Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Getting Started with 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 that 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. Put down your phone. 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.

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

Centers for Disease Control

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute

The Nutrition Source

Obesity Prevention Source

Siteman Cancer Center

Excerpted from TOGETHER — Every Woman’s Guide to Preventing Breast Cancer

Friday, April 6, 2018

10 Easy Ways to Be More Active on This 'World Physical Activity Day'

It’s World Physical Activity Day – a great reminder that there really is nothing quite like regular activity when it comes to both individual and population health.

Among other benefits, physical activity helps prevent many serious diseases – from stroke to diabetes to cancer – and also improves quality of life and boosts mental mood.

And it doesn’t really take much activity to get such broad benefits. Most come with thirty minutes of brisk activity five days a week. And while more activity is even better, any amount is better than none.

The important thing is to make activity a regular part of your days. Try to fit it in however you can. One longer 30-minute bike ride, or a few 10-minute brisk walks. When it comes to your health, it’s all pretty much the same.

So, for 2018’s World Physical Activity Day, here are ten easy ways to add some extra movement to your day. Keep safety in mind, but see how many you can fit in.

1 - Stand when you watch TV tonight.

2 - Walk or ride your bike for some nearby errands, rather than drive.  

3 - Get off the bus or metro two stops early and walk the rest of the way. 

4 - Take a new movement or exercise class – and grab a friend or family member to go with you. 

5 - Pick the parking spot that’s farthest away rather than closest. 

6 - Download a good exercise app – like the NY Time’s Scientific 7-Minute Workout – and give it a whirl. 

7 - Go for a walk with some co-workers at lunch. 

8 - Take the stairs more than the elevator. 

9 - Get up from your desk once or twice an hour and move around for 2 to 3 minutes.

10 - Stand at the counter when you meet friends for coffee or a snack after work.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Weighty Matters: The Obesity Epidemic Keeps Advancing

A new federal analysis shows that the adult obesity epidemic in the United States keeps on getting worse.  Between 2007 and 2016, the percentage of the adult population that was obese increased from an already very high 33.7 percent to a staggering 39.6 percent.  And the rate of those severely obese increased from just under 6 percent to close 8 percent over the same time period (see figure).  Severe obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher, which translates to someone 5'8" weighing 265 pounds or more.

The one silver lining of the new report is that obesity in youth appears to be staying relatively steady.  While rates of obesity in ages 2 - 19 years increased from 16.8 percent in 2007 to 18.5 percent in 2016, it was not to a degree that reached statistical significance.  

Still, the continuing trend in adult obesity remains extremely troubling - not only for individuals who suffer from increased risk of cancers, stroke, diabetes, heart disease, and lower quality of life but also for the nation as a whole that experiences higher health care costs and lost productivity. 

These numbers show us how important it is to keep up our efforts to address this issue - and in new and innovative ways.  We live in what many classify as an "obesigenic" society.  Technology, workplaces, and infrastructure are actively designed to cut down on physical activity. And ads and other cues that surround us encourage us to overeat - and often with unhealthy choices. 

Without diminishing the important innovations we've experienced as a society over the past decades, we need to harness our energy to address such unhealthy outcomes by making important changes at all levels of society - from schools and workplaces to neighborhoods and individuals to local and federal policies.  

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring Ahead: 5 Reasons Spring is a Great Time to Work on Your Health Goals

On top of all the other wonderful things about spring, it can also be a great time to work on improving your health.

Don’t groan.

While working on your health goals may not be as fun as watching spring training or walking through a blossom-filled park, your health is important. Very important.  And not only to you but also to those close to you. So why not take a little time to improve your health at a time of year that can give a you a leg-up toward success?

You can re-up on a New Year’s resolution – which for some people can get a bit wobbly around this time of year – or you can leave winter in the rearview mirror and pick something brand new to work on.

And Washington University in St. Louis’s re-designed website, Your Disease Risk, can help. First launched in January 2000, it provides disease risk estimates and personalized prevention tips for 12 different cancers, plus heart disease, stroke, diabetes, osteoporosis, and COPD.

