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A Sneaky Trick For Dealing With Cravings

popcorn

I love collecting tricks and tips to help people stay healthy and maintain a happy weight. Click through to read one of my all-time faves: a very easy trick (…and fashionable, to boot).

Here are some other posts that I put in the category of “weight loss ninja”:

 

 

One Simple Trick To Boost Your Activity Level

Squeezing exercise into a busy life is challenging. I know. Trust me. So, I’m always on the lookout for easy ways to boost activity. Here’s one: clip on a pedometer.

A recent study in New Zealand showed that making this one little change–just the simple act of wearing a pedometer–almost doubled walking rates in the 300+ subjects they observed. All study subjects were encouraged to walk more, but they were then separated into two groups: half were given a pedometer, and half weren’t. Over the course of a year, the pedometer people boosted their average weekly walking time by almost twice as much as the non-pedometer people.

I like this a lot–because it’s cheap, easy, and pretty much mindless. And the more things you can automate in your life, the better. I think I’m going to start writing “prescriptions” for pedometers. And get one for myself, while I’m at it.

Walking is excellent exercise. It’s easy on your joints, it’s fun, and especially if you’re outdoors, it’s a great way to clear your head and soothe your soul. And it’s the perfect exercise to do in small time slots–which makes it easy to accumulate those activity minutes (more on why this particular strategy works, here.)

Now, if you’re counting steps, how many are you aiming for? Well, 10,000 steps per day seems to be the magic number. This figure can be traced back to Japanese walking clubs dating 30+ years ago, and recent studies have shown that it makes sense. Less than 5,000 steps per day is a marker for a “sedentary” lifestyle. (A person who is basically a couch potato and only makes their way around the house all day clocks about 3,000 steps daily). Between 5000-10,000 steps is considered “low-active” or “somewhat-active”. But people who are averaging 10,000 steps a day are maintaining an “active lifestyle”, and are thus healthier and less obese.

So…anyone tried a pedometer? What did you think?

Passport to Health: Part Deux

In my first post on this topic, Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World, I talked about how (and why) other countries kick our butts all over the place in terms of staying trim & healthy. But there’s no need to despair–we can (shamelessly) steal those ideas, and use them for our own purposes, now can’t we? Below, some more international ideas…this time, not just for trimming down, but for overall health.

Norway

Norwegians have lower BMIs than North Americans and enjoy lower rates of heart disease. One reason? They eat a ton of fish. Norway is a country surrounded by ocean on three sides, so it stands to reason. They enjoy herring, sardines, trout, and arctic char. Salmon is a trademark dish for them, especially smoked salmon, which is one of my all-time favorite things to eat. So what do all these varieties have in common? They are all cold water, fatty fish. Which is the best dietary source of omega-3. Here’s why omega-3 is so awesome for us.

The Netherlands

Here’s an interesting little tidbit: in the Netherlands, there are more bicycles (18 million) than people (16.5 million). As such, cycling is not just a form of exercise, it’s a way of life. Dutch people hop on their bicycles for daily activities like shopping, running errands, and going to work. Here’s why this is a good idea for you, too. Plus there are added benefits to using your bike (preferably an upright version with a basket) for all your in-town needs–namely: looking super-cute and European. Besides, it’s good for the environment, no?

Panama

A professor at Harvard, Dr. Normal Hollenberg, has devoted a big chunk of his professional career studying a particular indigenous population in Panama, with extremely low rates of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. And he attributes this, at least in part, to their daily consumption of unprocessed, pure cocoa. And when I say daily, I’m talking 5 cups a day at least. Cocoa? Really? Well, it’s plausible…because cocoa is jam-packed with flavonoids (powerful antioxidants) that have been demonstrated to have a multitude of health benefits. (see my post, here, on why chocolate is good for you). After reading about this, I went out and bought a tin of high-quality cocoa…and now I’m on the hunt for a good recipe for homemade hot chocolate using that cocoa. Anyone?  

Britain

The British, unfortunately, are working hard at catching up to North American obesity rates…but one thing they do right? Breakfast. A full English breakfast is a sight to behold, let me tell you. And a wonderful way to start the day. Why is breakfast a good thing? Here. Here. And here.

