Stop Dieting and Start to Lose Weight

im no expert, but I expressed my own take on the failure of diets; I’ve come to realize that rather than being ON a diet (and hence, OFF a diet), what you really need to do is change your eating patterns and habits and adopt a new way of life – and ditch the dieting concept once and for all.

Last week I was lucky enough to spend a few days with the real experts at the nation’s oldest weight-management retreat dedicated to women, Green Mountain at Fox Run in Ludlow, Vermont. It’s nestled high up in the mountains on twenty acres of wooded seclusion. I met lots of great women – who came from as far away as Israel and Alaska -  who had struggled with dieting, bingeing and their weight much of their lives and were finally ready to commit to working hard and make a real, necessary and lasting change.

And guess what we had for dessert one night? No, not diet jello.

Cheesecake.

And it wasn’t “pretend” cheesecake made with artificial sweeteners and non-fat imitation cream cheese; the kind that makes you wonder why you bothered eating it in the first place, since it doesn’t even come close to cheesecake. It was the real thing.

That’s because the team at Green Mountain have a different (and very refreshing) philosophy about losing weight: dieting doesn’t work. Dieting, in their expert view, leads to feelings of deprivation, which leads to cravings and bingeing – eating too much of the “wrong” food because it is forbidden. The thinking goes something like this: I may as well eat it now and eat lots of it because come tomorrow or next week I won’t be able to have it ever again.

Their group of nutritionists, eating behavior specialists and exercise pros all come together to re-educate women who have struggled all their lives with the wrong messages. You probably know what I’m talking about – eat low-fat and you’ll be thin; cut out carbs and your belly will shrink; fill up on high volume foods and you’ll be satisfied and never crave another cookie again; eat those special diet cookies all day long and you’ll keep off the pounds.

As Alan Wayler, PhD, Executive Director of Green Mountain told me, “We aim to reframe the conversation away from weight and to health. If you are taking care of your health, you’re taking care of your weight.”  And he should know: he graduated from MIT with a doctorate in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism and did his master’s work at the Institute of Human Nutrition, Columbia University and Cambridge University in England. AND it’s in the family: not only did his mother, a widely recognized nutritionist, teacher and author, have the vision to found Green Mountain at Fox Run in 1973 but his wife, Marsha Hudnall, RD and author of seven books, runs the program along with him.

I learned so much that I want to share with everyone. But if I did, I’d have to write a book! So I’ve worked hard at distilling the most important information. Here are some important tips to keep in mind:

1. Let go of the “diet mentality.” Focus on feeding yourself instead of starving yourself. Stop searching for the magic cure and instead, broaden your perceptions of the foods that qualify for healthy eating. Give yourself choices.

2. Establish a pattern of regular eating. Have small, regular meals – and snacks. This way you won’t suddenly have hunger pangs which cause you to grab the first thing in site (which is guaranteed to be the wrong thing).

3. Give yourself permission to eat. To avoid feelings of deprivation (which only cause cravings), eat what you want instead of what you think you should have; eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you’ve had enough (remember, it takes your stomach at least 10 minutes to signal your brain that you are full ).

4. Eat mindfully. Learn to eat in a positive, orderly manner and be fully present for the eating experience. That means turn off the TV, put away the newspaper – and focus on the taste, texture, sight, aroma and satiety value of the food on your plate.

5. Observe portion sizes at meals and snacks. This was so obvious to me when I got home from my visit. I went to a restaurant with my husband and the amount of food I was served was huge compared to what I had gotten used to eating at Green Mountain. And trust me; I did NOT go hungry while away. They served the full meal on a plate that was as big as my outstretched hand (about 7-inches in diameter). It was satisfying and just enough.

The shift might be slow; change is like that. It might be difficult to adjust your way of thinking if you’ve experienced dieting and deprivation up until now. And I think it takes constant practice and slow and methodical thinking – at least in the beginning – to remind yourself of these things.

As a teen, I had a friend who worked at a chocolate shop. “How do you ever stop yourself from eating chocolate all day long?” I asked her. If it were me, I thought, I’d be nibbling away all the day’s profits. Her answer now makes sense: “I can have it ANY time; I don’t need to eat it all day long!

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Low in Fat, High in Salt and Sugar?

Are foods labeled “low-fat” really that good for you? When they come in the form of fruits and veggies, I say Mangia! But, it might be wise to take a closer look at the prepackaged items in your shopping cart. A recent report from Consumer Reports found that lower-fat foods can have pretty steep levels of sodium, including unlikely items such as Kellogg’s Raisin Bran (350 mg a cup), Friendship 1% low-fat cottage cheese (360 mg), Twizzlers Black Licorice Twists (four have 200 mg), Aunt Jemima Original Pancake and Waffle Mix (200 mg a pancake), Heart Healthy V8 vegetable juice (480 mg) and even the Caesar salad from McDonald’s has 890 mg of sodium.

