Beware the Scale: Learn the Right Way to Weigh

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When trying to follow a weight-loss plan, the scale can be your worst enemy. It’s a tricky device in tracking weight loss. Some dieters go so far as to step on the scale after every meal. This poses a problem, because weight tends to fluctuate, on average, between 2 to 4 pounds throughout the day. The number that you see first thing in the morning may be far from the number you see midday or before your head hits the pillow. However, this doesn’t mean that you’ve actually gained body fat. These numbers don’t reflect your accurate weight or your last meal.

Throughout my years of counseling clients, I’ve seen people who struggle to lose weight all of a sudden lose five pounds in a matter of days. On the other hand, some experience the opposite; starting off strong and then weight loss tapers off. Constantly stepping on the scale and seeing varied outcomes can result in feelings of discouragement, disappointment, and resentment. This trio of negative emotions can lead to binge eating. After all, you’ve been working hard all day to eat well, and all of a sudden your number skyrockets by 2 pounds in less than three hours with no explanation. It’s understandable that the average person would feel frustrated and turn to a bag of chips or box of cookies for solace. Therefore, it’s important to understand the many factors that play into weight fluctuation. Below are some do’s and don’ts when it comes to the scale:

Do keep in mind the importance of consistency. To accurately track the amount of weight that you are losing, it’s best to weigh yourself at the same time (preferably in the morning) every week, on the exact same day of the week. Write down the number, and at the end of four weeks, calculate the average of these numbers. Subtract that from your starting weight, and you’ll get a very precise measure of how much progress you’ve made.

Don’t jump on the scale after a big night out. You’re just torturing yourself. Rich, decadent restaurant cuisine is full of salt, fat, and sugar—things that make the meal taste so good! Keep in mind that it’s virtually impossible to gain weight after one large meal. If you get on the scale and see your number go up, it’s simply because your blood volume level has increased due to the large quantity of food that you’ve eaten. The high sodium content in certain prepared foods also causes the body to retain fluid, thus causing a higher number on the scale.

Do take fluids into account. It’s tough to measure fluids accurately, but two 8-ounce glasses of water can translate to about one pound of weight. This means that if you’ve just finished a giant bottle of H20 and decide to hop on the scale, the chances are you’re not going to like the outcome. Don’t fret. It’s only water. Our bodies are highly equipped to efficiently use fluids as needed and excrete what we don’t need. In fact, if you decide to avoid fluids in an attempt to lower that value on the scale, you’re in for a big surprise. Your body will actually do the opposite and retain fluid, causing you to show a “gain.” Drinking alcohol is also a key culprit in skewing the numbers. No matter the libation, all alcohol causes frequent urination and may increase perspiration. This leads to even more dehydration, which will cause the body to retain more fluid. It may seem contradictory, but be sure to add in plenty of non-alcoholic, non-caffeinated beverages (such as water) to counteract the fluid imbalance.

Don’t avoid the scale all together. It’s important to note that weighing yourself on a regular basis doesn’t necessarily have to be a negative thing. Stepping on a scale gives you a sense of accountability towards your actions and forces you to keep yourself in check. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 75 percent of individuals who have managed to successfully lose weight and keep it off consistently weigh themselves. In addition, a 2012 study in the Journal of Nutrition and Dietetics concludes that people who lose weight are less likely to regain it if they weigh themselves on a regular basis.

Occupational Hazard: Is Your Job Making You Fat?

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If you work in an office, you know that person. She’s incessantly talking about her past, future and present culinary endeavors and looking for a partner to indulge with. It starts off bright and early with the scent of a greasy egg-and-cheese sandwich wafting over to your desk, and then sure enough, at lunchtime you hear the rifling of takeout menus. Last month, the Wall Street Journal published an insightful article honing in on the difficulties people face when dieting in the workplace. As I read, comments I had heard numerous times from clients popped into my head: “I just felt so pressured to eat the cake she had made for me,” or “I didn’t want to be the only one not eating.” One survey found that over half of the participants ate foods they knew would sabotage their diet out of sheer obligation. When it comes to work-related eating, there are typically three types of eating personalities. I’ve broken them down for you and provided ways to overcome them.

