In past lives, Dean Anderson has been a social worker, small business owner, college psychology and philosophy instructor, and world-class couch potato who weighed close to 400 pounds, smoked three packs and drank two six-packs of beer per day, and considered chocolate-peanut butter fudge a well-balanced meal. In this life, Dean earned a personal training certification from ACE, received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant, and began working for SparkPeople. He writes about attitude adjustment, motivation, men's health, and senior fitness. When not sitting in front of his computer, he can usually be found hiking or biking (he's the bald guy that everyone else is passing).
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Low fat. Reduced calorie. Zero trans-fat. All natural. Organic. Is it possible that choosing foods advertising these and other similar health claims can actually increase overeating and lead to unhealthier food choices?
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Apparently so, according to a growing body of research.
The concept of “health halo” has been around for several years now. Basically, the idea is that packaging that makes health claims about food items (or brands, restaurants, etc) often results in people eating more total calories, and more unhealthy foods, than they otherwise might.
As you can see from this article, there are several ways that health halos can lead to undesirable effects. One is that people tend to seriously underestimate the number of calories actually in a food item that’s labeled “low-fat” or "reduced calorie." This may lead people to increase the portion size they think is appropriate, or to add additional items to their meal, as when someone orders a grilled chicken sandwich instead of a bacon double cheeseburger, but then adds a large soda and a desert because they assume they can “afford” these extras and still come out ahead on calories. Either way, the research indicates that many people often end up eating up to 50% more total calories when choosing foods with health halos.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has just released a preliminary draft of the revisions planned for it’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This is the manual that medical and mental health professionals use to determine when individuals are suffering from a mental illness, rather than a temporary emotional or situational problem. It’s also used by insurance companies to determine which illnesses and treatments they will cover.
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The new Manual (DSM 5) will include binge eating as a distinct eating disorder, alongside anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, which have been included in previous editions of the DSM.
Does this mean that, if you sometimes have trouble stopping after two or three cookies or a few slices of pizza, you’ve got a clinical eating disorder? Probably not. Binge Eating Disorder has some very specific characteristics, and involves a persistent, frequent, and very upsetting pattern of overeating that goes well beyond the occasional “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” situation that we’re all familiar with.
It’s been documented for quite a while that there’s a strong link between TV watching and obesity in children. The assumption has usually been that the time a child spends watching TV reduces the time spent on physical activity, but this new research indicates things may not be this simple.
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When researchers from UCLA recently studied the TV and video viewing activities of 2000 children, they found that there was no association at all between viewing time and obesity for those children who watched videos or other commercial-free programs. But that picture changed when children were watching programs that included commercials. Researchers found that the more commercials the child was exposed to, the more likely it was that the child would be obese. This was especially true for children under 7.
Several studies in recent years have established that there is a strong connection between how much time you spend sitting and your risk of significant health problems (especially obesity and diabetes) and even premature death. Coach Nancy recently blogged about some of this research here.
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A new study reported this week indicates that even as little as a few hours of continuous sitting causes metabolic changes that increase blood sugar levels and decrease the amount of fat used as fuel, therefore increasing the amount that goes back into storage as body fat.
It's important to understand that the issue here is not just that you burn fewer calories when you're sitting around. Long periods of sitting actually cause unhealthy changes in your metabolism.
When it comes to my health and fitness efforts, the start of a new year is usually not a big deal for me any more. It used to be--I have a long history of new years that started with lots of resolutions to eat healthy, exercise, and lose weight. But those good intentions never lasted very long, and I ended most of those years weighing more than when I started, getting myself up to about 400 pounds in the process.
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Then something changed. I’m still not sure what it was, exactly—maybe I just got tired of feeling miserable all the time, or scared about what I was doing to my health. Anyway, in 2003, something clicked, and I finally started getting serious about changing my lifestyle, not just my weight. 18 months later, I had lost 170 pounds and gotten myself into pretty good shape for a 55 year old guy. And thanks to Sparkpeople, I was able to keep that weight off for almost 5 years.
But then came 2009…
You’ve probably seen those new green checkmark labels that are starting to show up on lots of packaged food products in your grocery store. The label is intended to be a guide for consumers who want to make healthier choices when shopping for groceries. It’s part of a new program called “Smart Choices” that’s sponsored by a group of 10 major food producers, including Kellogg’s, General Mills, ConAgra Foods, Tyson Foods, and PepsiCo.
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In order to display the Smart Choice label, a product must meet nutritional guidelines established by the program, which set limits on the amount of sugar, salt, and fat a product can contain, and specify that it should have a certain amount of desired nutrients like fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Sounds pretty good, right? Many people don’t pay much attention to the food labels on these same products, so having a simple label prominently displayed on the front of the package could be a good way to let people know which products are more nutritionally sound than others.
