Thursday, September 18, 2008

8 Lessons from "The Biggest Loser": Advice to Take Away from the Show ((From Sparkpeople))

They say that people love a winner. Well, I love losers! In October 2004, NBC introduced the reality show called "The Biggest Loser." Today, after completing its fifth season, it is a fan favorite. The show features individuals, couples, and — coming next season — families, who sign on to get fit and lose weight. These individuals are assigned to weight loss teams (and trainers) and then compete to see who can lose the most weight and the title, "The Biggest Loser." Although there's only one winner in the end, all participants change their bodies and their lives and become winners by becoming losers, too.

The transformations that occur on the show are nothing short of extraordinary. The biggest losers of all typically drop more than 100 pounds by the end of the 12-week period and many go on to lose even more. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, these folks morph into totally different people thanks to their newfound lifestyles. As a personal trainer myself, it gives me great satisfaction to see them succeed and to recapture a healthy body, mind and spirit. It is not just a physical transformation, but a mental one as well.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about the show is that it offers so many lessons, whether you're striving to live a healthier lifestyle, make exercise a habit, or reach a healthy weight. Here are eight realizations that I think are worth noting:

1. You shouldn't go it alone. Do you think that the contestants would be as successful if they went at it alone? In season five, for example, the Blue Team was a serious force to be reckoned with. Roger, Mark, Jay, and Dan seemed to never lose a challenge or a weigh-in. Did you notice how they supported and encouraged each other to push harder, work out longer, and stick to their diets? The support and camaraderie they exhibited definitely helped them succeed as often as they did.

Lesson: There is strength in numbers. Doing everything by yourself can be lonely and discouraging. But having a buddy — or a team of supporters — can help you to stick to it when the going gets tough. Instead of just going solo on the treadmill or bike, consider taking a group fitness class or joining a team sports league. When you need a word of encouragement, post on the Message Boards or join a SparkTeam here at SparkPeople!

2. Your attitude matters. The wrong group can drain your motivation and energy. Did you notice the Black Team in season five? Granted, they were fighting an uphill battle and constantly facing the elimination room, but they were so down in the dumps that they often reminded me of a group of Eeyores. That negative energy could have contributed, on some level, to their constant struggles.

Lesson: Surround yourself with positive people. A fitness buddy with a negative attitude isn't fun to hang around, and that can be detrimental to your workouts and your consistency. And if you find that the negative attitude is coming from you, chances are you won’t stick with it. Change your perspective and stay positive for good results!

3. You won't always see results. It happens every season — some of the participants actually GAIN weight instead of losing. Whenever they'd stand on that scale, only to see the numbers pop up as a “plus” instead of a “negative,” I wanted to cry with them! But just like ups and downs are part of the show, they're a reality for the rest of us, too.

Lesson: Losing weight isn't as simple as a mathematical equation. Sure you need to burn more calories than you consume to lose weight, but even when you do everything right, sometimes it just doesn't work out that way. Is it frustrating? You bet! But when it happens, all you can do is accept it and continue on. Trust that your efforts will show eventually. Remember, that even when the scale doesn't budge, your efforts are making a difference. Try to focus on other ways to measure your progress — like how you feel, your health improvements, and how your clothes fit. If all else fails, take steps to bust through your plateau!

4. You have to train your brain. Bob and Jillian know that exercise and training will reshape the body. But they are great at training the contestants mentally too. Along the course of the show, they all learn to believe in themselves. Whether they make it to the end or get eliminated along the way, most of the "losers" say the same thing: What they had accomplished on the campus had previously been nothing more than a dream.

Lesson: Believe in yourself! When you're out of shape and overweight, it's easy to beat yourself up and lose confidence. But you don't need Bob or Jillian in your back pocket to change that. With every small step you take towards your goals, your confidence will build. With every goal you achieve, your self-esteem with sky-rocket. The key is to just start. It's always better to try—even if you mess up along the way — than to never try at all.

5. You have to change your lifestyle. The participants on the show understand that this is a complete lifestyle overhaul— a total transformation for life, not a diet for a little while. No matter how hard they work or how much weight they lose while on campus, it will come back if they revert back to their old habits at home.

Lesson: There are no quick fixes. Getting healthy and managing your weight it is not a temporary thing. It's a series of day-to-day, meal-by-meal choices that you have to stick with for the long haul.

6. You have to work hard. Sometimes when I'd watch the Teams work out I'd think, "Their trainers are heartless!" In reality, those trainers know that weight loss takes hard work. You see them exercise when they have nothing left, choose the healthy foods even though they'd rather have their favorite comfort foods, and even leave their families for weeks at a time — these things are not for the faint of heart.

Lesson: It won't always be easy. Lots of people want to lose weight, but most aren't willing to pay the price or make sacrifices to get there. You will not be successful with a half-hearted effort or by looking for shortcuts or the easy way out.

7. You can have fun! I always enjoy watching different challenges each week. Although they were often physical, they're not what I'd consider traditional exercise: trying to stay on a moving escalator the longest; running and placing empty soda cans from one bin to another; or traversing a ravine on a zip line.

