Thursday, February 24, 2011

Carbs Cause Obesity?

I got a comment, from a reader who wished to remain anonymous, in response to my post about a Vegan Lifstyle The reader claimed
"Excessive carbs, in the form of grains and/or legumes, are the cause, and not the cure, for obesity."

Sorry, but this is not accurate.

Of course eating too much food of any kind, even healthy foods like whole grains and legumes can cause us to be overweight. So can eating too much meat or even fruits and vegetables. However, eating complex carbohydrates (such as whole grains and legumes) does not cause obesity and they are an important part of a food plan that is geared for our optimum health and energy. Carbs have gotten a bad rap. They are an important source of fuel for our bodies and our brain.

Obesity is generally caused from excessive SIMPLE carbs, like found in white flour, sugar, processed foods.

Is it possible to become obese eating only healthy foods...sure...but you have to work at it because the healthier foods have fiber and bulk which makes you feel more full! If you stuffed yourself every day like it was Thanksgiving and sat around all day without moving your body, even if you only ate wonderfully healthy foods you would definitely have a weight issue.

Being healthy isn't about eliminating foods, it is about gaining control over your eating which is largely a mindset issue. It is also about getting our brain chemistry and hormones in balance, which when we make healthy food choices naturally follows.

I don't advocate saying you can NEVER have sugar, but by controlling our sugar intake (along with that of other simple carbs) and making conscious choices in our eating, we will actually reduce our cravings for these foods that taste good but have little or no nutritional value.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Grocery Store Tips for Weight Loss Success

The grocery store can be our best friend for weight loss success and it can also be our biggest weight loss challenge, providing us with healthy food at reasonable prices.

Here are 3 of my top simple tips to help the grocery store lean in the BFF direction rather than foe!

1. Don't go to the store hungry.

I know, I know, you've heard it a gazillion times already. Well, you've heard it a gazillion times because it is true! When we are hungry we are more apt to grab a "quick something" and that generally is not an apple! Nope, we're apt to grab a candy bar or bag of chips while standing in the checkout line. And that's on top of the other stuff that wasn't on your list that found its way into your cart because...yep, you're hungry. When we are hungry our resistance is down and EVERYTHING sounds good! By eating a healthy snack before we go shopping we help control our cravings and are much more able to make healthy, conscious food choices that support our goals.

2. Make a list and buy what is on the list.
OK, this could have been 2 separate tips but really, what good is a list if you don't use it? So make a list, bring it to the store with you (how many times have I left my list on the counter and then wracked my menopausal brain trying to remember what was on it?) and then buy off the list! I'm not militant about least not entirely...if you see something that you forgot to add to the list, fine. Something's on sale for a super price that is healthy that you KNOW you will eat, okay. Sounds/looks/smells good--no way! So if you really want to have cookies or ice cream, then they have to be on the list. Sometimes writing it down is enough to convince yourself you don't really want it! Making yourself shop with a list also stops the "I'll just pop in for a few things on the way home" shopping...that's when a lot of high-fat/sugar/salt items make it into the cart (on their own without any help from me, I swear!)

3. Pay with Cash
According to the Journal of Consumer Research if you buy your groceries with cash your cart will tend to hold less junk food! If you want the immediate gratification of junk food then decide you must have the immediate cash to pay for it, otherwise your delayed payment will come due and you will have the extra weight on the hips, too. Take this one step further and roughly calculate how much money you will need for your groceries and bring only that amount of cash. Then when you are tempted to add that box of cookies and you are faced with having to return either your milk or the cookies you just might decide to keep the milk!

You'll notice these 3 tips all help us to make conscious choices. We always have a choice about the food we eat--what we put into our body and how much of it. By following these tips we help ourselves to make the small changes in food buying that will result in big changes in our health, including our waistline. As an added benefit we'll save money, too!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day Gifts: Sweet or Sour

Since Valentines Day is about love we tend to shower our loved ones with sweet gifts--often literally filled with sugar and other things that maybe aren't in our best interests. So a sweet gift can easily turn sour--if it is received in the wrong way.

