Wednesday, October 21, 2015

9 Days of Practical Steps to Prevent Breast Cancer: Day 1 - Keep Weight in Check

We know. You've been awash in pink for the past three weeks.  So you're forgiven if you're a bit tired of reading about breast cancer and Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  But, we at Cancer News in Context hope to help you work past any late October doldrums by closing the month out with an engaging series that emphasizes the very positive message that breast cancer is preventable -- and with pretty simple behaviors.

For the next nine days, we'll highlight key steps and practical tips that can help women lower their risk of the disease.   It may be hard to believe, but evidence shows that half or more of all breast cancers could be avoided by things like exercising, keeping weight in check, and avoiding too much alcohol.  

This series will be your practical guide to putting these behaviors into practice and boosting your overall breast health.  So, let's get started. 


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Day 1 - Keep Weight in Check

OK. This message is easy to tune out because it gets said so often, but maintaining a healthy weight is a great goal for everyone. Two-thirds of all women in the United States are either overweight or obese. And excess weight is a key contributor not only to breast cancer risk but also to the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

So, what should be your weight goal? The first goal should always be to maintain your weight – to keep it steady. Weight gain can be sneaky. It creeps up on most people. One pound here, another pound there. Then you step on the scale and suddenly realize you’ve put on 20 pounds over the past 10 years. This happens to a lot of people, so the best thing you can do is try to keep from gaining weight. This applies pretty much to all women, no matter what their current weight.

If you’re overweight, the next goal is to try to lose weight. Losing just 5 – 10 pounds and keeping it off can significantly lower the risk of breast cancer, and it’s a very realistic goal. Ideally, the next goal is bringing your weight down to a BMI between 18.5 – 23 (BMI calculator). For a woman who is 5’ 5”, that’s a weight between 111 – 138 pounds.

Losing weight isn’t always easy, but it’s far from impossible, and some practical tips can really help you succeed.

Tips and Tricks - Weight

Be physically active every day. Regular activity is one of the best ways to keep weight in check. Choose things you enjoy that get you moving and shoot for at least 30 minutes a day. Studies show that 60 minutes or more is even better for weight loss.

Limit time in front of the TV and computer. Screen time – the phrase given to time spent with our TVs, computers, phones, and tablets – is a double whammy when it comes to weight and health. Not only does it up the amount of time we spend each day in complete inactivity, but it also makes it more likely that we’ll overeat (especially unhealthy foods) while we’re sitting in front of those screens. Shoot for under two hours of non-work screen time each day. Less is even better. Zero is ideal.

Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Eating a lot of plant-based foods can help keep appetite and weight in check. Not only are they very filling but they also keep at bay wild swings in blood sugar that make you want to eat – even if you’ve just had a big meal. On to top of this, there’s growing evidence that plant-based food can help lower breast cancer risk, outside of their influence on weight. Shoot for at least three servings of whole grains a day, five servings of fruits and vegetables, and keep red meat to a minimum.

Choose smaller portions, and eat more slowly. It can seem unlikely that eating food slowly and choosing smaller portions can help people eat less, but there are actually data to back this up. At the most basic level, eating slowly gives our stomachs time to tell our brain when we’ve had enough food. As competitive hot dog eaters will tell you, it takes about 10 - 20 minutes for the brain to register when the stomach’s full. If you eat too quickly, you can down a plate of food, grab more, and then down that before your brain knows what hit it. By then, you may have had twice as much food as you needed or even really wanted. So why not slow down and enjoy your food? You won’t even miss the extra food you’re not eating.

Choose water and keep sugary drinks to a minimum. Sugary drinks – like, sodas and energy drinks – can sure taste good, but they really do nothing good for you. They have little or no nutritional value, are packed with calories, and have been shown to increase the risk of obesity and weight gain. The best choice is to avoid sugary drinks completely and choose water instead. It can be a tough transition, but you don’t need to do it all at once. Each week, slowly cut back on sodas and energy drinks, and before you know it, you’ll be down to zero and likely not missing them at all. Keeping a water bottle handy wherever you go can really help. And be sure to keep 100 percent fruit juice in check as well. Though it’s healthier than sugary sodas, 100 percent juice is still packed with calories. Whole fruit is always a better choice. If you do drink 100 percent fruit juice, keep it to just 4 – 6 ounces a day.

