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Hey, I am a med student who likes to write. Each week I provide a handful of tips that will help you in your quest to become healthier.

Role Modelin': The Larissa Monologues

Written: 02/28/2008 | Join the discussion (1)


Back in the beginning of Diethack's early days about 5 months ago, I did two articles on people who have achieved their health goals in life, one on Mark McManus who is a hardgainer who has managed to achieve his dream body and one on Jimmy Moore who has managed to lose weight on a low carb diet. You can check out their stories here:

7 Questions With Productivity & Fitness Junkie Mark McManus

Role Modelin': Livin' La Vida Low-Carb

A few days ago I stumbled on the personal blog of a diethack reader The Larissa Monologues. Mrs. Larissa Marks has managed to achieve her weight goal through small consistent changes to her lifestyle without any resort to extreme dieting. I asked her to share her story and the practical steps she took to improve her health with you and she politely accepted. Here is her story:


One year ago, I decided to make some changes in my life in the name of health. I was moderately overweight, with no regular physical activity, and poor eating habits. My goal was to lose 20 pounds through regular exercise and healthy eating. No starvation, no extreme diets, no extensive research or professional help - just simple, manageable lifestyle changes that I could sustain for the long haul. I have since lost 15 pounds, and am making my way to 20!

In my personal experience, the diet and exercise habits listed below have been the key to my weight loss. These habits fit my personality and lifestyle. However, I firmly believe every individual needs to find habits that work for them. Hopefully my experience will inspire and encourage other readers in their journey towards healthier living!

  • Eat a good breakfast. Ignoring conventional wisdom, I never used to eat breakfast (mainly out of sheer laziness). Now I make it a priority to eat a healthy and balanced morning meal, and I've experienced major benefits - more energy, less hunger, less desire to overeat later on. My standard breakfast is oatmeal, fruit and a glass of soy milk. Eat a balanced meal that will propel you into good food choices for the rest of the day.

  • Eat smaller portions. This habit took me a while to get used to, since I spent so many years overeating. In my house, there are two sizes of plates: mini and humongous (like wok-size humongous). I decided to only use the mini plates, utilizing dish-space psychology to my full advantage. Now my body and mind have adapted to healthier portions. Eat one serving on a smaller dish, eat slowly, and allow your body time to feel full.

  • Choose the healthier foods. I try to stick with whole wheat pasta, soy milk, brown rice, low fat yogurt, multi-grain bread, etc. instead of their counterparts. That way I consume foods with their maximum nutrients. Next time you go grocery shopping, look for healthier equivalents to your household staples.

  • Drink lots of water. My reusable plastic water bottle has become the best friend that I bring everywhere. Drinking water has so many health benefits, including curbing the desire to snack between meals. So instead of soda and juice, reach for the water.

  • Enjoy healthy snacks. Snacking between meals is fine when it's with fruit and vegetables. I go through bags of baby carrot sticks, and love them! Apples and oranges are also great have around, and easy to carry in my purse. It's pretty straightforward - stop eating junk, and grab something good for you.

  • Skip dessert. I've never been a big snacker, but I had a habit of eating dessert on most nights. I decided to wean myself off the dessert by committing to eat dessert only one night a week. This habit allows me to indulge a little, and gives me something to look forward to. Cut dessert out of your regular routine, but give yourself a little freedom once in a while.

  • Exercise three times a week. I began this discipline over a year ago, and have been able to sustain it. My weekly schedule includes one hour at the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Some weeks I'm not as disciplined, but I'll simply get back on track the following week. Each session includes both cardio and strength training. Make it a priority to get consistent exercise every week.

  • Get physically active in small ways. I love discovering opportunities to be active beyond going to the gym. Always take the stairs rather than the elevator. Park farther away from your destination so you have to walk. Lift weights or do stomach crunches while watching your regular television show. Find creative ways to get exercise throughout the day.

  • Join an online support community. I joined PEERtrainer with a few friends - the site is free, and allows you to be a part of a small group for accountability. There's nothing like the encouragement of other people who have similar goals. It's also a great place to keep a log of meals and workouts, and track your overall progress. There are many other helpful sites online - utilize the internet to it's full advantage!

  • Find inspiration. I subscribe to a Health magazine, and read blogs and websites related to health and weight loss. This simple act has done wonders for me. Now I get regular reminders of my health goals, encouragement, new ideas to try, and testimonies of real people who intentionally living healthy lifestyles. Find something to inspire you and keep you motivated.

Mrs. Marks is also a great cook and I highly recommend you to check her recipes over at The Larissa Monologues.


Editor's Note: If there are other readers willing to share their health stories, what right/wrong steps they took, any success or failure they had, please send me an email with your story and a brief introduction to yan@diethack.com

Your stories will help the diethack community a lot with their health.

Please be aware though that I won't accept commercial requests to push over products or sites. Thanks a lot.

Surprising Nutrition Facts About 10 Common Restaurant Foods

Written: 02/28/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


After gobbling up more than your fair share of a "bloomin' onion," devouring an entire jumbo tub of movie theater popcorn or wolfing down more than one bowl of pastel-colored marshmallow sugar-puff cereal, most people would rather not know what was really in it. The calories, the fat, the sodium ... who really wants to know?

In reality, probably not many. Still, there is that voice in your head that's telling you otherwise. "You should be good. Know what you're getting yourself into," it says. Perhaps that's why most Americans (a whopping 80 percent, according to an AP-Ipsos poll) say they do, in fact, check the nutrition panel on foods. (Ironically, 44 percent also admit that even though they check the panel, they'll buy the food regardless of what it says.)

But whether it's out of curiosity, a feeling of obligation, or because you're looking out for your health, knowing the facts about what's in your food is clearly a right you should take advantage of, as foods can be deceiving. Sometimes even the healthiest-looking food can turn out to be a disaster for your diet, and something that receives little fanfare (like the humble mushroom) can turn out to be fantastic. You owe it to yourself to know the difference.

