What Should I Eat?!

How the dietary guidelines for Americans have “evolved”

Image credit: 123rf.com

As nutrition advice continues to evolve, some of it will stay the same, such as whole and minimally processed foods are the best, and make sure you eat your fruits and vegetables. That said, a recent look at the history of dietary guidelines for Americans shows that although some things are immutable in their goodness, others come and go and come back again. In responding to ever-changing nutrition science, we may risk trading simple, solid basics for a flurry of latest findings whose complexity can bury key messages. And dietary guidelines do matter. Our country’s nutrition policies not only provide guidance to the general population; they also require that all feeding programs align with them, including school lunches and breakfasts and meals served to soldiers. Read on to see what I mean.

Below is a summary of Dietary Guidelines from 1980 to 1995, published every 5 years. The strikeouts and additions reflect minor changes, generally for the better, during this 15-year time span:

  1. Eat a variety of foods (1980, 1985, 1990).
  2. Maintain ideal (1980) desirable (1985) healthy (1990) weight. In 1995: Balance the food you eat with physical activity—maintain or improve your weight.
  3. Avoid too much (1980, 1985) Choose a diet low in (1995) fat, saturated fat and cholesterol.
  4. Eat foods with adequate starch and fiber (1980, 1985). In 1995: Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and grain products.
  5. Avoid too much sugar (1980, 1985). In 1995: Use sugars only in moderation.
  6. Avoid too much sodium (1980, 1985). In 1995: Choose a diet moderate in salt and sodium.
  7. If you drink alcohol (1980) alcoholic beverages (1985, 1990, 1995), do so in moderation.

In 2000, the Dietary Guidelines ushered in a new millennium and took on a more sophisticated air. Instead of 7 recommendations, there were 10, with much more scientific background added along with information about dietary patterns and food safety. In 2005, the guidelines continued to balloon. What was once a snappy brochure in 1980 had now morphed into a 70-page policy tome with 41 recommendations grouped under 9 major headings, with lots of detail added. It’s easier now to provide links in case you’d like to ferret out the key messages for each:

  1. Adequate nutrients within caloric needs https://tinyurl.com/yc3wgevr
  2. Weight management https://tinyurl.com/y7qxfns4
  3. Physical activity https://tinyurl.com/y89y78u8
  4. Food groups to encourage https://tinyurl.com/yaywe88u
  5. Fats https://tinyurl.com/y8b9g7qq
  6. Carbohydrates https://tinyurl.com/yd6rhsxc
  7. Sodium and potassium https://tinyurl.com/yd6rhsxc
  8. Alcoholic beverages https://tinyurl.com/ycap6hhg
  9. Food safety https://tinyurl.com/yapvpnky

In 2010, the emphasis shifted to solid fats and added sugars—that is, to reduce the discretionary calories spent on them. Moreover, in a much-needed return toward simplicity, the “MyPlate” guide showing what your plate should look like in terms of recommended portions of food types was released in 2011. It was quickly improved upon by Harvard Medical School, which released its Healthy Eating Plate the same year (see below).

The Harvard Eating plate can actually stand in for the latest 2015–2020 guidelines (see box below). Fill half your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables, a quarter with whole grains, and the remaining quarter with lean protein. The perimeter of the plate talks about healthy fats and non-sugary beverages, with examples. The only guideline not represented is the last one, which is a call to action for us all (especially important in the current political climate). It reminds us that “everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple setting nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.”  Amen!

2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans

  1. Follow a healthy eating pattern across the life span.All food and beverage choices matter. Choose a healthy eating pattern at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient adequacy, and reduce the risk of chronic disease
  2. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. To meet nutrient needs within calorie limits, choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across and within all food groups in recommended amounts.
  3. Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Consume an eating pattern low in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.
  4. Shift to healthier food and beverage choices. Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages across and within all food groups in place of less healthy choices. Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain.
  5. Support healthy eating patterns for all.Everyone has a role in helping to create and support healthy eating patterns in multiple settings nationwide, from home to school to work to communities.

So for 2018, my advice, distilled down to ONE guideline is: “Look at Your Plate,” and print out a copy of The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate for the fuller picture.


Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published by USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: 1980, 1985, 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005, 2010, 2015-2020.

Sanna Delmonico, MS, RDN, CHES, “Lessons from 40 Years of Dietary Guidelines for Americans,” IDEA Fitness Journal, Oct. 2017.

Kelsey N. Graham, Med, CHES, “Eating Right: What the Science Says, IDEA Fitness Journal, Nov. 2017.

Working Out Away from Home—Better than Before

Remember when the hotel “fitness room” was a sad little place akin to the mandated but forgotten tot lot in a planned community? One creaky stationary bike, a wobbly treadmill, and sometimes a scruffy mat and mismatched dumbbells? Well, we’ve come a long way, baby!

Nowadays, because so many of us have embraced a fitness lifestyle, hotels are one-upping each other to provide better fitness equipment and access to services. The number of hotels offering an exercise room or fitness facility has grown from 63% in 2004 to 85% in 2016, according to the 2016 Lodging Survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association. Giving passes to nearby facilities is also on the rise. I recently sojourned at a modest (ahem) Days Inn that nonetheless gave me access to a beautiful Gold’s Gym right across the street!

As a Washington Post lifestyle article noted in May, among the newest trends are in-room fitness options, such as Hilton’s “Five Feet to Fitness” rooms. These rooms, which cost between $45 and $90 above standard prices, include about a dozen pieces of equipment right in the room, along with a fitness “kiosk” with touch-screen access to 200+ videos featuring cycling, high-intensity interval training, and yoga classes. Snazzy!