Switzerland

And speaking of breakfast…the Swiss have mastered the healthiest version of it: muesli. Muesli is a blend of oats, nuts and fruit, developed by a Swiss physician many years ago. It’s super-healthy, balanced, full of everything you need to kick-start your day…and just plain delish, besides. Particularly if you have it with yogurt (Greek being my preference), it’s hard to beat for health and toothsomeness. Yes. That’s a word.

Now, of course we can stay home and simply steal these ideas. But why not take things up a notch, and actually go to the aforementioned countries? Here’s why taking a vacation is good for you.

The French Paradox Encore (Or, How to Eat Foie Gras and Still Lose Weight)

This was one of my very first posts…and since I happen to be in France right now on a family vacay I thought it a good time to re-run this favorite of mine:

Wouldn’t it be fabulous to indulge in buttery croissants and triple crème brie, all while maintaining a size four silhouette and the blood pressure of a 25-year old?

The French enjoy a famously rich diet. They shun exercise as gauche. Yet, on the streets of Paris, everyone appears thin and gorgeous. More importantly, France’s low rates of obesity and heart disease put North Americans to shame. It’s been called The French Paradox. And really, could anything be more unfair?

Eager to have your gâteau and eat it too? Yeah, me too.

Okay. So how do you make this a reality?

Well…I visit Europe as often as I can, and have witnessed this phenomenon first hand quite a bit. So here’s my decidedly unscientific, shamelessly anecdotal take on how they do it. And how you can too.

Savoring Food. French women enjoy every bite that passes their lips. There is no rushing. Meals are events, celebrations of food. Often lingered over, with family and friends. We know this sort of mindful eating is a cornerstone to a healthy diet.

Portion Control. This is key. In restaurants there are no heaped-up plates that would suitably serve a family of four. There are no giant slurpees or super size anything, for that matter. Meals and snacks are small, beautifully presented, high quality, and delicious.

Food Snobbery. Okay, let’s be honest: food is not the only thing the French could be accused of being snooty about. But here’s the mantra: if it’s not fabulous, don’t eat it. Don’t waste calories on mediocre food that provides fodder and little else.

Wine with Meals. Enjoy the beautiful antioxidants in a glass of wine…a major boon to health. Plus, this one helps with the savoring food thing. See above.

Exercise a la mode. No sweaty, tacky gyms or silly exercise fads. Instead, the French walk everywhere. Or better yet–bicycle. French cities are teeming with people on the streets. Moving, staying active, is simply a daily way of life.

Fresh First. Think local, think seasonal, think fresh. Whole foods whenever possible. The French enjoy a bounty of fresh, seasonal fruits and veggies, and regional cuisine. Minimize or eliminate the processed stuff, the frozen/dehydrated/rehydrated items that kinda pass as food.

Fashion Motivation. In France fashion is religion. And the best accessory a woman can wear? A slimmer shape under her clothes. The plain truth is that nothing makes clothes look better. Why not embrace your inner fashionista, and let this provide an extra reason to say no to that dessert.

No Movie Popcorn. When my husband and I were in France last year, we went to see the latest Bond movie in a theatre. We were the only ones to order popcorn. Small was the only size available. And…we were scolded (in angry French, from a woman who got right up from her seat and walked back several rows to us) for munching too loudly during the film. I know. Crazy, right? Works for them, though.

Voila.

Bon appetit!

How To Resist Temptation With Two Little Words

You’ve resolved to stick to your diet. You’re feeling strong. And then…someone offers you a slice of your favourite: sticky-sweet pecan pie. Or a second helping of divine, cheesy, homemade lasagna.

How do you attempt to resist temptation?

If you’re like most people, you put on a pained expression, stick out your hand, shake your head—I can’t, you say. It’s like a physical act of being restrained.

But a new study suggests that those words “I can’t” are setting you up for failure. It’s a signal to yourself that you’re being deprived, being forced against your will, and that there’s some nebulous outside force controlling your actions. What does that set up? Feelings of rebellion. I’ll show you.

It’s human.

So what’s better, instead? To use the words “I don’t”. At least that’s what a recent study showed. Women who were instructed to use the phrase “I don’t” rather than saying “I can’t” were more likely to stick with their diet goals. Why? Because “I don’t” feels more empowering, and shows a sense of determination. Like you’re in charge, and this is what you’ve decided for the good of your own health.

The cool thing is that this is something you can learn to do. It’s a habit, like any other. (Read this, for a primer on how to change self-talk.)

