Dr. Kim Foster

It sounds like the holy grail: Boost your metabolism, lose weight without even trying!

Is such a thing even possible? All manner of supplements trumpet this claim. But to my mind, that seems pretty dubious. Chemicals to boost metabolism are out there for sure (meth, anyone?)…but they’re not always healthy

So, instead of that, are there natural ways to accomplish this goal?

Indeed there are. Here are some of them:

Increase muscle mass.

As in weight training. Muscle burns more calories than fat. Which means it’s just math from here on in: if that bod contains proportionately more muscle, you’ll burn at a higher metabolic rate. Pump that iron, people.

Drink green tea.

Research is beginning to show promise in this department. It’s the epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in green tea that may improve bellyfat distribution, boost metabolism, and curb appetite.

Get NEAT.

This stands for non-exercise activity thermogenesis, and basically it’s a way to get more activity (thus more metabolic burn) in your day without having to resort (gasp!) to hitting the gym. Excellent primer on NEAT right here.

Spice things up.

Studies are increasingly demonstrating that spices can help with weight loss efforts. Capsaicin (that’s the fiery stuff in hot peppers) appears to improve fat oxidation and metabolic rate and curb appetite. A new study showed a blend of turmeric, cinnamon, rosemary, oregano, garlic powder, and paprika reduced post-meal insulin and triglyceride levels.

Looking for more sneaky ways to jack up your weight loss efforts? Read this. And this. And, um, this.

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So first, a little news: I’ve recently been invited to join the amazing team of bloggers over on Yummy Mummy Club, the awesome website and brainchild of Erica Ehm. I will still be keeping up my own blog, Savvy Health, right here, but now you can also find me over on YMC.

And my latest post over there is one you’ll want to check: Sneaky Ways To Lose Weight.

In the article I detail 9 tricks you can use to drop a few pounds…without even trying.

Might come in handy after the holidays.

Just saying.

 

 

Do you eat for comfort? If we’re honest, we can all say yes to this question, from time to time at least.

The RARE indulgence (say, for example, a nose-dive into a pint of Haagen-Dazs dulce de leche in front of an open freezer door after ending a 4.5-year-long toxic relationship with a total narcissist and cat-hater…ahem…) is not going to kill anyone. But I think we all know this is not a great habit if it happens too often. Turning to food for every little speedbump in life? Not a good idea.

I read an interesting thing recently, about the differences between men and women and their comfort eating habits (in the book Mindless Eating, which I reviewed recently).

When surveyed about their top comfort food choices, men tend to name things like pasta, soup, and meatloaf. Women, on the other hand, tend to name ice cream, cookies, and chocolate.

Why the difference?

One theory: men feel “taken care of” or “doted upon” with these foods. Meals like mom always made…right? But for a woman, soup or meatloaf or lasagne represents, typically, work. Because they’re the ones cooking these comforting meals! Which turns out to be not so comforting if you’re the one slaving in front of a stove.

The comfort foods that women gravitate towards are snackish: quick bites, scarfed down with nary a cutting board or Crock Pot in sight. And certainly without dishes to wash afterwards. And that, my friends, is comfort in my book.

Fascinating, no?

So, the question is: how do we get that comfort factor without having to go up a jeans size?

Start by re-training yourself to pay attention to those emotional eating cues. When your fingers start twitching toward the cookie tin, ask yourself: Am I really hungry? Really? No, I mean, like truly hungry?

If not, maybe you need to seek comfort elsewhere. Spa, anyone? Call a friend? Listen to your favorite music?

Beyond dealing with immediate urges, you might need to take a look at your greater need to deal with stress. And this requires a more cohesive strategy. Breathing exercises are a great place to start, and from there it depends on your personal preferences: regular exercise, meditation, yoga…

Also, set up your environment so it’s not your enemy. If you know you are a weak, weak woman in the presence of All-Dressed Ruffles…don’t keep them in the house. Sure, you can always drive to the store to pick up a bag, or five, but making it that much harder for yourself will help. Plus the drive will give you a moment for a sober second thought. And to talk yourself down from the precipice.