The Situational Eater:

You let the situation dictate how you are going to eat.  For example, if the weekly staff meeting includes bagels and muffins, you fill your plate just because you can. Regardless of whether you’ve eaten breakfast already, you feel the need to eat.  Most likely, you don’t even taste the food.

Fix It:

1. Ask yourself why you are eating. Often, people are feeding an emotion, whether it’s the nervous energy of the meeting or the boredom you feel from your boss’s last lecture.

2. Keep in mind that you have the power to control your eating and write your dieting script.

The Free Foodie:

I hate to break it to you, but just because food is free, it’s not necessarily good for you.  In fact, most complimentary chow (i.e., donuts, birthday cake, and candy) rank high in calories and low in nutrition… You’ll most likely spend more time, energy and cash trying to peel off the extra pounds than if you’d picked up a solo salad instead.

Fix It:

1. When dining out, stay away from things that are easily refillable. Items like soda, wine (by the bottle) and bread baskets are things waiters can easily provide more of to ensure great service.
2. Try and be the last person at the table to order; people are less likely to focus on what you order once they’ve already placed their order.

The Office Party Animal

If every time you look at your inbox you have another Evite, then you fall into this category. Being social at the workplace and partaking in office camaraderie is important and can further help advance your career. Just be sure that it’s not doing the same for your waistline.

Fix It:

Try to be the server, not the eater. Take charge and volunteer to arrange the candles and dole out the dolce. Ironically, this trick puts the spotlight on you, yet makes it less likely that someone will fixate on what you’re eating. Redefine the word “special.” It’s easy to let office hype get the best of you. Every lunch seems like it’s at the best steakhouse and each happy hour seems like it’s at the hippest watering hole, but what’s really important to you? Save indulgences for things that truly are special, like your son’s birthday or wedding anniversary.

Remember, dieting isn’t necessarily about willpower; it’s about having the strategies you need to make better choices. Once you’ve identified your workplace persona, you’ll be completely equipped to maneuver occupational dieting hazards. For some of these tips I turn back to my first book The Wall Street Diet, which focuses on how to survive dieting in professional settings.

Who Says Genetically-Overweight People Can’t Get Thin?

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Are you fighting genetics?

Think about it: Most women start highlighting their hair as soon as puberty rears its awkward, pimply little head. Men buy red sports cars and hair plugs as soon as the 20something-year-olds at the bar stop looking their way. My point is, rarely are we ever content with what the genetic fairy leaves under our pillow. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your given gene pool and the obstacles that you face don’t have to map out your weight loss future. The New York Times published an article basically blaming weight regain on genetics. This article became popular water cooler discussion, claiming that genetics predetermine your diet destination, and I feel compelled to tell you “NO!” How can one be expected to feel motivated to lose weight if they think it’s all going to come piling back? Your weight loss success is not PRE-anything.

Yes, a person with a family history of obesity is going to have to work harder at staying slim. But the brunette that wants to be blonde will also have to work harder because of her genetics. It doesn’t make either goal impossible. Don’t just settle on being overweight because someone tells you that you are destined to gain it all back. Adjust your diet and adjust your calories according to the curve ball life throws your way.

Dieting strategies will become your best friend. Everyone has a downfall when it comes to food, but as a dietician and author my job is to provide you with ways that you can overcome them. For instance, did you recently become a mother? You may suffer from “Little Devils,” which causes you to overeat when feeding your children and then sitting down to a second meal with your spouse. Is your new boss a raging you-know-what and ruining your life? Maybe you’re not sleeping at night and eating instead. I call this the “Late Night Shuffle.” These are just a few life examples that can come up, but there are tons of strategies to overcome these dieting devils, which are explained in my book “Bread is the Devil.”

Beautiful women — Elizabeth Taylor, Sandra Bullock, Jacqueline Onassis, to name a few — have shown us that life happens. Death, divorce, children and all of the above. The moral of my story? Both genetics AND situational events play a huge part in our dieting destination, but you don’t have to settle for that endpoint.

Take control, because no one else will do it for you.