I'm not one to say you can't have sugar ever...and I for one have no intention of giving up chocolate entirely. In fact, I don't believe in having a list of "forbidden foods" because I know how that just makes us psychologically just want it even more.

However, buying sweets simply because it is Valentines Day is less about a conscious, love-filled gift and more about a marketing ploy.

What does Valentines Day really mean to you? Is it about feeling loved by a significant other or by family members? Will you feel loved if you receive a card? a phone call? a nice dinner out? a box of chocolates? a dozen roses? a diamond necklace?

Let your loved one know how you will feel special on this special day--and other ones, too. Unless you let people know what YOU want then you will be subject to what they THINK you want...and those thoughts are generally influenced by marketing efforts from companies who are selling things that they want you to believe will make you happy.

Don't expect people to be able to read your mind--as much as they love you and no matter how long they have been in your life. If you are trying to lose weight and having chocolates around will make it harder for you to make healthy choices so you'd rather not have them in the house--let your voice be heard. On the other hand, if NOT receiving chocolates will make you feel deprived then your loved ones deserve to know that, too!

This is about asking for the kind of support that works for YOU, because each of us operates just a little bit differently based on our biology and more importantly based on our upbringing--all the messages we got growing up.

It can be hard for others to know what we want when we have declared we are intending to lose weight. Will they be accused of trying to sabotage our efforts if they buy us candy? Will they be accused not loving us if they do?

Instead of leaving them guessing and risking buying us a gift that was intending to be loving but leaves us with a sour feeling, figure out what you would like and ask for what you want. This is an excellent exercising for us to express our desires. It is something that most of us are not really good at. Sometimes we aren't good at asking for it because we don't think we are worth it...we are so good at putting others first that it is hard for us to accept that we can be first. Sometimes it is hard for us to ask because we've bought into the idea that "they should just know what I want" even though that is often a moving target! We might not even be aware of what we want--so how the heck can we expect someone else to figure it out???

If you really love chocolate but know that more than one piece sets you off on a binge...then maybe you request a piece of really, really special chocolate from a fancy store rather than a box of ho-hum chocolates from Wal-green's. For me, a really good piece of chocolate allows me to savor it and appreciate it and make a conscious choice about eating it, whereas a big box of chocolate tends to send off physical and mental cravings and before I know it I have eaten way more than I intended.

Or if you aren't a chocoholic like me and can keep it in the house, then be sure to specify what you like so that when you do choose to indulge you get the absolute best satisfaction. In other words, if you love the dark chocolate caramels then you don't want a box filled with milk chocolate creams! You might eat them, but you won't have that same satisfaction, so eat what you really love. You'll actually end up consuming less!

If you don't want chocolates around then think of other gifts that you'd prefer. They don't have to be expensive gifts like jewelry or short-lived ones like flowers (although those are nice, too!) Sometimes the best gifts are inexpensive like a homemade card or a poem. Always the sweetest gifts are the ones that are thought-full: a great book for a reader, a journal for a writer, a photo in a nice frame for the desk at work, a compilation of favorite songs for your ipod for relaxation or working out to...or having the car cleaned, serviced and tires rotated for the busy commuter!

The bottom line is we must learn to love ourselves enough to know that we deserve our health and happiness--and gifts that we really want. So we must love ourselves enough to learn to express our needs.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Weight Loss Challenge: Sugar and How Sweet it Is

There are lots of different sweeteners on the market today. In fact, there are so many it can be quite confusing. What is natural? If it is organic is that the best? What type of sugar is better?

Sometimes it feels so overwhelming that we just throw up our hands and stick with plain old sugar even though we know it isn't the best for us.

