Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Every Little Bit Helps

An early appointment this morning left you without time for your usual healthy breakfast. Now that the meeting is over, you're famished and it is too long to wait until lunch. On your way back to the office, you stop in the local Starbucks to pick up a muffin and a cup of coffee. 

You are perusing the choices and suddenly notice the calories displayed on the menu and prominently on the packaging. What? 
  • Apple Bran Muffin: 350 calories. 
  • Blueberry Scone: 460 calories. 
  • Cheese Danish: 420 calories. 
  • Double Iced Cinnamon Roll: 490 calories.
  • Zucchini Walnut Muffin: 490 calories.
Wow! Zucchini and Walnuts are healthy for you! How do they end up being almost 500 calories? You move to the hot breakfast choices and have some better luck:
  • Egg White, Spinach and Feta Wrap: 280 calories
  • Reduced-Fat Turkey Bacon with Egg Whites on English Muffin: 320 calories
  • Starbucks Perfect Oatmeal: 140 calories
You opt for the oatmeal and the deluxe fruit blend (90 calories), choose a unsweetened tea to drink and you're on your way. Breakfast total: 230 calories, 2.5 grams of fat, 5 grams of protein. You've done very well!

Now, consider this... what would you have selected were it not for the calorie counts so clearly displayed? Maybe you would have gone with one of the other hot breakfasts... you're pretty aware of your food choices. But if you had gone for the scone or one of the muffins? You would have loaded your body with processed food to start the day. To be clear, this is not an indictment of Starbucks. They've made a decent effort in recent years to eliminate trans fat in their foods and provide healthier choices. 

This is about requiring places to post calories on the menu. The FDA plans on requiring many more places to post calorie counts (including airplanes, movie theaters and convenience stores). Contained in the healthcare law is the requirement for chains with 20 or more locations to include calorie information on menus. This part of the law was effective immediately so you will start seeing the information soon (or you will when the penalties begin next year).

People disagree if the practice is effective. Personally, I think it is effective... when traveling, a Starbucks offers consistent and reasonably healthy options in a sea of other bad choices. I've wandered into a Starbucks in New York City and it has a real impact to see the calories before you order. To combat the ever-increasing obesity numbers and to help to educate people so they begin to understand, we need to do something. If people are given the clear choice to choose between the cinnamon roll and the apple bran muffin, some percentage of them will make the better choice and save the 140 calories. 

Plus, this policy has the added benefit of helping the restaurants and chains and movie theaters begin to adapt their offerings and include more healthy choices. After all, do you want to be the owner of a place looking over your menu board only to discover most everything on there is 500+ calories? I don't think so. How could you live with yourself? 

There is nothing wrong with information and education. And, everything is wrong with hiding information just to make a sale. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Each Step Counts

On a typical day, many of us encounter an elevator or escalator. The vast majority will choose the electrically assisted device which sets up a double-whammy: our health and the environment. 

Studies show taking the stairs helps you burn twice as many calories as riding. And, after a 12 week period, substantial stair use showed improved cardiovascular fitness fitness in young women. 

Elevators and escalators require energy to run. How much? A seemingly simple question with a complicated answer due to the many variables. Let's just leave it at this: if you ride instead of walk you burn earth energy and not human energy. 

It is a win-win for you and the environment to use your body's energy to make things happen instead of relying on anything with a motor to get the job done. Simple? Yes. And, remember... each step counts. 

To up your fun value, consider this experiment conducted in Stockholm. If the steps you take don't make sound, create your own notes. You'll burn extra calories by singing a tune on your way!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Entrepreneurship, Doing the Right Thing and Pressure

From the Encyclopedia of Entrepreneurs, "Alva R. Kinney was raised in the small town of Crete, Nebraska. After graduating from Doane College in 1897, he went to work at Crete Mills, a local milling company. After a brief career as a traveling salesman, Kinney and some associates purchased Ravenna Mill in 1904. Over the next 15 years, he constantly upgraded the mill, which became quite successful."

The story goes on. Alva Kinney and the Ravenna Mill is the beginning of ConAgra. ConAgra, traded on the New York Stock Exchange, is now a $21.5 billion company with nearly 43,000 employees.