If you are looking for nutrition facts about foods from your favorite restaurant or those on your grocery store's shelves, check out Sixwise.com's Nutritional Facts Reference Center. With just the click of a button (you can search by restaurant name or food category), you'll have the nutrition content of your favorite foods at your fingertips. Conduct a quick search before you indulge (or anytime you're wondering about a certain product) to find out how much (or how little) nutrition the item contains. The rest is up to you.

What's Really in These 10 Common Restaurant Foods?

Wondering how to order healthy the next time you're eating out? Here are 10 common menu items with nutrition facts that may surprise you (and that you may be better off avoiding).

  1. Auntie Ann's Cinnamon Sugar Pretzel: One pretzel has 450 calories and 9 grams of fat. Add on caramel dipping sauce and you get an extra 135 calories and 3 grams of fat.

  2. 7-11 Blueberry Muffin: Stop to grab a muffin while filling up your gas tank and you're in for 450 calories and 14 grams of fat (for one muffin!).

  3. Jimmy John's Beach Club Sandwich (on 7-Grain Honey Wheat Bread): The name sounds light and healthy, but if you eat the whole sandwich it's 826 calories, 41 grams of fat, and 70 percent of the recommended daily sodium!

  4. Krispy Kreme Frozen Latte Blend (20 oz.): You think you're being good by going to Krispy Kreme and not getting a doughnut, but if you opt for a frozen latte blend instead, you're in for 730 calories and 26 grams of fat.

  5. Panera Bread Bistro Steak Salad: You're trying to eat light so you order a salad ... this one has 630 calories and 58 grams of fat.

  6. El Pollo Loco Ultimate Pollo Bowl: Even when opting for the "bowl" (which is like a burrito without the tortilla), it's 915 calories, 34 grams of fat, and 134 percent of the daily recommended sodium.

  7. Papa John's Garden Fresh Pizza (14"): One slice has 280 calories and 9 grams of fat (but who eats just one slice?).

  8. Fazoli's Six-Layer Lasagna With Broccoli: One portion has 670 calories and 27 grams of fat. Have a cheesy breadstick too? Add on another 370 calories and 18 grams of fat.

  9. Caribou Coffee Large Low-Carb Skinny 'Bou: Now, everyone knows that big coffee drinks have a lot of calories, but when you're ordering one that's low-carb (and has "skinny" in its name) you'd think it wouldn't be so bad. Not so. This one has a whopping 1,360 calories and 145 grams of fat!

  10. Kenny Rogers Roasters Grilled Chicken Sandwich: It's grilled (not fried) and it's chicken (not beef), but it still has 523 calories, 29 grams of fat and over half of the recommended amount of daily sodium. And that's before you add the cheese, mayo and sides.


- Ryan

References: AP-IpsosResults.com

What to Do If... Guidelines On How To Handle "Life-Threatening" Situations

Written: 02/26/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency is not something that we often think about, or want to, but it is extremely important. An average of 18,048 people died each year from unintentional home injuries between 1992 and 1999, and that doesn't include injuries that occurred outside of the home.

This topic is very important , and the tips that can help protect you and your loved ones in times of emergency.

What to Do If …

  1. Your Teeth Get Knocked Out (or Broken)

    If your tooth has been knocked out, you should get to your dentist immediately, as he or she may be able to reimplant the tooth. To transport the tooth, use any of these options (and do it quickly, as the longer you wait, the less chances of a successful reimplantation):

    • Put the tooth back in the socket. Bite down on gauze or a wet tea bag to help keep it in place.

    • Store the tooth in a small container covered with a small amount of whole milk or saliva.

    • If you cannot get it into the socket, the tooth can be carried between the lower lip and lower gum or under the gum. (Be careful not to swallow the tooth.)

    • Special devices called Save-a-Tooth and EMT Tooth Saver, which contain a case and a special fluid to use if a tooth is knocked out, may be available from your dentist to keep in your first-aid kit.


    When handling the tooth, only touch the chewing end, not the root. You can also apply a cold compress to the mouth area to ease pain and apply pressure, using gauze, to control bleeding.

    If a tooth is fractured, you should seek medical help immediately, as exposed nerve tissue could become infected. Small chips are less of an emergency, but should be looked at by your dentist.

  2. You Break a Bone

    Most importantly, stay still, don't attempt to "test" to see if you can move the bone and don't try to straighten or reposition the bone. In most cases, you can call 911 or get to an emergency room for further treatment. However, if the skin is broken, lightly rinse it to remove any visible dirt and cover it with a sterile dressing. If necessary, you can use a rolled up newspaper or strip of wood as a splint to immobilize the area above and below the injured bone. Ice packs can be applied to reduce pain and swelling while waiting for medical attention. Note: Never attempt to move a person who has a possible spine injury.

  3. You Get Food Poisoning

    If you think you have eaten something bad, and two to six hours later start to have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, weakness and headache, you may have food poisoning. In most cases, food poisoning will resolve itself in a couple of days. You should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration, and children should be given an electrolyte drink. Avoid eating any solid foods or dairy products until the diarrhea has passed.

    If you are unable to keep fluids down due to nausea or vomiting, or the illness lasts longer than two to three days, you may need medical attention to prevent dehydration. Also, if you have eaten toxic mushrooms or shellfish, you should get to an emergency room as your stomach may need to be emptied.

  4. You are Choking

    Try to cough forcefully to dislodge the item. However, if a person is unable to speak or breathe, the Heimlich maneuver should be performed by:

    • Wrapping your arms around the person's waist from behind
    • Making a fist and placing the thumb side just above the person's navel (below the breastbone)
    • Grasping the fist with your over hand and making quick, upward and inward thrusts with your fist
    • For pregnant women or obese people, you should wrap your arms around their chest, place your fist on the middle of the breastbone between the nipples and make backward thrusts


    This should be continued until the item is dislodged or the person loses consciousness. If this happens, CPR should be administered and 911 should be called immediately.