But as usual, the devil is in the details—in this case, the details of the program’s nutritional guidelines. It seems that both Froot Loops and Cocoa Crispies are eligible for the Smart Choice label, as are both lite and regular mayonnaise, and any frozen or packaged meals with up to 600 milligrams of sodium in them (25% of the recommended maximum intake).
What’s going on here?
We all know it’s very easy to develop a negative body image when we feel like our own bodies don’t match up very well with media images of the “perfect” body. Sometimes, even very minor imperfections can be the source of much dissatisfaction.
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And I imagine that most of us who set out to lose weight and/or improve our fitness are hoping that our body image will improve as our body changes.
But is that what always happens? Does body image improve along with your BMI score?
With apologies to John, Paul, Ringo and George.
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If you’re a regular follower of this blog, you know that 2009 has been a pretty rough year for me, health-wise. It started off with open-heart surgery to replace a bad heart valve, followed by 3 more week-long hospitalizations for post-surgery complications, some nasty problems with depression/PTSD, and most recently, a broken ankle.
While prospects for staying out of the hospital for the rest of the year look pretty good (knock on wood), none of these problems is fully resolved yet. I’m still working very reduced hours, and spending an awful lot of time with doctors and therapists.
But there’s another part of this story that I haven’t talked about here before, probably because it scares me even more than all these other issues, and I haven’t gotten a handle on the problem myself yet.
This blog is the second half of my personal response to TIME’s recent article on “Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.” In my last blog, I talked about the biological relationship between exercise and fat loss; here, we’ll be looking at whether there’s any truth to the claim that exercise causes excessive appetite and “compensatory” overeating, making fat loss more difficult.
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For those of you who like to cut straight to the bottom line, my answer to this question is: No.
There’s really no reason at all for you to be afraid of exercise if you want to burn fat and lose weight. Just the opposite, in fact. You will need to make sure your meal plan is right for your activity level and weight loss goal, and then stick to that amount of eating as well as you can. But exercise is simply not going to turn you into someone who can’t control your own appetite and eating behavior—unless, of course, that’s what you expect or want it to do.
For those of you who like to know more about the nuts and bolts, read on about the “soul of success”, and find out what can help you stay in charge of your eating no matter how much you exercise.
If you follow health and fitness news, you’ve probably seen the cover story in the current issue of TIME magazine: Why Exercise Won’t Make You Thin.
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Unfortunately, this article is riddled with headlines and statements that seem more designed to attract attention and readers than to provide useful information—a common problem in this age of declining readership. But if you can get past the sensational headlines and faulty logic (a connection between two things doesn't mean one causes the other), the actual information in the article is nothing new or surprising.
We’ve known for a long time that, while exercise is clearly one of the foundations of good physical and mental health, it is not by itself enough to produce substantial weight loss. That takes a healthy diet with fewer calories in it than you need to maintain your current weight at your current activity level, whatever that activity level may be. You can exercise ‘til the cows come home, but if you still eat more than you need, you’re not going to lose any of that extra fat you’d like to get rid of. This may be news to Mr. Cloud, but not to the rest of us.
Cloud’s article does go one step further by speculating that exercise may actually be one of the reasons people overeat, and that's where he starts getting into trouble. This speculation is based on the results of several recent studies, described in the article, which indicate that exercise may have three common “side effects” that could, in theory, make weight loss more difficult for many people:
Side Effect No. 1: Exercise increases appetite, often leading people to eat more than they would otherwise, offsetting the calorie burning benefits of their exercise, or even leading to a calorie surplus.
Side Effect No. 2: Exercise weakens your “self-control muscle.” If you use up your limited capacity for self-control by forcing yourself to stay on the treadmill for 60 minutes, it’s going to be much harder for you to resist treats and snacks, and stick to your diet plan for the rest of the day.
Side Effect No. 3: Exercise (especially vigorous, challenging exercise) can lead to tiredness, muscle soreness and other problems which actually reduce the amount of normal physical activity the individual engages in during the day, reducing overall calorie expenditure.
There’s not much doubt that these problems can happen, or even that they do happen for lots of people. But are they inevitable or unavoidable? Do they inevitably have to interfere with your weight loss efforts as much as this article seems to suggest? I suppose they could—IF you were a slave to your appetites, and incapable of figuring out how to feed yourself what you actually need.
But is that what you are? Not according to the tons of scientific evidence and personal testimony from successful weight losers that Mr. Cloud left out of his article.