I've spent the week on ConAgra and much of what I've written hasn't been very flattering. I began to wonder about the company and how it started. Was the Founder a "good guy?" Did he have any idea what he began would turn into a world powerhouse controlling much of the food we consume? Did he care about his customers and the families that ate the products he produced? Digging into the real history of Alva Kinney would certainly be an interesting journey and one that doesn't fit into the time allotted to write today's blog. I'll leave those queries for someone looking for a documentary to produce.

More importantly, what about the people that work for and run ConAgra today? There are 43,000 of them and what are they like? My experience in working with large companies (in a different and also much-maligned industry) is that the people who work there everyday get up in the morning and want to do a good job and want to do good in the world. I've yet to find any truly evil people with a mission to profit by hurting others. I have met several people who are in a position that requires them to make hard decisions based on the bottom line. And, sometimes, when making bottom line decisions based solely on profit or the value to shareholders, some things along the way get trampled. Employees, customers, animals and the environment.

Some would claim this is the problem with capitalism. Others would say it is related to politics and policy and the stock market. The why doesn't really matter. The people do. We can, each of us, make a choice to do what has always been done, do what is expected of us, or make a tough choice and do something different. I'm guessing ConAgra and the people who work there are not evil. Yes, some (if not many) of the products they create could be more healthful for their customers. Yes, they could use their considerable power and position to help get whole, natural food to more people. Yes, they could revolutionize agriculture to be earth-sustainable, animal-friendly and human-beneficial. And, until we create other opportunities and ways to measure success, we'll be left to rely on the people. The most powerful of them? You.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Advanced Search

Feeling rather advanced today, we proceed to the "three-step process to search according to brand(Healthy Choice, Marie Callender's, etc.), category (Frozen Foods, Snacks, etc.), or more detailed dietary restritions."

As an amusing aside, I copied and pasted the above line from the website and voila! a typo. Granted, I didn't catch it while reading the site but the spell checker on trusty blogspot was quick to notice. 

Step 1 gives us the choice to search by Brands or Categories. Upon making a selection (in this case Brands) you are then presented with step 2 and a giant list of Brands Available. You choose your brand and click >>ADD. You can choose more than one brand or add all brands. Interesting... 

In keeping with our theme, we'll choose Manwich and proceed to step 3. This is where things get even more advanced! In step 3 you're presented with two drop down boxes. The first one includes: 
  • Less than 
  • Less than or equal to
  • Equal to
  • Greater than or equal to
  • Greater than
I'm having flashbacks to elementary school math and something to do with which way the fish mouth is facing. Let's not spend too long in that nightmare and proceed.

In theory, the next step would be the little box to the right of the first drop down and before the second drop down box. I'm not sure what to put in the box so we'll move on to drop down box number two. Oh my... This is a dizzying array of choices. 

Is this helpful? Does some doctor say only eat things with more than 50 milligrams of potassium per serving? What about less an 50 milligrams of sodium per serving? That seems a bit more possible, though I think unlikely. Let's see what happens... Darn. If you were searching for Manwich with less than 50 milligrams of sodium per serving you would be very disappointed. "No results found. Please broaden your search criteria." What about with less than 100 milligrams of sodium per serving? Nope. No, Manwich for you.

How frustrating! What if I'm craving some Manwich and am trying to watch my sodium intake? 150 milligrams? So sorry. 200? Nope. 300? No again. 400? And, no. Finally, we get to searching for Manwich with less than 500 milligrams of sodium per serving and.... drum roll, please.... we have Manwich! And two choices of Manwich! Let's select the "i" for the Manwich Original 15.5 oz can and see what nutritional powerhouse is in store for us.

To make it easier to read, some results:
  • Serving size: 1/4 cup
  • Calories per serving: 40
  • Sodium: 410 mg (17% of your recommended daily intake)
  • Protein: less than 1 g
By eating 1/4 cup of Manwich (probably unlikely... I suspect most people mound at least 1/2 cup on a bun), you are rewarded with nearly 1/3 of the amount of sodium likely to be contained in the new daily recommendation guidelines due out later this year. And, it took you about 20 minutes to figure it out using the ConAgra website.

