Friday, April 24, 2009

What Is A Healthy Alternative to Water?

I have recently decided to quit drinking pop. In the past I would drink nothing but pop, consuming over 5 non-diet pops a day. It's been a week now, and things are going fine. I don't crave a pop, but I'm starting to hit a wall. I drink lots of water, but I don't enjoy it. I know water is great for you, and I have no problem drinking a decent amount of water a day, but I need more. I am wondering, what is a healthy alternative to water? Is there something out there that is flavored, or at least has a taste, that I could drink in addition to water?

Congratulations! I believe soda (especially when you have several a day) is one of the biggest wastes of calories you can ingest. I am so glad things are going fine for you. Water does get boring for many people when they first start drinking it several times a day.
For some people it's helpful to vary the temperature. Some enjoy it better when it's very cold, with or without ice.

And there are many great ways to flavor water. Once in a while, having a diet soda or a sugar-free flavor packet added to your water will give your taste buds some variety and isn't an excess. A better option if you are trying to avoid sugar-free products is to put a small amount of fruit juice in your water: a squeeze of lemon or lime, a few ounces of orange juice, or one of the multi-flavored juices that also counts as a serving of a fruit and a vegetable! (V-8 brand makes several and the one I have now is blueberry pomegranate. I mix it into seltzer water and it tastes like grape soda :)

There are lightly flavored seltzer waters in lemon lime, berry, etc made by Seagrams, Canada Dry, and other brands. They are carbonated but have NO sweetener, artificial or otherwise. It's important to check the labels because there are many "flavored water" beverages which often say "flavored", "all natural" or "zero calories" on the front label, but if you check the ingredients you find all sorts of things you don't want.

And, finally, my favorite .... tea! If you haven't checked the tea aisle lately you will be amazed to find hundreds of flavors of tea. Not just 'black' and 'green' or 'brewed' and 'steeped': but caramel, and apple, spiced cinnamon, and orange mango, licorice and rose petal, every fruit and flower you can imagine! You don't have to have it hot and you don't even have to have ever liked tea in your life. I dip a tea bag into a few ounces of warm-to-hot water until it changes color, and then pour it over ice cubes in a mug or plastic cup (don't use a glass unless you keep a metal spoon or knife in it while the temperature is changing, or the glass will shatter). Many of these teas are also decaffeinated in case you are sensitive to caffeine.

Don't think of flavoring your water as "cheating"... It still counts! You are still drinking all the water that is so vital for your body's best functioning--you are just flavoring it so you can enjoy it and keep drinking to your health!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What is Breakfast Time for Night Shift Workers?

I've heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But if I work night shift, what is my breakfast? The first thing I eat after I get up, or the meal I eat at 6 am when I get home before I go to bed?

What a great question! Well, literally the word for the meal means "breaking the fast" so your breakfast is the first meal you eat after sleeping all night with no nutritional intake. The first time you eat for the day you are letting your body know that there is energy available, and this sets the tone for the rate of your metabolism over the next hours. If you don't eat for hours after you awaken your body assumes there may not be energy available (as in the cave man days when there wasn't always food to be had) and it slows the metabolism to conserve valuable energy (which is actually stored fat!)

Remember that breakfast foods are only traditional within any given country and culture. While we may think of bacon and eggs as breakfast foods, others on the planet are eating fish and seaweed, or yogurt and fruit when they first get out of bed. You certainly don't have to follow any "morning food rules" regardless of what time you eat breakfast... what's more important is to get a nutritious first meal.

Aim for about 1/3 of your daily calories at your breakfast, and try to include a source of calcium (milk, yogurt, or cheese), a whole grain (waffles, toast, or cereal), and a protein (whether this for you is eggs, fish, turkey, or peanut butter, it will help your meal last longer and keep you from getting hungry in under a few hours). It will be a good start to your day, no matter what time your day starts!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Could I Have Binge Eating Disorder?

I am an overweight woman in my 50's. I don't usually overeat at meals, but several times a week in the evenings I will just take out leftovers, packages of cookies, chips, whatever is around and sit and eat until I am exhausted. I can follow a diet all day long, but I am just overcome with the need to stuff myself at night when I start thinking about things in my life that went wrong. It feels like a 'drug' that helps relax me and I just can't stop. I don't think it's about the food, but I don't know what to try to stop myself. If I have an eating disorder what is the treatment for this? Do you have suggestions for how I can stop? -- anonymous

You do have some of the classic signs of binge eating disorder, a condition that affects between 1 million and 2 million Americans, but only a health professional can diagnose you for certain. Many people who have this disorder keep it hidden from their friends and family for obvious reasons. It's shameful and embarrassing to know that food has control over you, but there certainly are treatments.

One important thing to realize is that the condition is not about food. Going on a diet will not help, and can just further frustrate the person who is suffering from binge eating disorder. Some of the characteristics of binge eaters include feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness, sadness, and even boredom. And, yes, the binge does act like a 'drug' to overcome these feelings.

More common in women, and often seen between the ages of 40 and 60, binge eaters have reported that eating large amounts of food within a short time period (about an hour) creates the sensation of "stuffing down negative feelings". Many report that they avoid other more common expressions of emotions such as crying or yelling. Seen as "unfeminine" to raise their voice, they turn to food when they are angry; thinking of crying as a weakness, they eat to cover their feelings of sadness or frustration.