  5. You Have Heatstroke or Another Heat Emergency

    Heat emergencies begin with excessive sweating, fatigue, thirst and muscle cramps, but can progress to be much more serious, particularly among children, the elderly and people who are obese. Heat cramps can lead to heat exhaustion, caused by dehydration, and then heatstroke (the most serious heat emergency, which can cause shock, brain damage, organ failure and even death).

    If you or a family member feels the heat is getting to you (you may feel lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous, weak or have a headache), you should:

    • Lie down in a cool place with the feet elevated one foot
    • Apply cool wet cloths or cool water to the skin, cold compresses to the neck, groin and armpits and use a fan to lower body temperature
    • Give the person a salted drink (either a sport's drink or water with salt added, one teaspoon salt per quart of water) or cool water, one-half cup every 15 minutes (do NOT give any fluids if the person is vomiting or unconscious)
    • Massage any cramping muscles until they relax.
    • If the person shows signs of shock, seizures or loses consciousness, call 911 immediately

  6. You Sprain Your Ankle

    The first thing to do after a sprain is to apply an ice pack to reduce swelling (wrap the ice in a cloth, don't apply it directly to the skin). Next, keep the sprained area immobilized by wrapping it firmly in an ACE bandage, or by using a splint if necessary. You should then elevate the sprain above heart level (even during sleep) and rest it for several days. All pressure should be kept off the injury until it stops hurting, which may require the use of crutches.

    If you suspect a broken bone, have severe pain or hear a popping sound, you should go to the emergency immediately. Further, you should call your doctor if swelling persists for more than two days, you see signs of infection or pain persists for more than several weeks.

  7. You Dislocate Your Finger/Shoulder

    A dislocation occurs when the bone and joint separate, and it may be hard to distinguish this injury from a broken bone. If you suspect a dislocation, you should call 911 or go to the emergency room immediately. In the meantime, keep the person still and, if skin is broken, rinse any excess dirt and cover it with a sterile dressing.

    You should then use a splint or a sling to keep the injury in the position you found it -- do NOT move the joint. Ice packs should be applied to reduce pain and swelling. You can also check for blood circulation near the injury by pressing on the skin. If blood is circulating properly, the skin will turn white and regain color in a couple of seconds.

  8. You Have a Nosebleed

    Most nosebleeds can be resolved on their own by sitting down and gently squeezing the nostrils closed for five to 10 minutes. You should lean forward so you don't swallow the blood and breathe through your mouth. After five minutes, you can check to see if bleeding has stopped. If necessary, you can apply a cold compress to the bridge of the nose, but you should not attempt to plug your nostrils with gauze or tissue.

    If the bleeding does not stop after 20 minutes, the nosebleed occurred after a head injury or the nose may be broken (see below), you should get to the emergency room.

  9. You Break Your Nose

    If you suspect your nose is broken, you should breathe through your mouth, sit down and lean forward so blood does not run down the back of your throat. Cold compresses can be gently applied to the nose to reduce swelling, and you should go to the emergency room or call 911 immediately.

  10. You Get Frostbite

    Frostbitten skin will be pale, cold and have no feeling, and later will change to red and painful before the final stages of white, numb skin when the tissue actually begins to freeze. If you suspect you have frostbite, you should move to a warmer place, remove any jewelry or wet clothing, wrap the area in sterile dressings (separate fingers and toes) and get to an emergency room immediately.

    If medical attention is not immediately available, you should follow these steps:

    • Immerse the frostbitten area in warm (NOT hot) water, or apply warm clothes, for 20-30 minutes. This may cause pain, swelling and color changes, and the process is complete when the skin is soft and has regained feeling.
    • Do NOT rub or massage the frostbitten areas.
    • Apply sterile dressings to the areas, separating fingers and toes.
    • Keep the areas as still as possible, and keep them warm to prevent re-freezing. If you cannot keep the areas from re-freezing, it may be better to delay the initial warming process until a safe location can be reached, as re-freezing can case even more severe tissue damage than the initial frostbite.
    • Give the person warm drinks to replace any lost fluids.
References: Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia

How to Cope With A Stressful Life

Written: 02/25/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


We've understood for a while now that the "9-5 work day" has essentially fallen by the wayside, a casualty of the "globalized, 24-7, dot-com era" in which we currently find ourselves.

Not that long ago, only doctors and members of a few other professions could truly be "on call" 24-7 as one of their job requirements.

But nowadays it seems that nearly all of us can be reached by our bosses, our colleagues, or our clients day or night, (by email, cell phone, fax, pager, Blackberry, text message, instant message, etc.), and not just for emergencies.

Consequently, more and more of us are succumbing to the latest incarnation of good old-fashioned "workaholism"-and all of the life-shortening stress and health problems that come with it.

It May Be Time to "Unplug" For a While

One critical mistake that people make these days is that they do not truly "unplug" themselves from their workaday lives when they go on vacation.

But consider this: You need truly work-free vacations in order to deeply relax and recharge your batteries. These days, even when you go on vacation, you still can be inundated by work-related faxes, e-mail messages, letters, and cell phone calls if you allow yourself to be.

For this reason, I strongly suggest that you consider leaving your cell phone, laptop, and other instant communication devices at home when you take a trip, so that you can genuinely decompress and rejuvenate yourself.

Similarly, even if you are in the middle of a big work project, when it comes time for your well-deserved vacation, try your hardest to leave all of the pertinent files and materials back at the office. This may cause you some mild anxiety at first, but if it is not a matter life or death, and if the deadline doesn't fall on the exact same day that you are due back from your vacation, chances are the project can wait.

Of course, if you are in business for yourself, it can be particularly challenging to take a genuine vacation because there may be no one to cover for you in your absence.
Nonetheless, for the sake of your emotional health, you may want to consider using an answering service, and organizing your calendar in a way that allows for a two or three week "slow-down" to coincide with your vacation.

A Deeper Look at Why Some of Us "Overbook" Our Lives

When it comes to "workaholism" and "overscheduling," it is important to evaluate whether or not you may be using the stressful, overloaded pace of your life to mask pain or deeper issues of some kind.