It is important that we know some facts about our options so we can choose the best thing for us. If you are diabetic for example you will want sweeteners that don't raise your blood sugar level, but maybe you don't want to use the artificial what's the best choice for you. What if you want to become more natural--going for less processed foods? Or maybe you were inspired by Oprah to go vegan...

I found a great article on various sweeteners that you should keep in your arsenal. Chef Heather Haxo Phillips tells it like it is--even explaining why you might not want to choose some of the more popular, theoretically "healthy" sweeteners like Agave Nectar.

Chef Heather is of the Bay Area phenomenon Cafe Gratitude and she explains what sugar is and gives lots of details about your options in this article.

What is Sugar? Sugar is a pure carbohydrate, a nutrient that supplies energy to the body. The chemical name for sugar is sucrose. Sucrose occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable, as it is the major product of photosynthesis. For a long time, fruit and cane sugars were the most common sweeteners on our table. However, over the past 50 years dozens of sweeteners have been developed. Many of them are very useful for helping us to enjoy the sweet things in life without taking our blood sugar for a roller coaster ride.

Read the entire article here.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Oprah Badgers Weight Loss Inspiration Jennifer Hudson

Although when speaking to Jennifer Hudson about her weight loss success Oprah claimed she didn't want her to reveal anything she wasn't comfortable with, the legendary interviewer persisted to badger the celebrity to reveal the precised number of pounds she has lost on her recent weight loss journey.

Clearly torn between her own wish not to talk about pounds and her desire to respond to and please Oprah, Jennifer caved --to a standing ovation from the studio audience.

Jennifer Hudson is indeed a weight loss inspiration. She looks great and says she feels like she is better than she ever has been in her life. So why did Oprah have to know how many pounds Jennifer has lost? Because Oprah still clings to the idea that a number indicates success or failure when it comes to measuring weight loss success. This is surprising coming from a woman who comes from "spirit" and defies common success measures in so many other aspects of her life.

Would the singer's weight loss be any less inspiring if she'd "only" lost 60 pounds? Would it have been more amazing if she'd lost 100 pounds? Not to me. Oprah mentioned that she couldn't relate to the Jennifer being a size 6 and neither could most people. I can't relate to a size 6 either, but I find the logic faulty. I wish Jennifer had stuck to her guns and not revealed numbers--either pounds or dress sizes.

Announcing these numbers automatically starts us calculating and comparing--which I believe Jennifer and her Weight Watchers coach were trying to avoid. It isn't about whether you have 20 pounds to lose or 200. It is about how you feel about yourself. We can all see the phenomenal results that Jennifer has achieved on this journey--and the difference in her attitude and appearance should be enough to inspire us no matter how many pounds she has lost.

Telling the world the number of pounds we've lost is less about an internal celebration and satisfaction and more about external recognition. We all deserve to feel good about our accomplishments--whether or not others congratulate us with words, pats on the back or standing ovations on the Oprah Winfrey Show.

Of course it can be encouraging for people to hear about pounds lost. And it feels great to have other people congratulate us on our success. But I believe completely that if we are to have permanent weight loss success then we must lose the weight for ourselves and take satisfaction in our own results. I also believe that our best "advertisement" about our weight loss is our own image--in person and in the form of before and after pictures--and that this is also the best inspiration we can give to others. Happy, smiling faces and energetic bodies show the benefit of losing weight, whereas pounds loss are just numbers.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Vegan Equals Healthy Weight Loss Success?

With movies like Food, Inc and Ellen and Oprah both featuring shows on veganism, many people come to believe that being a vegan is inherently more healthy and will lead to weight loss success. While going vegan, or vegan-ish as Oprah has said she is moving, is certainly one option, it is not the only option and may not be the best choice for you.