Lesson: Boredom will kill your exercise routine. Mix it up and keep your body guessing and keep it fun. Instead on going to the gym for a mindless half hour on the stairclimber (more like the “stairmonster”), get outside and do some hiking or biking. Forgo the weight machines one day and head to a playground to swing from the monkey bars, climb, jump, run and LAUGH!

8. You have to be consistent. No matter how much the show changes from season to season, one thing is always clear. Those who lose the biggest are consistent. They make healthy eating and exercise part of their daily lives — even after they go home. And even when they encounter setbacks along the way, they don't give up.

Lesson: Consistency is key. No matter how close (or far) you are from your goal — or even if you're there already — the habits you learn along the way have to continue if you're to be successful in the long term.

Who would have thought that watching people sweat, exercise, grimace, and go through the rigors of losing weight could be so fun? Here’s to all the losers, and to hoping you can use this advice to be a loser, too!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

What you don't know about depression ((from Marie Claire magazine))

Antidepressants are among the most prescribed drugs in America. So why isn't everyone happy?

Almost half the people in the U.S. with clinical depression don't get diagnosed properly, says Wayne Katon, nosed M.D., of the University of Washington Medical School in Seattle. In part, that's because many clinicians use a test developed in the 1950s called the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale ("Ham-D"), which was designed to measure antidepressant effectiveness, not to diagnose depression, says Andrew G. Ryder, Ph.D., of Concordia University in Montreal. The test overlooks some symptoms that indicate depression (such as sleeping too much) and highlights others that aren't always relevant (such as weight loss). When trying to diagnose or rule out depression, nothing is more important than detailed conversations with your doctor.


In fact, women are twice as likely as men to experience major depression. Scientists think hormones, an increased tendency to ruminate, and a possible heightened response to stress could all contribute to making women more vulnerable.


Differences in the way people from various cultures express depression can result in a missed diagnosis or the wrong medication being prescribed. For instance, "'having nerves' in most Caucasian-American cultures means you're anxious or stressed out; in Latino culture, it can mean you're depressed," says Carolyn Kaufman, Psy.D., of Columbus State Community College in Columbus, OH. So a Latina woman could walk away from her doctor with a prescription for an anti-anxiety medication when what she really needs is an antidepressant. The shocker: Doctors from the same ethnic backgrounds as their patients aren't always better at figuring out what's what. What to do? Make sure your physician can repeat back to you, in different words, what it is that she thinks you're feeling.

Most drugs are tested on white men. But about 40 percent of African- Americans and Asian-Americans actually metabolize drugs more slowly than Caucasians do, as a result of a genetic difference in liver enzymes, according to research conducted by L. DiAnne Bradford, Ph.D., of More house School of Medicine in Atlanta. The impact: They wind up with more of the drug in their bodies, which increases side effects (insomnia, diminished libido, and scores of others) without increasing benefits.

Scientists think that both your genes and your environment affect your mood. No one has found a gene that's directly responsible for depression, but you can inherit one type of gene that can make you more vulnerable to depression after stressful events. So, while you may be able to blame your family for many things, it's not all their fault if you're depressed.

Most antidepressants do carry about a 30-percent chance that you'll gain weight, says Thomas L. Schwartz, M.D., of State University of New York Upstate Medical University. But one-- Wellbutrin XL (buproprion)--may cause you to shed a few pounds. Other antidepressants raise serotonin, the chemical that regulates appetite, and may make you feel famished. Even if you eat less, the serotonin might make you store more fat and sugar. But buproprion raises levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, not serotonin, thus avoiding appetite issues.

Physical illness can trigger depression. One pathway may have to do with cytokines, a natural part of the body's immune response to illness. In fact, when some patients are treated with a certain type of cytokine, they become depressed or even suicidal. In addition, "a mood disorder can potentially affect the body's ability to fight an illness," says David Spiegel, M.D., of Stanford University School of Medicine. Stress can lead to arterial spasms and heart attacks, even if your arteries are clear. Depression is also associated with a poorer prognosis for diseases including stroke, epilepsy, and diabetes. Bottom line: Get treatment for both your physical illness and your depression.


Placebos have been found to work as well as antidepressants in people with minor depression--meaning you can get through the day but have a low mood for a couple of weeks and don't enjoy certain activities the way you used to. And yet drug-makers have been expanding the definitions of mood disorders so much that even healthy people who have the occasional bad day (and who doesn't?) think they should reach for a pill, according to Ray Moynihan and Alan Cassels, authors of Selling Sickness. Don't buy the hype: Some times, counseling or meditation is just what you need to feel like yourself again.
An analysis by Glaxo-SmithKline found that adults with major depressive disorder who took its drug Paxil had a higher risk of suicide than similar people who were in a placebo group. But that was only one study of one drug. Furthermore, the increased risk may not be directly from the pills: Oddly enough, psychiatrists think the boost that occurs when people are first treated for depression--with therapy or medication--might give some people the energy to carry out suicidal thoughts they had before the treatment.
Most antidepressants have not been adequately tested in pregnant women, and some may not have undergone animal studies. But recent case reports suggest that babies born to mothers on antidepressants may be prone to jitters, irritability, feeding problems, and seizures. A report in the New Eng land Journal of Medicine recently found that a small percentage of babies exposed to SSRIs were born with persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)--a condition in which too little oxygen reaches the blood. And the FDA warns against using Paxil during the first trimester. If depression is left untreated, however, babies may be born earlier and lower in birth weight because women are less apt to take care of their bodies when they're depressed, says Nada Stotland, M.D., of Rush Medical College in Chicago. They're also more likely to have postpartum depression and not bond well with their newborns.

