Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Top 10 Diet Myths

With a New Year approaching, many people are resolving to lose weight. There can be a lot of confusing and inaccurate information floating around, so I think it is time to discuss the top ten diet myths.

1. Myth: Fad diets work for a healthy and permanent weight loss.

Fact: Fad diets may promise quick weight loss, and you may indeed lose weight at first. However, we all know how quickly we get tired of fad diets, and regain that lost weight, never learning or practicing healthy, sustainable eating routines. Fad diets may also be unhealthy, even dangerous, leading to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or malnutrition.

2. Myth: Weight loss is all about calories in, calories out.

Fact: The QUALITY of the calories are important, not just the QUANTITY. Empty calories (think Oreos), or an unbalanced diet (think of any diet which cuts out a major food group) can leave you hungry, weak, or even sick. WHAT you eat is just as important for long term success as how much or how little you eat. If you don’t eat a balance of protein, fiber from whole grain, veggies and fruit, and “good” fats, you may end up with nutritional deficiencies and unstable blood sugar. That promotes a slower metabolism, and can increase your hunger!

3. Myth: I can eat as much as I want and lose weight, as long as long as I stay away from all junk food.

Fact: As I said above, the quality of food is extremely important, but you can eat too much of a good thing! Remember, one Tablespoon of olive oil has 120 calories! People who focus on food choices while ignoring calories can “stall” when it comes to weight loss. Another problem with this approach is that it is just not realistic for most people to entirely eliminate sweets and treats for the rest of their lives. What works well for most of our patients is eating in a healthy balanced pattern overall, with healthier versions of sweets/treats worked in that won’t break the calorie bank! People don’t feel deprived, and learn to eat in a fashion that will keep them healthy for life.

4. Myth: I can lose all the weight I want just by increasing exercise.

Fact: To lose one pound of fat, you must burn an extra 3500 calories. Walking one mile burns about 80- 100 calories. Check the math. Let’s see, to lose one pound, walk 35 extra miles. That’s a 7 mile walk, five days a week, to lose one pound! Exercise is crucial to long term weight maintenance, and helps with weight loss, but exercise alone doesn’t do the trick for most people. Besides, intense exercise without proper nutrition may be dangerous.

5. Myth: The healthiest way to lose weight is by cutting all the carbs (or all the fat) out of my diet.

Fact: We need healthy high fiber carbs (veggies, fruits, and whole grains) and “good” fats (nuts, fish, olive and canola oil, avocados, flax seed) along with lean protein in order to be healthy and lose weight safely and permanently! Balance and moderation is the key!

6. Myth: Skipping meals will help me lose weight; I should never eat until I feel really hungry.

Fact: Studies consistently show that people who eat fewer than 4 to 5 times a day weigh the most! It’s likely that several factors are at work. First of all, waiting until you’re “starving” leads to out-of-control overeating and poor food choices. Second, it’s likely that the metabolism is slowed to “idle” if your body is deprived of a steady incoming supply of energy. Many people’s bodies have become numb to normal feelings of hunger, and are not getting normal signals to eat at appropriate times. Our patients do best and feel best when they eat proper types and amounts of food every three to four hours during the day.

7. Myth: I’ll lose weight if I never eat past 8 pm.

Fact: This tactic may work for some, but not for people with late night lifestyles! Remember, “One size does not fit all” when it comes to healthy eating. There is no physiologic reason to stop eating at 8 pm, unless that’s your bedtime! People who work at night need to eat every three to four hours, just like everyone else. The key to success is to distribute your total calories throughout the day, in smaller balanced meals.

8. Myth: If I become a vegetarian, I’ll lose weight.

Fact: Ever heard of “French Fry Vegetarians”? A vegetarian diet does not guarantee health or weight loss. Teens can eat pizza, fries and drink full sugar cola and still technically be vegetarians. They can also be obese and malnourished. A healthy vegetarian diet consists of quality protein, high fiber carbs, and good type fats – following the same principles as non vegetarian diets.

9. Myth: Low fat or low carb products are always the healthiest.

Fact: Watch out for “fake health food”. Some of these products are loaded with calories, and some low carb foods are loaded with saturated and trans fat, and “sugar alcohols” which gives some people gastric distress. Some low fat products are loaded with sugar (including high fructose corn syrup) and calories, which can lead to weight gain and overeating. Some fast food salads are ruined with high fat/high calorie dressings and ingredients like “crispy noodles” or fried “tortilla strips”. Know the calories and ingredients in your food!

10. Myth: I’ll never lose weight because I was born with a slow metabolism, and no diets ever worked before.

Fact: Metabolism does vary widely between people, for a variety of reasons, including genetics, medical conditions, medications taken, hormone issues, stress issues, and lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep and exercise, but you can certainly increase your metabolism from its current level by addressing some factors within your control, if you have the knowledge! Make sure your doctor knows weight loss is a priority for you, so he/she can avoid medications that may cause weight gain, and properly treat conditions that can slow weight loss (like diabetes, sleep apnea, and hypothyroidism).

Monday, December 29, 2008

Food Journals - there has to be an easier way!

Food journals...they are not particularly glamorous. There are not particularly exciting.
But study after study shows that they DO WORK WELL when people are trying to lose weight. Research has shown that people UNDERESTIMATE THEIR CALORIE INTAKE by 20 to 40 %! The best way to find out what is really going on with our diet, is to actually record our food intake, including calories. It is also helpful for many people to begin to track their protein, carbohydrate, and fat consumption, but this can be complicated without nutrition education.

The "old fashioned method" of keeping a food journal was with pen and paper. People would look up calories in a book (a great one is "The Calorie King Calorie Fat, and Carbohydrate Counter" by Allan Borushek), and then write out the journal by hand. But there is an easier way...

You can now journal online, and let your computer do most of the work for you! There are several free online journal sites, and the Calorie King also has an oustanding site, for a small fee (www.calorieking.com). One of my favorite free websites is TheDailyPlate.com, which has teamed up with Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong website. The Daily Plate allows you to easily track your calories, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, etc, etc. It even allows you to see the ratios of protein, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet, on a "pie chart."

In my practice, patients who are using an online journal lose about twice as much weight in the first month as patients who are trying to keep track of calories in their heads. Impressive! The online journal also allows my dietician to analyze the diet, and recommend adjustments to improve weight loss and control appetite. Maybe journals aren't glamorous - but the results can be!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Link to Three Simple Exercises

Exercise has been called the closest thing to a "magic pill" that exists for our health and well-being. Unfortunately, it can be challenging to get to the gym, exercise classes, or even commit to a continuous hour at home at one time, given the challenges many of us face. But FORTUNATELY, you don't need to commit that much time and effort to gain many benefits from exercise. Small, simple, short routines can be a great way to "sneak in" healthy exercise! Studies have shown that even 10 minutes of exercise on a daily basis can begin to improve your health.

Here is a link to a video that demonstrates three basic exercises that can be done almost anywhere, by almost anyone, with no equipment other than a chair. They are demonstrated by Joe Alcaro, Personal Trainer at The Boston Sports Club in Newton, Massachusetts, as seen on NECN. Of course, check with your physician before starting any exercise program.