Monday, 7 May 2007

Old habits are hard to break ... and might be the reason you're still overweight

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Most of us are creatures of habit, myself included. We get sucked in to routines that include doing things at a certain time, in a certain way. Habits are easy to make and hard to break ... and your unhealthy habits are probably contributing to that extra bit of weight you can't get rid of. Some examples? Having a doughnut over your morning coffee, snacking while you watch your evening shows, spending your weekend driving around instead of enjoying the fresh air. For me, I have a habit of craving something sweet after dinner ... and satisfying the craving with chocolate, ice cream or something else that is calorie-laden.

Glee Magazine has put together some tips on breaking your bad habits. The first step is recognizing your bad habits, then replacing them with healthy habits, and reminding yourself to stick to to your new routines. Does this actually work? I don't know ... I have yet to try, but it can't hurt, right?

What are your bad habits?

Getting over obesity takes more than a diet change

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Have you known someone (even yourself) that has become morbidly obese and has probably thrown every trick in the book to become "normal" again regarding weight?

Although obese people in the U.S. (and in schools especially) are mocked way more than supported (in a sign of deteriorating mentalities in this country), the struggle to transition from obese to normal is the hardest struggle to make in life for many people. It's way more than radically changing one's diet from what I have seen.

Are the emotional barriers and societal stigmas too hard to overcome for many? Sure -- and then there are some that blast past those obstacles and retake control of their lives. That has to be one of the hardest things ever to face a human being. What are your thoughts?

Every try Traditional Chinese Medicines?

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Having trouble with allergies? How about high blood pressure? Are you using prescription medications or homeopathic remedies?

I'll bet that most of the U.S. population has never heard of a "homeopathic medicine," as these have been effectively shunned from the medical lexicon (a severe mistake) to make room for patentable and profitable synthetics. In my opinion, this is a disservice to the medical patient, but I'll move on.

TCM (traditional chinese medicines) are generally herbs (standardized for potency) that can help with so many common ailments it would boggle most minds. I've used TCMs for everything from stress relief to allergic and sinus relief with excellent results. You won't find them at the Wal-Mart pharmacy, but in health food stores.

Teens with migraines could equal trouble

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Does your teen have consistent and chronic daily headaches? If so, the possible risk for psychiatric disorders, depression and suicide may be a result, according to a new study out of Taiwan.

Chronic is defined as having headaches more than 15 days per month (roughly half) that last a few hours a day or more. The study looked at 7,900 students (ages 12 to 14) and identified 121 teens with chronic daily headaches out of that group.

Those from that subgroup were then screened for psychiatric disorders. 50% of those had at least one psychiatric disorder and about 20% were considered high suicide risks.

If your teenager shows sign of chronic headaches, some prudent follow-up may be in order if you haven't investigated it already, yes?

Cinnamon: tastes good and it's good for you

A favorite breakfast food of mine that is both good for you and tastes great is whole-wheat bread with ground cinnamon (fresh ground if possible) and a touch of melted butter (just a little). No sugar though -- but using berries on top is good!

Cinnamon is known to lower blood glucose, triglycerides and even the "bad" cholesterol (LDL). Some purists swear by cinnamon as a partial cure to diabetes as well, and there is a long history of its use in those types of patients.

Is it a good spice to use? Absolutely -- but regular and sparing use (every day) is the way I use it when cooking and baking. Try it on a piece of whole wheat bread topped by some fresh berries. Yummy doesn't describe it!

Product Review: Clif ZBaR for kids

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Tired of plopping those ho-hos, cupcakes and other junk foods into that school lunchbox for the kids? Some folks are, but it's hard to find a suitable replacement that's full of good ingredients but tastes good.

One of the more recent discoveries I've seen that should suit that picky eater is the Clif ZBaR organic power bar for kids. The ingredients are first-rate, there's unsweetened chocolate (which is so much better than refined milk chocolate) and has whole grain goodness you just can't get with enriched, bleached flour products.

Try out a few with your kids and see what they think. The price is not bad for the nutrition these bars contain and the nutrition offered is miles ahead of those usual bars stuffed with high-fructose corn syrup.

Trick kids into eating healthy with "stealth vegetables"

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For whatever reason, kids seem drawn to food that's packed with calories. And, despite the increasingly worrisome obesity epidemic among children and young people, many continue to avoid eating fruits, vegetables, and other foods that are low in calorie density.