To that end, ask yourself the following questions… and answer them as honestly as possible.

  • Do you get nervous if each day isn't totally booked? In other words, does the idea of free time fill you with a sense of dread?

  • If so, it's important to ask yourself why you dread having time on your hands. Does free time scare you or make you anxious because you don't like to look within for some reason?

  • If the idea of slowing down long enough to examine your life makes you feel anxious, why do you think this is the case? Perhaps you have difficult or even traumatic memories that you have yet to work through? Or perhaps you are not happy about some decisions you have made in either your professional life or your personal life, and rather than slowing down long enough to think about these decisions, you overload to avoid examining them? Or perhaps something else is causing you to overbook your life?


If you have answered yes to any or all of the above three questions, it is possible that you may be using stress or "schedule overloading" in the same way that a substance abuser uses drugs or alcohol. In other words, you may be using stress and schedule overload to avoid, mask, or temporarily escape from some sort of personal pain, or a difficult (or even traumatic) memory, or certain choices you have made in your life.

But just as using alcohol to escape from one's problems is not the answer, neither is overloading one's schedule; and if you happen to be a "habitual schedule overbooker" it may be time to face your underlying issues head-on, perhaps on your own, or perhaps with the assistance of a professional therapist.

What You Can Do RIGHT NOW to Improve The Quality of Your Life

Fortunately, there are some concrete, practical actions that you can take immediately to begin the process of de-stressing and decompressing from your overbooked life.

For instance, there are numerous benefits to starting your day slowly and peacefully, including the following:

  • You set the tone for the rest of your day. If you start your day off at a frantic, crazed pace, then your heart rate and breathing become more rapid and you tend to feel panicked for a significant period of time after your frantic morning.

    On the other hand, if you start your day off quietly and peacefully, in whatever way you like, (meditating, stretching, doing yoga, listening to soothing music, taking a long, hot shower), then you set a peaceful tone for the rest of your day. That way, if you end up having a challenging day, either at work or at home, you are much better prepared to handle the challenges.

  • A quiet, peaceful morning is simply better for you physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. If you make the decision to incorporate some quiet time into your morning, your concentration and your ability to focus will both improve significantly. In other words, you will feel better in just about every respect.

  • Starting the day in a peaceful manner means setting aside a short period of time that is just for you. Between work obligations and family obligations, many people have a tendency to spread themselves very thin, leaving very little time left over for themselves. Therefore, carving out some quiet morning time forces you to give a small but meaningful gift to yourself.


It is well worth it to tell your family that you need some peaceful time and space in the morning to start your day. They may complain a bit in the beginning, but after they see what a positive effect the quiet time is having on your mood, they will probably come to appreciate your quiet time as much as you do, and they may even start emulating you in this area, which would benefit them as well.

Toning Your Tummy: The Best and the Worst Techniques

Written: 02/22/2008 | Join the discussion (1)


The abdominals are one of the most loathed, yet most coveted, set of muscles that Americans want to define, but often don't know how. To be fair, it really isn't possible to "spot treat" your body and get rock-hard abs simply by doing some crunches. You must concentrate on a healthy diet and aerobic exercise first, to reduce fat and shape up your body overall, so that the work you do to tone your tummy can be seen.

However, assuming you're ready to get down to business and trim up your stomach just in time for swimsuit season, there are certain exercises that are much more effective than others (with the research to prove it).

Toning Your Tummy: The Best and the Worst Techniques

A study by researchers at San Diego State University, sponsored by the American Council on Exercise (ACE), tested 13 common abdominal exercises for muscle stimulation in the front and side abdominal muscles (the rectus abdominus and the obliques, respectively).

The exercises, some of which involved equipment (such as the "Ab Rocker"), were performed by 30 people aged 20 to 45, who exercised either daily or occasionally. Meanwhile, the activity of their muscles was monitored during the exercises using electromyography equipment.

The researchers concluded that exercises that "require constant abdominal stabilization, as well as body rotation, generated the most muscle activity in the obliques," and were, therefore, the most effective.

Meanwhile, they concluded that it's not necessary to purchase a piece of equipment to give your abs a good workout. (The only exception being if the equipment inspires you to routinely workout your abs and stick with the program.)

The Worst Exercises

Nearing the bottom of the list when it comes to ab exercises you're better of forgetting was the ever-popular crunch or sit-up.

"The problem with the sit-up is that it is ineffective," Peter Francis, Ph.D., the study's lead researcher, said.

It's ineffective because rather than relying on the abdominal muscles to sit up, most people use their hips. Meanwhile, sit-ups are notorious for straining the back, Francis says.

Other exercises that made the bottom of the list were:

  • The Torso Track: Though it was "marginally more effective" than a traditional crunch, a significant number of people experienced lower-back pain as a result.

  • The Ab Roller: This was no more effective than a traditional crunch.

  • The Ab Rocker: This was found to be up to 80 percent less effective than a traditional crunch.


"You don't have to spend $150 on a piece of exercise equipment to strengthen your abs," says Francis.

The Best Exercises for Your Abs

Following are the most effective abdominal exercises found by the study. To get the best results, Francis recommends alternating between several of the top exercises and doing a five-minute session each day.

  1. The Bicycle

    Lying flat on your back, raise your knees to a 45-degree angle. Move your legs in abicycle-pedaling motion, while touching your left elbow to your right knee, then your right elbow to your left knee.

  2. The Captain's Chair

    (This uses a piece of gym equipment.) Grip the handholds of the equipment lightly and keep your lower back pressed against the back pad. Allow your legs to dangle below, then slowly lift your knees toward your chest in a controlled motion. Slowly return your knees to the starting position.



  3. Crunch on Exercise Ball

    Lie with your back on the exercise ball so that your thighs and torso are parallel to the floor. With your hands behind your head, or crossed over your chest, tuck your chin in toward your chest and contract your abdominals. Your torso should raise no more than 45 degrees from the ball. To vary difficulty, move your feet wider apart or closer together.