Additional sources: Kenneth S. Kendler, M.D., of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond; Kurt Kroenke, M.D., of Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis; William B. Lawson, M.D., Ph.D., of Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C.; Bruce S. McEwen, Ph.D., of The Rockefeller University in New York; Eric Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas; Nick C. Patel, Ph.D., of the University of Cincinnati; Richard Shelton, M.D., of Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville; Michael D. Yapko, Ph.D., author of Breaking the Patterns of Depression.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Foods To Keep You Healthy (or not)

Are you confused about whether what you’re putting in your body is making you healthier or killing you? Here’s the latest science on what’s up and what’s down on the food charts.

Artificial Sweeteners (↑/↓)
Surprising news for people trying to stay slim: New research suggests that even noncaloric sugar substitutes, whether “natural” or artificial, may contribute to weight gain. Researchers at Purdue University published a study in February showing that rats gained weight when fed foods artificially sweetened with saccharin. The researchers speculated that when the sweet taste of the sugar substitute wasn’t followed by lots of calories, it threw off the rats’ response to calories in general. As a result, they ate more food. Although this response doesn’t necessarily apply to humans, many dieters find that after eating sugar-free food, they compensate by indulging in other calorie-rich sweets.

Coffee (↑)
No need to feel guilty anymore about that double-shot Americano that gets you going in the morning. In fact, coffee is looking more and more like a health drink. Among its remarkable benefits, new research shows, coffee may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart attack, gallstones, Parkinson’s disease, kidney stones, and cirrhosis. One caveat is that black coffee may lead to thinner bones, especially in women, but the simple solution is to add milk to your coffee.

Chocolate ( ↑ )
Dark chocolate, which contains at least 70% cocoa, has proven health benefits. It contains less sugar than white or milk chocolate and is a rich source of health-promoting compounds such as polyphenols and flavonoid antioxidants (similar to those found in green tea). Studies show that even a small intake of dark chocolate may reduce the risk of the blood clots that cause heart attack or stroke and may lower blood pressure. And, as many people know from experience, chocolate also can lift your mood and give you a boost of energy. Of course, chocolate is high in calories and contains saturated fat, so enjoy it in moderation—no more than 2 ounces a day.

Soda (↓)
There’s not much good news to relate about soda. Both the high-fructose corn syrup in regular soda and the artificial sweeteners in the diet varieties may kick your pancreas into overdrive, which boosts insulin levels and causes weight gain. Research last year from the American Chemical Society found that chemicals in beverages sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup (called “ reactive carbonyls”) may increase the risk of diabetes. In addition, the caffeine and phosphoric acid in colas may thin the bones of those who frequently consume them.

Oatmeal (↑/↓)
Oatmeal is most people’s idea of a healthy breakfast, but you may need to rethink your morning meal. A controlled study at Boston Children’s Hospital found that eating only instant oatmeal for breakfast increased kids’ appetite and calorie consumption by more than 80% the rest of the day when compared to eating a vegetable omelet and fruit for breakfast. (Eating steel-cut oats did not spike appetite as much.) The study’s researchers attribute the results to fluctuations in blood sugar that occur after a meal consisting of processed grain products, and they stress the importance of having some protein at breakfast.

Pizza ( ↑/↓ )
Pizza isn’t exactly a health food, but it certainly is a food with healthy ingredients. Tomato sauce is rich in lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Recent studies suggest that lycopene may have a range of benefits, including reducing the risk of cancer and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure. Adding veggies to pizza further improves its health benefits. But stay away from sausage, pepperoni, and other toppings rich in saturated fat—you already get that with the cheese. The biggest concern about pizza is calories and what they can do to your waistline, so order by the slice.

Eggs (↑)
Eggs get a bad rap. Their negative reputation started because egg yolks are a source of cholesterol. But studies have not shown that the risk of cardiovascular disease increases in egg eaters. For example, in a study of more than 115,000 men and women, there was no association between egg intake and the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke over an eight-year period, except among those with diabetes. Women who ate more than one egg a day actually had the lowest risk of coronary heart disease. Eggs also are a great source of protein, and many organic eggs are now rich in omega-3 fatty acids, thanks to a change in chicken feed.