For the record, if you don't select or enter any data in the boxes you'll be presented with a list of all of the Manwich options. Granted, the website doesn't actually say you don't have to go through all of that agony to get an answer. If you do that, you get one more Manwich choice: Manwich Bold 16oz. And for the brave and the bold? You'll get 70 calories and 800 mg of sodium per a 1/4 cup serving.

I must admit, I would have given up on this crazy website long, long ago were it not for a greater purpose. An hour devoted to your health, dear readers. My advice? Avoid Manwich. Sorry, ConAgra but I think it should be against the rules to make such stuff and pawn it off as food. People need actual help not ill-health in a 1/4 cup serving.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Product Nutrition Search

When I seek nutrition information on a product, the best way is a simple text entry box in which to type the product name. Perhaps this method doesn't work for some people so, in an attempt to make things easier, some websites have created other ways to get nutrition information.

As promised in yesterday's Manwich update, I thought we'd take a peek at the ConAgra Product Nutrition Search to see how it works. Here is a screen shot from their website
To find nutrition information you have two choices: one-click search and advanced search. One-click sounds easy and look they have nifty sub-categories to help consumers: fat free, low fat, good source of protein, low cholesterol, sodium controlled, good source of fiber. Let's take a look, shall we?

Under the fat free category, the first results are: Egg Beaters, PAM (such a tasty meal choice), La Choy bamboo shoots. Hmmmmm. Is this helpful? Would a consumer, in an attempt to make more healthful food choices go to this website, find something fat free and then go and buy it?

I contend this is exactly what ConAgra is hoping for and spent quite a tidy sum of money on website design for. Does this tool actually help people make better food choices? If I was told to eat a fat free diet, would I use this tool to make my shopping list? Perhaps if I was a consumer without an good understanding of nutrition. Perhaps the first thing on the list should be actual, whole, real foods (like vegetables) and a way to educate consumers about those food choices. And, why in the world is PAM on this list? It isn't food.

I was curious about the nutrition information for Hunt's Basil, Garlic and Oregano sauce so I clicked on the little "i"to dig a bit deeper.

When you click the "i" you are rewarded with a pop-up box of the product label as shown on the left.
What is most interesting about this label? It does not show what is actually in the can. I guess the website designers thought an ingredient list would be too much information. Unless of course, someone didn't want "high fructose corn syrup" to appear in print on a website. Or the spurious term "spices" which can mean a whole bunch of things you really don't want to consume.

I am left curious and would love your thoughts. Is this information helpful? Will it guide a consumer to make better food choices? Or, do you think it is a clever way to "help" consumers make a shopping list of ConAgra produced food based on somewhat questionable health claims?

Tomorrow? The advanced search. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Follow-Up on Manwich

Up early, good exercise and some time this morning reading comments on yesterday's redux blog on Manwich led me to see if there were any updates on the ConAgra website since they didn't have nutritional information when last I checked. Goodness... are we going to have fun with this for a few days!

Yes, ConAgra has updated and launched a new site for Product Nutrition information. Excellent, I thought. I will go and search for Manwich and see what I can find. Should be easy, right? ConAgra would want their consumers to quickly find the information they are seeking, right? Ha!

I would consider myself a pretty savvy web user and... this is one of the most confusing, difficult-to-use search features I've ever encountered. For the record, the idea of the web is to make it easy for people to find what they are looking for. Can I just have a search box to type in Manwich and get the nutritional information? No! 

When I tried the search box and entered Manwich, I did get a nifty news release on the Investor Relations page that talks about the release of the "full serving of vegetables" campaign and says: 
  • "new television advertising campaign promoting the full serving of vegetables found in each serving of Manwich"
  • "mark Manwich’s first new creative campaign in three years"
  • "new strategic message requires a deeper communication with the target consumer"
  • "promoting the full serving of vegetables strategic messaging and encouraging moms to feel good about serving Manwich to their families more frequently"
  • "lighthearted spots feature a young girl who is dressed as a Manwich for a school play while her classmates are dressed as vegetables. She touts the wholesomeness of Manwich to her classmates and family."
Excuse me? This a strategic message to encourage Moms to feel good about serving Manwich? How about a strategic message to help Moms understand what is healthy and good for their family? How about a commercial with only the vegetables on stage? 