  4. Vertical Leg Crunch

    These crunches (along with the reverse crunch below) put less stress on the back than typical crunches. Lying flat with your back on the floor and your hands behind your head, extend your legs straight up, crossed at the ankle with a slight bend in the knees. Lift your torso toward your knees, contracting your abdominal muscles and keeping your chin off your chest.

  5. Reverse Crunch

    Lying flat on the floor with your back on the ground, put your hands beside your head or extend them flat by your sides. Cross your feet at the ankles and lift your knees to a 90-degree angle. Press your lower back to the floor and contract your abs so your hips rotate and your legs reach toward the ceiling.

- Ryan

References:

American Council on Exercise (Picture Courtesy)

HealthAtoZ.com

How to be Healthy Without Dieting

Written: 02/20/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


Though the thought of counting calories and measuring portions doesn't bring smiles to most people's faces, many people succumb to such dieting measures because they believe it will improve their health.

But, according to a two-year study published in the June 2005 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, if you're looking to achieve long-term health improvements, behavior changes and self-acceptance are more effective than dieting any day of the week.

In the study of 78 obese women, aged 30-45, half were assigned to a dieting group, which focused on counting calories and fat content, restricting food consumption and monitoring their weight.

The other half were assigned to a non-dieting group that focused on paying attention to internal body cues about hunger, letting go of restrictive "diet-like" eating habits and working with negative self-image. After two years, the researchers found:

  • 92 percent of the non-dieting group stayed with the study, while 42 percent of the dieters dropped out.

  • Non-dieters maintained the same weight; dieters lost weight initially but regained almost all of it by the end of the study.

  • Non-dieters total cholesterol increased initially, then significantly decreased (including levels of their bad LDL cholesterol), while dieters had no significant change in cholesterol levels.

  • While both groups significantly lowered their blood pressures initially, the non-dieters sustained this change while the dieters did not.

  • Non-dieters reported nearly four times more physical activity, while dieters, although going through an initial increase in activity, had not sustained increased activity by the end of the study.

  • Non-dieters demonstrated improvements in self-esteem and depression, dieters had a worsening of self-esteem, and depression levels remained the same (after an initial boost).

"We have been ingrained to think that large people can only make improvements in their health if they diet and slim down," said one of the study's researchers, Linda Bacon, "But this study tells us that you can make significant improvements in both metabolic and psychological health without ever stepping on the scales or counting calories. You can relax about food and eat what you want."

Dieting Weakens the Immune System

The above study is not the only one to find that dieting is not always the best way to achieve health. According to a study published in the June 2004 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, "yo-yo" dieting, the practice of constantly losing weight and then gaining it right back, may weaken the immune system.

The study found a definite relationship between a woman's immune function and her dieting history -- the more times she attempted to lose weight, the more her immune function decreased.

Other risks of "on again, off again" diets? Studies have found that they may actually increase your risk of heart disease. Yo-yo dieting can lead to lower levels of the good cholesterol (HDL) and, in women who weren't overweight to begin with, increased levels of triglycerides, which is a risk factor for heart disease in women. Plus, frequent changes in your weight can result in high blood sugar, which may increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Dieting and the "Eating Hormone" Leptin

Frequent weight loss and gain may influence a hormone called leptin that influences appetite and eating behavior. It's thought that this effect may explain why women with a history of yo-yo dieting tend to have higher percentages of body fat.

Often, when weight is lost quickly, more lean muscle may be lost than fat (particularly if exercise is not a part of the equation). When weight is regained (usually as fat tissue), the end result can be a higher weight with increasing levels of body fat.

How to be Healthy Without Dieting

So, you may be wondering, "How am I supposed to lose weight and improve my health if I don't diet?' Of course, getting regular physical activity and eating healthy foods is important, but so are the following, often overlooked, components.

The first step is to become aware of your eating patterns; for instance if you tend to overeat when you're stressed about work, then make adjustments based on them. If you know you tend to overeat when you're overwhelmed, make it a point to keep yourself busy with another activity (even something relaxing like reading or taking a bath) during this time.

"When you examine your own weight-loss patterns, you can then identify potential methods and tools that will work for you long term," says Robert Kushner, M.D., medical director of the Wellness Institute at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Next, focus on making small changes in your lifestyle, not on losing weight. For instance, rather than thinking, "I have to lose 30 pounds," think, "Today I'm going to take a pass on the bread and butter and go for a walk after dinner."

"Add one or two healthy behaviors to your regular routine, and you're done for the day," says James O. Hill, Ph.D., an obesity researcher at the University of Colorado at Denver.

And finally, stay positive. Think of the lifestyle changes you are making in terms of the benefits they will bring you (more energy, better health, etc.), not of what they are taking away. Give yourself some credit for every positive step you make (eating fruit for desert instead of a piece of cake, for instance) and try to get your entire family involved in this new, healthier lifestyle.

- Ryan

References:

Journal of the American Dietetic Association June 2005; 105(6):929-36.

Health Orbit May 31, 2005

Journal of the American Dietetic Association June 2004;104(6):903-12

Woman's Day: Stop Yo-Yo Dieting

8 Big Eating Mistakes You Are Still Making

Written: 02/18/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


Most Americans, 76 percent in fact, believe they have healthy eating habits, according to a 2004 poll by Ipsos-Insight. Yet 57 percent of the nearly 4,000 adults polled also considered themselves overweight. How can this be? Either the healthy eaters aren't being active enough, or we all have different definitions of "healthy eating."

"People say they have a healthy diet, but what does that mean to them?" said Ruth Kava of the American Council of Science and Health. "Does it mean they eat an apple a day and the rest of the day eat burgers and french fries?"

As the poll showed, many people -- most of them, at that -- believe they are healthy eaters. Meanwhile, a large portion of this same group is struggling with their weight and feeling tired and not in the best of moods -- hardly signs that they're truly eating healthy.

Everyone, even "healthy" eaters, make mistakes. Here are the biggest dietary mistakes that people make (and still think they're eating healthy).