Fish ( ↑ )
Eating fish twice a week may cut your risk of heart attack, stroke, and sudden cardiovascular death. Fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce the risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and inflammation. The best for your health are oily and small fish such as sardines, herring, anchovies, salmon (organic or wild), and mackerel (except king mackerel). Large fish such as swordfish, tuna, tilefish, and shark live at the top of the marine food chain and accumulate many contaminants. In general, canned chunk light tuna—lower in such contaminants as mercury than albacore or sushi tuna—is also a good choice.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Budget Cooking from the Pantry ((snag))

Cookbook authors often provide long lists of pantry “must-haves,” those important ingredients that we supposedly can’t live without. But when food costs are up and it’s time to pay the grocery bill, those extra items can put the hurt on overextended wallets.

The trick is to stock what you know you’ll use. Not only will you save money, but storage space, too. After all, your own pantry may be just two crowded shelves in a kitchen cupboard.

Look for sales on your favorite ingredients, and then mix it up with a little creative multi-tasking. For instance, a jar of salsa that’s usually spooned on top of tacos or nachos can be transformed into a lightly spiced, gazpacho-style soup with the addition of a few fresh ingredients.

We all have different tastes, but when asked what five pantry ingredients they always have on hand, an informal survey of family and friends uncovered some surprising similarities.

Pasta topped most lists, and talk about a multi-tasker. It’s quick-to-fix as a main dish or salad base, and can extend vegetable or meat soups. A small selection is all that’s needed. Spaghetti, penne, salad macaroni or orzo, as well as fun shapes such as farfalle (also known as butterflies or bow-ties) or wagon wheels are just a few of the options.

• Toss hot pasta with a mix of diced, fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, zucchini and sweet peppers. Add some minced garlic, sweet onions, and shreds of basil leaves or coarsely chopped parsley with a dash of olive oil. Leftover cooked chicken or fish can be added, while a tiny dice of feta cheese changes things up from the usual mozzarella or Parmesan cheese.
• Sauté broccoli florets and their peeled, sliced stems in olive oil until tender-crisp, adding dashes of crushed red pepper flakes and kosher salt at the end of the cooking time. Toss with hot pasta and finish with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese.
• Save about ½ cup of the pasta cooking water to add to the dressed pasta in case it seems too dry. Not only is it a lighter alternative to adding additional oil to the dish, it’s also lighter on the wallet.

Canned beans, whether Great Northern, pinto, garbanzo, or black, are another winner in the pantry. They’re versatile and a good source of protein.

• Substitute rinsed and drained black beans for the meat or poultry in enchiladas or tortilla casseroles.
• For salads, marinate the canned beans in a little of the dressing for 10 to 15 minutes before adding other ingredients. It’s surprising how much flavor they’ll absorb.
• Baked beans can be doctored with finely chopped sweet onions, hot sauce and maple syrup. Or stir in a can of black beans, add ¼ to ½ cup chili sauce and simmer until the flavors are blended.

Dry beans are less expensive than canned per serving, but not as convenient. With the exception of lentils and split peas, most need some soaking time before cooking.

• Dry beans will soak up all of the liquid they need within four hours, so a long soaking time isn’t necessary.
• Here’s a tip passed along by an Italian friend: Add a tablespoon of flour to the soaking water, which will produce yeasts that tenderize the beans.

Bless canned tomatoes, for what would the kitchen be without them?

• A favorite dish is inspired by cookbook author Ken Hom. Simmer chicken wings in a can of tomato puree that’s seasoned with 1 teaspoon of Five-Spice Powder, 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 tablespoons honey and a tablespoon soy sauce for about 30 minutes until tender.
• Try these aromatic additions to canned tomatoes: a pinch of cloves; a tablespoon of finely grated orange zest; 2 teaspoons curry powder.

Don’t forget the canned broth. Chicken, beef or vegetable are the choices, depending on your personal tastes and diet needs.

• All canned broths can be freshened up with slices of fresh ginger, green onions and chopped garlic. Simmer together for 15 minutes, then drain. Use for Asian influenced dishes such as rice, soups or poached chicken.

Olive oil and vegetable or canola oil are “must-haves” in any pantry.

• Here’s something to consider: In warm summer months, oils can become rancid quickly, so store them in the refrigerator for the freshest taste. Although olive oil will solidify when chilled, it can be reliquified quickly by setting the bottle into a bowl of hot water.

A small selection of quality vinegars will add flavor notes that range from subtle to intense. Choose two or three of the following: balsamic, unsweetened rice vinegar, cider, white wine or red wine vinegars.

• A good, basic vinaigrette can dress salads or be drizzled over fish that’s hot off the grill. Its low acidity is perfect for marinating meat or poultry without changing their texture.
• Add 2 tablespoons crushed black peppercorns to ½ cup vinaigrette, add 2 pounds chicken drumettes and marinate overnight. Then drain and grill or bake in the oven until browned and cooked through.

Keep your options open. Just because a recipe calls for a specific ingredient doesn’t mean it can’t be substituted with another in the same flavor family. So if, for instance, a jar of honey isn’t on your shelf when mixing together the Balsamic, Orange & Honey Marinade, the same amount of brown or turbinado sugar, or perhaps orange marmalade, will flavor and glaze the meat beautifully. And if an ingredient is “optional”, that’s your cue to leave it out. Remember, this is your pantry, and your chance to cut down on the grocery bill.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Finding the Right Jeans for Your Body

In the old days, blue jeans came in one style. But modern blue jeans are more than just the standard denim pant. There are so many options - color, rise, cut - that you might have to try on ten, twenty or thirty pairs before finding one that works for your body shape.

