Monday, January 28, 2013

Is a calorie really just a calorie? (We need to talk about soda.)

Okay guys. We all know that in order to lose or maintain weight, its simple addition and subtraction:

calories eaten in food - calories burned through exercise = net calories for body function

If we burn more than we eat, our body begins to lose weight. If we eat more than we burn, our body begins to gain weight. Simple, right?

Except there are all sorts of ways to make it complicated. Some experts say that a calorie is a calorie, and a net deficit in calories leads to weight loss regardless of whether those calories are in apples and spinach or in candy bars and ice cream. Technically, that is true.

Then there are experts that tell us that all calories are not created equal, and that some foods are better for weight loss than others. This is also true.

And still more experts argue that on top of eating nutritionally superior calories, we need to pay attention to what foods we eat when, and with what other foods we eat them, and at what point in relation to exercise. And yes, this is true as well.

Before we know it, this very simple math problem turns into a Master's program in nutrition, becoming so confusing and frustrating that many of us don't even try to eat right because the sheer magnitude of figuring out what to eat is too overwhelming.

Well, I don't have a Master's degree in nutrition, but I know this much is true:
  • I've lost weight eating crap and gained it all back.
  • I've lost weight eating clean and maintained it easily for going on five years.
While all calories may be created equally for weight loss, all calories are not created equally when it comes to health. Yes, I'm talking about sugar. Advertising companies will tell us that we can have sugar as part of a healthy lifestyle, but leading research is showing just about every day that this is not true. Sugar calories are not only completely void of nutrients, but they are direct contributors to obesity and impaired brain function that leads to overeating.

Sugar hides in many of our foods, but one place where it is loud and proud is in soda. Just ditching your soda habit can help you lose weight, reduce your sweet tooth, and put a stop to a myriad of other health complications waiting in the wings. Like these:

Harmful Soda
Via: Term Life Insurance

Losing weight is just one part of the whole-health picture. Calories are precious and should be working for you, not against.

Get out there and get healthy, and make it as complicated or simple as you want it to be! You don't need an advanced degree to figure out the simple formula of good health: eat real food, get exercise every day, and your body will take care of the rest.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Bread Revolution (I'm losing it btw)
Bread. I am having a serious love/hate relationship with bread. It's not a carb thing, it's a quality thing. For a clean eater who wants to buy simple, healthy food, the bread aisle is one of the most frustrating sections of the grocery store. As one of my dear friends vented to me recently, bread just gets more and more confusing. Soda, candy, and other junk food we know is bad for us. That's easy to spot. Not always easy to resist, but easy to identify as junk.

Bread, not so much. No, it masquerades as health food all day long! Just look at the packaging: brown, pictures of shafts of wheat alongside healthy-looking nuts, oats, seeds, and more. Humble farmers and old-timey font add to the message that this bread is just like the kind your grandma made.

Except I'm thinking your sweet grandma didn't go around to the local barbershops, sweep up the hair lying on the floors, boil it down in acid, and pour it into her bread. And I'm guessing she didn't stop at the market and pick up some Azodicarbonamide, either. Especially if she lives in Australia, Europe, or Singapore, since its been outlawed there and use of it will result in 15 years of imprisonment and $450,000 in fines. Bread just ain't what it used to be.

It's gotten downright ridiculous. Preservatives and dough conditioners give bread a longer shelf life and predictable mouth-feel, but at what cost? Personally, I feel less and less comfortable buying commercial bread as I read more about the potential side effects of chemicals that are added for the convenience and profitability of the company that made it. Bread should be bread. Pure and simple.

So, I've launched a bread revolution in my house. I'm taking back bread! I am so committed. I'm a bread-baking fool these days, and my home is filled with that wonderful aroma of yeast and dough. Its just great! Except for one thing. My family ain't buying it. Or eating it. They want their store-bought bread.

So the revolution, well, it's a little of a David and Goliath thing, with me holding a puny little slingshot and a nice warm loaf of bread as my rock. "Plenty of people would kill for homemade bread," I exclaim to my loving family. They understand. I try the martyr angle: "I guess I'll bring it to the homeless shelter, where people may appreciate it more." They nod sympathetically. I am stumped. Who on EARTH would not want homemade bread??? It's delicious! Seriously. 

Okay, so not all of my loaves have been masterpieces. And maybe I shouldn't have thrown out all of the bread in the house and provided only my experiments for sustenance. But I'm getting better, and I'm not giving up. This year, I will become good at baking bread, and more importantly, I will find at least one recipe that my family will eat for sandwiches. 

And yeah, I'm totally going to tell you all about it the whole time. Read here about one of my attempts - successful, yay! - at hamburger buns.

So, tell me - do you have any tried-and-true bread recipes for me to try? Post them in the comments! I'd love to give them a shot, try them out on the natives, and let you know how they like it!

Get out there and get healthy today, even if your family wants store-bought bread.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Can you really be healthy at any size?
January is a great time to make new healthy goals for the year ahead. Apparently, its also a great time to make lots of excuses. Each January brings articles about how all those health goals are really just a waste because - great news! - you can be healthy and a couch potato, too! Articles like this one published last week:

So can we really be healthy at any size? Fit and fat? Well, that depends on your definition of healthy.

