Warm Weather Dieting Woes


IMG_4090Happy Spring!!

Have  you ever noticed how the start of warmer weather gets people focused on dieting? I have been biting my tongue at work these past few weeks as it seems so many people are talking about the crazy eating plans they are starting. The new buzz seems to be a one or two food diet that is supposed to magically “cleanse” your system in a few weeks (a “kick start” as some people refer to it). I usually keep my mouth shut unless someone notices the dietitian sitting at the computer and dares to ask “what do YOU think?”

I love it.

Today I got asked the question, and I gave my answer. The research has connected dieting (any kind of cognitive restraint where you tune out your body signals) with binge eating. And weight GAIN in the long run. Yes, any trick to make you eat a lot less will of course result in weight loss (that good old “kick start” that is supposed to motivate you). Unfortunately, that short term weight loss ends up frustrating people rather than motivating them. They of course can’t keep up that rate of weight loss (and if they did, the loss would be valuable muscle). They end up feeling bad and usually just go back to their old ways.

Instead, what I shared with my coworkers was that it is smarter to take a non-judgmental look at your lifestyle and eating habits. Do you often eat when not hungry just because food is there? Do you have the habit of watching too much TV or sitting in front of a screen for hours on end? Instead, work on listening to your body. If you are hungry for a snack, and you want a cookie, eat a cookie. It is the non-hunger eating that goes against your body’s needs. Sometimes it is our sedentary lifestyles that prevent us from feeling better about our bodies.

I’ve said it before, and I will say it again! Work on being healthier in every way and forget about dieting!!!! In the long run you just might end up being happier AND healthier.

Is Pizza bad?


I find it somewhat funny when patients often ask me about a food such as pizza. “Is it bad?” Or maybe pasta, or bagels or potatoes. Why is it that some foods are so confusing to people? Why is there a need to classify foods as “good” or “bad”?

My simple answer is always “if you like it, it is good!”.

I think what people really want to know is “is this food good for me?”. The truth is there is a place for ALL foods in our lives. We all need to have a variety of healthy foods to feel good, stay healthy, and have energy. Yes, we need protein foods, fruits, vegetables, etc. But food plays a much more important role in our lives than just keeping us healthy. I am not a big fan of the slogan “eat to live”, because most of us have wonderful connections to certain foods and great memories around meal time.

For instance, being from an Italian family, holidays always came with specific foods. Easter breakfast had sausage and peppers, fried dough and ricotta pie. Christmas Eve had an assortment of fish dishes and Christmas day was always several gigantic pans of lasagna and eggplant parm. And sometimes, it is just simply wonderful to order a pizza delivered to your door on a Friday night after a long week at work when you are just too exhausted to even think about cooking.

Unfortunately we have been brainwashed to avoid carbs, avoid fat, avoid sugar, and that is why so many people are so confused. The diet industry relies on us to have these concerns, or how else would they be able to sell their products?

So instead of trying to judge if a food is “good” or “bad” why not try to eat healthy most of the time, but enjoy the foods you love, in moderation, listening to your hunger and fullness, eating so that you enjoy it and feel good afterwards;

In the end, you will be both healthy AND happy!

Having a “Goal Weight”

scaleThroughout my years as a dietitian working with people with eating and weight issues, it seems that a majority of people have a set “goal weight” in their heads. It is if there is some perfect number they need to reach, and then they will be happy with their bodies. Even parents of young children ask me “what should he weigh?” as if at 8 years old his body needs to be at the perfect weight (despite needing to grow a few feet by the time he is 18…), so does it really matter if his weight is “perfect” right now?

Let me ask, do you really think our heads can determine what our physical bodies need to weigh? and is a body ever really stagnant, stable, the same day to day? No, it is not. And I have learned a few things throughout the years (research of course demonstrates that our bodies are all different and have a genetic “set-point” weight range) but watching what happens to people’s bodies has taught me more than books or research.

Here is what I have learned:

1. An individual’s weight NEVER stays at one number. It is normal to fluctuate a few pounds up or down.

2. Goal weights are typically unrealistic. And when people manage to reach them, either they can’t stay there for long (and give up whatever rigid lifestyle they used to get there often going the other way to the extreme) or they live with having to constantly focus on eating (usually leading to an eating disorder or depression).

3. If and when people reach their “goal weight” they change it. Because their need is to focus on that number instead of the other scary and uncomfortable things in their lives. It serves a purpose (not a healthy one, but for some people, it distracts them and this is easier for awhile than addressing real issues).

So what should you focus on if not your weight? How about looking at your lifestyle and deciding to make healthy changes you can live with! And giving your body what it deserves, healthy food, good sleep, fun movement, joy, and the permission to be what it was born to be…healthy AND happy! Many years ago one patient of mine said it best, and I will never forget: “It finally dawned on me. Why do I care about the force of gravity on my body???” I wish you the same freedom!