Get organized with your snacking. Meaning, keep your house/desk/purse stocked with quick and easy bites that are healthy. Like baby carrot sticks. Walnuts in a snack-size ziploc. Fruit.

Okay, I know baby carrots are an exceedingly poor substitute for chocolate. But it just may fill up that little corner or satisfy the need to munch on something long enough for you to distract yourself. Or get yourself outside for a walk, or to the yoga studio, or to your best friend’s house, or whatever it takes to abort the impending breakdown that triggered the chocolate craving in the first place.

Baby carrots. So crazy it just might work.

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Women used to complain about their hips and thighs. Now, it seems, it’s all about belly fat. I suppose this could be my imagination since I have, in recent years, joined the post-baby ranks…and now share this particular preoccupation.

Or maybe it’s the attention paid to apple vs pear-shaped physiques. Which is an important distinction, actually. An apple silhouette (with fat accumulated around the belly) is more dangerous than a pear shape. Years of research have shown an association between belly fat and an increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Of course there’s a recent study that threatens to debunk years of accepted wisdom re fat distribution in the abdomen vs hips/thighs. But this is just one study, and the jury is still out.

Regardless–whether you want to lose that spare tire for aesthetics or for health–it’s a good goal.

So, what to do?

1. Watch out for trans fat. Saturated fat, in general, is not your friend if you want a nice lean tummy, but trans fats are particularly evil. A study at Wake Forest University showed that trans fat increased the amount of fat stored around the belly…and even worse: it redistributes fat from other parts of your body to the abdomen. Now that is just not nice.

2. Drink green tea. A recent study showed that consumption of green tea enhances exercise-induced abdominal fat loss. Okay, seriously. Is there anything green tea doesn’t help with?

3. Go easy on the alcohol. Alcohol seems to be a particularly bad thing for belly fat. One theory: when you drink, your liver is too busy burning off the alcohol to metabolize fat properly. But worse, is this: alcohol can affect the hormones that regulate your satiety center. In other words, it can make you feel hungrier. And you know what that leads to, don’t you?

4. Manage your stress. Chronic, unrelenting stress does a lot of bad things to our bodies and minds. Not the least of which is produce a steady stream of cortisol. And, unfortunately, cortisol stimulates our bodies to accumulate fat around our abdomens. Great. As if being stressed isn’t bad enough. Now you’re stressed…and chubby. Check here for tips on stress management. And here. And, um, here.

5. Gobble blueberries. Blueberries have been shown in lab studies to diminish abdominal fat. Don’t get too excited, yet, though–the study was only done on rats. Still, it may prove applicable to the rest of us. Besides, blueberries have other benefits too.

6. Fiber, fiber, fiber. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that a diet rich in whole grains helped rid obese patients of extra belly fat. So that’s a good thing. But there’s another benefit to fiber, when it comes to achieving a nice flat belly. And I’m not going to be cute about this one. If you’re constipated, it’s hard to have a truly flat abdomen. No, this isn’t belly fat, per se, but you’ll still have that bloated roundness that’s not exactly pretty (or comfortable!). To get a trimmer tummy you need a combo of: less body fat, no constipation/bloating, and toned muscles…which brings me to…

7. Exercise. You knew I was going to get to this one, right? Yes, exercise will definitely help you get a flat tummy. Best approach: get a combo of cardio (to burn fat) and core strengthening to tone those muscles. My current fave? Yoga plank pose.

8. What about diet soda? It seems logical to cut calories by drinking diet soda. But the evidence is conflicting. Some recent studies have shown that diet soda can actually increase weight gain. Read this if you’re curious why this might be.

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How much free, stale popcorn would you eat in a movie theater? Does it depend if it’s served in a medium-sized bag or a jumbo tub? And what about candy: how much would you eat if it was sitting on your desk? Would it matter if the glass dish was opaque or clear? If it had a lid? 

Well, the person who knows the answers to all those questions, and more, is Brian Wansink, Ph.D. And he compiled all those answers in a fantastic book called Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.