  1. Not eating breakfast (or other meals).

    Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, as your body is literally breaking the "fast" you were in overnight. Your body needs nutrients in the morning to get going -- and not giving them to it will leave you famished (and prone to overeating or binging on junk food) come lunchtime.

    The same goes for skipping other meals -- you're likely to be so hungry that you'll eat everything you can get your hands on when you come home from work.

  2. Drinking lots of fruit juice.

    Fruit juice does have some vitamins, however, it also has a lot of sugar and a lot of extra calories. Some of the lower quality brands also contain artificial colors and flavors and added sugar. The healthier choice? Skip the juice and grab a piece of fruit instead.

    "What freaks me out is the amount of sugared soda and juice we drink," says Judith Stern, ScD, RD, professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California, Davis. "I'd like to see all the sugared drinks sent out into space, where they could orbit the Earth forever."

    N.B.: The FDA has a page on food safety, http://www.fda.gov/fdac/features...8/ 598_juic.html Publication No. (FDA) 99-2324. where they mention at the bottom of the page it says, "100% Pure or 100% Juice - Guarantees only 100 percent fruit juice, complete with all its nutrients. If it's not there, it's not all juice. "Cocktail," "Punch," "Drink," "Beverage" - Terms which signify diluted juice containing less than 100 percent juice, often with added sweeteners. (Big Thanks to Sibyl for pointing this out!)

  3. Eating too many "healthy" snacks.

    Snacking is fine -- healthy, even, if you're eating fruits, veggies and other nutrient-dense foods. But watch out for those not-so-healthy "health" foods like pretzels, fat-free chips and cookies, and giant bagels.

    It's a lot easier than you think to add an extra 500 calories to your daily intake just by grabbing a handful of this and a handful of that throughout your day.

  4. Drinking diet sodas all day.

    Many people think that switching from regular to diet soda is a healthy choice. True, you are getting fewer calories and sugar, but diet soda is not good for you. Rather than putting a bunch of artificial sweeteners, flavors and colors (not to mention the caffeine) into your body, you're much better off with plain water or herbal tea.

  5. Overloading the pasta.

    Pasta got a bad rap during the "low-carb" craze, but there's still a large group of people who swear by it. Pasta, particularly the kind made from whole grains (not refined white flour), can be part of a healthy diet. The trick is to eat it in moderation, as the carbs can raise your blood sugar and lead to a surge of insulin in your body otherwise.

    The problem is that people often eat up to four cups of pasta at one sitting, when an average serving size is just one cup.

  6. Eating a lot of energy bars and drinking sport's drinks.

    Energy bars, though marketed as health foods, are often little more than over-priced candy bars. Some do have added nutrients, but most also have some form of sugar and a lot of calories. Sport's drinks, similarly, are often loaded with sugar (and artificial flavors and colors) and -- unless you're literally running marathons -- you probably don't need those extra calories.

  7. Cutting out all fat from your diet.

    All fat is not your enemy. In fact, fat is vital for your body to function properly (or at all). The important thing is to know which fats are healthy and which are not. Fats to definitely avoid include trans fats (found in commercial baked goods, margarine, doughnuts, French fries and other snack foods). The experts are split when it comes to saturated fats, with some saying they should be avoided and others believing they are actually quite healthy.

    Most everyone agrees that monounsaturated fats, the kind found in avocados, olive oil, and nuts, and omega-3 fats, the kind found in fish, are exceptionally healthy and should definitely be included in your diet.

    "If you keep track of total calories, you don't have to worry about how much fat you eat, just what kind," said Alice Lichtenstein, DSc, an American Heart Association spokesperson.

  8. Focusing your diet on frozen "healthy" dinners.

    These meals may give you some vegetables and protein, and certain varieties will help you to stay trim by limiting your portion size (if that's all you eat), but they are not especially healthy. Many are lacking nutrients and contain preservatives and other unsavory ingredients.

    Further, "Eating too many heavily processed foods can leave you short on fiber and antioxidants such as vitamin C," explains Jo Ann Hattner, RD, clinical dietitian at Stanford University Medical Center.

    A healthier option would be to spend a day over the weekend cooking large batches of your favorite meals, then freezing them in convenient portion-sized containers. This way, you'll have a truly healthy meal that you can grab from the freezer and heat up after work.

- Ryan

References:

CBS News: Healthy Eaters Say They're Hefty

Prevention: Busted! 5 Major Eating Mistakes

Top Ten Causes of Serious Burns To Your Child

Written: 02/14/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


Every year in the United States, more than 2.2 million people suffer from burns. Of these, close to 1 million seek emergency treatment and 3 percent to 5 percent sustain life-threatening injuries. Says Roy Alson, MD, PhD, associate professor at the Department of Emergency Medicine, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, burn injuries leave 60,000 people hospitalized each year in the United States, and over 5,000 people die from burn-related injuries.

How Burns Affect the Body

With the skin being the largest organ of the body, when it gets burned many bodily functions are compromised. Think about it; the skin:

  • Helps regulate body temperature and prevents body fluids from evaporating
  • Provides a barrier against infection
  • Contains sensory receptors that provide information about the environment

When the skin gets burned, all of these most basic and necessary functions can suffer, with one of the most serious being that the body's resistance to infection can go down tremendously. In fact, according to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, up to 10,000 people in the United States die every year of burn-related infections such as pneumonia. Fortunately, about 75 percent of all burns are preventable, says eMedicine's Burn Center, particularly if you're aware of the top causes of burns that exist in your home.

  1. Barbecue grills. Barbecue grills can pose a major burn risk, especially to kids. "From grills to barbecue pits, parents need to make sure their children avoid any area near an open flame," said Kim Davies, trauma manager at Children's Medical Center of Dallas. "This is especially important as you begin heating up a grill--it's not hot enough for food, but it's hot enough to burn."

