Monday, July 16, 2012

Help! My Diet is Boring.

I am a 28-year old woman about 20 pounds overweight. I have been trying to lose weight for about a year now. I know what to do, and I do pretty well for weeks in a row. Then I just get bored and find myself straying. So after a few months of losing successfully, it just creeps back on over the next few months. How can I stay on the diet long enough to get all the weight off?  Jenny R.

Hi Jenny,
Your problem is a very common one. It takes lots of focus and determination to stay on track until you've developed new eating habits that will become easy and routine. The key is to keep inserting some more fun and challenge into your plan, to keep your mind from telling you, "This is awful! I'm tired of feeling deprived. I'm tired of avoiding things I want to eat and dragging myself off to the gym".
Here are a few tips to change your mindset and keep yourself on track:

1) Change the focus from avoiding foods to adding foods to your diet:
Rather than keeping in mind what you can't have, plan to add one or two items to your diet plan each week to establish healthy new habits. Focus on including 8 glasses of water a day, a fruit with each meal, or 4 veggies a day. Aim for 25 grams of fiber a day, 2 or 3 dairy products, or more meatless meals. When you're trying to include more of something in your diet you move away from feeling deprived and into feeling like you're getting--well-- more

2) Keep a journal and make it fun:
People who keep a daily food log lose more weight and keep it off. But diet diaries can become a bore. Use one of the many websites that help you keep things interesting (Fit Day, The Daily Plate, Spark People or Lose It!) by letting you friend others, earn badges, and track your progress. Put a twist on it by tracking the calories you saved: When you almost give into that cookie in the mall, but keep walking, log your 230 saved calories and add these up during the week to see how many pounds you kept off!

3) Establish a Reward System:
I like to use little scrapbook stickers of smiley faces or flowers to stick each day in my calendar that I accomplish a goal like walking 10,000 steps or eating fewer than 1600 calories. I have a chart to show what each number of stickers are worth: save 10 and get a manicure, 20 for a pedicure or a new book and 30 for a massage or a new work-out top. This way, all the stickers are helping you work towards something. There are no penalties, but if you start slacking it takes much longer to get to your reward.

4) Games and Blogs:
If you like to write, this could be the answer for you. Starting a blog is free and easy on sites like BlogSpot. You can make your journal private so no one else can find it. Or make it public for more motivation! 
One blogger asked for a "sponsor" for each week of her diet during a year. Whoever was her support that week, she thought every day "I'm doing it for so-and-so this week" and that kept her going.
One journalist tweeted what she ate to give her accountability. She knew everyone could see her intake, and she also knew they were rooting for her. Sometimes she would tweet, "Help! Driving by DQ and craving a blizzard" and the comments would fly in from her cheerleaders: "you can do it--just keep driving!"
Check out the game I developed called the Healthy Eating Lineup. Played like bingo, you list a healthy habit in each square: drink 5 glasses of water today, go for a walk, make healthy choices at a restaurant, etc. Be sure to have a reward in mind for each time you complete a full row.

Strive to make healthy eating and activity more fun any way you can. It's the best way to keep going until these new actions become habits and you find you never have to go on a diet again!

Friday, July 13, 2012

How Much Iron Should I Take for my Anemia?

Hi, Thank you for taking my question.
I have been diagnosed with anemia since I was a teenager. It seems once a year I have been told by a doctor to take iron pills, or eat liver. I am not going to eat liver. I was wondering if I eat beef, though, how much should I eat a day, should I eat it more than daily or just a number of days a week? 
Kristin K.

Hi Kristin,

First of all I want to clarify there are several different types of anemia. I'm assuming yours is from iron-deficiency since your doctor has suggested iron pills. (But an FYI to others with anemia, it may be related to a deficiency of vitamin B12, folic acid, or even vitamin E--so know that taking iron does nothing to help any condition other than iron-deficiency anemia).

The daily value for dietary iron is 18 milligrams. Supplement pills have 2 to 5 times as much iron as this, depending on the chemical form of the supplement. You could never get this amount in a reasonable diet--it's nearly impossible just to meet the RDA--so the pills would make a much bigger difference in your condition. A 3-ounce serving of ground beef has less than 2.5 milligrams; the same portion of liver has 6 milligrams. So they can't even come close to what an iron supplement can do for you.

It seems there is some reason you are reluctant to take the supplements that you are told to take every year. I'm not sure why that is. Perhaps if you don't feel bad you're not inclined to treat your condition. In fact, some people are used to their low hematocrit and hemoglobin (measures of the red blood cells) and don't have symptoms. If this is the case, you may just opt to walk around slightly anemic. 
On the other hand, you may like to try an experiment: take the iron pills as prescribed for 2 months and see if you notice an increase in your mood and energy level as your blood levels rise to normal--wouldn't that be nice!

For more on iron-deficiency anemia click here for a summary from a reputable site. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How Many Calories Do I Need?

One question I hear all the time is "How many calories should I be eating a day?" This, of course, varies greatly from person to person. It depends not only on your weight but also your height; the taller you are the more you burn because you have more lean body tissue and this lean tissue (muscle) uses more energy than fat. It depends on whether you are male or female; men typically have more muscle mass, so they burn more calories (not fair!). It depends how old you are because after a certain age (around 35) we start burning fewer calories and that number continues to decrease gradually as we continue to age. Finally, it greatly depends on your activity level because if you get a lot of exercise you naturally burn a lot more calories.
Here's a quick and convenient way to estimate how many calories you need. Multiply your weight by 15 to get the number of calories you need per day to maintain your weight. If you weight 150 pounds and you are happy with this weight, you need (15 x 150) approximately 2250 calories a day to maintain it. This is a very general starting point, because from these numbers we don't know whether you are male or female, active or sedentary, young or older. It's just an estimate.
If you would like to lose weight, multiply your present weight by 10. If you weigh 180 pounds and you would like to weigh less, a good estimate is for you to eat (10 x 180) 1800 calories a day. Again, it depends on how active you are, how tall you are, and whether you are male or female (a man could lose weight faster on this calorie level than a woman), but it's a good place to start.
Play around with the range of 10 to 15 times your weight. If you weigh 160 pounds, look at the numbers from 1600 (160 x 10) to 2400 calories (160 x 15). You would probably lose at least a pound a week by limiting your calorie intake to 1600 calories, and you would probably not lose if you ate 2400 calories a day. Remember if you are middle-aged, female, less than 5'4", and/or not very active, you will need to keep your calories in the lower part of this range to lose, and maybe even to maintain your weight.
If you are very overweight (say, 250 pounds or more) you should multiply the weight you would like to be by 15 to find a good starting calorie level. People who are nearly 100 pounds overweight are carrying that extra weight as fat tissue, which does not burn nearly the calories of our muscles and lean tissue. A 250 pound woman might aim for (170 x 15) 2550 calories to start losing weight if her goal is to weigh 170 pounds. It sounds like a very high calorie level for weight loss to occur, but people who are this heavy are usually eating more than 2500 calories a day! Therefore, reducing your intake to less than you usually eat will result in weight loss. You do not have to start with a 1200 calorie diet and starve yourself to lose weight. It's okay to lose one or two pounds a week.  Eat a little less; take your time with weight loss. Make it permanent!
Check out my website for details on hiring your own personal weight-loss coach to work one-on-one with you, catering to your unique circumstances. Or try some of the products for do-it-yourself, or for a bit of assistance each week.

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