The high salt content is there mostly to compensate for taste, but simultaneously, it increases our risk for complications from high blood pressure like heart attack, kidney disease and stroke, as well as risk ofasthma, kidney stones, osteoporosis and stomach cancer.

Similar to salt, sugar is often loaded into low-fat items to enhance taste. Not to mention, corn is subsidized by the government so high fructose corn syrup, the synthetic sweetener in most boxed foods, is super cheap to come by, making it an alluring ingredient for big companies.

A recent article in Men’s Health magazine sited items that top the charts when it comes to sugar content. On the list was Quaker Natural Granola: Oats, Honey & Raisins. Sounds healthy right? One cup has 30 grams of sugar. Yikes! Not good, considering processed sugar, or refined carbohydrates, can cause spikes in blood sugar levels, telling your body to store fat and increasing your risk of type 2 diabetes.

So, check your food labels. But beware, sugar can fall under many names, including corn sweetener, corn syrup or corn syrup solids, dehydrated cane juice, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, and most other ingredients ending in “ose,” among others.

What can you do?

When it comes to salt, The Consumer Reports article offers some good advice: Shop for condiments with no salt added; eat at home more and cook with less salt; eat one serving (instead of the whole can of soup); avoid sodium heavyweights, like soy sauce, chicken bouillion and cured meats (like bacon, ham and hot dogs) and check your medicine (some drugs can contain sodium). See our article on shaking the salt habit for more easy ideas.

As for sugar? Try to buy cereals with less that 10 grams of sugar; use spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to add flavor to plain foods like oatmeal; give bland cereals a pick-me-up by throwing in some fresh berries; replace highly processed and refined sugars like corn syrup with more natural alternatives like honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup or agave nectar. These items have more nutrients and therefore take longer to digest than their processed counterparts, keeping you fuller longer and helping to avoid dangerous spikes in blood sugar. Learn more about choosing the right carbs.

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Progesterone Prescription: Friends

Attention all post-menopausal women: the progesterone that is lost through menopause – contributing to some pretty pesky annoyances like depression, lethargy, panic attacks, water retention and vaginal dryness – can be increased without hormone replacement. How?

Through close friendships.

A study by the University of Michigan found that bonding with others increases progesterone. When scientists studied the saliva of women who emotionally bonded with other women through a shared cooperative activity designed to elicit closeness, their progesterone levels increased. And when these same women were tested a week later, they felt especially altruistic and said that they’d even risk their lives to help their partners.

Bonding is pretty strong stuff, isn’t it?

I think this is interesting, don’t you? I wonder if the need for friendship, especially as we age, is fueled by our body seeking out some replacement for those lost hormones. Friendship is a pretty easy, safe and inexpensive way to do this.

And, here’s another great thing about friends: sharing laughter. I think we all have those certain friends that we laugh with. But it’s worth the aching jaw, in my opinion. Laughter, as they say, is good for the soul – but it’s also so good for the immune system as well.

Yes, my friends mean a lot to me – they always have, and I suspect they always will. They add a missing link to my life; the puzzle is not complete without that critical piece.

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Free Nutrition Advice From The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation

I just spent a wonderful weekend in Savannah, Georgia at a family wedding. Aside from the beauty of the city, what impressed me was the atmosphere of kindness. The people were genuinely friendly. Relaxed, happy and just plain NICE. Southern Hospitality is not a myth, after all…

And then today was my annual visit with my oncologist; a visit that- even after 20 years as a survivor – always stirs up mixed feelings, among them trepidation and relief.

So, you may be asking: What do these two things have to do with anything?

Well, I just have to share with all of you a fabulous find:

The Minnie Pearl Cancer Foundation, a non-profit foundation located in Nashville, TN., is offering free nutrition consultations with a registered dietitian to anyone in need of nutrition advice as it pertains to cancer prevention, treatment and survivorship. (The comedienne Minnie Pearl was successfully treated for breast cancer in 1990.)

Kimberly Petersen, R.D., will work directly with you on your personal nutrition needs and also can provide you with educational resources and materials. She can also help with menu planning and specialized preparations to ensure you’re receiving the right nutrients in your diet.

This is completely FREE (did I already mention that?) for anyone who is currently undergoing cancer treatment.