  2. Clothes Irons. Irons left to cool on low surfaces are responsible for up to half of burns in toddlers. That's because they haven't yet learned that touching such objects could hurt them, and as anyone with young children knows, they'll grab onto anything they can reach. Never leave irons unattended or in places where children can reach them (or pull them down using the cord).

  3. Curling Irons. Similar to above, curling irons are tempting for young children to grab, especially when they come in bright colors. Burnsurgery.org estimates that hot curling irons cause up to 45 percent of burns in small children. Adults and bigger kids can also be burned by careless use of these irons.

  4. Fireplaces. Fireplaces, particularly the gas variety, are becoming increasingly popular in homes and condos. While adults can be burned from tending to the fire or while adding wood, children may reach out toward the fireplace out of curiosity and fall against the glass doors.

    "It only takes seconds for a child to be seriously burned," says Amy Zierler, information specialist at Safe Kids Canada, the national injury prevention program at The Hospital for Sick Children. "Young children under the age of 5 years, and especially those under 2 years, are at an increased risk because they are busy exploring and are often unsteady on their feet."

    When a fireplace is in use, the glass barrier doors can reach over 400°F in only six minutes, and it takes 45 minutes for the doors to cool down to a safe temperature after the fire has been put out.

  5. Radiators. Since they're cool at times and hot at others, children may not know to keep away. Adults are at risk from accidentally falling into one. Those of you with small children and radiators in your home may want to consider screening them off, as with the fireplace and barbecue. And never put beds or cribs near a radiator.

  6. Ovens. Like radiators, ovens are hot at times and cool at others, so children may not perceive it as a risk. Be sure that children are not nearby when putting or removing items into a hot oven-remember that it only takes a few seconds for a serious burn to occur.

  7. Hot pots on the stove. Scalding burns from hot water are one of the most common burns to children and pets. For toddlers aged 6 months to 2 years, the majority of scaldings happen when hot foods or liquids are spilled onto the child. A pot on the stove looks very tempting to a curious 2-year-old, and chances are they'll reach out to grab it if they can reach it.

    Never leave pots unattended, and turn handles inward so they don't protrude out over the edge of the stove where they're easier for small hands or curious pets to get a hold of. Also, use only the back burners on the stove when possible.

  8. Coffee cups. Though seemingly innocent, a cup of hot coffee left on a table or countertop can scald a child or pet within seconds. If you've ever spilled hot coffee in your lap, you know how much it hurts, but a child is even more vulnerable to the hot temperatures.

  9. Hot tap water. According to the National Safe Kids Campaign, hot tap water accounts for nearly one-fourth of all scald burns among children and is associated with more deaths and hospitalizations than other hot liquid burns. The most common place for tap-water burns is in the bathroom, such as during bath time, and the burns tend to cover a larger portion of the body and be more severe than other scald burns. Always test the temperature of the water before placing a child or pet into the tub or sink.

    These burns can be prevented by lowering the setting on your hot water heater to 120°F or below. Anti-scald devices are also available for water faucets and showerheads, the Campaign reports.

  10. Steam from microwaved foods. When removing covers from food that has been heated in microwaves, escaping steam can cause scald burns-about 95 percent of microwave burns to children are from this type of burn. Let food cool adequately before removing it from the microwave and serving it.

- Ryan

Simple Tips to Keep Your Gas Appliances as Safe as Possible

Written: 02/13/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


Common appliances in your home-appliances like your gas oven, stove, water heater or clothes dryer-can, in certain circumstances "produce combustion pollutants that can damage your health, or even kill you," says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

These pollutants are produced when the fuel in these appliances (natural gas, kerosene, wood or coal) is burned. Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ultrafine particles, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and sulfur dioxide are just some of the pollutants that can be produced and released into your home's air.

Combustion pollutants including ultrafine particles are known to cause numerous health problems like inflammation, oxidative stress, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, watery eyes, breathing difficulties or even death. These effects can occur immediately or after years of long-term exposure.

Combustion pollutants are so problematic because the air inside our homes is subject to a variety of toxins, not only from our gas appliances but also from building materials, tobacco smoke and activities like cleaning and cooking. When they're all combined they make our indoor air significantly more polluted than the outdoor air, even in big cities, according to the EPA.

People spend the majority of their time indoors and therefore the majority of their time breathing indoor air, so if that air is contaminated health problems will almost indefinitely result.

Are my Gas Appliances a Risk to my Health?

It appears that even natural gas appliances that are vented to the outdoors (such as clothes dryers) may release high levels of ultrafine particles indoors.

According to an 18-month study of the ultrafine particle emissions in a townhouse (conducted by Lance Wallace, a retired EPA expert on air quality monitoring) an outdoor-vented clothes dryer was responsible for producing an "order of magnitude increase in the ultrafine [particle] concentrations [in the home] compared to times" when the dryer or other appliances were not in use.

According to the EPA, the amount of pollutants produced by a particular appliance depend on how well the appliance is installed and maintained, how well it's vented and what type of fuel it uses. However, because the health effects from these pollutants can also occur from a number of other sources, it can be difficult to determine if your gas appliances are to blame.

Tips to Keep Your Gas Appliances as Safe as Possible

The EPA does offer some tips to reduce your exposure to combustion pollutants, which you can apply to your own home today.

  • Make sure your home has good ventilation, and open windows, etc. when you can.

  • Only choose vented appliances, if possible.

  • When buying combustion appliances, look for products that have met current safety standards (they'll contain labels from organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and the American Gas Association (AGA) Laboratories).

  • Consider buying gas appliances that have electronic ignitions rather than pilot lights. They're more energy efficient, and they don't give off the constant low-level pollutants that pilot lights do.

  • Make sure your appliances are the proper size. Heaters that are too big may produce more pollutants than necessary.


- Ryan

Saving Face: 7 Ways To Prevent Premature Aging of Your Face

Written: 02/12/2008 | Join the discussion (0)


While your eyes may indeed be your window to the world, your face is like the world's window to you. Just looking at a person's face, you can easily identify whether they are happy or sad, tired or energetic … young or old.