Newly updated to work on all screen sizes – from desktop to phone – it is an evidence-based resource that translates the latest science on health and disease prevention into simple messages people can use. And its new behavior rankings function can now show you at a glance which healthy changes may lower your risk of disease the most.

“We designed Your Disease Risk to be an engaging tool to help people learn about their risk and improve their health,” says Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, Professor of Medicine and inventor of the site. “And the new behavior rankings provide added information that can help with setting health goals.”
Washington University's newly updated Your Disease Risk 

So, as you consider the goals you want to work on the rest of the year – and how you’re going to meet them – consider why spring can be a great time to do just that.

It’s warming up
There’s something special about the chill of winter giving way to the warmer days of spring. And the warmer weather just invites you to get outside. And that’s a great thing because it opens up opportunities to be active and engage in other healthy activities – whether it’s going for a bike ride or walking to the local famers’ market to buy healthy food.

It’s inspiring
It’s hard to beat the sights and smells of spring for inspiration. Just seeing the plants and trees bursting with new leaves and color can give you some extra energy to tackle your goals.

It’s in season
A healthy diet is key to an overall healthy lifestyle, and eating better is toward the top of many people’s to-do list. And in spring, healthy eating gets a bit easier – and a bit cheaper. More produce comes into season and farmer’s markets start up again.

It’s a long time ‘til next winter
Many people find winter a tough time to keep up their health routines. The days are cold, the nights are long, and the food-filled holidays seem tailor made to throw you off kilter. By working on new habits this spring, you’ll be able to lock them down before next winter, giving you a better chance of keeping on track through the winter holidays and beyond.

It’s now
One of the best reasons to start making healthy changes this spring is simply because it’s now. Working on new behaviors isn’t always easy, but there’s power in just getting started. The sooner you start, the quicker the new behaviors will become a routine part of your days. 
- - -

You can find motivation year-round to improve your health. But there is something special about spring that can be particularly helpful in setting your health goals and beginning to working toward them. But whatever you choose to work on, start small, build up slowly, and be sure to enjoy the warmer weather along the way.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Quick Nutrition Tips for Lowering the Risk of Colon Cancer

It's March, which means it's both National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and National Nutrition Month. And that's an apt combination.

A number of healthy diet tips can help lower the risk of colon cancer. And they're all pretty straightforward.

Eat whole grains
Whole grains are filled with fiber and other healthy nutrients. And eating more of them can help lower the risk of colon cancer. Instead of foods like sugary cereals, white rice, and white bread, choose whole-grain cereals, whole-wheat bread, and brown or wild rice. If you're not used to eating whole grains, add them to your routine a bit at a time - building up to three or more servings a day. They taste great but can take a bit of getting used to.

Limit red meat, especially processed meat
Eating too much red meat – like steak, hamburger and pork – increases the risk of colon cancer. And processed meats – like bacon, sausage and bologna – raise risk even more. Try to eat no more than three servings each week. Less is even better. Fish, chicken breasts and healthy plant-based proteins (like beans) are great alternatives.

Get enough calcium and vitamin D
There is good evidence that getting enough calcium and vitamin D can help protect against colon cancer. Shoot for 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams per day of calcium and about 1,000 international units (IU) per day of vitamin D.

Consider a multivitamin with folate
In addition to calcium and vitamin D, multivitamins also contain folate, which has been shown
in numerous studies to lower the risk of colon cancer. Avoid mega-dose vitamins. A standard multivitamin is best.

Drink only moderately, if at all
Alcohol is a strange thing when it comes to health. It’s heart-healthy in moderation but can increase the risk of colon and other cancers at even low levels. So what does this mean? If you drink moderately (up to one drink per day for women, two per day for men), there’s likely no reason for you to stop. If you don’t drink, though, there’s no reason for you to start. Heavy drinkers should try to cut down or quit.

Maintain a healthy weight
It's not exactly a nutrition tip, but it's closely related. And at least 11 different cancers have been linked to weight gain and obesity, including colon cancer. An ideal goal is to weigh around what you did when you were 18 years old. Realistically, if you’ve put on weight, the first goal is to stop gaining weight, which has health benefits by itself. Then, for a bigger health boost, slowly work to lose some pounds.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Short Take: Calories Matter in Weight Loss, Despite Some Recent Headlines

A recently published clinical trial out of Stanford University found that high-quality low-fat and high-quality low-carbohydrate diets could be equally effective for weight loss.