Tall Turkey Tales

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Pretty soon, you’ll be knee deep in turkey, stuffing, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Yes, if it’s one thing you can count on it’s the holidays. Some of the best memories are created around the table; so don’t spend these precious times stressing over calories and weight gain. This 3-part blog series will help you glide through the holidays like a penguin on ice!

Contrary to how you may feel after next Thursday’s big feast, it’s impossible to gain weight in one sitting. The shift that you may see on the scale is due to an increase in blood volume, which typically happens after a large meal. Fear not! Your body carries a handy fluid regulating mechanism, called the fluid-electrolyte balance, which gets you back on track in no time.

Often, people associate this festive time of year with about a 5 to 8 lb. weight gain. Through research, the National Institutes of Health actually pinpoints that number at about 1 to 1.5 lbs. Yes, this is good news but don’t forget that if this happens every year, over time it can add up! Stay tuned next week for Turkey Day tips that will prevent this from happening….

Depression-Proof your Diet

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By now, it’s possible that you’ve adjusted to the time change and reveled in that extra hour of sleep we got on Sunday. Don’t forget that it comes with a heavy price tag. As the days get shorter and the sky turns darker your mood might take a devastating dip.  Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the ever so appropriate acronym SAD) tends to present itself in the fall and winter. But have no fear; depression proof nutrition is here!

Fats are where it’s at

Consider fats the stars of the show when it comes to regulating moods. Hydrogenated oils, better know as trans fat, have been under scrutiny for years because of their ability to increase LDL levels (bad cholesterol) and decrease HDL levels (good cholesterol). That’s barely half the story of these evil fats. In 2011, for the first time ever, researchers in Spain identified a link between trans fat and depression. Trans fat in the diet increased the risk of depression by almost 50 percent! Those who only ate “good fats” had a 35 percent reduction in mood disorders. For a quick refresher course in fats, my previous post, The Skinny on Fats can clear things up. In the meantime here are some brief guidelines:

  • Nuts and seeds contain polyunsaturated fats that can halt unhappiness in its tracks. Try sprinkling sunflower seeds on your salad, chopped walnuts in your oatmeal or sesame seeds as a topping for any type of protein.
  • Olive oil, a monounsaturated fat, contains polyphenols with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which basically act as an antidepressant in the body. Combine with flavored vinegar (Martin Pouret found at the Williams-Sonoma store makes delicious ones) and use for salad dressing instead of store bought brands. Lightly brush olive oil on fresh veggies, top with salt and pepper, and broil in the oven.
  • The main purpose of trans fat is to extend the shelf life of a product. You will find it in most processed foods, packaged baked goods and fried foods. Think about what the appropriate shelf life of a food item should be before you buy it. If that muffin your about to eat can stay “fresh” for over a week, it probably has trans fat in it.

Beef up on B vitamins

Although there are eight B vitamins, the ones that may determine the status of your mood are folate, B6 and B12. They all work together in the body, so if you are lacking in one, chances are you’re lacking in a few.

Thanks to grain fortification, folate deficiency is pretty rare in the United States. When choosing foods naturally high in folate, think beans and greens! Spinach, asparagus and collard greens all score high in levels of folate, along with pinto, kidney and navy beans. Steam any deep green leafy vegetable, mix with cooked lentils and flavor with lemon juice for a meal that’s sure to boost your folate level.

B6 acts as a precursor for numerous cognitive reactions in the body, so it’s essential to make sure that you have enough. Garbanzo beans, chicken and tuna are some traditional sources, yet you’ll also find it in bulgur wheat, cottage cheese and winter squash.

Sub-par levels of B12 can cause restlessness, anxiety and irritability. Animal products such as beef and liver are terrific sources, but it’s also found in fortified cereal, milk and yogurt. Surprisingly, clams have one of the highest levels of B12 of any food. Try them steamed over a serving of whole-wheat pasta tossed lightly with olive oil. For fish fans, opt for salmon, rainbow trout or haddock to increase daily levels. Keep in mind as you get older your ability to absorb B12 decreases. Checking in on your status with a blood test never hurts.

