Posts filed under ‘science’

Microbes and hormones and chemicals… Oh My!

Interesting headlines today:

In an effort to once again pin down why diets don’t work, researchers have launched various studies and have found there are myriad reasons why we’re packing on the pounds, reasons that go beyond consuming too many calories. 

I find it all fascinating… and hopeful, in a way, but it’s overwhelming to me.  I know that when I keep my calories low, I lose weight.  When I don’t, I gain weight.  I can sugarcoat it all I want or cover it in scientific rhetoric, but it always comes out the same.  When I’m honest with myself, I find out I have just plain been eating too much. 

That’s not to say that microbes and chemicals don’t play a role in weight or that they don’t impact our health.  It’s just that, as far as my body goes, the equation is simple… although it’s definitely NOT simple to execute.

March 8, 2010 at 9:44 pm Leave a comment

Are we ever “cured”?

In September, I will have been doing my lifestyle change for seven years.  That’s a long time, and it seems like it should have gotten easier.  Unfortunately… not so much.

I have been struggling for the last few months with a 7-pound weight gain.  I know why: I’ve got a huge amount of stress in my life right now.

1) I’m planning a wedding.  Even though it’s an untraditional wedding, low-key by wedding standards, it’s still a big event, and big events require a lot of work.

2) I’ve branched into doing TV for my work.  It’s extremely difficult to see myself on television.  To me, the flaws are glaringly obvious and exacerbated by the medium.  I’ve been fighting not to get depressed over it, but it’s tough.

3) I’ve been doing a lot more public speaking on evenings and weekends.  I am so excited to be doing this outreach because it’s critical to get the consumer protection messages out there.  But, there’s a lot of pressure when you’re dealing with people face-to-face who’ve been victims of fraud or are losing their homes.  They want answers, and they want those answers from you.  It’s also tiring to prepare and to work the extra hours.  It’s definitely worth it, but it takes a toll.

4) My fiance and I have been doing a lot traveling, off-roading and camping with various mishaps occurring along the way like wheels falling off vehicles, getting lost, flying at weird times of day, etc.  Lack of sleep and anxiety bring out my desire to munch.

Most of my stress is “good” stress, coming from positive events in my life.  But, when I’m stressed, no matter where that stress comes from, I want to eat.  When I get tired, I want to eat.  At times, that urge to eat is nearly irresistable.  In fact, it’s proven to be irresistable for me a lot recently, which is why I’m up seven pounds.

Do we ever get “cured” of overeating?  Will I ever be “normal” in how I approach food?  I don’t think so; I think I’ll always have this yoke around my neck.  It will be lighter sometimes, but it’ll always be there.

It’s an issue that obesity researchers continue to explore.  Irene Rubaum-Keller’s article “What is recovery from addiction?” asks, “If you are an addict, can you ever really get well or are you just destined to manage your tendency to be addicted to things/people/substances forever?”.  My experience tells me I will not “get well”, that instead I’ll just be managing the situation for the rest of my life.  And it bums me out that experts, people who’ve been researching this problem for years, don’t have any answers for me.

Rubaum-Keller says:

The bottom line is; we don’t know the answer to that question. The definition of recovery the committee came up with was this “a voluntarily maintained lifestyle composed characterized by sobriety, personal health, and citizenship.” It involves trading the easy drug/sex/gambling/food/shopping/alcohol high, with something more difficult to attain that is also more meaningful and lasting. Recovery does not just mean sobriety. It is a more holistic experience that involves improving one’s life in various ways.

I am committed to the path I’ve chosen, and for the most part, I’m glad I made the choice.  But voluntary maintenance is HARD.  I keep expecting it to get easier, and it just doesn’t.  That’s my reality.  For now, I can’t change it, so I’ve got to be aware of it and work with it the best I can.

In my current situation, I’m trying to focus on the fact that all I’ve gained is seven pounds.  I’m also proud of having taken on a very intensive exercise program with P90X.  My body is really strong; all my clothes still fit.  I’m having the adventure of a lifetime.  I’m managing the food situation successfully for the most part.  That’s the best I can do, and it has to be good enough for now.

July 2, 2009 at 2:01 pm 1 comment

Can eating healthy hurt you?

A recent article in the NY Times suggests that being too health conscious about food can actually be harmful, especially to kids.  Apparently, some of them are obsessing about sodium and fat and calories to the point where they’re afraid to eat.  Hmm… I’m not sure I totally believe that as I read a lot more stories about kids suffering from lifestyle diseases like hypertension and diabetes due to obesity.  Anyway… this extreme obsession with healthy food has been dubbed “orthorexia”.

Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy, pure eating that can sometimes lead people to consume too few calories because they want to be extra sure the food is good for them.  In most cases, these folks are not in any physical danger, but they may suffer from unnecessary anxiety because of the “condition”.

I certainly don’t eat too little food because of my concerns about healthful eating, but I do get seriously nerved up about what I eat and how much.  It stresses me out a lot, and one of my goals this year is to stop worrying so much and learn to trust my body to do what’s right for it.  Trusting my body is much easier said than done because my instincts have been out of whack for so long.  It’s getting better, though… baby steps.

Supposedly one person has died because of “orthorexia”.  Someone named Kate Finn passed away in 2003 because of heart damage due to emaciation prompted not by a desire to lose weight but a focus on eating super healthy.

Going back even further, in the 1980s, there were concerns about “muesli belt malnutrition” in which kids were eating so supposedly healthfully that they weren’t getting the vitamins they needed.  This has been mostly debunked, but it brings up a good point.  Anytime we obsess on something, it can lead to bad results.  Balance is the key in all endeavours.  Again, easier said than done. 

I’m not too worried about being “too healthy”.  I’m more concerned about how much I berate myself when I don’t achieve the high standards I set for myself.  All that negative energy is very harmful.  As I mentioned earlier, that’s why I’m working on attaining some sort of peace with the process.  I’ve been reading books, but more important, I’ve attended a couple of intuitive workshops through my pole fitness studio.  These workshops have been very insightful and helpful.  Cleaning out the negative energies in my food and fitness space is critical.  I will soon have a one-on-one session with the healer who teaches the workshops.  I think that’ll be of tremendous benefit to my efforts to make the next phase of my lifestyle change more relaxed and positive.

March 3, 2009 at 6:13 am 3 comments

The hard truth about weight loss

As great as my weight loss success has been, I frequently get discouraged by how long it has taken and how hard I still have to work to keep the pounds off. Shows like “The Biggest Loser” and magazine covers featuring women who’ve lost hundreds of pounds in a few months… rather than inspiring me, they bum me out because they make me feel like my results are not good enough.

So I was actually happy to read MSNBC’s “Forget low-fat — calories count more in dieting”. It provides details on a federal study that followed participants for two years and really confirms what I know to be true – as much as TV and magazines want to convince me otherwise.

1. Calories count. It doesn’t matter how you lower them – by cutting out carbs or fat or whatever; they just have to be lowered. The bottom line is that you’re not going to lose weight unless you consume fewer calories (or burn a bunch of them off through extremely high levels of exercise).

2. It takes a l-o-n-g time to lose a relatively small amount of weight. We don’t want to hear it; we are SUCH an instant gratification culture. In this study, participants lost an average of 13 pounds in six months. Most people I know would be disappointed instead of happy.

3. Chances are, the weight’s gonna come back. “…all groups saw their weight creep back up after a year. At two years, the average weight loss was about 9 pounds while waistlines shrank an average of 2 inches. Only 15 percent of dieters achieved a weight-loss reduction of 10 percent or more of their starting weight.”

I have been doing this for six and a half years, maintaining 117 pounds off. Sometimes, I’ve lost a bit more, sometimes a bit less. But, overall I have maintained – and continuously exercised – for an extended period of time. It’s taken a tremendous effort, and it’s still really, really difficult. This study is affirming. Whew! I don’t have to be so hard on myself! I am doing a terrific job, considering the odds are clearly against me. Based on this good news, I’m giving a shout-out to myself… and a reminder to be gentle, patient and understanding when I struggle.

February 26, 2009 at 4:40 am 7 comments

Staying young by weighing more?

“Showing your age”, a slideshow on MSNBC, features photos of twins from a study on how we age.  The sub-head reads: “A new study finds that lifestyle habits affect how you visibly age”.  When I read the words “lifestyle habits” in conjunction with the words “visibly age”, I think of eating bad food, drinking too much alcohol, not exercising, and smoking. Given that preconception, I was surprised by what I learned when I delved into the article.

In all cases except one, the younger-looking twin was heavier.  Sure, a couple of them took hormones, and one was a non-smoker.  But, in nearly all the cases, the common element among the more youthful twins was the extra pounds they were carrying.  Fascinating!

I have been thinking about this as I hover around my ideal weight.  Depending on the day, I want to lose 3 to 7 more pounds.  Every now and then, though, I catch a passing glimpse of my face in the mirror and worry that my face may be a tad too thin, thereby aging me.  It has occurred to me that I am good right where I am because my face and body are nicely filled out.  Another area I’ve noticed this having an impact is in my upper tummy.  My literal transformation didn’t address the upper area, and if I get too thin, the skin there will sag unattractively. It needs a bit of fat to stay plumped.