The Healthy At Any Size campaign gets a lot of attention in January. Their website says: 

"Health at Every Size is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body. It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control). Health at Every Size encourages:

  • Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
  • Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
  • Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital."
This is absolutely wonderful! Emotional health at any size is incredibly important, and as a wellness coach I get to help people achieve it every day. Learning how to follow internal hunger cues is vital to lifelong wellness. And enjoying exercise is a big part of making it a daily habit. But, often times this campaign is misinterpreted to mean abandoning attempts to lose and manage weight, and instead only focus on self-esteem, and this is where I start to get off board.

But did you notice my key word? Emotional health at any size is the key. Because here's the thing: yes, dieting is a problem, but fat is also a problem.

I recently conducted a wellness program with a group where health as social responsibility came up as a conversation topic more than once. As I listened to a spontaneous discussion on the role we each have as members of society to maintain a healthy weight and body, I thought of our over-burdened health care system. So many of the health issues we face each day are related to diet and lifestyle. If those things changed, and we became healthier as a society, and we had less need for health care, how would that change our nation?

I've read many, many, many success stories of people who have lost tremendous amounts of weight. I've not found any that cited doing nothing as their strategy. No, there are plenty of accounts of starting daily walking routines, learning about nutrition, counting calories and measuring portions, finding supportive networks, making determined lifestyle changes, and putting a lot of hard work into changing their bodies. 

Yes, you can be overweight and strong. And yes, you can be overweight and aerobically fit. And, yes, you can be skinny as a rail and very unhealthy. Size is not the whole picture of health, but obesity is more than just the size of your body. Despite what some fat acceptance advocates say, obesity leads to heart disease, hypertension, arthritis, fertility issues, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, some cancers, and more. It is a problem, and you can deal with that and love yourself. 

I've been overweight, and I've dealt with the intense emotional issues that come with it. I've failed I don't know how many times at managing my weight; so many times that it became my life's work to succeed at it and help others do the same. But I am on the other side now because I didn't accept an unhealthy and unfit body as my 24/7. 

It was not easy. At times, it still isn't.

But managing my weight is about more than not being fat. I loved myself (myself, not my size) when I was a size 16, but that didn't make me healthy. I love myself at a size 4, too. And, I get the absolute joy of living in a hard-won healthy body every day. One that I shaped because I had the courage to admit that there was something better out there for me.

Let January be a month of positive steps towards a healthier body - physically and emotionally. Get out there and get healthy. You can love yourself at any size, but your health might still need some work. The good news is you can totally do it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Sugar Shake-up: How much do you really eat?

We all know by now that we as a nation need to reduce our sugar consumption. It's making us fat, giving us diabetes, raising our cholesterol, raising our blood pressure, and causing who knows what else that we'll learn about later! 

But, sugar is cheap and lobbyists are good at their jobs so its not likely that we'll see sugar making an exit on its own. To get rid of it, you have to take matters into your own hands. You also need to get a teaspoon, a bag of sugar, a ziplock bag, and a calculator. 

What's that, you say? You stopped eating candy and dumped soda? That's great! But I'm willing to bet you are still eating lots of sugar. Its hiding everywhere. Here's a quick way to find out just how much of it is making its way into your metabolism.

On the Nutrition Facts label of a food package, it will sometimes (not always) list the grams of sugar per serving. Four grams is about 1 teaspoon of sugar. One teaspoon of sugar is about 16 calories. So, if a product has 12 grams of sugar you can divide that by 4 to realize it is 3 teaspoons in each serving. If you're worried about calories, that's 48 calories.

Here's how to drive that home a little more. Get that teaspoon and spoon out three teaspoons of sugar into a ziplock bag. Would you eat that? Or pour it into your child's mouth? Of course not. But, that's what you do when you give your child one of these:

Which, I should admit, was in my pantry. My kid loves these, and they used to be a once-a-day habit for him. Now we're down to two or three a week and he has to eat fruit and drink some water first. He knows now that even though they taste really good (to him, they are way too sweet for me), they are a "sometimes food." Not a treat, not a reward. They're junk food that we only eat once in a while because its bad for our bodies. Even though it says organic. Organic sugar is still sugar.

Now, in all fairness, most foods also contain fiber, protein, and other nutrients that help your body absorb that sugar better than if you just poured it into your mouth. But the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following limits for sugar in our diets:
  • Women: no more than 100 calories, about 6 teaspoons.
  • Men: no more than 150 calories of added sugar, about 9 teaspoons.
  • Preschoolers: no more 4 teaspoons a day.
  • Children ages 4-8: no more than 3 teaspoons a day. 
  • Pre-teens: maximum 5 to 8 teaspoons.

And keep in mind that the AHA is likely heavily lobbied by sugar producers.

So go through your pantry and fridge and do the math. Start with cereal and yogurt. Then, if you really want to remember this lesson, tape that little bag of sugar to the front of the package and leave it there so you can see it the next time you reach in for a snack. Is that where you want to spend your sugar budget?

Sugar is not all bad. But, the impact of too much of it is. Get out there and get healthy today, even if you have to spend a lot of time standing in your pantry with a calculator and getting really ticked off.