However, a recent Penn State study finds that parents who want combat this trend in their kids might be able to serve those same calorie-dense foods -- just minus the calories. By altering the meals to include more low-calorie ingredients (like vegetables), parents can reduce their children's calorie consumption while letting them eat foods they enjoy.

For instance, when researchers blended broccoli and cauliflower and put it in pasta sauce, kids couldn't tell the difference between that dish and the higher-calorie version they were used to -- but were getting more vegetables just the same.

This isn't to say you should stop trying to get your children to healthy foods on purpose, but when push comes to shove, even if you have to use "stealth vegetables," it's certainly better than nothing.

Early morning workouts are less effective

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I'm a big believer that different times of day work better for different people when it comes to exercising. It all depends on whether you're an early bird or a night owl, what your work and family schedules look like, other obligations you may have, etc etc.

But new information shows that if you've been getting up and exercising early in the morning it may not be the best thing for you as far as results. The reason? Although experts aren't completely sure, circadian rhythms seem the most likely culprit. Of a group of swimmers tested in a controlled environment, the fastest lap times happened later in the day. And since circadian rhythms (among other things) cause body temperature to be slightly higher as the day goes on, it makes sense that athletic performance would be that much better in the evening versus the morning.

If you've got something that's working for you I say don't mess with a good thing. But if you're struggling with an early morning plan maybe it would be a good idea to just sleep in and try an evening one instead?

Daily Fit Tip: try tofu instead of meat

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If you like meat chunks (beef especially) in those main or side dishes, but don't like the possible calories and fat they leave behind, try tofu cubes instead!

Tofu sounds gross to many people, but it's really not. The curd of soybeans has been used for a long (long) time as an addition to many types of dishes, and it's a great substitute for small beef chunks in dishes from all types of cuisines.

So, buy yourself a package or tofu, cut it into small rectangles or cubes, and use the next time as a meat substitute. Once you get used to the texture, you may just realize that you like it. My advice: give it a shot and see what you think.

Jumpstart Your Fitness: Get into interval training

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Which are you when it comes to exercising, the tortoise or the hare? When it comes to slow and steady vs fast and furious there are arguments pointing to both ways as the "best" way, but a recent article in The New York Times suggests that it's really a blend of the two that has the most health benefits for most people. And no, a mix of slow and fast in this case does not equal "medium," it means intervals.

Interval training is not new by a long shot, but there is new interest in it due to research continuing to confirm and solidify just how great it is for cardiovascular health and fat burning. Both slow workouts and faster workouts offer similar health benefits such as weight loss, lowered risk for diabetes, and improved cardiovascular health. But it looks like interval training takes these benefits and multiplies them for the positive. Throwing some peaks and valleys into your exercise routine can up your calorie burning and speed up your fitness goals. In addition, benefits seemed similar for people regardless of their physical shape when they started the training. Both low activity/sedentary adults and young fit athletes showed similar levels of improvement in a little as a few weeks.

Continue reading Jumpstart Your Fitness: Get into interval training

Dieting 4 days at a time

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It's about motivation, and the fact that it's really hard to get (or stay) excited about something when you don't have tangible results for your efforts. Martha Beck,PhD seems to think that 4 days is the magic amount of time needed to start successfully on a weight loss plan. She says it's not so long (like a week) that it's too hard to stick to it, but it's just long enough to start seeing the results of your labors -- which will in turn inspire the motivation needed to continue.

I haven't read her book on this subject, The Four Day Win, but in reading what she has to say about the basic principles it makes perfect sense. Some of it is based on setting realistic and specific goals, planning out rewards, and even writing out and signing a contract. These are all things I've heard of before, and throwing in a "baby steps" idea sounds like a good plan to me.

Is losing weight without exercising safe for older adults?

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When you restrict calories (diet) and don't exercise, your body doesn't just burn fat, it burns muscle too. In fact, a recent study involving obese post-menopausal women found that when women dieted by strictly restricting calories alone, as much as 35% of the weight they lost was muscle.

That sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But the study also found that that muscle loss did not, in fact, decrease strength, mobility, or aerobic fitness in the women. Instead, many of the women's performance actually improved because they had lost excess weight. This study concluded that a calorie-restricted diet -- previously thought to be unsafe for older adults -- is actually an acceptable method for weight loss.

Does that mean that if you're an "older" adult, you get a free pass to avoid exercise? Not so fast! Though you can certainly lose weight without exercise, a moderate daily workout is crucial to cardiovascular health. Not only that, getting some activity in every day will help keep bones and muscles strong and improve your balance too!