This was a small study, but it’s an interesting line of research. I’m always fascinated by what makes people decide to do the things we do. We all know what we’re supposed to be doing…but something stops us from doing it, right?

As I frequently find myself saying (in fact, it’s part of my manifesto)…you and your body are on the same team.

The words “I don’t” just might help you act like a team.

Natural Ways to Boost Metabolism: Part 2

Summer is on its way. And with those blossoming trees and wafts of warm air, thoughts turn to the inevitable: swimsuit season.

I don’t know if this induces shudders in you, but it certainly does me. I’ve long believed they use funhouse mirrors in swimsuit changerooms, you know the kind that make certain bits look too big, certain bits too short, certain bits too wobbly…

Anyway, whether it’s truly due to sadistic shop owners or, um, it’s just me, the time is ripe to spring into action and trim down a little.

I first wrote about natural ways to boost metabolism a few months ago. Here are 4 more tips:

1. Eat Breakfast.

I know, this isn’t exactly a new idea–but it really does help weight loss efforts. You need to literally break your overnight fast to get your engine revving–otherwise your body senses starvation and slows metabolism to conserve energy. So breakfast is a no-brainer. But what are your best choices? If you can include protein, you’re ahead of the game. Studies show that people who have a protein-rich breakfast have increased satiety and fewer cravings through the day. When I had gestational diabetes, one of my key strategies for steady blood sugar through the day was having protein in my breakfast. Yogurt, eggs, lean ham are all good choices. Other ideas: peanut butter on whole grain toast, or a fruit/yogurt smoothie, perhaps with whey protein powder. Or sprinkle nuts in your oatmeal, or munch on a high protein granola.

2. Sleep.

Research has repeatedly shown the dangers of insufficient sleep to your health…and to your waistline. In studies, people who get insufficient sleep are more likely to be obese. One of the culprits? Ghrelin, your hunger hormone. Seems this little demon goes a bit postal if you don’t get enough sleep. Triggering those bleary-eyed pantry ransackings in search of stray oreos. Sleep doesn’t come easily for you? Read this.

3. Deal with stress.

Unremitting stress causes increases in cortisol–a hormone that specifically favors fat accumulation in your tummy and midsection. Not to mention the whole stress eating thing, and comfort food-seeking tendencies when stressed (that tend to lean more towards Haagen Daazs and less towards broccoli). Do your metabolism a favor and get your stress under control. There are lots of effective ways. Start here.

4. Nibble on chocolate.

I saved the best for last, here. A new study from the University of California found that adults who were frequent chocolate eaters had a lower body mass index (BMI) than people who ate chocolate infrequently. And it wasn’t because the chocolate fans ate fewer calories overall or exercised more. So what’s up with chocolate? The study authors believe that because chocolate is rich in certain antioxidants, it may have a beneficial effect on our metabolism. Also, chocolate contains epicatechins, a flavonoid that has been shown in animal studies to increase lean muscle mass and reduce weight. (If this makes you happy, read more good news about chocolate.)

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The Conversion of a Non-Runner

I was not what you would call “a runner”.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried. At various points in my life (usually after a spell of too much lasagne/baked-brie-with-cranberries/caramel macchiatos…), I tried running. But it was always like banging my head against a brick wall–it only felt good when it stopped.

I would always give up after a few weeks. My knees ached. And…it was just so damn boring.

So I resigned myself to being a non-runner.

I only run if I’m being chased, I would say.

However, I’ve long known that running is a great form of exercise, and most importantly, an efficient way to exercise. And that’s valuable to me. Life is pretty full right now, with working at two different clinics, being a wife and mom of two young boys, blogging/writing/speaking…

And then there’s that aging thing. My metabolism, to my supreme irritation, is not what it was. I like to walk and LOVE yoga, but I began to realize that I needed some more serious cardio exercise–because I want a healthy heart, because I want to feel young & strong for a long time, and because I’d like to keep my shape.

So…I decided to try again.

This time, my sister suggested I look into Couch to 5K-type programs. So, I did.