This is a man who has made a career studying the feeding and foraging habits of the species knows as…well, us. And, quite frankly, it’s pretty shocking. And perhaps a little depressing. Turns out we are sheep, people, spineless sheep when it comes to being suckered into eating more. Give us bigger containers, we’ll gobble more. Move those containers closer to us, we’ll scarf down more. Sit us in front of a television? Yep, more.

But the point isn’t to be entertained with tales of secretly refillable soup bowls (yes–you will mindlessly eat more soup if your bowl magically refills) and sneaky wine bottle labels (yes–you will linger in a restaurant and eat more food if you think it’s a more prestigious vintage). The point is to learn how to harness these psychological phenomena for good rather than evil.

As Wansink says: “our stomachs are bad at math”. We are terrible at keeping track of how much we’ve eaten. Was it 30 french fries or 20? The thing is, over time, it makes a difference.

What’s scary: nobody seems immune to the things that trick us into overeating. Some of Wansink’s sneakiest studies were done on people who should have known better. Like graduate students who just attended a lecture on this stuff. Turns out they will shovel more Chex Mix into their faces if served from larger bowls than from smaller bowls, just like the rest of us would.

But the good news is that you can actually use this information to improve your eating habits. Wansink talks about the Mindless Margin:

If we eat way too little, we know it. If we eat way too much, we know it. But there is a calorie range–a mindless margin–where we feel fine and are unaware of small differences.

Over the course of a year, the mindless margin can cause us to lose 10 lbs or gain 10 lbs. Totally unaware. For example, when people pre-plate their food, they eat about 14% less than when they take smaller amounts and then go back for seconds or thirds. So, make a habit of pre-plating!

This book is brilliant. There are so many fascinating tidbits and ideas–more than I can describe here. Personally, I’m always a fan of a good jedi-mind trick that helps you lose or maintain weight without feeling the pain of deprivation. As Wansink says: “the best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on”.

Hear, hear.

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When I became pregnant for the second time, I decided to eliminate artificial sweeteners from my diet. No more Splenda in my coffee. No more Diet Coke. And I felt great about that decision. Even though the evidence has not yet demonstrated a definite risk, I just felt better about keeping my diet as natural as possible. Then, about halfway through my pregnancy I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Yeah, I know, I was shocked too. (I’m not overweight and I totally don’t fit the profile, except for, ahem, advanced maternal age).

Anyway, I then found myself having to re-evaluate the decision about sugar vs. sweeteners. I’d been happy to cut out the artificial chemicals of aspartame and Splenda. But now I knew for sure that plain ol’ sugar was harmful to my developing baby. I had to choose between the devil I knew and the devil I didn’t. So…I decided to eliminate the thing I knew was harmful (sugar) in favor of the thing that was only possibly harmful (sweeteners).

And this is how it is with decisions. We have to make decisions based on the best available evidence. Which is by no means all the evidence that will ever come to light as research, of course, is ongoing. In generations to come, pregnant women with gestational diabetes may have the definitive answer on the sugar/sweetener conundrum. But that doesn’t help anyone in the here and now.

Anyway, I discussed it with my diabetes dietitian, and she suggested I stick with the sweeteners that are the least controversial. Specifically, Splenda (sucralose). This is exactly what I did.

Now that I’m not pregnant, and my gestational diabetes has gone away, I’m free to consider my sugar-related options more openly.

Sugar is a contentious dietary issue that I’ve covered in the past. We crave sweetness, naturally, and I’m not one of those sugar-is-evil-must-eliminate-at-all-costs types. That being said, excess sugar is clearly not good for our health. As a solution to the sugar dilemma many people think: no problem. I’ll just have a sweetener instead, and that takes care of that.

But, sadly, it’s not so simple.

Recent studies have shown that people who drink even one diet soda a day have a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a precursor to heart disease and diabetes. More irritatingly perhaps, recent studies are showing that diet soda doesn’t even seem to help people lose weight.