It's never good to annoy your doctor

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Here at That's Fit we've talked time and again about how important it is to choose the right doctor and be involved as much as possible in your own health care. So let's say you have found a great doctor that you trust and respect, someone who's thoughtful and detail-oriented, and listens when you talk. But how are you at being a good patient? It is a two-way street after all, and as important as is for doctors to respect you and your time, it's just as important for you to do the same for them. And after all, it can't hurt to be on the doc's good side!

So here are some basics on how to be an awesome patient:
  • Know your meds
  • Be honest
  • Stay on point
  • Don't play doctor yourself
  • Expect delays
  • And of course: be clean/smell nice
Nobody wants to be the name on the list that gets the silent "oh great" groan.

Meet the Bloggers: Brigitte Dale

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For months now, you've read our thoughts about living fit. Don't you wish you knew more about the people behind the posts? Throughout May, we'll introduce you to our bloggers. We know you're dying to learn if we favor spandex over sweats, the craziest diets we've fallen for, what "forbidden foods" lurk in our pantries, and what motivates us to embrace each lunge after glorious lunge. So, read on. And if you feel like asking us a question we haven't posed for ourselves here, ask away!

Today we introduce Brigitte Dale, who scours the web to bring us Fit Links each Tuesday, and plays Diet Detective with Martha Edwards in How Many Calories? on alternating Wednesdays.

1. Who are you?
Brigitte Dale

2. The age you tell people you are:

3. Where you're from and where you live now:
I live in Lincoln, Nebraska. I've lived in several different states before I moved here, but this one definitely feels like home.

4. Do you have a personal blog?
Yes, I do! It's at

5. What is your day job, or rather, what do you do when you're not fitness blogging?
I'm a freelancer, so I keep busy with blogging, an advice column in the newspaper, plus I do a daily video blog at TV Squad covering entertainment and television news.

6. How long have you been blogging with That's Fit and what is your favorite post?
I've been with That's Fit for a little over six months, and I am going to cheat on this question and pick a whole category as a favorite instead of just one post. I love the How Many Calories? feature because it's always a surprise finding out how many (or how few) calories are in foods that we've eaten lots of times without thinking.

7. Do you have a specific fitness background or are you a mere mortal who's just passionate about being healthy and fit -- and living to write about it?
I'm not a professional, but I am at times a fanatic. :) Other times, not so much.

8. What's the worst fitness or diet idea you fell for?
I once bought a very cheap stretch-band for strength training, which promptly snapped like the huge rubber band that it was. Ouch!

9. What motivates you to exercise and stay healthy?
Thinking about the future and all the things I want to do in it -- I want to be there and be healthy to enjoy them!

10. Who's your favorite fitness role model?
No one person stands out in my mind. I tend to try out the newest fitness fads of celebrities with similar habits and body types as me..

11. What's your exercise "M.O." -- Gym workouts or outdoor endeavors; team or solitary sports?
I love outdoor endeavors like water sports, hiking, and cross country skiing with friends or alone. I'm not the best self-motivator, so when I find exercise that seems lke a fun hobby rather than work, I stick to it!

12. Choice of fitness gear: Baggy sweats or sultry spandex?
Hmmm ... well, yoga clothes, which are sort of a mix between those two options. Snug fitting yet comfortable, breathable material.

13. What's your favorite fitness activity?
I'd have to pick Pilates, because it feels great and gives amazingly fast results.

14. Do you have any non-fitness-related, non-blogging hobbies?
I love doing anything outdoors, and I'm also involved in animal rescue.

15. Confession time! What nonhealthy food do you eat -- or what unhealthy habit do you indulge in -- that would get you banned from That's Fit? What's your excuse for doing so?
I love jelly donuts! (Terrible, I know. I try to eat them on very rare occasions, since I know what a nutrient-empty bomb of calories and fat they are.

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Dads play a role in childhood obesity

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As I type this, I can see my husband and my children playing outside on the swing set. My toddler is sliding down the tall slide on her own, something I never let her do. A few minutes ago, she fell (unharmed) off the swing -- something I never let her play on. My preschooler is standing on top of the playhouse. It's very clear to me that my husband and I have different parenting styles, but when he's on deck, he's on deck. The kids don't get hurt any more on his watch then they do on mine, but still...I just try not to watch.

