shoulders while measuring. If possible, take the measurement when your arms are relaxed at your sides (you’ll need a friend to help you do this).

Pull up your shirt – especially if you are wearing a heavy sweater or sweatshirt. Measure at your natural waist, which is approximately one inch above the navel. Stand straight and relax. It is important that you do not hold your breath or contract your abdominal muscles.

Stand with your feet together. Wrap the tape measure around your hips and pull it to your body. The tape should be positioned at the widest point of your hips, over the buttocks.

Stand with your feet apart. Wrap the tape measure around your thigh approximately three inches below your groin. Then move your feet together. Stand comfortably straight on both feet when you measure.

Take your measurements once a week and track your progress. Remember that muscle weighs more than fat but takes up less space. At the same time, building muscle does “bulk up” some areas of the body. You will notice both increases and decreases in various measurements over the course of your efforts.

Weight loss: What Do I Have to Do?

The simplest way to take off unwanted pounds is through basic arithmetic: take in fewer calories than you burn each day and the weight comes off.

However, weight loss isn’t always that simple. If “eat less, exercise more” doesn’t seem to be working for you, you may need to pay closer attention to the details of nutrition.

Metabolism is the rate at which nutrients are used by the body as energy. Think of your metabolism as your body’s furnace. The furnace needs fuel to produce heat, and the hotter it gets, the more fuel it uses. If you are taking in too few calories, your body’s metabolism slows down to conserve energy. Moving your body creates heat, which burns calories.

Stoke Your Furnace Every 4 Hours
When you wake up in the morning, your body is at its resting energy expenditure. To get the furnace going, you need to give it some fuel. That’s why eating breakfast is such an important part of a healthy diet.

The furnace also needs regular fueling all day long to keep burning at its optimum rate. Give your body quality energy to keep it going – healthy snacks and meals, with the occasional indulgence. Make a point of eating something every four hours to keep your metabolism humming. When you start to get that starved feeling, your metabolism is already slowing down to compensate for the lack of fuel.

Balance and Portions
Review the Food Guide Pyramid and see how your usual diet stacks up. Make sure you are eating enough of all the food groups. Nothing is forbidden on the food pyramid – but some foods must be eaten sparingly for best health. Too much sugar and fat contribute to the body’s fat storage, so keep an eye on where these high-risk foods are entering your diet.

At the same time, watch your portion sizes at all meals and snacks. We tend to “supersize” everything, but it’s not difficult to reduce all portions by one-quarter to one-third without feeling deprived. On packaged foods, pay attention to the serving size listed on the label and try to stick with a single serving. If you eat out, split a meal with a friend, have half the meal boxed up, or order sauces and dressings on the side so that you can control the amount of fat on your plate.

Exercise and Monitoring
You didn’t think you were going to get through this without exercising, did you? Cardiovascular exercise burns stored fat, especially when you work in your optimum heart rate zone.

Don’t neglect strength-training, which is critical for maintaining healthy bone density and builds muscle. Strength-training also boosts your metabolism, helping your body burn more calories even when it’s at rest.

Stretch your whole body every day to keep your muscles flexible and stimulated. (This is a great way to take a break in the middle of the afternoon!)

As you build muscle, don’t forget that muscle weighs more than fat. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see much change in the numbers on the scale. How do your clothes fit? How strong do you feel? It can help to have a body fat analysis done quarterly to track the changes in your body fat percentages.

You already know all the benefits of exercise, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat them: In addition to helping you manage your weight, exercise can help manage other health conditions, stress and your overall mood.Some things don’t change. You still need to take in fewer calories than you burn to lose weight. To lose a single pound of fat, you need to burn 3500 calories. It's that simple!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Weight loss: Rewarding Yourself Wisely

Back in the days when you weren't watching your waistline, you may have indulged in your favorite food as a reward for a job well done. Today, however, celebrating your accomplishments with an ice-cream sundae, Godiva chocolates, or a big plate of nachos is antithetical to your weight-loss quest. Yet, rewarding yourself for reaching a milestone on or off the scale remains a great motivational tool.

The challenge is finding some non-food rewards that make you feel good about your achievement as well as your body. Non-food rewards can be tangible or intangible, and there are scores of creative possibilities to choose from.

Tammy Baker, M.S., R.D., a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, says there are two types of tangible rewards for weight loss: small rewards for reaching incremental weight-loss goals, and big rewards for reaching longer-term goals. An incremental goal might be losing 5 or 10 pounds or dropping an inch from your waist or hips. Examples of long-term goals are meeting your target weight; maintaining a healthy weight for a year; or fitting into a pair of size-10 jeans.

Baker, author of the forthcoming book, "Energize your Mood with Food," recommends funding your reward system with the money you are saving at the grocery store. After all, fruits and vegetables are cheaper by the pound than cake and cookies.

