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.