The parenting styles of fathers recently came under scrutiny after a large Australian study that followed 5000 preschoolers found a compelling link between a father's parenting style and his children's BMI. Fathers who set clear boundaries with their children were more likely to have children with normal BMIs, while children of fathers who were permissive or "disengaged" were more likely to be have a higher BMI. Interestingly, the mother's parenting style seemed to have no impact. (Phew.)

The information gleaned from the study may be useful when developing childhood obesity intervention programs. Instead of focusing on the child, or mother and child, experts believe the results of this study may mean they should be focusing on parenting roles and the family as a whole. So let's hear it dads...what do you think?

Drink only water, tea and coffee

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Trying to find a cure for that soft drink addiction? If you finally get rid of those sugared and carbonated beverages, how about this: water! Of course, that tea and coffee can stay (in moderate amounts, right?).

There are many vitamin and mineral enriched products in single-serve packages that will turn ordinary water into a tasty treat if you must have that taste in things that you drink. The transition to plain water from sugar drinks can be a very tough one.

Try having four or five large glass bottles of water at home that you refil over and over and sip from while at home? At work, do the same thing (just a few less bottles, maybe). Try products like Emergen-C or Zingers and give that water some attitude. And, be more healthy as well.

Two lumps or four? Sugar doubles in processed goods since 1970s

It's no secret that sweet foods are appealing. Even products like bread, which we don't commonly think of as "sweet," contain a surprising amount of sugar, and many processed food manufacturers are notorious for putting excess sugar into their products to make them more appealing for consumers.

But did you know that over the last three decades, the amount of sugar in some products has nearly doubled? In fact, that article points to Special K as an example, which now contains as much sugar as a bowl of ice cream. Yikes! When obesity is on the rise, why is sugar being added in such copious amounts to products that are already established? Experts say that given our natural sweet tooth, adding sugar is a cheap and easy way to change or "improve" a product to make it more appealing.

Sugar may be tasty, but its calories are empty and eating excess sugar can mean packing on pounds. Want to make sure you aren't getting too much of the sweet stuff in your food? Be food label savvy and read ingredient lists before you buy. If sugar is one of the top ingredients, you can bet it's loaded with more than you need. Look for products that put sugar last, or better yet make your own and sweeten your food yourself.

Feeling froggy? This juice may help

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What's the old joke? What's green and red and goes 100 miles an hour? In Peru, a frog in a blender is no's a cure for what ails you.

The frog juice, indeed made from a real blended frog (freshly killed and skinned, no less), also contains white bean juice, honey, and aloe vera, among other ingredients. The throat-stinging mixture is said to cure breathing problems like asthma and bronchitis, fatigue, and even can cure a low sex drive, and is highly regarded in some Andean cultures.

Me? I'll stick to tea. How adventurous are you? Would you drink frog juice if it meant more energy or a high-octane libido?

How much green tea is too much?

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Drink green tea! You hear it everywhere. Green tea has been linked to heart health and cancer prevention, and recently even been touted as a possible way to reduce rheumatoid arthritis pain.

But as with nearly everything, too much of a good thing is not a good thing. A review of recent research found that when people ingest too much green tea -- especially in supplement form -- they run the risk of developing liver or kidney damage. Though the polyphenols in tea are beneficial in moderate doses, they can be toxic at high levels. Green tea supplements can contain 50 times more polyphenols than a single cup of green tea.

Experts say that even 10 cups of green tea a day is safe, but that if you're taking supplements you may want to watch your dose because it's easy to go overboard.

Blowing your diet wreaks havoc on your checkbook

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I'm a big fan of the occasional cheat day, but of course blowing your diet can be hard on your health depending how often and how majorly you mess up. But when thinking about what you'll have to deal with when "falling of the dieting wagon," there might be more to consider than just the cost in "pounds gained" or "efforts wasted." What about financial impacts? What about harm to your wallet and an unpleasant dent in your shopping budget?

Okay, so this chart of costs is a little over-the-top, but it gets its point across. If, for whatever reason, your health isn't enough motivation to get you through a rough patch and keep you on track, maybe focusing on a financial angle will work instead. They came up with $3538.44 in additional costs incrued by giving in to temptation, and you better believe I can think of much better ways to spend that kind of dough than on extra doctor visits and prescriptions!

San Francisco gets 'emotional map'

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How does city living affect your personality and emotional stability? A rather interesting study by a cartographer tried to track that kind of detail by outfitting city dwellers with instruments that captured their mood as they went about their daily business.