However, you can short-cut the process a bit by knowing which jeans are likely to look best on your body. Here's a simple guide:

Are you short?
If possible, choose a petite length jean so you don't need to get them hemmed. A cuff at the bottom will only make you look shorter. And, depending on your body type, you may want to avoid the boot cut jean. Not only are they harder to hem, they can make your legs appear shorter. Try straight leg jeans for a longer, leaner appearance.
Tip: Wear pointy-toed shoes with your jeans to make your legs seem longer.

Are you bottom heavy?
Avoid any major decoration on the back pockets of your jeans, like excessive stitching, buttons or little flaps. They'll just draw attention to your rearview. The same is true about any type of fading or bleaching. A white or light area on your backside will only spotlight what you're trying to hide! Smaller pockets are your best bet.
Tip: Balance a wider midsection with boot leg jeans.

Are you tall?
Lucky you! You can wear many different styles of jeans, although you may have problems finding an inseam that fits. Fortunately, jean companies seem to be adding extra length to their clothing these days. If there's a brand that never worked for you in the past, you may want to give them another try.
Tip: If you must get your jeans tailored, take them to a professional.

Do you have wide hips?
A boot cut jean will balance your body, making you appear slimmer overall. You can also wear flare leg jeans with success. To minimize your hips, avoid excessive pockets. Look for chop pockets in the front instead of the standard hip pocket, which can add bulk to that part of your body.
Tip: Too tight jeans will only make you look pear-shaped. Look for ones that skim without constricting.

Do you have a small bottom?
We aren't all blessed with Jessica Simpson's "Dukes of Hazzard" booty! If you want to create a rounder bottom, look for jeans with some embellishment on the backside. Flap pockets or bright stitching is a good choice.
Tip: You may be able to wear jeans without pockets if they fit snugly.

The most important part of finding the right jeans: Try them on! Just because they appear to fit doesn't mean they'll work for your body. Try on many different styles and brands of jeans until you find a pair that makes you look your best.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Find your perfect weight: Setting a healthy & achievable weight loss goal ((snag))

You know that you want to lose weight. But how do you pick a goal weight that's right for you? Do you find a celebrity, or even a friend, whose body you like and try to reach the same weight as him? Do you aim for a previous weight of your own, like what you weighed when you wore that junior prom dress 25 years ago?

Unfortunately, neither of these are good ways to set a weight loss goal. Finding your best weight isn't as simple as plugging your height, age, and gender into a formula and getting a number spit back at you. Your body is unique to you, and so is your ideal weight. Because it involves factors that are both objective (like your health risks) and subjective (like your personal satisfaction with your appearance), your ideal body weight is much more than a number on the scale: it's more like a state of being.

You're at your ideal body weight when:

  • Your weight isn't causing (or putting you at risk for) any health problems
  • Your weight doesn't limit you from living the life you want
  • You can accept your body as it is, without feeling uncomfortably self-conscious
  • You can enjoy being in your own skin, without worrying too much about how you compare to others (or cultural ideals)

There are charts and formulas that can help you determine what the number on the scale tells you about your risk for health problems, and give you a general weight range to shoot for to decrease your risk. There are other standards and measures that can help you fine tune this big picture and focus in on optimal fitness and body composition. This article, part 1 in a 3-part series, will look strictly at these kinds of numbers—a great place to start when determining your weight loss goals.

How Body Weight Affects Health

In the best of all possible worlds, this business of picking a good weight loss goal wouldn't be a problem. In fact, bathroom scales wouldn't even exist. If you think about it, what does the number on your scale really have to do with any of the reasons you want to lose weight? Whether you want to look a certain way, be more attractive or popular, manage or avoid health problems, get back into all those smaller clothes you've got in your closet, improve your athletic performance, recapture the glories of your youth, or simply feel a little more comfortable in your own body, the number on the scale is not what determines your success or failure. There are much better ways than scale-watching to assess your progress along the way.

The only real reason to even think in terms of a "normal" or "ideal" body weight is because there is a statistical correlation between your weight and your risk of having certain health problems that can lead to premature death or disability. Although your weight may or may not be the cause of these health problems, it's clear that people who weigh more—or less—than "normal" are more likely to have these problems.

Experts who study these things have come up with several different methods of estimating your health risks based on your weight and size, as well as a set of calculations that are routinely used to determine whether your weight/size is in the normal range or not. Here are three of the most commonly used calculations:

Body Mass Index (BMI) is simply the number you get when you divide your weight (in kilograms) by your height squared (in centimeters). According to years of health research, the further your BMI deviates from the normal range (whether above or below), the higher your risk for obesity-related health problems (such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stroke, heart disease, and bone/joint disorders). Calculate your BMI here. Similarly, you can calculate your goal weight and see if it fits in with these ranges. If not, then your expectations might be unrealistic.

