Saturday, 6 January 2007

The Special K challenge: does it work?

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A while ago, a friend told me that she intended to lose weight by following the 'Special K Challenge'. Promoted by Kellogg's and Special K, this challenge is a quick weight-loss scheme that involves eating Special K for breakfast and lunch, and rounding out the day with a healthy dinner. I tried it with her, but only for a week because eating the same thing twice a day every day is boring, no matter how tasty it is.

In theory, the challenge should work because it limits your daily calorie intake significantly. But there are several downsides to this. For one, a serving of cereal is not that much (between 1/2 a cup and a full cup) so it may leave you feeling unsatisfied or even still hungry. Secondly, the special K is low in protein and high in sugar and carbs -- which I think sets you on a collision course with an energy crash. Third, how can you get in your 5 to 10 servings a day of fruits and veggies if you're eating cereal for 2 of 3 meals? And fourth, as I mentioned, it's boring.

I think you're better off having a salad for lunch and a healthy, protein-rich breakfast. What do you think?

Couch potato confessions

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Are you a self-proclaimed couch potato? You might be if the only workout you seem to get is either manually changing the channel on the TV or grabbing a snack from the kitchen if you're feeling really ambitious. Unfortunately, the bad thing about being a couch potato is that you begin to look like an actual potato -- round and lackluster. I've never been able to sit still for long enough to be a sofa-dweller, so when I came across the confessions of a couch potato, I couldn't really relate. But you might be able to. You also m ight be able to find inspiration from the story, which comes from someone who had to change his lazy ways after getting a job at one of the internet's largest weight loss sites.

Are you a couch potato? Or a reformed one?

Daily Fit Tip: Go easy on the energy drinks

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In today's world of long days and all-too-often sleepless nights, many people have started relying on energy drinks like Red Bull and Rockstar to get through the day. Is this a good habit or a bad one? Although energy drinks aren't all bad, they're definitely not that good for you either. There are arguments going both ways for caffeine and for some of the herbal supplements, but the biggest problem is the sugar: a 16oz can of Rockstar has 260 calories! I don't know if the metabolism boost is gonna be enough to burn that off...

Forget the energy drink, for that much guilt I think I'd rather have a snickers bar.

Fit Factor: Tips on sticking to your routine

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So. You've taken the all-important first step in working out: getting started. But after the excess weight comes off and/or you've reached the goals you originally set out to achieve, how do you keep active and maintain the healthy routine you've created for yourself? Here are a number of steps you can take to stick to your routine:

1) Mix it up: Doing the same thing day after day is bo-rrrring. Even if you constantly change the songs on your iPod, doing the same moves is going to begin to wear on you. But mixing it up is easy -- if you're a runner, start taking a different route. If you workout to DVDs, invest in some new ones. If you spend day after day doing 25 minutes on the Elliptical trainer at level 9, try alternating between level 11 and level 6 -- or better yet, take a dance class, go ice skating with your sweetie or just find something else to do. You might get hooked, you might not, but at least you're doing something different.

2) Get professional help: No, not that kind of help. Enlist the advice of a fitness expert, who can recommend different activities that will generate even more results from your routine.

Continue reading Fit Factor: Tips on sticking to your routine

Celebrity health advice: science or silliness?

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Celebrities are rich, beautiful, powerful -- so they must be knowledgeable as well, right? Not according to the UK group Sense About Science, who is working hard this year to make sure that celebrities get their science and health related facts straight before speaking.

Citing examples such as Madonna speaking about "neutralizing " radiation and Heather Mills McCartney blaming dairy products for the obesity epidemic, the group has been busy placing leaflets around celebrity hango uts. The leaflet, titled Need to Speak to a Scientist? implores celebrities to go on a fact checking mission before speaking publicly on an issue.

The public impact of celebrity endorsements is well known and hard to undo, claims the group, and they hope to prevent wide spread misconceptions by people who assume that celebrities must be in the know. So if you hear your favorite famous person advising you to "keep your lymph system clear and unclogged" or telling you that eating a seed is like ingesting the whole plant, remember that celebrities might be experts at being famous, but are not always qualified to dish out health advice.