The San Francisco experiment tracked responses such as "tried to stomp on some pigeons" as well as outer emotional states in an attempt to see how "emotional mapping" could determine how some cities evoke certain emotions. After all, one street corner can give grief while the next one can give happiness, right?

You're going to die. Oh wait, just kidding

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What would you do if doctors said you only had one year to live? Take a trip? Write a book? Spend your life savings on the best that money could buy?

Then what if, two years later, it turned out that the doctors were wrong?

That's what happened to John Brandrick, a 62-year-old British man who started spending like crazy after doctors told him he was going to die within a year from pancreatic cancer. After quitting his job, Brandrick sold and gave away all his stuff, stopped paying his mortgage, and spent all the money on great food and an amazing vacation.

Now he's going to live -- which is great and all -- but he's totally broke. Subsequently, now that his"tumor" is just an inflamed pancreas, Brandrick figured doctors owed him some of that money back.

The hospital, as you might suspect, says they made their best diagnosis, and aren't responsible for their patent's spending habits.

It's a tired cliche that you should be "living each day as if it were your last," but -- as Mr. Brandrick's situation demonstrates -- that's not exactly practical (though I bet he had a great year).

Baby gender test causes stir in UK

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When a couple finds out they're pregnant, one of the first questions after "When are you due?" is "Are you going to find out whether it's a boy or a girl?" Typically, the sex of the baby can be determined during an routine ultrasound done around 20 weeks gestation, but a new test available in the UK says it can tell you whether to decorate in pink or blue as early as 6 weeks. For about $380 U.S., pregnant mothers can send a pinprick of blood into a lab, where technicians test for the tell-tale Y chromosome. Results -- which are 98% accurate -- are available in under a week's time, and can be accessed by mail or online.

The test is causing controversy in Britain, which has the highest abortion rate in Europe. Pro-life groups worry that the test will cause abortion rates to rise, especially in cultures that value one sex over the other. Is this a case of too much information too soon for parents-to-be, or do you think this test is a valuable tool for excited and expectant parents?

Kids' sleep problems bad for parents' health

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Any parent knows that having a young child means sleeping less than you ever thought was possible. However, the short sleep may be affecting your health.

A recent Australian study finds that parents of infants and toddlers who said that their children had sleeping problems also reported poor physical health and emotional distress. Both mothers and fathers with infants were equally at-risk, but in families with older children, researchers found that moms fared worse. Their health is more adversely affected because they're usually the ones who deal with the sleep problems.

The message, say researchers, is clear. In short, if your child is having sleep problems, don't just "deal with it," see a pediatrician. There are a variety of techniques to get your child into a normal sleeping pattern, and doctors can help.

If nothing else, you'll feel better for it.

Snacking good for older adults

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Even though young and middle-aged adults need to keep an eye on their snacking habits (or risk an expanding waistline), recent research shows that it may benefit the elderly.

Due to appetite loss, medical conditions or trouble with buying food, some elderly adults don't get the calories and nutrients their bodies need. For otherwise healthy people as young as 60 years-old, this lack of sustenance can cause early death.

So for those who notice that they're losing weight, or that their appetite has diminished with age, it might be time to start snacking in between meals.

However, just because they've been given a license to snack, doesn't mean elderly people should stat wolfing down unhealthy foods like candy, potato chips, or other empty calories. Instead, those looking to boost their calorie intake throughout the day should focus on fruits, vegetables, yogurt and whole grains.

How strength training helps you look younger

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When you hear that lifting weights helps people look younger you probably think along the lines of exercise and toning equals weight loss and a younger physique. And while that's obviously true, it's not the whole story. Strength training in particular can actually help you look younger from the inside out by encouraging your body to produce more of a particular growth hormone that is linked with age-related muscle loss and bone density changes.

As we age our bodies slowly decrease the amount of growth hormone produced, but strength training is a natural and healthy way to counteract this process. Just one more reason not to skip the gym!

Dump sugar: use berries instead

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Are you in love or repulsed by refined sugar? While all those chocolate bars, breakfast cereals and sodas surely taste sweet and inviting, the refined sugar used in most of those products is anything but healthy.

But what is an alternative? Low-glycemic and minimally processed sweeteners like stevia and agave nectar are excellent replacements for refined sugars. How about bran flakes for breakfast?

While bran-based and unsweetened breakfast cereals taste like cardboard to the consumer of sugared-up cereals, add a touch of fresh raspberries or blueberries to that bran and get that sweetness while you get some fresh fruit as well. Ever try strawberries or pineapple on bran? It's excellent!