Saturday, February 28, 2009

Does Money Motivate People to Lose Weight?

I think having contests over a long period of time (12 weeks, for instance) can be very helpful and motivating for people who are trying to lose weight. If they give it time they can lose weight in a healthy way and feel a sense of accomplishment. Working in groups like this helps even more, with members of the group motivating each other.

Money, alone, is certainly not enough to motivate most people. I was involved in a work-related contest to lose weight one spring. About 60 staff members signed up. After the first three weeks I think about 10 people were still trying to lose weight. As with any weight loss program, people are very motivated in the beginning. After time they lose their resolve, unless they have a commitment to continuing the work and the changes they have to make.

Often, though, diet betting is done over a short period of time and simply for the purpose of 'winning a bet'. Not to generalize, but from what I've seen this type of diet bet is more often played by men as opposed to women. Maybe in part it's because men actually can lose weight so much more quickly because of their body physiology.

"I can lose 10 pounds in a week" they challenge a friend. And they do: by starvation, exercising in over-heated environments to lose water weight (which, of course is extremely dangerous), and sometimes using laxatives or other cathartics to rid their body of anything that translates to "weight"... this can be absolutely life-threatening. But the bet is about winning--not about healthy or permanent weight loss.

Finding a way to motivate people to lose weight is an ongoing effort. If adding money to the pot helps, then it can be an effective aid to the process. But making a bet to lose weight and doing anything to get the weight off to win--that's just plain dangerous and downright stupid.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Newly Diagnosed with High Blood Pressure.

What can I do to lower my blood pressure without having to go on medication? I already eat healthy, exercise, and do not smoke. Larry B.

Dear Larry,

First of all, kudos to you for living a healthy lifestyle! Not smoking is a great step in preventing a whole host of chronic diseases so that is a big deal in itself. Eating healthy and exercising means even more bonus points for you!

Even when we think we're eating healthy, foods can affect different systems in our body differently--what's healthy for one condition may not be so for another. So here's what I know has been shown to help lower blood pressure in a significant portion of the population.

1) Lowering sodium intake: Even if you never salt your food there is a tremendous amount of sodium in canned foods (soups, stews, sauces), processed foods, smoked foods, luncheon meats and fast foods. Take a look at food labels from packaged foods you eat: If you eat at chain restaurants you can get the information on nutrition easily (either at the restaurant or on line). An average to aim for is 700 milligrams of sodium per meal, for a daily intake of 2000 milligrams. Many people find after a cursory search of their usual food products they are usually eating 5,000 or 6,000 milligrams a day! Be sure to look at the serving size when you check the sodium content on a label, too: many canned foods you eat at one sitting are considered two servings by the manufacturer.

2) Increasing your intake of calcium and potassium has been shown to help lower blood pressure. I have no idea what amounts of these minerals you are currently consuming. The guidelines for three servings of dairy products daily should help you get in close to the recommended 1000-1200 milligrams of calcium daily. Potassium is easily found in many fresh fruits and vegetables. Guidelines for fruit and veggie intake range from 5 per day (total) to 12 per day---so chances are you could raise your servings in this group, even if you're already eating a healthy number on the smaller end of the scale.

3) I know of one man who was diagnosed with high blood pressure after eating black licorice. There is something in pure licorice root (so it would not be found in cherry candy licorice, for instance) that raises blood pressure. He backed off the licorice and did not have high blood pressure again for years. Are you taking any supplements? Herbs? some of these have side effects we haven't thought of, or may not know of. Cold medications or other over-the-counter products could be contributing to raising your blood pressure.

Be sure to ask your doctor for his input on specific amounts of sodium, calcium, or potassium you should be taking in daily, as these can vary greatly based on other conditions you have that I am not aware of!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

How Much Fat Do I Need In My Diet?

Believe it or not, fat is essential for good nutrition. There are components in some fats known as essential fatty acids. They are essential to our good health. At times people have tried to follow extremely low fat diets in attempts to lose weight, and suffered deficiency symptoms such as scaly, dried skin and thinning, falling hair. Fat is necessary in our body to keep our temperature controlled, pad our organs from shock, and serve as a back-up for times we may require extra calories. Unfortunately, most Americans get far too much of it in our diets and this can contribute to obesity and other problems. So what's the right amount and how can we get enough without getting too much?

The amount of fat you really need per day is quite low--only about 10 or 20 grams. Recommended guidelines for dietary fat restrict total fat to 30% or less of your daily calories. If you follow an 1800 calorie diet, for example, this means no more than 600 calories should be from fat. There are 9 calories per gram of fat, so dividing 600 (calories) by 9 (calories/gram), we find the suggested dietary fat content to be about 66 grams per day. Saturated fat should compose less than 10% of the calories, or in this case, 20 grams.

It's not difficult to keep the fat in your diet under 30% if you eat a diet composed largely of grains, fruits, vegetables, lowfat dairy products, and lean meats and fish. Keeping the fat intake low becomes very difficult if you include high fat meats (like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, or bologna); if you eat fried foods (donuts, fried chicken, french fries, onion rings); if you indulge in desserts (such as pies, cakes, most cookies, chocolate bars, regular ice cream or milkshakes); or if you add fat to your food (in the form of salad dressing, butter or margarine, mayonnaise, sour cream, etc). To keep the fat in your diet to a reasonable level, consider reducing the high fat foods you eat listed above (high fat meats, desserts, fried foods, and spreads). A reasonable serving of meat is 3-4 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. And we really can get enough fat in our diet without frying foods or adding mounds of butter and other sauces.

People who are in danger of not getting adequate amount of fat usually have very restrictive diets. They look for ways to reduce their fat intake by buying "low fat" varieties of any food they can; they avoid even healthy fats such as nuts, olive oil, and avocados; they never add oil or spreads to any food. Often they are trying to lose weight; sometimes they believe they are eating healthy by limiting their diet severely to just a few types of fruits, vegetables and grains; occasionally they are suffering from an eating disorder such as anorexia.

Fats are essential in our diets and in our bodies. Cases are rare, but do exist, when people suffer essential fatty acid deficiency. But most often, too much fat is consumed in the American diet. To keep your fat at a reasonable level, the following steps will help:
1) Take a good look at the foods you're eating and pay attention to the fat content on the food labels (how many grams there are in a serving--not what the front of the label advertises as "30% less fat"--that doesn't tell you what you need to know).
2) Avoid eating fatty and fried foods if you are eating heart-healthy or trying to lower your weight or your blood cholesterol.
3) Don't strive for a fat-free diet with zero animal products, no added oils, and all 'low fat' varieties of packaged foods. We do need fat in our diet; just remember we rarely need more than 10 or 20 grams.
4) Aim for less than 30% of your calories from fat and you'll be getting just the right balance for your best health.