Huh? How does that make sense? Here’s the current thinking on this paradox:

One problem is that people view diet soft drinks as a license to overindulge in other ways. I’m saving calories on my Coke, so I can order the burger and fries without guilt, right? Right?

Wrong.

There are other theories, too. The caramel flavoring in diet cola might reduce your body’s ability to process blood glucose at a molecular level. Another possibility to explain the research: it might be that people who are already overweight, and therefore at risk for diabetes and heart disease, are more likely to already be drinking that diet soda (in an attempt to lose weight).

What about sweeteners in general, not just in diet soda? Well, there’s some evidence that artificial sweeteners actually cause weight gain. This might be because all that sweetness actually fuels your sweet tooth. Making your brownie cravings that much worse. It looks like artificial sweeteners only help with weight loss if people can curb the urge to overcompensate by indulging in high-calorie foods. Which, alas, is not easy.

All told, I’m not really a fan of sweeteners anymore. Essentially, it doesn’t feel like “real food” to me. (As I keep saying to my 1-year old when he repeatedly attempts to put items like the TV remote in his mouth: “not food, sweetheart”) And if there isn’t really a health advantage anyway, what’s the point? 

Me, I think I’ll stick to limited amounts of real sugar.

You?

Everywhere I look these days I see something about the Dukan Diet. it’s the diet that, famously, Kate and her mother went on prior to the Royal Wedding. And it’s touted as the new French woman’s secret. Apparently it swept Europe after it was first published in 2000, and now it’s come to North America. I also read a claim that it was similar to Atkins but with a few key changes (like a “healthier Atkins”).

With all this attention, I decided I really had to look into it.

So I bought the book, read it completely, and here’s my summary:

Pierre Dukan is a French physician who developed his diet over 35 years in clinical practice.There are four phases to the diet.

1)The Attack Phase. This is where you eat what he calls “pure protein”. Only lean meat, poultry, fish, and eggs, nonfat dairy, and tofu. Plus 1 1/2 tbsp oat brain daily, at least 1 1/2 quarts water daily, and a 20 minute walk every day. The idea here is to kick-start your weight loss and give you some positive reinforcement. This phase lasts 2-7 days.

2)The Cruise Phase. Here you alternate 1 pure protein day with 1 protein + vegetables day (but not starchy eg, like potatoes, corn, and lentils). Plus oat bran (now 2 tbsp) and 30 minutes of walking daily. You stay on this diet until you’ve reached your target weight. Dukan reports that you should expect to lose around 2 pounds per week, although the weight loss may be faster in the initial stages of this phase. 

3)The Consolidation Phase. He also calls this the Transition Diet. The idea here is a very slow transition back to your “normal” or long-term eating plan. He says that this is a crucial phase, and ignoring this step (on any diet) is the reason so many people have rebound weight gain. The duration of this phase is 5 days for every pound you lost on the diet. Essentially, you’re slowly re-introducing the foods you eliminated from the first two phases. So what are you eating? All protein and vegetables from the previous phase, plus one serving of fruit per day, 2 slices of whole grain bread per day, 1 1/2 ounces of cheese per day, and 2 servings of starchy food per week. Plus 2 “celebration meals” per week, and 1 day of pure protein per week.

4)The Permanent Stabilization Phase. This is the eating plan you are supposed to maintain for life. It’s pretty simple: you eat “normally” 6 out of 7 days per week. Each week you have one day of pure protein, just like in the Attack Diet. He has three other guidelines: 1)no escalators or elevators. 2) eat 3 tbsp of oat bran a day. And 3) “Hold on to everything you have learned and the good habits you have acquired while completing the whole program”.

So after reading the book, I looked for some evidence or research that might have been done on this particular diet. And there was nothing. Nobody has researched the Dukan diet, specifically. Not even Dukan himself. Okay, well, except from his observations while using this diet with his patients for 35 years. But this experience is all anecdotal and observational. Which isn’t terrible, just not exactly rigorous research. But just because there isn’t a lot of research on something, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It could just mean scientists haven’t had a chance to study it yet. The truth–good or bad, or both–will come out eventually. But that doesn’t help us in the here and now.