Here are some examples of "small" rewards:

  • A subscription to a magazine that focuses on a favorite hobby or physical fitness
  • A piece of costume jewelry, such as a choker or ankle bracelet
  • A new pair of shoes
  • A pedicure or manicure
  • A massage
  • A makeover
  • A digital bathroom scale

“Big” rewards could be:

  • Spending an entire day at a spa
  • Spending the weekend at a yoga retreat
  • Using a fashion consultant to help you buy clothes that flatter your new figure (some large department stores provide this service free of charge)
  • Putting a full-length mirror in your bedroom
  • Getting a totally new hair cut that compliments your new body
  • Buying a new bathing suit, sleeveless shirt, shorts, and other revealing garments that you never would have worn before losing weight

Membership in a fitness center is an ideal reward for meeting a short- or long-term goal, Baker says. “The most common denominator among individuals who have lost weight and kept it off is that they exercise regularly.”

Jill Shaffer, R.D., co-director of a weight-loss program called The Solution, says she encourages her clients to focus primarily on the intangible rewards of adopting a healthier lifestyle. Some examples:

  • A reduced cholesterol count
  • Reveling in the fact that you feel more energetic
  • Enjoying an improved self-image and greater self-esteem
  • Increased intimacy in romantic relationships
  • Finally doing something to relieve joint pain that was preventing you from exercising
  • Patting yourself on the shoulder after getting up from the dinner table as soon as you feel satisfied instead of gorging yourself like you used to do

The Solution’s training program, which takes about a year to master, also offers “the unexpected reward of balance,” Shaffer says. “Our clients report less extreme highs and lows; they have a more stable emotional life,” she says. “To me, that is biggest earned reward of doing this program.”

Weight loss: Are You an Apple or a Pear?

It is healthy to eat apples but may be unhealthy to be shaped like one.

That warning from an ever-widening range of medical authorities looms large if you tend to store excess body fat primarily in your abdomen. Research indicates that people with the so-called "apple-shaped" body type have higher health risks than "pear-shaped" individuals, who have a smaller waist and heavy hips and thighs.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a pot belly can make you more susceptible to high blood pressure, diabetes, lower levels of "good" cholesterol in the blood, and hardening of the arteries. "Pear-shaped people carry their extra weight below the waistline and don't seem to have as high a risk of developing the above conditions as 'apples' do," the AHA's Web site states.

Apples may look older
Health concerns aside, being apple-shaped makes you look considerably older and less healthy than you actually are, a 1999 study out of the United Kingdom found. Human nutrition researchers at the Glasgow Royal Infirmary asked 201 male and 161 female observers aged 28 to 67 to estimate the age of eight silhouette photographs of female volunteers with known body mass index (BMI) numbers and waist and hip measurements. The observers were also asked to judge the likelihood of the people pictured developing heart disease and other health problems.

"Overweight or central fat distribution and narrow hips suggest a person is older and has poorer health," the researchers wrote in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. For example, people with a BMI of 29.7 appear to be 15 to 18 years older than those with a BMI of 22.2. Moreover, each extra centimeter on the waist makes women appear to look a year older and progressively less healthy, the researchers wrote, noting that the BMI and age of the observers had little influences on the findings.

The good news for "apples" is that abdominal fat tends to melt away faster than hip and thigh fat when people exercise regularly and reduce their fat and calorie intake, says Diane Rigassio, M.S., R.D., a clinical assistant professor at the School of Health-Related Professions at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey.

"Gynecoid (hip and thigh) fat is predominately found in women and may have to do with species preservation," Rigassio says "Calories get laid down in the lower body to store energy for childbirth and breast-feeding." Belly, or visceral, fat is more common in men and in post-menopausal women, she points out, adding that genetics and gender are thought to be the primary factors determining the body's fat-storage pattern.

What shape am I?
Some people can identify their body shape immediately by looking in the mirror. For others, the distinction is less obvious. "Apple" or "pear" body shapes can be determined by the waist-to-hip ratio. To calculate your ratio, carefully measure your waist circumference at its narrowest (across your belly button) and your hip circumference around the widest part of your buttocks. Then divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement. Keep your body relaxed while taking your measurements; sucking in your gut will skew the results.

According to the AHA, a healthy waist/hip ratio is 0.80 or below for most women and 1.0 or below for most men.

Can I change my shape?
A recent study indicates that health risks associated with apple-shaped bodies may begin long before the mid-life bulge. Children with a chubby belly have more heart-disease risk factors than their pear-shaped peers, according to researchers who looked at 127 boys and girls ages 9 through 17. The study, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, found an association between greater upper body fat and higher levels of the blood fat, triglycerides, and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol. Also, systolic blood pressure--the upper number of a blood pressure reading--was highest in children with the most fat overall and in the apple-shaped youngsters.

"Where fat is distributed appears to be a more important influence on cardiovascular risk factors in young people than total fatness," says lead author Stephen R. Daniels, M.D., Ph.D., professor of pediatrics and environmental health at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati. "You can already see this relationship in children as young as 9 and even in kids who are not necessarily overweight at this stage."

Daniels said that researchers don't know whether an individual's fat distribution can be changed from the apple pattern to the pear pattern. Nonetheless, overall fitness definitely helps reduce cardiovascular risks regardless of body shape.