In your 20s, you might not have given this much thought. At this time, your face is still firm and virtually wrinkle-free. But as you reach your 30s, your 40s and certainly your 50s, an aging face -- particularly one that's aged prematurely -- can make you appear older, more fatigued and less excited than you really are.

You can't stop your face from aging entirely, but there are a number of internal and external factors at work here -- many of which you can influence. It's never too late -- nor too soon -- to start taking care of your face and preventing premature aging.

Why (and How) Your Face Ages

There are two ways by which your face, and for that matter your skin all over, ages: internally and externally. Internal aging is what's commonly referred to as the "natural" aging process. This type of aging occurs as you get older, and involves:

  • Collagen production slowing (collagen contributes to skin's firmness)
  • Elastin production decreases (elastin contributes to skin's elasticity)
  • Fat cells begin to disappear (which can lead to sagging skin)
  • Your skin losing its ability to retain moisture
  • Frown lines and "crow's feet" appearing due to small muscle contractions
  • Dead skin cells not being shed as quickly
  • Slightly less turnover of new skin cells


All of these things combine and contribute to the characteristic face of an elderly person: wrinkles, sagging, dryness, thinness in the skin and perhaps discolorations such as "age spots."

Gravity is Not a Major Part of Face Aging

While common sense might dictate that gravity plays a role in gradually pulling our faces down, leading to jowls and drooping skin around the eyes, chin and neck, a study found this is not the case.

According to researchers, fat loss, sun exposure and natural changes in the skin are the primary causes of face aging -- not gravity.

"People make assumptions about how the face ages because when they pull up on their facial skin, they look better," said Val Lambros, MD, American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) member and author of the study. "Actually the pull of gravity on facial tissues is not a significant component of facial aging. Instead, other factors, like the loss of facial fat and sun damage are more contributory in the complex process of aging."

Are Facelifts a Good Option?

In 2005, more than 10.2 million cosmetic plastic surgery procedures were performed in the United States according to ASPS. For the first time in six years, facelifts did not make the top five procedures. (The top five were liposuction, nose reshaping, breast augmentation, eyelid surgery and tummy tuck.)

"The facelift is still a highly sought after procedure, nearly 109,000 were performed last year," said ASPS President Bruce Cunningham, MD. "However, the fact it didn't make the top five surgical procedures can be attributed to increased consumer demand for minimally-invasive injectable wrinkle fillers and fighters as a remedy to combat facial aging."

Minimally-invasive procedures increased 13 percent from 2004 to nearly 8.5 million procedures in 2005. The top three procedures in this category were all related to the face: Botox, chemical peel and microdermabrasion (laser hair removal and sclerotherapy rounded out the top five).

"The statistics show that in a solid economy, more Americans are willing to invest in anti-aging remedies such as cosmetic plastic surgery," said Dr. Cunningham. "For many, cosmetic plastic surgery is the new take on 'growing old gracefully.'"

Every cosmetic procedure has its own unique set of risks and potential advantages that you should research thoroughly before moving forward. For instance, facelifts carry a risk of scarring or permanent damage to facial nerves, while Botox treatments carry a risk of forehead and eyelid drooping and respiratory infection.

Further, there is always a risk that the results will not be what you had in mind. Country singer Kenny Rogers has been very open about his own feelings regarding his plastic surgery operation in 2005.

"I went in and got my eyes done, and I'm not happy about it. (The surgeon) is going to go in and fix that for me. They're too tight around the eyelids for me. It drives me crazy!" Rogers said. "If we can fix that, then I'll be glad I did it. If we can't fix it, I'll regret it or get used to it."

How to Prevent Premature Aging of Your Face

External factors from your lifestyle and environment play a huge role in how quickly your face begins to show the signs of your age. Here are some of the top contributing factors to premature aging of your face, along with how to avoid them and keep your skin looking young longer.

  1. Smoking. Exposure to cigarette smoke, whether from your own smoke or second-hand, will increase wrinkling and dryness of the skin. This is partly because smoking depletes your body's vitamin C, which is necessary for young-looking skin. Some researchers even say that cigarette smoke is just as bad for your skin as ultraviolet rays from the sun.

  2. Sun Exposure. Too much exposure to the sun is well known to cause wrinkling, premature aging and even cancer of the skin. You may develop brown sunspots or the skin can take on a dry, leathery appearance. While some researchers are now pointing out that some sensible sun exposure can indeed be healthy, to protect your face you should:
    • Wear a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher, year-round.
    • Avoid exposing your face to the sun during its strongest hours, from about 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
    • Wear a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses when you're out in the sun for an extended period of time.

  3. Poor Diet. A poor diet is a source of facial aging (and overall aging) from the inside out. Without the proper fuel, your body does not have the nutrients it needs to even function properly, let alone devote to keeping your skin firm, moist and blemish-free. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, will provide you with plenty of antioxidants that will help to protect your skin and overall health.

  4. Not Enough Exercise. Exercise tones muscles and helps promote blood flow -- necessary for healthy skin and body.

  5. Too Much Stress. Anyone who's been through an extremely stressful event knows how it seems to show up all over your body, including on your face in dark circles under your eyes, dull skin and new wrinkles. Managing your stress, along with getting enough sleep, is key to retaining a youthful face.

  6. Exposure to Cold. If you're outside in the elements -- cold temperatures, wind, etc. -- your face will show it. Too much cold can easily suck the moisture right out of your face, leading to dry, irritated patches. To prevent this, protect your face with a scarf when you're outside and invest in a natural facial moisturizer.

  7. Excess Alcohol. Over time, alcohol can permanently damage blood vessels in the skin, causing you to appear flushed. Broken blood vessels may also appear near your skin's surface. Not sure how much alcohol is too much? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define heavy drinking as more than one drink a day for women and more than two drinks a day for men.
- Ryan


References:

Face Ages Due to Fat Loss, Skin Changes

10.2 Million Cosmetic Plastic Surgery Procedures in 2005

Anti-Aging Skin Care Series