Skip the burger, save the planet: are cows causing too much global warming?

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There are plenty of New Year's resolutions that also have a positive environmental impact. Maybe you want to exercise more often, so you walk or bike to work. You've significantly reduced your share of carbon dioxide emissions and improved your health at the same time. You want to eat more fresh produce, so you vow to start an organic vegetable garden or buy local produce. That reduces the pollution created by transporting your veggies to the store and your exposure to pesticides as well.

What about trading in your quarter pounder for a tofu burger? Will that save the planet? < a href="">This article makes a pretty good case, including these amazing facts:
  • Livestock are responsible for more pollution than transportation
  • 30% of the Earth's surface is dedicated to raising livestock
  • Worldwide milk and meat consumption is expected to double in the next 45 years
I don't often prepare red meat at home, but we're far from vegetarian. What about you? Are figures like these and those presented in the article enough to make you take a hard look at your burger habit? Me? I might be in need of a good bean soup recipe!

FTC fines several purveyors of weight-loss products $25 million

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The makers of TrimSpa, CortiSlim, Xenadrine EFX and One A Day WeightSmart have been sued by the Federal Trade Commission due to unsubstantiated claims each of the manufacturers/marketers made about those products.

While many of us who think rationally know that NO pill can enable fat to melt away, the ingredients in some of these products do indeed curb appetite and assist the body in fighting the need to consume food. That's not really the issue here.

The issue are the scientifically unsubstantiated claims in the overzealous marketing machines of these products that state things like "prevents cancer" and "helps prevent osteoporosis". Those claims are at the basis of why the FTC has began these rather expensive lawsuits. Are customers duped by all this marketing? Absolutely -- but there is no substitute for calorie counting, eating healthy and regular exercise. That won't stop the "diet pill" nonsense ever, though.

Too busy? No such thing

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We are famously more sedentary now than ever before in history, yet we feel more rushed and stressed than ever before. How does that make any sense? It doesn't. But unfortunately it does seem to be the truth, with more and more people helplessly watching their waistlines grow bigger as they find it impossible to fit in time for exercise.

The good news is that when it comes to fitness and physical activity, every little bit helps. You don't have to block out an hour of your day, or even a half an hour, to have life-changing results. Just a few minutes here and a few moves there, even during your day at work, and you can have a positive impact on your health.

Here are 8 moves specifically designed to mimic traditional gym exercises but modified to be done during normal everyday activities. My favorite? The "seated quad shaper." I tried it here at my desk and it really burns! (or maybe I'm just extra out-of-shape, ha!) The one that made me laugh is the "cardio shopping." It's good advice, I just think you'll have to try this one carefully -- "walking quickly up and down the aisles" for an extra calorie burn could be dangerous to innocent bystanders if the store is busy and/or you're not careful!

British TV star loses weight and inspires others to do the same

If, like me, you're a fan of the world's longest running TV show, Britain's Coronation Street, you might be surprised to learn that one of the street's regular actresses is the face behind England's top fitness DVD. You might be even more surprised to learn that it's none other than Vicky Entwistle, AKA our Janice Battersby, who on the show is the frumpy, crude, beer-swilling factory girl who has rarely been seen eating anything but fish and chips.

Apparently Vicky's lost 35 pounds, gotten in shape and cleaned up her old habits significantly. Motivated by a tabloid diss about her body, she began a workout routine and a healthy eating plan and before long was looking lean and feeling great. She came out with a fitness DVD called WOW - Weight Off Workout to inspire others.

Let's hope Vicky's alter-ego, Janice, glams it up and makes some healthy lifestyle changes on the TV screen too.

2007's most popular diet sites so far

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As everyone jumps on the New Year's resolution bandwagon, diet and weight-loss websites are more popular than ever. So far in 2007, the website belonging to weight-loss show The Biggest Loser has experienced the biggest gain in audience, with eDiet's and Weight Watcher's websites not far behind. All in all, visits to weight-loss websites are up 57% from last month, according to this.