Height/Weight Charts, such as the HANWI formula (below), have been around since the 1950's. BMI has pretty much replaced the older height/weight charts as the most common way to assess health risks related to weight. But variations of these charts are still used today as quick and simple ways to estimate the normal weight range for your height. Here's a simple formula you can use:

  1. Women: Allow 100 pounds for the first 60 inches of height, plus 5 pounds for each additional inch (i.e. 130 pounds for someone that is 66 inches tall). Men: Allow 106 pounds for the first 60 inches of height, plus 6 pounds for each additional inch (i.e. 154 for someone that is 68 inches tall).
  2. The number you get above is the midpoint of the normal range; subtract or add 10% to get the low and high ends (117-143 pounds for the female above, 139-169 pounds for the man).
  3. People of average frame size should weigh close to the midpoint number, while those with large or small frames should be closer to the high or low end of the range. To determine whether you are large, small, or average frame, make a circle around the wrist of your dominant hand at the widest point (over the bones that protrude) with the thumb and middle finger of your opposite hand. If your thumb and finger don't touch, you are large framed; if they just barely touch, you are medium, and if they overlap you are small framed.
  4. Does your goal weight fit well within these ranges? If not, you might want to adjust it.

One potential problem with both the BMI and height/weight tables is that neither formula distinguishes between fat weight and lean tissue (muscle) weight. BMI, for example, may incorrectly put people with unusually large amounts of muscle weight in the overweight category (even when their level of body fat might be normal), and people with poor muscle tone into the normal category (even when their level of body fat might be excessive). Another drawback to these formulas is that they don't take into account where you store your fat. That's where this next formula comes in.

Waist-to-Hip Ratio is an important measure to use along with BMI and height/weight charts when considering your weight. Research shows that where you store body fat may be even more important than how much you have. Fat stored in the abdominal area, especially under the muscle and inside the abdominal cavity, is a lot more dangerous than fat stored in the hips and thighs, for example. One good way to make sure you aren't overlooking a problem is to calculate your waist-to-hip ratio. Your ideal measurements should also fit into the ranges of a healthy waist-to-hip ratio. Similarly, even if you're at a "healthy" weight now according to your BMI or Height/Weight table, you might want to consider losing some extra weight if your current waist-to-hip ratio is unhealthy.

All the methods above will give you a good starting point for setting a goal weight that is reasonable (and healthy) for your height, gender, and age. However, not everyone will fit well within these ranges, and there's no guarantee that a normal weight will mean good health everyone (or that being above normal automatically means you'll have health problems, for that matter). Your state of health depends on other factors as well, including the quality of your diet and your exercise routine. But if the goal weight or measurements you're hoping to achieve are very far outside the ranges you get from these methods, that's a good indication that you may need to think twice about how realistic your goal is. To make changes to your goal weight, based on what you've learned here, click here to go to your Start Page. Once there, you can "Change" your weight loss goal by using the link in your myTools column under the heading "My SparkDiet."

The upcoming articles in this series will examine other factors—besides numbers—that determine what kind of changes you can (and can't) achieve with diet and exercise, including the roles of your body type and genes.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A retrospective look back at all the reasons I am glad I had my WLS...

** Being that I am now just over 4 years post-op from my Open RNY, I can look back and put a lot of things into perspective on the reasons of why I did take the "drastic measure" of having WLS. I know I definitely didn't take an easy way out ((as so many people have tried to say))... It's never been a quick fix, it's been a complete lifestyle change and it continues to be so each and every day. Here are just a few of "highlights" ((LoL)) of the last 4 years... some good, some bad... each a lesson learned. Everything I've been through can be an inspiration to someone who wishes to go on the same journey. **