Habits: our brain’s fault

vegetable brain

We all have behaviors that we wish we could stop. Some people smoke and wish they never started. Some people want to start exercising yet they go straight to the couch the minute they walk in the door. Others want to eat healthy, yet just can’t drive by that fast food joint without going to that drive up window. You get the picture! What is going on here? Why is it so hard to change?

In all of these situations our brains have taken over to theoretically make life easier for us. In all of these situations a habit has been formed. Our brains have learned that when it gets a certain “trigger”, a “routine” follows that results in a “reward”. The first time we perform the behavior (walk in the door, take off our shoes, walk to the couch) our brains had to think through each step. But eventually, the step of walking through the door gets directly connected in our brains to the reward of sitting on the couch! We can already feel the reward! And that my friend, is a craving.  Our brain is now automatically wired.

How do we undo this unhealthy behavior? We need to start to rewire our brains! You can start with changing your routine. Instead of taking off your shoes, put on sneakers. Go outside instead of to the couch. Or take a different route home (bypassing your trigger). In time, the urges decrease (although the brain connections always remain, they are weakened, and your new healthier connections become strong).

So ask yourself: is there anything YOU do automatically, without thinking, that you wish you didn’t? What have you got to lose? Even just identifying your habits can be the first step to help you move into a healthier lifestyle.

Does 3500 calories equal a pound?

why 3500 calories is not a poundFor all the years that people have been dieting, especially those who count calories, they have followed the golden rule: cut 500 calories a day out of your diet and you will lose a pound a week. That is because 3500 calories is equivalent to one pound of adipose tissue (body fat).

While this is true, it does not follow that if you decrease your intake by that amount of calories over time that you will lose a pound. New research now proves this to be true!  The way your body responds to a calorie deficit is dependent on baseline body composition, age, height, gender, and degree of caloric restriction. The result is a curvilinear pattern of weight loss over time rather than the linear pattern predicted by the 3500 kcal rule.

In other words, no two people are alike. Some have more muscle mass than others, and even at rest, muscle uses more energy (so muscular people, even at the same weight will need more calories). Also, quick weight loss typically results in loss of muscle mass, which then results in your body needing less calories. Finally, your body adjusts to a lower body weight once you do lose weight, so your energy needs change.

If your weight has creeped up higher than your normal weight, instead reflect on any lifestyle changes or eating habit changes that may have occurred over the years. Did you change jobs from a very active one to a sedentary one? Did you start a job at a restaurant where you now get food for free (and so you take it, even when you are not hungry)? Are you going back to school and no longer have time to cook, so eating fast food every day instead? If you focus on ways to shift into a healthier lifestyle, your body will know what weight it wants to be! So stop counting, and start living!

If your child is overweight…

mom cooking with child

Has your pediatrician informed you that your child is overweight or obese? With all the focus on the “obesity epidemic” pediatricians are now required to address the issue if a child’s Body Mass Index (BMI) falls above the 85th percentile (overweight) or 95th percentile (obese). A good parent’s natural instinct is to do the right thing which usually means take action.

Unfortunately, the first logical thing is to restrict a child’s intake,  which most parents don’t realize is the worst thing you can do! Recent research actually identifies three major contributors to childhood obesity: (1) lack of sleep, (2) parental lifestyle and eating habits and (3) parental restriction. This means that the more a parent tries to stop a child from eating more, or withholds food from a child, the more likely they are to seek out food and overeat. It backfires.

What should parents do instead? Childhood obesity is a very complicated issue with many contributing factors. I recommend seeking out a pediatric registered dietitian for guidance. You can also start now to work on being the healthiest you can be as a parent! This means work on being active, cooking healthy balanced meals, and focusing on health and NOT weight. More on this important topic to come!

Connecting exercise to what you eat

weights and appleIf I had a dollar for every time I heard someone mention exercise in the context of what they ate I could retire tomorrow. How often have you heard someone say “I can eat this, I went to the gym today”, or “I need to go for a walk, I ate too much pasta”.

What ever happened to being physically active because it made you feel good, and it was fun? It seems to me the people I have known throughout my life who have managed to stay physically fit have never connected what they DO to what they EAT. I have a friend who is in her 60’s who has been doing fun but intensive exercise videos in the morning almost every day. She loves the way it makes her feel, mentioning things like gaining strength and having energy. It is a habit for her and she looks forward to it. She never mentions anything about eating when she talks about how strong she is getting.

I have another friend in her 50’s who loves running. She gets antsy when she can’t get outside because it relaxes her. On these snowy days she does a yoga class or zumba class. She enjoys it and the way it makes her feel.

If you connect exercise with eating, you are making exercise into a punishment. Instead, why not look for something you really enjoy, and then do it for the fun of it? Change it up! Dance in the living room one day, go for a walk the next, practice hula hooping! In the end, you will be healthier and more fit. And that is a goal that makes sense : )