Unfortunately, the high traffic numbers to these websites usually see a sharp decline in the second week of January, suggesting that New Year dieters aren't really all that interested in making long-term changes -- they just want that quick fix, and perhaps find it too hard too keep up. If you're truly committed to losing weight this year, please give it more than 2 weeks. You owe it to your health.

What weight-loss sites are you frequenting? Besides That's Fit, of course!

Are low-carb diets causing birth defects?

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A new study based on a national survey that was conducted from 1999 to 2004 is being released and is bringing to light an alarming fact: folate levels in women are dropping. The essential B vitamin (which also includes folic acid) is one that doctors have been encouraging women who may get pregnant consume.

Fortified breads, like the ones found in cereals, contain folic acid which prevent birth defects. During the 1990s the government began fortification campaigns to encourage young women to get more folate in their diet. It started to work, but the first decline in women's leve ls is now occurring.

The birth defects that come from this deficiency are known as neural tube defects. In other words, it has to do with the spine and brain. Now, doctors aren't concluding that fad diets which try to avoid carbohydrates are causing this, but the Food and Drug Administration started requiring breads be fortified about 10 years ago. So if women are avoiding breads and enriched flour which have been backed by folic acid, then they might not be getting enough folate in their system.

What happens to your body when you drink coke?

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Soda has a pretty bad reputation. It's been blamed for the obesity epidemic, not to mention a number of health problems. So do your ever wonder what happens to your body when your drink a can of coke? Weight-loss motivator Julia Havey has the answer. Did you know, for instance, that a can of coke has about 10 tablespoons of sugar? Can you imagine eating 10 spoonfuls of sugar in one sitting? yech! The sugar in coke, when it can't be used by your body, is converted in to fat, and the caffeine that gives you that rush also depletes your body of important nutrients like calcium. Also, coke increases your dopamine production, just like another controversial substance: heroine. You'll experience a major sugar rush, followed by a major crash about an hour later. Yikes.

If you're a soda drinker, this might make you consider quitting. If I drank soda, it would sure give me something to think about!

Depressed women more likely to binge drink

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A recent study in the US and Canada found that women who drink to excess were more likely to be depressed than men.

The study measured drinking habits by frequency, overall quantity, and whether the subject went through periods of binge drinking. To be considered depressed, a person had to meet the standards for clinical depression, or had to have experienced recent depressed feelings.

While it's not necessarily clear which comes first -- the drinking or the depression -- it's important for doctors to note that more women may be trying to self-medicate with large amounts of alcohol -- behavior that could lead to alcohol dependence.

Infant car seats fail new crash tests

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Parents cringe when bad news comes out about products they're using with their kids, especially when those products are expensive car seats already strapped into the back of their cars. But according to new crash tests done by Consumer Reports, 10 out of 12 popular rear-facing infant car seats aren't making the grade.

The car seats -- which had already been tested and passed by the federal government -- were put to more rigorous tests than are currently required. Rather than testing at the standard 30 miles per hour, the group put the seats through a 38 MPH crash. Most failed by flying off their bases, and one threw the crash dummy 30 feet through the air. Car seat companies argue that consistency in testing is hard to achieve, but Consumer Reports claims that many of these companies sell better performing seats in Europe where government standards are higher.

Two seats that performed well are the Graco Snugride and Baby Trend Flex-Loc. The group reminds parents that any car seat is better than none, and the safest place for a baby is in the rear center seat. For more information about car seat safety, click here.

How to beat the winter blues

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It's a time of year when some of you may be suffering from seasonal depression -- a condition caused mostly by reduced access to sunlight. Thanks to a new "dawn simulation" device, you might be able to find some relief.

Bright light therapy is already used as a treatment for seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The treatment involves sitting at a bright light box for 30 minutes over breakfast. However, dawn simulation is more convenient -- happening automatically during your last few hours of sleep.

While, in a recent study, bright light therapy was still shown to be more effective than dawn simulation (58% effective as opposed to 50% effective), this could be an exciting new alternative for those looking for respite from their seasonal blues.

If you think you could be a SAD sufferer, you can take a self-assessment at the nonprofit website of the Center for Environmental Therapeutics.

Is it possible to control how we age?