It was a positive finding from a well-designed study.

Many news headlines about the study, however, focused on something else entirely: that calories don't matter for weight loss. Some examples:

The problem is: The study didn't really find that.

In the trial, approximately 600 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned to one of two diet groups (low-fat or low-carbohydrate) and followed over a 12-month period.  During the study, participants attended regular nutrition classes where emphasis was placed on healthy, high-quality foods – such as whole grains, healthy fats, and minimally processed foods.

Participants were not specifically instructed to lower their calorie intake.

At the end of the study, each group had lost similar amounts of weight. The low-fat group dropped around 12 pounds, and the low-carbohydrate group dropped around 13 pounds. 

So, each group lost weight without being instructed to cut calories:  What's wrong with the "calories don't matter"-themed headlines?

A couple of things.

First, calorie counting was not a subject of study of the trial.   Clinical trials are designed to assess very specific things.  Because calorie counting was not something one group in the study did and another group in the study did not do, no conclusions can be made about its possible impact – or lack of impact –  on weight loss. Any headline implying otherwise is reaching beyond the findings of the current study.  

On top of that, while it’s true that participants were not coached to reduce their calorie intake, that does not mean that they did not eat fewer calories.  In fact, each diet group ate an average of 500 – 600 fewer calories per day during the course of the study than at the start of the study.  That is a large deficit that would lead to weight loss over time. 

For both of these reasons, it's inaccurate to imply that the study found that calories, and counting calories, aren't important for weight loss.

Of course, diet quality is important.  A largely plant-based diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats has long been shown to lower the risk of many diseases and help with weight control.

But diet quantity is key.  To lose weight, we need to take in fewer calories than we expend - whether we count them or not.

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

New Diet Study Finds "Ultra-Processed" Foods May Be Linked to Cancer Risk

by Hank Dart

A new study out of France highlights another possible reason to avoid eating too many highly processed foods:  They may increase the risk of cancer.

The paper, published yesterday in the British Medical Journal, followed close to 105,000 adults for an average of 5 years.  Along the way, participants were asked to regularly report their dietary intake and any health events, such as a diagnosis of cancer.

Foods were then categorized into groups, with an "ultra-processed" group including foods like: soda (diet or sugary); mass-produced sweets; meats with preservatives other than salt; instant noodles and soups; and foods with industrial food additives and agents.

The proportion of participants' diets that was made up of ultra-processed foods was determined by the weight of food, rather than by calories.  This was done to take into account the potential impact of processed foods that have few, if any, calories, like diet sodas.

The researchers found that for every 10 percent increase in the proportion of ultra-processed foods in the diet, the overall risk of cancer increased by 12 percent and the risk of post-menopausal breast cancer increased by 13 percent.  

Risks were more pronounced when comparing high intake of processed foods with low intake. Participants who ate the most ultra-processed foods had a 21 percent higher risk of cancer overall and a 39 percent higher risk of post-menopausal breast cancer.  They also may have had a higher risk of colorectal cancer, but those results were less reliable.

In the analyses, researchers took into account many factors that could have swayed the results because they could be related to both processed food intake and cancer.  These included factors such as physical activity level, body mass index, alcohol intake, tobacco use, and overall diet quality.

In an accompanying editorial, Adriana Monge of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico City and Martin Lajous of the T.H. Chan School of Public Health at Harvard University praised the researchers for their detailed study but recommended caution in interpreting such initial results.
" with any observational study, confounding by unknown factors common to consumption of ultra-processed foods and cancer outcomes cannot be excluded." 
"Their interesting results require replication and further refinement."
"We are a long way from understanding the full implications of food processing for health and wellbeing."

While more study is needed on the possible links between ultra-processed foods and cancer, well-established dietary recommendations call for limiting certain types of processed foods, which can be high in calories, sodium, refined grains, added sugar, and unhealthy fats -- and low in healthy nutrients.

A largely plant-based diet that is low in unhealthy processed foods and filled with fruits, vegetables, beans, and whole grains is best for overall health and can lower the risk of many important chronic diseases, including cancer.