Step on the scale every day. Yes. Every day. It may sound like a nightmare – confronting those pounds every morning – but research shows that your bathroom scale can be a great tool when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off. Weighing yourself regularly helps you avoid being surprised by creeping annual weight gain and can help you make necessary adjustments to stay on track to losing or maintaining weight. Perhaps surprisingly, weighing yourself every day can also let you know if you’re losing weight too quickly. Healthy weight loss is around a pound or two a week. Losing weight quicker than this – while initially exciting – can make it harder to keep weight off over time.

Find people who support you. You may be a rugged individual with a deep streak of independence, but when it comes to losing weight and keeping it off there’s some pretty good evidence that you may just want to surround yourself with people who support your efforts. It can be family, friends, or a weight loss discussion group, but the key is to find people who can not only provide practical support for weight loss – with recipes and other tips – but also emotional support and encouragement that help keep you on track and heading toward your goals. Many hospitals, medical centers, and recreation departments host weight loss support groups. Some commercial weight loss programs – like Weight Watchers – also have programs with support components. Online options exist as well.

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Mindful weight loss

Stop. Read this. Now read this slowly. S l o w l y. Now take a slow deep breath in and count “one.” Take a slow breath out and count “two.” Now repeat this three times. S l o w l y.

You’ve just had a mindful moment. It’s a real rarity in today’s busy, smartphone-obsessed world. And that’s a problem according to some health experts, because there’s growing evidence that adding more mindful moments to our lives may be good for overall health by helping us eat better and keep our weight in check.

While mindfulness may sound somewhat mystical, it’s really just the practice of slowing down, turning off as many distractions as possible, and focusing on the thing that is happening in front of us right at that moment. By doing this we’re able to more deeply appreciate each experience in our lives and to be more in tune with both our mind and body.

Applying mindfulness to the way we eat can have many benefits. It can put us in better touch with our hunger cues, so we’re better able to realize when we’re actually hungry. It can help us know during a meal when it’s time to put the fork down because we’ve had enough. And it can even allow us to better appreciate healthy foods by focusing on the benefits they provide us.

Overall, mindfulness has a lot of potential to help people make better food and eating choices. And it’s really quite easy to get started. Begin with the mindful eating tips below. If these spur you on, and you’re interested in exploring things more in-depth, there are a number of mindful eating books by reputable doctors and researchers.

  • When you eat, just eat. Whether you’re eating alone or sitting down as a family, make sure all other distractions are limited. Turn off the television. Turn off the radio. Turn off the iPod. And definitely, get out of the car. This helps you to focus on the food and your experience of eating it. You’ll find you appreciate your food more and may actually feel like eating less of it.
  • Take a moment. When you sit down to a meal – wherever you are – take some time to just be silent before you start eating. You don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to think anything. All you need to do is sit quietly. Whether it’s for five seconds or 60 seconds, taking that little bit of time can be a great way to rest your mind and focus on the food you’re about to enjoy.
  • Eat slowly. Meals are meant to be savored – not rushed through. So slow down and enjoy your food; give your mind the chance to tell your stomach when it’s had enough.
  • Choose smaller portions. Part of being mindful is appreciating what’s in front of us. When we do this with our food, you may find that you get as much satisfaction from a plate of smaller portions than a plate (or two) of larger portions.
  • Appreciate water. There’s little in life that is more simple and straightforward than a glass of water. Take a long look at your next glass full and really appreciate it – what it looks like, what it tastes like, even what it feels like. It’s the healthiest thing you can drink and should be your main beverage choice every day. 

Next Steps - Weight

Looking for more in-depth information on weight? Here are some good sources:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
http://goo.gl/jkPZ1C

The Nutrition Source
http://goo.gl/ZrhaPB

Choose My Plate
http://goo.gl/PFjup2

Nutrition.gov
http://goo.gl/8HKGUp

Centers for Disease Control
http://goo.gl/Bfa1kU

Obesity Prevention Source
http://goo.gl/xrNBLz

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