There is rigorous research, on the other hand, for the general principle of low-carb diets. They are effective for weight loss, that much we know. And that’s Dukan’s underlying principle: low (or no) carb, and high protein.

The most radical part of this diet is the Attack Phase, where he advocates protein only. And this is where dietitians seem to get a little nervous (or scream & shout). But, the thing is, that phase only lasts 2-7 days. That’s pretty brief. If you’re generally healthy, it’s hard to imagine you doing any major damage to yourself in such a short time. Especially if you follow his advice and drink tons of water. After that, the alternating protein diet, he’s got you eating plenty of vegetables, which is a very healthy thing. And he emphasizes lean protein–which, to my mind, is a good thing (better than a bacon-cheese-egg diet which is a common interpretation of Atkins, the Zone, etc). The third phase is where I have a few more concerns. In principle, I think a very slow transition phase to allow your body to stabilize after weight loss is a great idea. But the rules in this phase are complicated, and I wonder how many people will be able to follow it properly. Also, going for so long with so little fruit has me worried, too. The fourth phase, for long-term maintenance, seems to be pretty sound. Again, I don’t think most people would be harmed by a protein day once a week. I’m just not sure it would be enough to keep people from regaining weight over the long-term. A lot would depend on what they’re eating the other days of the week.

Bottom line for me: I think this diet might work for weight loss for some people. The rules of the weight loss phases are pretty simple, and keeping things simple is very helpful for adherence to a diet. I’m going out on a bit of a limb here, given that my profession is evidence-based, and this diet is anything but. It’s pretty radical to go so low-carb, and not something I would advocate long-term. Vegetarians would have a difficult time with this diet. And I would not recommend it for anyone who isn’t generally healthy, especially people with kidney disease, and certainly not for pregnant/breastfeeding women or children. 

I guess what it comes down to is weighing the costs and the benefits. Do the benefits of weight loss to a person’s health, especially if they are obese (and thus at high risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes…well-documented stuff), outweigh the possible (and as yet, not exactly known) risks of a radical diet in the short-term? If a diet like this helps someone who is destined for bad health consequences down the road, is it worth the short-term complications (like constipation and bad breath on a high-protein diet)? Lots of questions, not a lot of answers at this point (from a research point of view). But, as with so many things, I think it comes down to individual factors–what works for one person may be a terrible idea for another. And vice versa. 

Anybody have any experience with the Dukan Diet? I’d love to hear about it.

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A friend of mine recently told me she’d done a “cleanse” that lasted 9 days. It cost her $150. It involved a regime of supplemental shakes and powdered cleansing drinks (this product was the reason for the $$), fasting days of only juice and water, alongside other recommended dietary changes. The main claims? Weight loss, cleansing the body of toxins, improved energy and digestion.

My friend is hardly the first person to go on such a regime. It seems like, these days, every other celebrity is talking about this, and I’ve had countless patients tell me they’re “doing a cleanse”.

So here’s my question: Do detox diets and cleanses actually benefit your health? Do they live up to their claims?

Or, put another way: does a detox diet cleanse anything other than your wallet?

My friend said, after the 9 days, she felt great, and she had lost “inches”. And this wasn’t the first time she’d done this particular cleanse. She was telling me this, of course, as we munched our way through a big tub of movie popcorn. Had she changed her diet long-term? Nope. The last few times she’d done this cleanse she’d also lost weight, and inches, and felt great. Had she regained the weight each time? Yep.

So, naturally, as we talked I was formulating an opinion on this particular diet, but I decided I needed to do some research. Here are the positions of some reputable institutions on “detox-ing”:

TIME Health

Mayo Clinic

Harvard Health

Essentially, what everyone seems to say is this: there’s no evidence to support these sorts of “cleanses” or “detox diets”. But does that mean there hasn’t been sufficient research done yet? Or does it mean there is definite evidence against it? That bit is a little unclear.