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If someone asked you how old you are, but then they said "no, what's your RealAge?" would you know what to say? Given, it would be pretty weird if somebody actually asked you that, but it could happen! is a website founded on the idea that all kinds of the little things we do everyday, like habits and lifestyle choices, have an impact on how we age. So whether or not you eat breakfast, wear your seatbelt, smoke, or even remember to take your vitam ins can make you "younger" or "older" on the RealAge scale.

Take the survey and find out if you're on the younger side or (gasp!) older side for your age. I, for some freaky reason, came out a few years younger. I think there may have been an error...but heck! I'll take it!

Want great sex in '07? Lose weight

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Sex columnist Brian Alexander lists "Lose the weight, get in shape" as the "most important thing you can do this year to improve your sex life." While this isn't to say that voluptuous folk can't have a good time, for most people, your libido and performance drop when you're overweight and ou t of shape.

While overweight men exhibit significant drops in testosterone levels, exercise creates pulses in sex hormones -- so take Brian's advice, and "get off the couch."

Looking for other solutions to spice up the sex life? Try having a conversation, dropping the sexual politics, and promising to make sex about the other person.

When it comes to breaking bad habits, listen to your heart

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'Tis the season to create new habits and if you're struggling to keep those brand new resolutions, listen to your heart. According to researchers, having a desire to change is more important that just knowing that change is needed. Leaving bad habits behind and creating good health habits appears to be more of an emotional than logical process.

So what's the answer? Have a plan for emotional support. Find o ut where your weak spots are and be emotionally ready for them. If you are lonely and that's a negative trigger for you, take steps to create a positive social network. If you're prone to depression, seek treatment. Perhaps this is why the buddy system works so well when it comes to diet and exercise!

According to the article, certain penalties seemed to be effective deterrents as well, such as lower insurance premiums for healthy employees and employers not hiring smokers. I wonder if the health consequences of bad habits were as immediate as these, if we wouldn't pay more attention to them too.
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Children with lead poisoning continue to live in poisonous homes

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To me this is just sad: in a new study published by the American Journal of Public Health many children diagnosed with lead poisoning continue to live in poisonous environments for as long as 6 months. And by "many" they mean as much as 82%! That's disgusting.

Apparently, the majority of the children dealing with these "long clean-up times" are living in low-income rental units and the landlords just don't have the money to take care of the situation. The number of homes taking 6 months or longer to become lead-safe has dropped in recent years, but it still remains a significant problem.

There are currently no government programs available to help landlords or homeowners make their buildings safe if they're not able to do it on their own. I'm not usually one to advocate government funding, but in this case maybe they should step in and help out -- for the kids.

Get revved with this 24-hour diet

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I'm sure you've heard of quick-fix diets the promise results in 8 days, 10 days, 20 days, etc. But what about a 24-hour diet? Don't get too excited -- chances are it won't help you shed those unwanted pounds in record time, but it will help boost your energy and feel great. The 'diet' combines healthy foods with spurts of activity and plenty of rest and time to enjoy the day, not to mention lots of water. It isn't so much a quick fix as it is a model for how your days should ideally play out in order to achieve healthfulness and feel your best. If you're already a healthy eater, the plan shouldn't be too much of a stretch, except for the sporadic stomach crunches and jumping jacks, I think.

How does your existing 24-hour diet stack up to this one?

Diet pills approved...for your dog

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As you probably know, obesity is considered a national epidemic in the US -- it's the second leading cause of preventable death, with about 127 million adults considered overweight and 9 million considered grossly obese (that's two-thirds of the country). But did you know our dogs are getting fatter, too?

In response, Pfizer has created a doggy diet drug called Slentrol that has recently been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

Twenty to thirty percent of dogs are overweight or obese, and the problem seems to be on the rise, according to Stephen Sundlof, head of FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. Like humans, dogs can develop diabetes, heart trouble, and joint problems if they're not maintaining a healthy weight.

You could, incidentally, also walk the dog from time to time -- as, just like with humans, exercise is far healthier than dieting or pills when it comes to losing weight. It might even help you shave a few pounds.