The most important thing to understand is the definition of "vegan." Veganism is a form of vegetarianism, but one with a more narrow focus. Interestingly, the precise definition varies depending on the source, but most seem to define vegan as a person who chooses not to use animal products in their lives. This is the most strict sense of vegan and includes foods you eat as well as items made from animal hides and furs and things that are testing on animals (typically done as part of "safety" testing.) Therefore the strictest vegans would not use leather, not in the seats of their cars nor in their shoes, belts and bags.

However you can also be a "dietary vegan" and decide that it is okay to wear wool even though it comes from sheep.

Going from a typical American diet to a vegan diet and lifestyle requires a huge shift in mindset as well as taking time to educate yourself on nutrition, learning how to buy and cook differently. That is not a bad thing...just something that does take time and retraining.

If you are looking to lose weight successfully then this could be a great time to try going vegan since you will be changing habits anyway. For some people it is too much and it is better to take things in smaller steps.

That is what I suggest for most people. Start by learning more about nutrition. Choose one day a week to have no animal products in your diet (or try vegetarian meals instead of vegan.)

Do NOT just go out and buy a bunch of food products at the store just because they are labeled "vegan" and assume that you will lose weight. Did you notice that while a lot of pounds were lost on the Harpo challenge (Oprah's studio where almost 400 staffers pledged to go vegan for a week) some people actually GAINED weight?

This is possible because going vegan does not mean healthy. It just means no animal products. So this may be "healthier" it does not mean that it is inherently the best choice if you are wanting to drop pounds.

One of the reasons many people lose weight on a vegan diet is because of the emphasis on plant-based diet.More vegetables, complex carbohydrates, protein in the form of beans and legumes. Eating this way can be more filling and lower calorie per mouthful than eating an animal based diet. Because you are eating things that make you feel more full while the caloric density is lower you are eating fewer calories. Without making any other changes in your lifestyle then chances are really good you will lose weight. Which is good, because this plant-based diet requires a mindset shift and as I mentioned earlier, more work on educating yourself.

So why didn't everyone lose weight?

Not everyone lost weight because there are lots of high calorie vegan foods out there as well. If all you do is substitute your current diet with vegan versions of the same food you are probably not going to lose weight. There is vegan frozen dessert that substitutes for ice cream, for example, that is loaded with sugar and fats just like the original. There are vegan chips, which are prepared using vegetable oil but are not lower in calories. Also, if you go for the prepared meat-substitutes you have to read the labels to see what they are putting in them and how much you get per serving. I picked up one package at the store that was 7 ounces and that is 2 servings. While a 3.5 ounce serving of meat is also appropriate, if you are accustomed to eating a 16 ounce sirloin and you want to switch it for vegan alternatives you may not lose weight (but you will definitely lighten your wallet!)

There are still people who want to become a vegan--that's an awesome goal and one that I support if that is where you heart is telling you to go.

However, the key to weight loss success is to make a radical shift in your mindset not your diet! Decide to focus on your health. Decide that you CAN lose weight and that you DESERVE TO. The same mindset shift has to take place for you to lose weight and keep it off whether you are a vegan or a meat eater.

Then make small changes to your current lifestyle. Make changes that you can and will keep. Then when those changes are incorporated into your life you can make more.

Will this get you to drop 10 pounds in a week? Probably not. But it will allow you to successfully lose weight over time until you reach a weight that is healthy for you. It will also allow you to live your life and not feel like you are a slave to counting calories (vegan or otherwise.) And then you will look back in amazement at the changes in your body and find it hard to believe that you accomplished so much so easily.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Weight Loss Success is NOT Math

I get so frustrated by conventional "wisdom" that says weight loss success is a math formula. While there is certainly SOME truth to eating less and moving more in order to shed excess fat, there is more to it than that.

For years I thought it was a simple math formula. That left me frustrated, convinced there was something wrong with me. I was sure that everyone else in the world could make the formula work...that only if I was smart enough or had enough will power or whatever else I thought I was lacking...then I, too, would be able to live in the land of the slender.

Talk about deluded! But it was no wonder. It seems the entire world believes that that's all there is to losing weight. I've learned after a lot of failed attempts that it is not that simple.