I think it’s helpful to tease out the reasons for using a cleanse. And there appear to be two different camps. One primary goal is to rid the body of toxins. The other is to lose weight. There are all sorts of side-benefits mentioned in these programs, but as far as I can tell, these are the two primary goals. And they can be considered separately.

The consensus is pretty clear on the weight loss goal: it will work, but it will be short-lived, and you will likely have rebound weight gain–often more than your initial loss. See, the thing is, your metabolism is now slower. Your body has gone into starvation mode.

As for the detoxification goal, I think this one is still up for debate. I do believe that our bodies need detoxification. But the fact is, we were born with internal systems designed to do this job for us (liver, kidneys, and skin, via sweating). However, whether these systems are sufficient for this job in our modern age, and with our North-American-ized diet, is perhaps not totally certain.

I really, really wish I’d been able to find some solid scientific studies on this topic. But I didn’t. I’m going to keep checking, and maybe something will be forthcoming. As Dr. Marc Cohen, Professor of Complementary Medicine, in a paper that reviewed detox diets (in Australian Family Physician) said: “lack of evidence for an effect does not mean lack of effect”. Which is quite true.

That being said, I would personally expect there to be some pretty convincing evidence available to prove a system’s effectiveness before shelling out $150.

Here are some prominent physicians’ viewpoints:

Dr. Andrew Weil

Dr. Mark Hyman

Here is what Dr. Weil said about cleansing/detox-ing diets:

Fasting and near-fasting routines such as the Master Cleanse are not effective weight loss tools – they alter your metabolism in a way that actually may make it harder for you to lose weight or easier to regain the weight once you go back to the way you normally eat. Most people compensate for the deprivation of the regimen by increasing their caloric consumption afterward.

I mean, if someone like Dr. Weil doesn’t even endorse this kind of thing (and he’s a fan of some pretty out-there stuff sometimes), it’s quite likely you’ve really got something pretty ineffective on your hands.

I have little doubt there’s a placebo effect to these pre-packaged detox systems. I mean, you’ve got a vested interest in believing that something is working when you’ve forked over a big chunk of your paycheque, don’t you?

The diet system my friend used also required that she eliminate dairy, meat, alcohol, and caffeine from her diet during the 9 days. And drink plenty of water. I asked her what she thought might happen if she tried just doing the diet cleanup part, without all the pricey shakes. Any chance she might feel better, slim down, have more energy…all without the hyped-up product?

And I guess that’s my opinion in a nutshell. If you’re looking to detox from junk food and processed food and all those other toxins…how about not eating junk food and processed food? How about having a healthy, bountiful diet of whole food? How about drinking plenty of water anyway? How about exercising, and sweating, and getting lots of sleep?

Hmm.

Any thoughts? Anybody have any experiences doing a cleanse?

One of the best ways to lose or maintain weight is to become a portion-control pro. It’s one of the secrets of the French Paradox, and one of the reasons why a lot of women throughout the world (Europe in particular) are able to enjoy the wonderful food they do, yet stay slim.

This is definitely something you can do, too. It will take some effort and intention at first, but will soon become second nature. Here are some of the tricks you can use to help downsize those portions:

1. Before eating, divide your plate

“Cut” your plate in half. One-half gets filled with vegetables and/or fruit. The other half is for equal parts carbs and protein (eg. only half a plate of spaghetti and meatballs, the other half is a salad!)

2. Beware large containers

The bigger the package of food, the more you’ll eat. In a study, two groups were given half- or 1-pound bags of M&Ms to eat while watching TV. Those given the 1-pound bag ate nearly twice as much. Lesson? Nevaah eat straight out of the bag or the box. If you buy in bulk, pre-divide those snacks and goodies into little ziploc bags as soon as you get home.

3. Practice the 80% rule

The Japanese have a practice known as hara hachi bu, which means eating until you feel about 80 percent full. At that point, your stomach is probably 100 percent full. Your brain just doesn’t realize it yet. And the Japanese? Way healthier than us.