  • I remember the first time I was referred to as "obese"... I was so insulted! I thought it was the biggest slap in the face ever. At the time, I was 5'6 1/2" and about 252 lbs. It was noted in my medical chart that I was obese. That was about 2 1/2 to 3 years prior to my WLS and that is the point where my "dieting" got more aggressive than ever and I began looking into alternatives to weight loss. I stumbled across gastric bypass surgery one night on the internet, but the thought of "stapling my stomach" scared the crap out of me. Lord knows, that wouldn't be the last time I thought about it.
  • In retrospect, I love Dr. Neely. He was the PCP I had in 2004 who finally told me that something had to be done about my weight. I had a laundry list of medical problems, not to mention the self-esteem from hell. I was infertile. I just had issues beyond belief and I was unhappy with life. I looked at him and said what do you suggest. He said gastric bypass surgery... I said I've thought about it on and off for years so what do I have to lose. He sent me to support group, which ironically was being held that day, so I could hear stories, and told me to come back to his office at 1PM to tell him yes or no. I was so impressed with the stories and they were so real and truthful, that I came back at 1 and told him to put in the referral. I was 297 lbs at this time. He put in the referral and, within a week, Tricare called me to set up an appointment with Dr. Kenneth Warnock in Wichita Falls, Texas. Little did I know, I was being led to an angel.
  • Now Dr Warnock and I have not always seen eye to eye, but he saw someone who was determined. It didn't take long for everything to get submitted for me to have my WLS on August 3, 2004. I weighed 275 lbs on the day of surgery.
  • From the moment I got home from the hospital, I knew my life had changed. I had friends that still wanted to go to restaurants. I remember walking into McDonald's with my ex-husband about 2 weeks post-op and literally having to walk right out because the smell made me sick. I remember my first attempt at Chinese food about 5 weeks post-op. I ate about 5 bites of different meats and I was so full I could have burst. I remember how I was scared of bread and, at 5 mos out, Dr Warnock told me I could eat it. I was still afraid I would get it stuck. To this day, I'm careful with it, but I eat it in small quantities. I see how every surgeon/nutritionist is different in telling patients no bread/pasta/rice ever. I can eat all of those and have been able to for a while... I just don't eat large quantities of them. The way the different surgeons/nutritionists do things has peaked my interest even more on going into the field of nutrition to work with obese and WLS patients. I want to help people monitor their "diets". I feel that I have maintained my weight for 3 1/2 years and through 2 pregnancies... I am living proof that it can be done.
  • I still remember my friends helping me go shopping the first time I REALLY went shopping after my WLS. They were trying to get me to break out of my "plus size" comfort zone and I was so scared, I guess you could say. I kept trying to buy sizes that were too big for me. Now, it's such a completely opposite ball game, let me tell you. Shopping is my sport of choice and most of my friends don't want to go with me because they will be exhausted by the end of the day lol. When I was at my highest weight, I was a 26/28... Surgery day, I wore a 24. Today, I am 4/6 ((5/7 in juniors))/medium in shirts. My maternity clothes are all small/medium. It's a huge difference, let me tell you and I have turned into a total fashionista! I don't know if I want to get any smaller ((say a size 2)), but I am very happy where I am.
  • Before my WLS, I had Type 2 Diabetes ((Obesity related)), GERD, high blood pressure, weight-bearing joint arthritis, asthma ((still have that)), depression ((still have that, as well, but much more controlled)), sleep apnea, PCOS ((in remission)) and infertility ((obviously gone as I am about to have baby #2)), and hypothyroidism ((now I have the opposite problem with an overactive thyroid)). I took so many pills, hell, I lost count. I hardly take anything now... so many things have changed and I am so much healthier! I had tried every "diet" and weight loss drug known to man... prescription, doctor supervised, and over the counter. I had been on some kind of "diet" since I was 12 years old.
  • The biggest change of all has been my self-confidence level. It has been phenominal! I learned that I no longer had to put up with abusive relationships and I could stand on my own 2 feet. I learned that I was more than just the "fat friend" and I learned who my real friends were and got rid of those who were not my friends. It's been a lot of changing for me... Some people have been supportive, others haven't been, but that's on them. I went through divorce post-WLS. I have since remarried. I am extremely happy now... I have my beautiful daughter and I have a son who will be here very soon. I know that I would not have my babies had I not lost the weight.
  • I know that my journey is not over... I am only 4 years into it. I have the rest of my life to maintain my weight and keep up my nutrition and exercise. I intend to stay a success story forever and always be an inspiration for others, especially my children... They are most important and I never want to set a bad example for them!

To anyone out there thinking about WLS, I say you should go for it~ It's been life changing for me, as you can see! If you are trying to lose the weight on your own and want support in doing that, I am here for you as well on that. I want to help anyone on any type of weight loss journey... nutrition is important to me, as you can tell.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

My "Ideal Weight"

5'6" tall female adult~

Your ideal weight is between 114.9 and 154.6 pounds.

If you're active and in good health, it doesn't hurt to be a little outside these ranges. Also, weight alone doesn't give the whole picture -- you need to consider if a lot of your weight comes from fat or from muscle. A woman's ideal body fat percentage is between 21 and 35, depending on her age (it's okay to have a little more fat if you're older). If you don't know yours, you can have it checked at a gym or sports medicine clinic, or try our calculator.

Our ideal weight ranges are derived from standard tables of body mass index (BMI), a score you get by factoring your weight and height. According to government guidelines, an ideal BMI is between 18.5 and 24.9, and this range is the same for men and women. To find out your actual BMI or learn more about BMI ranges, try our BMI calculator.

The fine print
Our ideal weight ranges assume you're an adult with an average build and activity level, and are based on standard BMI ranges. These ranges aren't relevant for children, pregnant women, very muscular people, or professional athletes.

Here's a Bud Light to You: Ms. Worst Fashion Offender!

Here's a compilation of the worst fashion trends in history for y'all... enjoy!

We've all done it.

You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who has not fallen under the spell of a fashion trend that, in hindsight, was the worst faux pas ever.

We've compiled the best of the worst for your amusement — and, perhaps, horror. And while this collection of trends is undeniably awful, keep in mind this advice from Nicole Fischelis, Macy's vice president and fashion director: "Even [a] good trend worn on the wrong person is a bad trend." So beware!