There are so many things wrong with this, I don't even know where to begin. Discuss and share. Until we get together and point out the absurdity of such things the people who need good and honest advice the most will continue to be subjected to "strategic messages."

Tomorrow? An experiment in actually using ConAgra's Product Nutrition Search. Stay tuned!!!

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Redux: Meat Your Vegetables? Seriously?

We were so busy today building very nifty, new cool features to help you track your wellness goals and progress that we didn't make the time to sit down and do the blog fantastic. So sorry! On the upside, you're going to love, love the new tracking system. On the next upside, we're republishing one of our favorite blogs and one that has gotten lots of great feedback.

Until tomorrow... enjoy!

Meat Your Vegetables? Seriously? 

The benefit of small amounts of television watching is you miss some of the ridiculous commercials which proliferate prime time television. Last evening, I saw this commercial for Manwich which claims every serving of Manwich has a whole serving of vegetables. The commercial ends with the tagline, "Manwich. Meat Your Vegetables." On the ConAgra Foods website, they report a "Full serving of vegetables" means that one 1/4 cup serving of Manwich contains or is the equivalent of 1/2 cup of vegetables.

So many questions come to mind! First of all, what is the "equivalent" of 1/2 cup of vegetables? Second of all, what unnatural thing does one have to do to 1/2 of vegetables to make them fit into 1/4 cup serving with other stuff in it? Third of all, what exactly is in the can?

I don't happen to have a can of Manwich around the house and can't really bring myself to go and buy one. For the record, the link to get nutritional information on the ConAgra website leads to a page that says "We are updating our product nutritional information. Our apologies for the inconvenience. Please check back later." I wonder how long this message has been there and if they are not posting nutritional information because it is too frightening. According to this blog, the ingredients are:

Tomato Puree (Water, Tomato Paste), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Distilled Vinegar, Corn Syrup, Less than 2% of: Salt, Sugar, Dehydrated Onions, Dehydrated Red and Green Bell Peppers, Chile Pepper, Tomato Fiber, Spices, Guar Gum, Xanthan Gum, Dehydrated Garlic, Carob Bean Gum, Natural Flavors.

It doesn't really seem likely that all of those ingredients would total up to a full serving of vegetables. Unless.... unless, of course, they are counting the High Fructose Corn Syrup and the Corn Syrup as vegetable. Yes, both of those ingredients come from the much produced vegetable, corn. Though I don't think it fair to trick the average consumer into thinking if they eat a Manwich for dinner they are eating a full serving of vegetables.

I would like to believe a full serving of vegetables looks more like, well vegetables. Carrots, broccoli, kale, lettuce. You know... the stuff you buy around the edges of your grocery store, the stuff that comes in its own skin or peel, the stuff which doesn't require a box or a can. Come on, ConAgra. Stop fooling the American consumer so you can sell more stuff in a can. More stuff mostly made out of corn (which when processed, doesn't really count as a vegetable!).

P.S. - When you do a spell check on something and words are highlighted as mis-spellings DO NOT EAT THEM! Guar and Xantham gum (made with corn...).

Friday, August 20, 2010

Knowing vs. Doing

How many adults in the US have no leisure-time physical activity? 25.4%

How many adults in the US are overweight? 34%

How many people know exercise can lead to weight loss? Most everyone.

How many people, if overweight, want to lose weight? Most all. 

So why aren't people doing what they know will make them lose weight, get more healthy and feel better?

People have lots of excuses. The most common of which is not enough time to exercise. With 24 hours in a day it seems there should be enough time to get a little exercise. The CDC recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise each week which is about 21 minutes a day. So how do we spend our time? According to this data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics the average American spends 5 hours a day doing leisure activities. Five hours a day! If we were exercising for even 1/2 of that 5 hours, we wouldn't have an obesity problem. 