The real question here, in the end, is whether any of this scientific evidence means you should change your approach to exercise in order to meet your weight loss goals. In this blog and in Thursday’s blog, you’ll find some info you’ll want to know in order to figure this out for yourself.
The first Day’s Night had come—
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And grateful that a thing
So terrible—had been endured—
I told my Soul to sing—
She said her Strings were snapt—
Her Bow—to Atoms blown—
And so to mend her—gave me work
Until another Morn--
--Emily Dickinson, 410
I’m done with just trying to endure my depression and get back to "normal." I'm setting my sights a little higher this time.
Yeah, I know. Trying to make something out of being depressed is about as easy as trying to tie your shoes with one hand tied behind your back. At least when you start with nothing, anything you do will be something. When you start with a big batch of negatives like the hopelessness, helplessness, fatigue, and mental fog that is depression, there’s really no reason to believe that whatever you can do will even get you out of the hole, much less get you moving along in a good direction. It's much easier to see those depressed thoughts and feelings as enemies to be defeated, rather than tools to use.
But maybe it only seems this way because we've forgotten our basic math. When you multiply two negatives together, you get a positive, right? I'm hoping that at least some of the negatives going on for me right now can be combined into something positive--and something beyond merely getting back to "normal."
When you got nothing,
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you got nothing to lose.
You’re invisible now, you
got no secrets to conceal.
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?
Like a Rolling Stone
If you’re wondering what a couple of characters in a Bob Dylan song (Like a Rolling Stone) have to do with coping with depression (the subject of this series of blogs), so am I. But it made a lot of sense to me last night when I was listening to the song (a nightly ritual), so I thought I’d see if it still makes sense when I try to write about it.
By the time you read this, I will probably be about halfway through my first week of a two- or three-week course of ECT (electroconvulsive therapy) treatment to see if this helps relieve my depression.
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In two previous blogs, I had indicated both that I felt pretty uncomfortable with the idea of electric shock treatment (I was a BIG fan of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), and that I was going to try a non-medical approach to dealing with my depression before resorting to additional biological treatments. But here I am in the hospital, getting hooked up to the ECT machine.
What has changed in the past week is the urgency of reducing the effects of this depressive episode on other things. For whatever reason, I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed the last few days with a bunch of new memories and flashbacks related to the childhood abuse I experienced for the first 13 years of my life. I don’t know if the depression is reducing my capacity to keep those memories away, or whether the memories have been mucking around in my subconscious for a while and generating the depression. Maybe both. Or neither. All I really do know is what’s happening right now, which is that I can’t handle all of this at once and still function in my daily life—something has to give. I haven’t been able to sleep for 3 days, and my anxiety level is a steady 14 on a scale of 1-10.
Trying to let the past be the past before it’s too late.
Given that I’m 60 now, and that I’ve been dealing with this old childhood baggage in one way or another for my whole life, I figure I’m not going to have many more chances of getting to the bottom of it. So, my desire is to actively and directly deal with this stuff right now while it’s coming up on its own, instead of trying to put the lid back on again. That means I need to get myself to the point that I’m strong enough to do that—and that means getting through the worst of this depression as quickly and easily as possible. They tell me that ECT is the best treatment when a quick response is the goal, so I’ve decided to give it a try. And, honestly, I could do with a week in the hospital right now, with nothing much to do except cope with getting my brain zapped a few times.
Some Background Info
I used to believe that one’s psyche never gives you more than you’re ready to handle at that time, and therefore, that the appearance of new memories and feelings from the past meant that I was ready to handle whatever it was that wanted to make itself known.
Last week, I said that, since it seems to be occupying just about all of my attention anyway, I would try to blog about my efforts to come to terms with the depression and anxiety that seem to be dominating my life right now. Here’s installment No. 1 in this series of blogs, in which Mr. Mopey attempts to explain his admittedly strange approach to this project.
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“So I find words I never thought to speak
In streets I never thought I should revisit
When I left my body on a distant shore.”
--T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding
Many of you have probably noticed that I haven’t been blogging recently. As this situation is likely to continue for awhile yet, I thought it would be good to at least let you know what’s going on.
Basically, I haven’t been doing very well physically or mentally for the past couple months, to the extent that my ability to concentrate on reading and writing for this blog has been very compromised. The good news is these problems have nothing to do with my recent heart surgery
and aren’t life-threatening or anything like that. In a nutshell, I’m having problems with pretty severe depression and a return of old post-traumatic stress symptoms. I guess they may have been triggered by the surgery, but their real roots go back a long ways before that. Physically, everything is fine (except for some annoying nerve impingement problems caused by bad spinal arthritis that I’ve also had for years, but which is now producing symptoms).
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