4. Shrink your dishes

54 percent of Americans eat until their plates are clean. So an easy way to eat less? Use smaller plates. Filling up a smaller plate (10-inches instead of 12- or 14-inch plate) will do a little jedi-mind trick on your brain. You think you’re eating a full meal, rather than feeling like you’re depriving yourself with a pathetic little portion in the center of a big plate. Studies back this up: when researchers gave study participants 34- or 17-ounce bowls and told them to help themselves to ice cream, those with the bigger bowls doled out 31 percent more ice cream.

5. Turn off the TV

The distraction of TV stops you from being aware how much you’re eating. While watching American Idol or the Bachelorette, it’s a piece of cake to happily plow through…well, a big piece of cake. And the more you watch, the more you’ll gobble. In a study comparing the popcorn-eating behavior of TV viewers, those who watched an hour-long show, versus a half-hour show, ate 28 percent more popcorn.

6. Be extra careful when eating with friends

The unfortunate fact is, when you’re eating with others you’re likely to wolf down more food. You’ll eat about 35 percent more when you dine with one friend versus alone. With a group of seven? You’ll eat 96 percent more. But just to be clear: there’s no way I’m going to discourage an evening out with friends. Too important for a healthy, happy life. Instead, what I’m recommending here is that you be aware of this tendency. Pay close attention to what you’re ordering, what you’re sharing, and how many servings you’re taking.

7. Keep serving dishes off the table

Leave the lasagna in the kitchen. If you bring dishes filled with food to the table, you’re more likely to help yourself to seconds (and thirds, and fourths…) Unless those dishes contain only grilled veggies…leave them out of reach.

It must be said, a lot of this advice has to do with “mindful eating”–paying attention to what we’re eating instead of just thoughtlessly plowing through a whole bag of Cheetos. Very important to healthy eating, and healthy living in general.

Bon appetit!

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How confused are you over sugar & sweeteners? Is sugar the devil? Does aspartame cause cancer?

To start, sugar is not inherently evil, in my opinion. And I’m not alone in that camp. However, there’s definitely controversy over this subject. In fact, the debate over sugar has been heating up for quite some time.

But until we have more definitive evidence against it, I’m going with a more intuitive approach (a term I’m going to borrow, here, from a fellow health blogger I greatly admire), which is all about listening to our bodies. Fact is, we crave sweetness. It’s a natural phenomenon. Our bodies are built for it. Right from day one, babies crave breast milk–a naturally very sweet food! 

So don’t feel bad about sugar cravings. Guilt? Not a healthy emotion.

That being said, you do need to be careful about sugar. Excessive sugar will make you gain weight, increase your risk of developing diabetes, and possibly cause even worse health consequences.

There are ways to handle your sugar intake. You just have to know what you’re doing.

In coming posts, I’ll cover various sugar substitutes and sweeteners, but let’s start with sugar itself. It comes in a variety of forms: white sugar and table sugar (technically known as sucrose), brown, raw, Demerara, cane sugar, fruit sugar, and everything in between.

Is there any difference, really, in all these forms? Not much, to be honest. I know it feels like ‘organic’ and ‘raw’ sugar should be better for you. But as far as we know right now, it’s a bit of propaganda that there’s any significant difference. You’ll just be fooling yourself that you’re eating healthfully. A better approach? Monitor your sugar intake, in all forms, and do what you can to cut down (without feeling like you have to cut it out entirely).

So how to do that?

  • Read ingredient labels. If sugar is listed as one of the top ingredients, the product probably contains a large amount of sugar. Tread carefully! 
  • Eat whole foods that are sweetened by nature (not a factory): fruit, sweet corn, sweet potatoes, dairy products…
  • Add less sugar to coffee and tea. You can modify your palate, to a certain degree. Get used to half as much sugar, then see if you can cut back even more.
  • Reduce sugar in foods you make at home. Try new recipes or modify your own. Start by reducing sugars gradually, and try adding spices like cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, and ginger. Try this: spiced foods will taste sweeter if warmed.
  • Buy fewer soft drinks, fruity/sweetened drinks and sweet desserts. Remember: some low-fat desserts may be very high in sugar.

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