It would seem we actually have a TV problem which, one could argue, leads to an obesity problem. We spend 2.8 hours a day watching TV! That category exceeds the other things we do by far and is more than a half of our leisure time. Last time I checked there wasn't much on TV worth 2.8 hours of daily viewing. 

If you are struggling with finding enough time to exercise, try this little idea. For the next 3 days, record how many minutes of TV you are watching. Take that number, divide it in half and commit to using that time to exercise each day. In other words, stop watching so much television! For added exercise points, combine exercise with your daily 38 minutes of socializing and communicating. Go for a walk with a friend or call your Mom during your daily stroll through the neighborhood (just watch where you are going... there are few things more obnoxious than someone talking on a cell phone and exhibiting bad pedestrian behavior). 

We know what we should do to take better care of ourselves. So, let's get doing! 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Who Cares?

A blog in the NYTimes today describes the results of a study on acupuncture in treating pain. The study divided the participants into three groups:

  • Those that received real acupuncture (traditional Chinese methodology)
  • Those that received "fake" acupuncture (needles inserted but not in the right places)
  • Those that receive traditional pain management techniques
Both the real and fake acupuncture resulted in reduced reported pain at nearly twice the level of those who received traditional pain management techniques. And, more importantly the real acupuncture patients reported a reduced the need for pain medications. 

The most interesting, though minor, mention was the attitude of the practitioner and it is impacted patient pain reduction. If the practitioner told the patient they had experience and success in reducing pain through the treatment, those patients reported less pain.

As we explore all the kinds of ways we can feel better, how much does it matter if the solution actually, really works? And what does "really, actually" work mean anyway? If you feel better, perhaps that should be the definition of "cure." If acupuncture, either real or fake, makes us feel better isn't that a better alternative to a life of taking medications? To find an acupuncturist trained in traditional Chinese methods, visit Tai Sophia and search for a practitioner in your area. 

The bottom line is there is no one way that works for everyone. Your mission is to explore different ways of living, even things you've never ever thought of doing. Who knows how good life could be if you only gave it a chance? 

Tuesday, August 17, 2010


This is a great opportunity! If you think you have too much stuff in your life, think about living with only 100 things. Following on the web challenge to only wear six items of clothing for six months, there is a new challenge... 

Live with only 100 personal possessions like a guy named Dave. In a protest against American consumerism he boiled his life down to 100 things. Read all about Dave and his quest. Interesting stuff. 

Akin to the movie Up in the Air and the backpack, "How much does your life weigh?" 

How many things do you live with? How many do you need? 

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chemicals Only

There is a great deal of activity around controlling the foods we eat. Much of it is not good for us. There are many powerful groups lobbying to prevent the requirement to label Genetically Modified Foods as such. And, there is a concerted effort on the part of the Government to outlaw raw milk, including the recent raid of a co-op in California selling raw milk. So let me get this straight... We should not be eating something natural in the form it exists in nature and we should be unaware we are eating something that was made in a Petri dish.

One could put these things together and begin to think of a new labeling protocol. We could start a campaign and require the packaging of any "food" item that contains something modified, altered, fake, chemical, homogenized or not-from-nature to proudly display this mark ➜

If you are perusing the inner aisles of your grocery store, seeking something in a box to feed to your family and saw the "No Apple" mark you would know you are about to buy something cheap and fake. Just think of how much time it would save the average shopper! In fact, in the land of fake food made of chemicals and genetically modified atoms, I'm pretty sure everything is going to taste the same anyway so it won't much matter what people are buying.

So there you go. Let's start the "No Apple" campaign and really start a revolution!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Much Do You Weigh?

There are many ways to answer this question. The most common way is how much your physical body registers when you get on the scale. Easy enough to do and something you should do on a regular basis. It is good to know where you are.

Some people have physical bodies that don't weigh much, but their mind is completely weighed down by thoughts that don't serve them. Do you spend your time thinking about how much you dislike your job? That is one very heavy thought and it probably doesn't do you any real good. If you have this thought or one like it, this could be a great time to stop. Replace that weighty thought with productive ideas to lead you on a path to find a new job. Do you need some additional training? Do you need to get a student loan? Do you need to volunteer for an organization to get some new experience? Spend you time on those thoughts. They are much better for you.