First there is the whole calorie equality thing--all calories are NOT created equal.

Then there's stress--known to pack pounds on and hold them onto some of us with iron fists even if we are eating and exercising and doing "everything right."

And finally, but not fact, probably the biggest hiccup in the equation theory is our beliefs. Our minds are very powerful things and if we have a mindset that we cannot lose weight, then our bodies will believe it and we will struggle. Sometimes we will sabotage our efforts and other times we will not lose weight no matter how hard we try.

Please, don't tell me losing weight is a math equation. I never liked math in the first place and I hated dieting. Put the two together and...well, misery likes company if you know what I mean.

Stop focusing on counting every calorie that you eat and burn. Focus on your mindset. Yes, make healthier food choices. Yes, move your body more. But believe you can do it--and you can.

I know you can. I know I can. I know we can.

To our health--without the math.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Lose Weight Successfully: Get Enough Sleep, Be Less Hungry

This is part 2 of a series on the effect not getting enough sleep has on our efforts to lose weight successfully.

There is increasing evidence that insufficient sleep is directly linked to obesity and ailments such as diabetes. There has also been a lot of publicity about the direct relationship between obesity and diabetes, so even though I don't directly talk about diabetes much it is an important reason for us to achieve a healthy weight. Type 2 diabetes (formerly known as "adult onset diabetes") is much more common in people who are carrying too much body fat--no matter their age--then people in the "normal" weight range.

In addition to the diabetes connection, lack of sleep is also connected to heart disease, stroke and cardio-vascular issues. Bottom line is we have got to get enough sleep to be healthy! I know it seems obvious, but we tend to push ourselves thinking that giving up on sleep is our only option...that if we just get a little less sleep we will get more done, provide a better life for our families, make more money, etc. Truth is, if we become ill we will be LESS benefit to our family, COST them money and we will have LESS TIME with them--certainly less QUALITY time and possibly be LOST TO THEM FOREVER.

If that isn't enough, how about this: lack of sleep makes us hungrier!

Sleeping is actually a way for our body to regulate our appetite via hormones. When we don't get enough sleep the hormone that helps us feel satiated (leptin) is depressed. At the same time the hormone that stimulates our appetite (ghrelin) is increased.

Missing an hour or two once in a while is probably not going to make you obese. But chronically shorting yourself on sleep can. What's even scarier to me is that just 2 nights of shorting yourself of sleep can have this effect. I remember pulling all-nighters (often) and getting 4-5 hours of sleep a night for years, punctuated with nights of 10-12 hours sleep, but those short nights set me up for major health problems. Of course I didn't know that at the time, I felt I had to get the project done--whether it was for school or work--and feeling a bit tired was a small price to pay for the rewards I would receive.

Boy, was I wrong! I don't think anyone ever built a monument to someone because they missed sleep to get a project done on time.

A third hormone is also at play--adiponectin also helps regulate our body fat. When this hormone level falls (which happens with sleep deprivation, especially in Caucasian women) our blood sugar gets out of whack, our metabolism slows, and our cholesterol and blood pressure levels get out of balance.

Finally, the hormone melatonin is also affected by lack of sleep. This is especially important to those of us on a weight loss journey since studies have already demonstrated that healthy melatonin levels help us maintain a healthy weight.

Numerous studies are now showing that getting ample sleep on a regular basis is essential for our reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

Truth is, sleep is something that benefits our brains, our bodies and our emotions. When we are exhausted we don't feel good, we are less apt to believe we can positively impact our lives. Because our body's chemistry is out of whack it is harder for us to maintain the positive mental attitude we need to lose weight and we will reach for foods and drinks that give us artificial energy. Unfortunately that backfires on us in the long-run and we feel even more tired, so we grab more stimulants in the form of sugar or caffeine which just gets us even more out of balance and more prone to being overweight.