The idea, here, is a program that takes you from a total couch potato to someone who can run a 5K. I checked out a few and then downloaded 5K 101 by Running Mate, from iTunes (for free, I might add). Right off the bat, I liked the philosphy: supaah slow and gradual, they ease you into a running routine. Interval training to start (beginning with only 1 minute of running at a time–I mean, how easy is that?). And then they gradually increase the lengths of the intervals. Also? I don’t have to think about a thing–just listen to my iPod as I run, do whatever my new friend Todd tells me to do (1 minute left of your warmup…2 minutes to go and then you get a break…) and enjoy the scenery as I go. No excessive focus on how tired I’m getting…can I make it to that next lamppost?…that sort of thing.

Now, several weeks into the program, I think I’m starting to consider myself a runner. Bit by bit, my endurance has improved. And the other day–I definitely noticed some muscle tone in my legs that had NOT been there before. And if that isn’t motivating, I don’t know what is.  

I think I even experienced “runner’s high” the other day (which I had previously chalked up to total bogus-ness).

In previous running attempts, my knees often started to twang after a couple of weeks…but not so far, not this time around. I attribute that to the gradual nature of this program.

Squeezing exercise into a busy life is a challenge (especially for moms), that’s for sure. Running is one of the best ways–it’s cheap, quick, and works around your schedule.

So far…looks like this non-runner is becoming a bit of a runner.

However, I want to be clear: under no circumstances will you ever see me in horrid running shorts. Never. Ever. Issue closed.

Passport to Slim: Weight Loss Secrets from Around the World

North Americans may be many things, but one thing we’re not? Svelte. Not on average, anyway. And certainly not compared to the rest of the world. Are there things we could learn from our friends in other countries around the globe? Why, yes. Yes there are. Join me on a little tour.

Japan

In Okinawa, Japan, they eat using this principle: hara hachi bu. Roughly translated, it’s an instruction to eat until you’re 80% full. And it’s an excellent practice to live by. There’s no reason to eat until you’re stuffed. Also, there’s a delay in the message from your stomach to your brain that signals “full”. By the time you register that you’ve had enough…you’ve already overdone it.

India

This is the birthplace of yoga, of course. I’m a big fan of yoga; there are a multitude of health benefits for taking up the practice. And a slimmer physique happens to be one of them. A recent study showed that long-term yoga participants have lower BMIs than other exercisers. Perhaps it’s the mindfulness training that does the trick. Because here’s what happens when you engage in Mindless Eating.

France

Well, you know what they say: French women don’t get fat. I’m not sure anyone has fully figured out this (highly irritating) mystery…but I have some thoughts. I imagine it has to do with portion control, taking pleasure in food, and long leisurely meals together with friends & family. Oh, and chocolate for breakfast.  

Greece

It’s not entirely unique to the sun-soaked people of Greece, but the Mediterranean Diet is one we can all embrace, to improve our heart health, our waistlines, and our pleasure in food. Olives? Wine? Garlic? Yes please.

Brazil

To understand why it makes sense to eat like a Brazilian, think Gisele. Think thong bikinis on the beaches of Rio. A staple on the Brazilian table is rice-and-beans. It’s a low-fat, high-protein, high-fiber choice, which helps stabilize blood sugar. A study in Obesity Research examined the Brazilian diet in detail and found that a traditional diet mainly consisting of rice and beans lowers the risk of being overweight by about 14%.

Italy

All over Italy, in cities and small villages alike, la passegiata is an enduring tradition. It’s an informal stroll around town each evening before, or after, the family dinner. Italians promenade the streets, socializing, getting fresh air and a little exercise before settling in for an evening. To my mind, it certainly beats plopping on the couch to break open a bag of chips and stare at another episode of The Bachelor.

Thailand

All that spicy stuff in Thai curries and noodle dishes means there’s plenty of capsaicin in the Thai diet. That’s the substance that makes food hot…and it not only boosts metabolism, but also: you simply can’t gobble down spicy food at the same rate you can a cheeseburger. Fiery food means slower eating. And that’s a good thing for weight loss.

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How to Control Your Hunger Hormone

Ever feel like you’re not exactly “The Boss” when it comes to your hunger? That’s because, um, you’re not. Not always, anyway. Let me introduce you to a little something called: ghrelin

AKA: your hunger hormone. 

You can read more about ghrelin, and (more importantly) how to control the wee beastie, over on my blog at Yummy Mummy Club. My recent post: What is Ghrelin? (Know Thine Enemy).

 

Natural Ways to Boost Your Metabolism

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.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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