Another way to weigh yourself is the amount of stuff you have in your life. Many of us, myself included, have spent a number of years accumulating stuff. For the record, I have a lot of stuff. All of my stuff was procured with a greater purpose, mind you. It has simply all added up into way too much. My physical body doesn't weigh so much but I have a ton of stuff. It makes me feel heavy. I am weighed down by stuff and worse yet, some of the stuff requires maintenance. How did I fall into the trap of getting stuff that then requires my time and energy to keep? Seems like a very silly waste of time, doesn't it?

I am cleaning out stuff today. And I'm going on a stuff diet. I don't want to be weighed down by stuff and I'm pretty sure this stuff won't be missed. I think a better way to live is to accumulate experiences and leave the stuff for others.

Think about how much stuff is in your life. Then think about how much stuff you really need. Autumn is on the way. Be like a tree who sheds leaves and let go of your stuff. Who knows what you'll then have room for in your life?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What is Beginning?

Every moment is an opportunity to do something different. If you are struggling with making good choices for your health, stop struggling. Yesterday we talked about what is ending. End your struggle with yourself. It doesn't serve you.

Today, begin with something new. Your something new doesn't have to be the biggest, newest, most gutsy thing you can think of. Start something small. Small things are easier to stick with and small things will add up over time. To give you some ideas, here are some some things you can start for your health:

  • Eat a piece of fruit
  • Drink water 
  • Take a walk 
  • Stretch your body
  • Hug a friend
  • Go to bed early

Every moment is an opportunity to start a new beginning. What can you begin today?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What is Ending?

"Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end," goes the line in Closing Time by Semisonic. What a great opportunity!

What is ending in your life today? It could be anything. A job. School. A commute. An attitude. A way of thinking. An old habit. Some old clothes. Good for you! These endings open the way for a new beginning.

Better yet, what can end in your life today? Quit a job that doesn't inspire you and go back to school. Move to another state. Move to another country. 

For the sake of better health, there could be lots of things in your life you can give up. Some ideas for things to stop... soda, smoking, sugar, caffeine, processed food, fast food, too much food. Today could be the day you end your dislike of vegetables and exercise. Today could be the day you decide to end your hours of nightly TV viewing. 

Start your own new beginning. Today could be the day! 

Monday, August 9, 2010

Meatless Monday Mania

There is a growing movement encouraging people to adopt a lifestyle of consuming less meat. The most famous of supporters is Sir Paul McCartney who has put his considerable influence behind Meat Free Monday. There is a great little website titled Part-Time Carnivore which encourages you to commit to a level of meat-free living. And, NPR has an article today about Sid Lerner (advertising guru) and his effort to make a meatless day cool.

Do you meat? There are many reasons people choose to reduce or eliminate meat from their diet. The top three are:

  • Health
  • Environment
  • Animal Welfare
Ultimately, the decision to eat meat is a personal one each of us has to make. There isn't one prescribed way of eating that is good for every human on Earth. Some people are more healthy with a regular diet of meat; others do much better to eliminate or drastically reduce their animal protein consumption. The  secret to lifelong wellness is for you to figure out what works best for you. And, keep in mind, what works best for you may not be the best diet for your spouse, partner or children. 

Life is generally more sweet when we respect, and embrace, each others' differences. The idea of meatless Monday is great because it raises our collective awareness. If you ultimately choose to stop eating meat, or eat it only occasionally, good for you if it is what makes you happy and healthy. Don't join any movement because it is the cool, hip thing to do. Know yourself, respect yourself and make good choices each day. 

Friday, August 6, 2010

Carrot or Stick?

Should we reward good behavior or punish bad behavior? This is an interesting concept as we consider the impact of our lifestyle choices on our health and the Nation's healthcare costs. Carrot or stick? The concept isn't a new one. There are those that believe training a dog is best done through strict discipline and there are those that think if you love a dog enough it will do the right thing. There are also parents who subscribe to the "life is tough" theory and there are those who spoil their children. Which way works best? The answer is both, and, it depends.