As with the revelation that we need only 7 minutes of vigorous exercise a week to stave off Type II Diabetes, this gives me permission to ease up a little on myself.  Of course, it only seems to relieve the pressure for a moment, and then I’m back to feeling anxious about not exercising enough or about carrying two or three extra pounds more than my lowest number on the scale.  Maybe if I read enough of these reports, it’ll finally sink in, and I’ll be able to relax into the me that I am now without fretting.

February 6, 2009 at 4:58 am Leave a comment

Exercise may just be the “miracle pill”.

Looking for a miracle?  Lace up your running shoes for a minute or two.

British researchers have discovered that a mere 7 minutes of vigorous exercise every week can ward off Type II Diabetes.  Yeah… you read that correctly… only *7* minutes a week can prevent one of the most debilitating diseases plaguing our country today.  And you don’t even have to do it all at once.  In the study, the participants rode exercise bikes four times daily in 30-second bursts for two days a week.  That tiny bit of exercise significantly improves the body’s ability to process insulin. 

That’s some seriously amazing news.  It astounds me that such a miniscule amount of exercise can have that huge an impact on our bodies.  We can all fit that in every week; there’s no excuse for not doing it.

The same day I read about this study, I saw Frontline’s program on Parkinson’s.  Two sets of monkeys were used in a MPTP test.  (MPTP is a byproduct of a narcotic that has been shown to cause the same signs and symptoms as Parkinson’s disease.)  One set of monkeys was sedenetary.  The other set exercised regularly on a treadmill.  After a period of time exercising or not, the monkeys were injected with MPTP.  The sedentary monkeys immediately demonstrated the symptoms of Parkinson’s.  The physically active monkeys, however, showed almost no signs of the disease.  Even their brain scans were different.  The exercising monkeys had much healthier brain scans than the inactive ones.  All from walking on a treadmill consistently.

As a society, we focus almost exclusively on how exercise can help us lose weight and look better.  But it goes far beyond our looks.  The benefits of exercise are extraordinary on levels we haven’t even begun to realize.

All this a good reminder for me when I get discouraged about not looking “hot” enough or not getting my spins right in pole class.  Those aspects of exercise are really immaterial in the grander scheme of things.  The exercise I’m getting every day is helping me in ways that are literally cell deep, preventing all kinds of nasty conditions that I may never know I was risking.  That is truly a miracle.

February 5, 2009 at 3:00 pm 3 comments

The upside of stress

We’re always hearing about how bad stress is for us. And, considering what extreme stress does to the body – “…headaches, stomach pain, high blood pressure, insomnia, and mind freeze…” – it’s understandable that we’re not encouraged to embrace it.

But can stress actually help us, rather than just hurting?  Turns out, it can.

In reasonable amounts, stress can make you more alert. The “fight or flight” hormones and other stress-induced hormones heighten your senses, speeding up your heartbeat, improving your brain’s blood flow and improving vision and hearing. These hormones can even strengthen your immune system and prevent age-related memory loss by increasing brain cell activity. All this can serve to help you get more stuff done when you need to.

It can be hard to find the balance between good-for-you levels of stress and a harmful state of agitation, but you can learn where the tipping point is and utilize a variety of techniques to keep yourself on the right side of the line.

Having some degree of control – or thinking you do – generates more beneficial stress hormones. Even if you don’t have control, you can fool your brain into thinking you do. Choose not to respond to a certain stressor. Don’t check e-mail, for example, except at designated times. Or, work on other areas of your life over which you do have control, particularly if you’re good at whatever it is. Do something meaningful, like volunteering or donating or helping a friend in a difficult situation.

Taking time to pause also helps keep stress at positive levels. That’s often easier said than done, but when you force yourself to stop and breathe deeply, you often recognize which situations are beyond your control and which ones you can do something about. Pausing keeps you from letting your anxiety spiral into an unchecked panic attack. Ask yourself, too, if your immediate response to the situation is going to make things better or worse. Are you generalizing about your role in whatever is causing you stress?

Limiting perfectionist tendencies is important, too. Perfectionism is unrealistic and sets up unreasonable expectations that lead to unnecessary stress.

Believe it or not, a little bit of stress acts almost like a stress vaccine. If you’ve never experienced a stressful situation, you may fall completely apart when it happens, not being able to handle the surge of hormones flooding it. Having survived some stressful times means that your body is prepared to deal with its biological response when something negative occurs.

And, as we all know, exercising is a terrific way to manage stress. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” mood boosters.  Benefits typically kick in about an hour after you’ve worked out.

So, when you’re feeling stressed, don’t automatically assume it’s a bad thing. Remember that stress can be beneficial when it’s kept at manageable levels and use all the techniques at your disposal to make the most of it.

January 23, 2009 at 8:17 am 1 comment

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