Mega Shoulder Pads
In the 1980s, there was a sense that everything bigger had to be better. The result was a lot of out-of-proportion fashion, and mega shoulder pads were right out there in front. "I have to say that the mega shoulder pads weren't the most attractive," says Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale's vice president for fashion direction. However, Marylou Luther, editor of the International Fashion Syndicate, makes a great point: "Women loved, and continue to love, them because they made their hips look smaller." But that doesn't exactly justify sporting two miniature pillows on your shoulders.

They've come and gone with the seasons. Yet they just don't make anyone look chic but rail-thin runway models. "I think ponchos look ridiculous. They make people look like a tent," says Bloomingdale's Solomon. Cruelly, they can always be found in maternity stores, but should be banished except for use as rain gear.

Spandex Pants
Olivia Newton-John brought down the house in the finale of "Grease" wearing a second skin of spandex. Disco divas everywhere adopted the look in the 1970s. The pitfalls of wearing spandex pants that were styled like jeans, but fit like leggings, were numerous. Among them: visible cellulite, potential camel toe, and, for those over 100 pounds, looking simply enormous. With all that, it's amazing that they're returning. "I'm baffled by why shiny leggings are coming back," says Patricia Mears, deputy director for The Museum at FIT (the Fashion Institute of Technology). "You see them at American Apparel in bronze or orange, and I wonder, 'Who looks good in that?' Show me the one woman who looks good in that. I think we've lost it."

Midi Skirts
Each season, designers dictate skirt length. Women either wear what they say or risk looking dowdy — a boon for retailers who therefore enjoy a steady stream of sales from season to season. For example, in the 1960s, the mini skirt caused a sensation. "Minis meant that women could stride along and were no longer encumbered by hemlines. That was very liberating and inventive," explains Marylou Luther of the International Fashion Syndicate.

Then, in 1967, came midi skirts. They fall unflatteringly to the middle of a woman's calves. John Fairchild, the editor of Women's Wear Daily who had great sway when it came to fashion trends, pushed the midi as the next big thing . "John Fairchild forcing the midi in 1967 hurt the fashion world," Luther says. "Who wanted those hobbling lengths after a decade of liberation?"

Big Hair
There is nothing more comical than looking at pictures or music videos from the 1980s and seeing hair that defied gravity. Whatever would have possessed stylists across the nation to take a cue from spiky-haired punk rockers and tease the hair of regular women (and men) to impossible heights? Pray this one never comes back.

Stirrup Pants
First, there were elastic clips you put on the bottom of your pants to keep them smoothly in your boots. Then manufacturers had the bright idea to make them part of your pants. The problem was that women didn't exclusively wear stirrup pants with boots. Wearing them with flats seemed to make everyone's legs look shorter, and it all started to go pear-shaped from there. Simply put, pants are not meant to be attached to your feet — ever.

Visible Thongs
Two words — Monica Lewinsky. The fact that the mere sight of an intern's exposed designer thong could shake the American presidency to its foundation proves this trend is all wrong. A hint of lace peeking out from under a blouse is one thing, but this interpretation of "underwear as outerwear" is unacceptable. Trust us — no one wants to see it.

It's two haircuts for the price of one — short and tidy in the front and long and flowing in the back. Billy Ray Cyrus and Michael Bolton fell under the mystical spell of the mullet and America sadly followed suit. Any way you cut it, it's a bad look. Remember, coming or going, you only have one head on your shoulders. Strive for one style.

This strange look took hold several years ago and it was puzzling. Was it a tie-front sweater, a bolero jacket, or, in extreme cases, simply arm warmers attached in back? Designed to keep your shoulders warm and hide your arms, the look was just all wrong. Either wear a wrap, commit to a cardigan sweater, or go bare.

Harem Pants
Overly pleated and hanging low in the crotch, harem pants, popularized by M. C. Hammer and adopted by everyone during his heyday, are just not a good look for anyone, really. Sure, they look good while twirling on a dance floor, but in the office or on the street, they're just all wrong. Unfortunately, a comeback may be in the works; recent YSL ads feature Naomi Campbell in a sparkly pair.

Acid Wash Jeans
Back to the need for jeans makers to keep sales rolling. They once thought it was cool to wash jeans in an acid bath, which gave them a frosty, whitewashed look. Blue jeans are meant to be solid blue (or, under duress, we can accept white or black). Jeans should not be acid washed, dip-dyed, highlighted or spot-worn. Period. End of story.

Low-Rise Jeans
Just about everybody wears denim. Despite the popularity of jeans, their durability can mean low sales for manufacturers. To keep the public coming back for more, designers are constantly tweaking their denim designs.
One such retooling resulted in low-rise jeans which exposed parts of the body we're sure should not be seen — even for those who wax diligently. Unfortunately for us, the only person who looked good in low-rise jeans was the teenaged Britney Spears (clearly no arbiter of good taste). Bergdorf Goodman fashion director Linda Fargo says, "Without a doubt, the ultra low-rise jean with the belly-baring cropped midriff tank-top is the worst look ever." ((ETA: this means the ones that are ULTRA low rise, not the typical ones you buy in the store))