Vitamin of the Year

If you listened to everything you read and saw in the media you would think Vitamin D cured everything. Maybe not, but low levels in the body have been directly linked to depression in adolescents, healthy adults, and the elderly population. Of course, short winter days and cold nights makes it a bit tricky to get an adequate amount from sunlight. Besides dairy products, copious amounts of Vitamin D are found in ocean products such as herring, salmon, halibut and oysters.

If you’re feeling down in the dumps, don’t fill up on carb-laden foods. Eating processed foods with simple carbohydrates will only cause severe dips in sugar levels and mood. Choose some of the foods listed above to get through the dreary, winter months.

Zooming Out

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During summer, we primarily focus on what we need to eliminate from our diets rather than what to incorporate to make us feel and look our best. This usually deters us from stepping back to take in the panoramic view- “what kind of lifestyle should I lead to ensure a long, healthful life?”  A recent article in Healthland TIME reminds us of the four crucial habits associated with the bigger picture: not smoking, drinking alcohol moderately, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. While this may seem obvious, it’s always easier said than done. And sometimes, we need a little reminder to zoom out of the short-term lens and focus on the end goal. So Eat Well, Move Often, Don’t Smoke, Drink a Little- and Live Long. Simple as that.

Prepare, Eat, Repeat

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As far as habituation thresholds go, humans are pretty much the worst. It explains why we tire easily of the latest pop song playing like a broken-record on the radio, suddenly feel that we have no clothes in our closet even though we all claim to only buy things we’ll wear forever and become uninterested in an action-packed new game after obsessively playing it for a week. While it may seem as if we are over-stimulated and possibly on the verge of becoming the largest attention seeking generation, there is one area in which our short attention span may actually be beneficial… weight loss. A recent TIME Healthland article, “How Repetitive Foods Can Mean Weight Loss”, reviewed a studied published in this month’s The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition claiming habitual meals lead to over-familiarization and simply humans get bored of eating the same thing so we start eating less. This isn’t something revolutionary, dieticians all over the US, myself included, have been counseling our patients to do just this, and the result is successful, long-term weight loss. So give it a try, bore yourself thin!

Sugar: Exposed as The Sweet Culprit for Obesity

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Doctors, nutritionists and researchers alike have all been searching for the culprit responsible for our current childhood and adult obesity epidemic, as well as the skyrocketing rates of nutrition related chronic diseases (i.e. diabetes, heart disease, cancer and metabolic syndrome). Finally, one well-known scientist, Robert Lustig, may have come up with a convincing and bittersweet answer: Sugar. Gary Taubes, author of Why We Get Fat: And What to Do About It and Good Calories, Bad Calories, covered Lustig’s convincing argument, research and lectures in a recent New York Time’s Magazine article Is Sugar Toxic?. Between Taubes’ nutrition background and eloquent writing style, and Lustig’s seemingly incontrovertible evidence and compelling public speaking abilities, you will most likely finish this article not only as a believer, but will also think twice before adding that spoonful of sugar to your next cup of coffee. While the evidence may not be conclusive just yet, Lustig and Taubes’ make one thing certain: sugar may be sweet but if cutting it out (or cutting down on its consumption) means a healthy, longer life, then count me in.

Engraining the benefits of Whole Grains

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By now it should be engrained into your brain, whole grains are far superior to refined grains and you should incorporate them into your diet as you leave the refined ones behind. While we all know that whole grains are better for us, there are times when we smile, nod and agree instead of finding the reasons why they are actually better (trust me we’ve all been there!). This week a great article in the Washington Post, Whole grain and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, was published and it simplifies and organizes all of the need-to-know information on whole grains: how much and which ones you should bring into your diet, as well as answering some of our questions on why refined grains should really get the boot.

Eat well!

The Eggcellent news about Eggs

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The US Department of Agriculture is always conducting research on the most popular food items to discover just how nutritious they are for us. One of the most talked about food items, eggs, was under the spotlight yet again. What did they find? That the eggs currently being eaten contain less cholesterol and more Vitamin D than the eggs we were eating in 2002! But is it still too much cholesterol? Check out the article in the Time’s Healthland to learn more about the new findings on eggs!

Good Eats!

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The Updated Egg

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