We are all different human beings. While our DNA is 99% the same as any other human there are genetic variations that create differences. Plus, we can explore the whole nature vs. nurture discussion. The point is there is no single solution for training a dog or raising a child. If you have more than one of either, you probably recognize what I'm talking about. So, you adapt. You try one method and if it doesn't get the results you want, you try something different. In some ways, all of life is a bit of an exercise in trial and error. Hopefully, the trials are fun and the errors not too significant.

How does this apply to wellness? Should we punish people for drinking soda by taxing it, or reward them for eating vegetables by making them cheap? As with dogs and kids, with wellness. Some people need to be discouraged from soda consumption by paying a premium. Some people will only eat vegetables if it is the least expensive way to feed their families. Some employees will only exercise if their company pays for their wellness program. Some employees will only exercise if they are punished for being sedentary by increased healthcare premiums.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. The secret to lifelong, sustainable wellness is for each of us to figure out what works best for us. Yes, it does require a little effort. Remember, nothing worth having is always easy.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Lurking Salt

As a follow-up to an earlier blog, we will re-visit salt in the American diet. How much of a problem is salt in the American diet? Here are some impressive pieces of data from an article in the Wall Street Journal.

  • Average adult consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium a day
  • A teaspoon of salt equals about 2,300 milligrams of sodium
  • 90% of adults consume more sodium than the US dietary guidelines currently recommend
  • For about 70% of adults, halfway through lunch, the diet surpasses the recommend sodium levels of 1,500 milligrams
  • Consumption of salt for women has gone up 67% since the early 1970s
  • A single slice of packaged bread can contain 150 to 200 milligrams of sodium
The very best way to drastically reduce the salt in your diet is to stop eating processed foods. Things that come in a box are often replete with sodium. Sodium makes the fake food in the box taste better and maybe if it tasted as nutritionally-beneficial as it actually was, people wouldn't think of eating it in the first place. The message remains the same... ban the box. Eat whole, natural and organic food whenever possible. 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hello, America. We are in trouble.

The CDC released its latest report on obesity in America. The facts are not good: 

  • Between 2007 and 2009, 2.4 million more people are obese
  • Nine states now have obesity rates over 30%
  • Obesity rates have tripled in children
  • Medical costs associated with obesity are estimated at $147 billion
This is not someone else's problem. This is our problem; my problem and your problem. Each and every one of us, at the very least, should know the facts and the impact of obesity on our country. And, more importantly, we should know where we are. 

Are you obese? Here is a rough guideline: if you are a  5-foot-4 woman who weighs 174 pounds or more, or a 5-foot-10 man who weighs 209 pounds or more has a BMI of 30, you are considered obese. This calculator will give you personalized results. If you're not obese, are you overweight? If so, now is the time to do something about it. 

What should you do? 
Step 1: Eat less. Regardless of what you eat and, what you can afford to eat, eat less of it. 

Step 2: Exercise more. If you don't exercise at all, check with your doctor and start small. 

Step 3: Drink only water. Stop drinking anything else. It doesn't matter if it says zero calories. The only thing with zero calories that won't have some kind of negative impact on your entire body is water. Period. 

Step 4: Enlist support. Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers. Tell the people around you about your mission to get healthy. Ask them to help you with encouragement and a reminder when you reach for the donut. 

We've created Cybercise to help people get healthy. Our program, Move.Eat.Be., guides our members, each week for 24 weeks. We include plans for how to exercise and how to eat well. And during the 24 weeks, we help you figure out how to be well, and in being well, you can avoid backsliding into obesity. A full, unlimited membership for Cybercise is $10 per month. We intentionally made Cybercise affordable so we could reach the very people who need it the most. If you are really committed to your health and to doing something about your obesity, you'll find the $10 a month. If you truly can't afford $10 a month, write to me and tell me your story. 

The only thing stopping you from taking the first step is your own refusal to do so. If you are resisting, spend some time thinking about how much better your life will be when you are healthy. In your heart, you know. It is time to listen to your heart.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Low Fat v. Low Carb. Is the truth finally out?