So put your health first and get some sleep.

If you aren't getting restorative sleep because of some other issues like insomnia or sleep apnea, if you feel tired even though you regularly are "asleep" for 8 or more hours a night--see your doctor. There are therapies that can help. Sometimes a medical condition can keep us from sleeping and that condition may be made worse by being overweight--or may be actually cured by losing weight, but we may need some help to break the cycle enough to get the sleep we need so we can have healthy hormone levels and body and brain chemistry that will aide us in getting a positive mindset about losing weight.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Weight Loss Challenge: Lack of Sleep

Sleep is an important component to our having healthy bodies. We all know that. We realize that we function better when we have had ample sleep, when we don't feel the need to pump our bodies full of sugar and caffeine just to keep our eyelids open. But did you know that lack of sleep is a big challenge to our weight loss success?

Researchers are pretty much convinced that the facts that we are getting less sleep and weighing more are related and not merely coincidence. According to a study reported in 2008 there are direct associations between sleep loss and an increased risk of both obesity and diabetes.

Maybe sleeping in isn't such a bad thing after all!

Whether your lack of sleep is because you are trying to fit more into a day that doesn't get any longer (I used to say if I could just give up eating & sleeping maybe I could get it all done--ha!) or you have a sleep disorder like insomnia or sleep apnea, or maybe because you wake up a lot because you are peri-menopausal your body is not getting the restorative benefits it needs from sleep. Notice the word "rest" within "restorative"...while we sleep our body rests and allows it to maintain health and wellness and to heal itself.

Sleep apnea is one of the major causes of lack of sleep. As women, we are more apt to experience sleep apnea after menopause. Interestingly that is also a time when many women gain weight. Sleep apnea appears to be much more widespread than anyone previously thought--many people with the disorder actually are undiagnosed.

Changing your sleep pattern by staying up late or getting up early affects your natural circadian rhythm. Our hormones rise and fall in rhythms throughout the day and night and key hormones Melatonin, cortisol and testosterone are time-based. By shifting our schedules we interrupt our natural hormone balance and that can cause weight gain.

Tomorrow I'll go into more about how lack of sleep negatively impacts our blood sugar and can make us hungrier!

Until then, have a great day and get a good night's sleep!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Groundhog Day Lesson: Don't Repeat Weight Loss Failures

Do you remember the movie Groundhog Day? It was a funny, thought-provoking movie from 1993 starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell. In the movie, Bill Murray's character, "Phil", has to relive the same day (Groundhog Day) over and over and over and over. How often do we do that, reliving our weight loss failures over and over and over?

Fortunately he is given the opportunity to revise his day: Phil is not doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over.

This is the most important lesson we can learn from the movie. Even though we won't live Feb. 2, 2011 (or thankfully 1993 either) over again, we can choose to live essentially the same days repeatedly. Or, we can choose to change our lives and get out of our ruts and live the lives we want.

In order to have weight loss success rather than failure we must decide to take control of our lives and steer our days in a different direction.

What we have right now...our current weight for example...are results of our decisions in the past. We will continue to wake to the same result until we choose to take different actions.

Fortunately we don't have to make huge changes. Nor do we have to make all the changes in one day, or even one year.

We didn't become overweight because we ate too much food one time. We became overweight because of the accumulation of lots of small actions--eating instead of expressing our feelings, eating without thinking about it, not making healthy food choices,
eating too much sugar, not moving our bodies--over a period of years. For some of us this period has been our entire lives.

We can become weight loss success stories! By making small changes consistently we will improve our health. It MUST improve, it cannot NOT improve!

The only way we are failures is to give up. We give up when we try to do too much all at once and we get overwhelmed or frustrated because we are not seeing immediate results.

Do yourself a favor and start now...start small, but start. Then just keep putting one foot in front of the other on the path of your choosing. You'll get out of the rut and find yourself with a whole new script for a healthy, happy life!