The end result is often obesity (and the co-existing health problems that occur when excess weight is present), low self-esteem, feelings of being out of control, and even malnutrition (because the large amounts of food consumed rarely contribute nutrients but are often high in salt, fat, and sugar).

The best course of treatment is carried out with a certified mental health counselor such as a licensed social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, many of whom specialize in eating disorders such as binge eating disorder. Your therapist may or may not prescribe medications (namely for depression) as well. The key to overcoming this disorder is finding ways to deal with negative emotions that are predominant in your life, developing other ways to handle stress, and learning to have a healthy relationship with food.

I encourage you to take the first step to get yourself the help you need--and deserve--and make the call to find a health professional whose practice includes treating those suffering from eating disorders.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Is The BMI Number Reliable?

My doctor told me my BMI is higher than it should be and I should 'lose a few pounds'. I am a 50 year old male who is 5'9" and I weigh 198 pounds--is this really too much if I am in good shape? (I do a lot of yard work at home on weekends and during the week I supervise construction at work--it's a lot of walking).
Phil S.

Dear Phil,
Your BMI (body mass index) is a number based on a calculation using your height and weight. (You can perform the calculation, but it's easier to just go to a tool that calculates it for you in seconds: Yours is 29.2 which is at the upper range of "overweight" according to the chart.

The numbers are categorized as "normal weight", "overweight", "underweight", or "obese" (the latter if your BMI is 30 or greater). These ranges are based on health risks seen over years of study and observation by medical professionals.

Some people argue this number is too "black and white" and doesn't take into account things like age, gender, or physical fitness. In fact, a 26 year old football player who is 5'8" and weighs 200 pounds is certainly less likely to be at risk for the same chronic diseases as a 48 year old woman who is the same height and weight. Yet both have the same BMI--30.9--which measures as "obese" on this particular scale.

So, each individual must use some of their own judgement when deciding whether this reading is meaningful to you. As a dietitian, the people I have seen who are over "ideal" weight are usually not in great shape. You didn't mention if you have an existing condition such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic heart disease or high cholesterol. Certainly, if you do, any health professional would encourage you to lose weight and aim for a lower BMI, despite objections that you really are in good shape (or, the objections of some people that they are just "big boned").

Frankly, it doesn't sound to me like you are someone who would have a large amount of muscle mass as a result of doing a lot of walking and some moderate exercise. At some point I would suggest you take a long, hard look at how you really feel and see if you don't end up acknowledging that you could--and would--be in better shape if you lost a few pounds.

Monday, April 6, 2009

How Much Weight Can I Safely Lose In a Month?

This is, by far, the most common question I get asked. The pat answer is difficult to give because it depends on so many variables.

-Males can lose weight more quickly than females because they usually have a higher muscle mass, and therefore a higher metabolism.

-If you exercise you can lose weight more quickly than if you do not participate in any physical activity.

-It depends on what your diet looks like now, and how much you expect to be able to change it.

So the general answer is, "one to two pounds a week" taking into account all these variables. Here's how it works: It takes about 3500 calories to equal one pound of fat. This means for every 3500 calories you eat above what you are burning off, you will gain one pound. Likewise, if you eat 3500 fewer calories than you burn, you will lose one pound.

It's pretty difficult to eat 3500 fewer calories in just a couple of days because most of us eat just about 2000-2500 calories a day. However, if you are very overweight and eat thousands of calories a day, you might be able to cut out 3500 calories in a shorter time, and lose a pound every few days.

The way dietitians calculate an expected weight loss for a client is simple: we encourage you to try cutting out 500 calories each day to lose a pound at the end of the week. It's usually easy to find 500 extra calories of "junk" food, like soda, candy, pie, cake, cookies, donuts, ice cream, or candy bars. Each serving is likely to have close to 500 calories, so you don't even have to cut these foods entirely out of your diet and you can still lose weight easily. Extra added fats, like butter, margarine, gravy, salad dressing, sour cream, and those found in whole milk, cream, and fried foods also add hundreds of calories: just cut back a bit and see how quickly the scale shows a change.

It's also pretty hard to lose weight quickly by exercising: You have to burn 3500 calories, which equates to about five or six hours of exercise. The good news is, you can start exercising for 45 minutes a day and lose nearly another pound each week. Incorporating exercise into your daily routine will ensure that the weight loss continues.

Yes, two pounds a week sounds very slow. But if you make these changes part of your lifestyle instead of a goal for just this month, think of where you can be in a year. Two pounds a week is 104 pounds a year! Most people don't have that much to lose. But if you do, you can see how easily it can be done--no crash dieting, no giving up everything you like! Just cut out a few items each day that aren't contributing nutrition but are piling on the pounds from calories of fat and sugar.

The best perspective when trying to lose weight is to figure out how you can change your eating and activity habits to get the weight off and keep it off. If you lose 30 pounds for the summer by trying the latest fad diet, where will you be six months later? Probably asking, "how much weight can I safely lose by New Year's Eve?" Don't go there! Make a few simple changes; focus on becoming a healthy, active person; and get to your healthy weight for good!