I know that when I was going through chemotherapy, my tastebuds– and stomach – really took a hit. It was difficult to tolerate a lot of the healthy foods I needed, and many foods I had once liked took on an unpleasant flavor. As a result, I lost a lot of weight, which I possibly could have avoided had I consulted with a good nutritionist.

Since nutrition plays such an important role in cancer prevention (not to mention the importance of a healthy diet to support your immune system during – and after – cancer treatments), I think that everyone affected by cancer should take advantage of this wonderful generous service.

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Signs of Heart Attack: Different for Women

When you hear “heart attack” do you generally think “male?” Many people do – and that thinking could account for a few facts: research shows that women go to the hospital on average one full hour later than men do after experiencing a heart attack. And since every minute counts, delaying care may result in poorer outcome for women.

The classic symptoms – like acute pain, tightness, burning and a dull ache in the chest – are not the only ones that clue women in to the fact that they may be having a heart attack.

Here are some symptoms of a heart attack that are more typical for women:

shortness of breath

nausea or vomiting

dizziness

anxiety

back or jaw pain

pressure-like chest pain between the breasts

rapid heartbeats or palpitations

unusual tiredness

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Experimenting With Acupuncture

I’ve always been curious about acupuncture – curious, and a bit weirded out by the all of those needles sticking out of me. So I decided to face my fears and give it a shot. And let me tell you, it’s a lot more than just pushpins in your legs. The office was located in Times Square, so my first thought was: how can this experience be relaxing plopped in the middle of the busiest (and my least favorite) spot in Manhattan? But, as soon as the (very Zen) acupuncturist opened the door, out wafted the smell of a spa and immediately my back ached for a massage.

The most impressive thing was how much time she spent with me going over a lengthy intake, asking questions about everything, from medical issues to what supplements I take and how I deal with stress. The main area I wanted to focus on was my energy levels, so we talked about that, among other things, making connections in the body, examining how one area can effect another and how my lifestyle manifests physically with respect to Chinese Medicine, which was interesting and enlightening.

Then it came time for the actual needles. When I spoke to the acupuncturist upon making the appointment, she suggested I wear loose-fitting comfortable clothes; short sleeves allowed my arms to be exposed, while I was able to pull up my pant legs for access to my lower extremities. She thoughtfully picked out spots (for instance, a spot on my leg somehow connected to my digestion), tapped the area a bit and then quickly inserted the needle. How did it feel? Well, it definitely didn’t hurt – there was a little sting and then just a deep awareness of it being there, which I’m guessing was just a result of the unfamiliar feeling. She probably put in about 10 needles, mostly in my legs, arms and hands. She adjusted one in my hand and I felt a quick burning sensation, but then it was gone. She didn’t use any on my face for fear of a minor black and blue (not ideal the week before my wedding!), which I was kind of relieved about (maybe next time?). She left them in about a half hour and as the time went by a strange thing happened – the sensation of pressure/tingling alternated from one spot to the other, almost as if each was working one at a time (maybe it was in my head, but it felt that way.) For about 10 minutes of the session she put pressure around the neck and shoulder area with her hands, reaching a pressure point right at the base of my head, which felt really good.

I’m not sure if it was simply laying down for 30 minutes just breathing or the massage-like pressure, but after almost two hours there, I left feeling relaxed and refreshed, ready to face the honking horns and flashing lights of Time Square…well almost. I’ll let you know how session two goes, and we would love to hear about your acupuncture experiences too!

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Pregnancy & Your Skin

Well, don’t despair over your skin. Acne, dry skin, varicose veins and darkened patches of skin around your eyes, nose and cheeks are common skin-related changes during pregnancy. A dark line may appear down the middle of your abdomen. It’s also a common, but harmless, pregnancy-related skin change. To keep your skin healthy follow these simple steps:

Wear sunscreen and a hat in the sun. Your skin is more sun-sensitive and may burn more easily during pregnancy.

Take your prenatal supplement every day, in addition to eating a well-balanced diet that includes whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Ask your dermatologist or OB about skin care products to control or reduce pregnancy-related skin irritation. Soap substitutes and moisturizers may be recommended.

Put your feet up to reduce varicose veins. Report any unusual skin changes such as yellowing of the skin (jaundice), blistering, severe itching, rashes or moles that change in color or size to your health care team.

Schedule your healthy pregnancy checkup and childbirth classes.

Sorry to break it to you but, if you’ve gotten used to your regular Botox injections, glycolic peels and microdermabrasion, it’s time to get unused to them. Basically, you should avoid any medically unnecessary procedures or drugs during your pregnancy. And while you may feel those “lunchtime face-lifts” aesthetically necessary, they are definitely not medically necessary. The same goes for teeth whitening and hair coloring.

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