The Annals of Internal Medicine published study results which say the weight loss results of study participants on the low fat and low carb diet were essentially the same. This is good news. And this is not good news.

The facts:
  • Participants were age 18 to 65 years
  • BMI was between 30 to 40 (all participants were considered obese)
  • People with serious medical issues (i.e., type-2 diabetes) and those with blood pressure over 140/90 were excluded
  • The study ran for 2 years
  • Low carb dieters consumed 20 grams of carbs for the first 12 weeks and then gradually added carbs until their weight was stable
  • Low fat dieters were limited to 1200 to 1800 calories a day with 55% of calories from carbohydrate, 30% from fat, and 15% from protein
  • All participants received in-person, group behavioral treatment each week for 20 weeks, the bi-weekly for 20 weeks, and then every other month for the remainder of the 2 year study
  • All participants were prescribed the same amount of exercise:
    • Primarily walking beginning at week 4; 4 sessions of 20 minutes each by week
    • By week 19, they were doing 4 sessions of 50 minutes each week
  • All participants received in-person, group behavioral treatment to include self-monitoring, stimulus control and relapse management
    • Weekly for 20 weeks
    • Every other week for 20 weeks
    • Every other month for the remaining two years
  • Participants were instructed to keep food and activity logs which were reviewed during the group sessions
This is good news because the study shows a rationale approach to weight loss which combines calorie restriction with exercise brings results. The is not good news because the study results will be used to push low carb and low fat diets instead of focusing on the real facts.

The low fat moniker has gotten a great number of people in real trouble. Some people will believe if something says "LOW FAT" on the package they can eat as much of it as they want. The reality of the success of this study is clear. Any person with a BMI between 30 and 40 (who is otherwise healthy with no medical issues) who limits their calorie intake to 1200 to 1800 calories a day and exercises for 200 minutes each week will lose weight. It almost doesn't matter what they are eating. Of course, eating whole, natural, organic and non-processed food is best. 

It will take next to no time for the people who sell both low carb and low fat diet plans to say they are proven as evidenced by a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Please don't be fooled by the flashy headlines. Doing the right thing, day after day, one step at a time, is your best way to achieve weight loss and long term wellness.What is the right thing? Exercise each day, eat whole, natural foods and spend your time doing things you love. 

It is not hard. It is not rocket science. And, yes, anyone can do it. 

    Monday, August 2, 2010

    Step Really Far Away From the Box

    Today's Washington Post included a follow-up article on the Kellogg cereal recall. If you missed the recall this summer, Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of cereal due to elevated levels of the chemical 2-methylnaphthalene in the packaging.

    According to the article, both the FDA and the EPA don't have data on the health impact and safety of 2-methylnaphthalene. In fact, our Government lacks data on over 80,000 chemicals in the U.S. marketplace today. Somehow, and for reasons I cannot fathom, these chemicals are still permitted in consumer products. Basically, everything around us is toxic. And, we wonder why there is an increasing incidence of cancer and childhood diseases like autism? 

    This is the most impactful paragraph in the article, "The information gap is hardly new. When the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed in 1976, it exempted from regulation about 62,000 chemicals that were in commercial use -- including 2-methylnaphthalene. In addition, chemicals developed since the law's passage do not have to be tested for safety. Instead, companies are asked to volunteer information on the health effects of their compounds, and the government can decide whether additional tests are needed."

    So until Congress catches up with what is in the people's best interests and creates rational legislation, each of us should do two things:

    1. Write your elected officials and tell them how important this issue is to you, and
    2. Avoid as many chemicals as possible

    Number one requires a small bit of effort. To find your elected officials in Washington, DC search here. Number two can be an epic undertaking. It would be virtually impossible to eliminate 80,000 chemicals from your environment. However, don't get discouraged and do whatever you can. Some ideas: 
    • don't buy bottled water (filter your tap water instead), 
    • buy organic food, choose whole foods that come in as little packaging as possible, 
    • shop at a local farmers market and avoid all packaging, and 
    • clean your house with natural products
    Start with these ideas and keep working at reducing the amount of chemicals in your life, as much as possible. Small efforts can build up and deliver big results.