For those of more modest means (like me) who still want to work out in-room, consider the guest “fitness kit.”  My friend and client says this about his experience with the Omni in Charlottesville:

“For many years, my wife and I have attended the annual Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, always staying at the wonderful Omni hotel, where many festival sessions are also held. Since we’re once-yearly Omni regulars, we joined the free Select Guest program. Among its benefits is the ability to register my preference for a well-stocked fitness kit for in-room exercise (see pictures to left), nicely supplementing the well-equipped fitness center with multiple treadmills and other professional-grade equipment (pictures above). Both are free. Another always-pleasant aspect of these stays is the hotel’s Loyalty Ambassador, a staffer who contacts guests shortly before arrival to convey a welcome message and ensure a pleasant customized experience; for me, this raises Omni above other hotel visits.”

Cool, huh?  Have you had a good fitness experience on the road?  What was it?  Next time you book your trip, ask about the hotel’s fitness options. It may simplify your choice and prompt you to work out while away.

–Keep moving, Jen

Beyond FitBit: Welcome in the “Wireless Body-Area-Network”

Photo credit: Ron Aira

Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing researcher Vivian Motti, assistant professor in the Department of Information Sciences and Technology at George Mason University’s Volgenau School of Engineering. Ms. Motti has joined up with colleagues at Dartmouth and Clemson to develop the “Amulet bracelet,” a wearable mobile health device that is more high-tech than the popular ones today. She says the bracelet acts as a “hub,” interacting with other mobile sensors and aggregating a person’s health information for multiple potential uses, including analysis by health professionals. The research emphasis is on optimizing methods for collecting and using data to reduce battery drain, to enhance synchronizing functions, and to make it easier for wearers to understand and use the information their bodies provide—all while enhancing controls on privacy and data sharing.

Below is a summary of our interview:

Q. Can you tell me more about how the “Amulet bracelet” works and how it began?
R. Our research project began with the purpose of helping people with smoking cessation and behavior change. However, we faced challenges with the nicotine sensors and detection of behavior patterns, so we switched our emphasis to stress management, an area in which we currently have pilot studies going on, including with obese and overweight individuals.

Q. How could your bracelet help people struggling with weight?
R. This technology can collect data essential to any number of medical conditions with a behavioral component, including overeating, stress, and many chronic diseases. The collected data can help individuals and medical professionals better understand a person’s emotional states and correlate that with related data, including environmental triggers.

Q. How did you get into the field of “wearables?”
R. I always had a multidisciplinary academic interest. My background is in biomedical informatics, and bringing technological solutions closer to users to meet their specific needs is my main research goal. I was fortunate to take an elective course on human-computer interaction in my last year of undergraduate studies, which ignited my interest in considering human factors when developing technological solutions. From there, I earned my masters degree in computer science and did my post-doc in wearable health technology.

Q. Why do you think this type of technology is so popular today?
R. I think there will always be people who just want the latest technology. Others seek greater awareness about their health or a specific medical condition. Our aim is to help patients understand what is going on and be more proactive in their own health care, which in turn supports more successful interventions. I think of wearables as a means of preventing disease and of helping people modify their behaviors to hopefully achieve a healthier lifestyle. For healthcare practitioners, this and similar technologies can give them more aggregated data to personalize treatments and better tailor services to their patients.

Coda from Jen: I believe this kind of wireless “body-area network” can empower users with the information they need to potentially improve their behaviors, also giving doctors more data to better tailor interventions and personalize medical treatments. Moreover, in this time when people with chronic conditions drive 84% of national health care dollars and 99% of Medicare spending, we need to embrace technology that will improve health care quality, safety, and efficiency. And since obesity is an independent risk factor for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, etc., helping overweight and obese individuals change risky behaviors and improve metabolic health and fitness is a worthy goal that can greatly improve their quality of life and benefit society as a whole.

–Keep moving, Jen

Origin of Breakfast Cereal: Cure Your Dirty Colon, Ladies and Gents

Ever wonder how breakfast cereals, now often thought of as sugar-laden, high-glycemic, calorie-dense bad guys of the morning, got their start? As someone who counsels clients to make healthy choices for that most important meal of the day, I was surprised to learn that breakfast cereals actually began as health foods. More specifically, breakfast cereals emerged from a soap opera-like intertwining of events at two wellness centers (called sanitariums) that were seen as retreats for the health-conscious eager to cleanse their colons. The timeline below illustrates how these events nurtured the rise of America’s cereal magnates Kellogg, Post, General Mills, and Quaker Oats.


1863 Dr. James Caleb Jackson, a religious conservative and vegetarian who ran the Danville Sanitarium in western NY, urges his meat-eating guests accustomed to breakfasts of beef or pork to try his new “granula.” Although the hard graham flour dough, dried and broken into shapes, is barely edible, Ellen G. White, a Danville guest and founder of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, so appreciates his vegetarian lifestyle that she incorporates it into church doctrine. One of the members of Sister White’s new church is medical doctor John Kellogg, also in the health spa and hospital biz.
 1887 Committed to developing health food for patients at his Battle Creek Sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan, Dr. Kellogg develops a rough-milled mixture of oats, wheat, and cornmeal biscuit, which he also calls “granula.” When Dr. Jackson gets wind of this, he sues Kellogg for infringing on his brand name. A settlement changes Kellogg’s version to “granola,” and thus begins the Kellogg family’s historic involvement in America’s breakfasts.
 1894Image result for kelloggs granose John and his brother, William K. Kellogg, who also works at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, keep experimenting with healthier, whole-grain versions of breakfast to replace meat, which they think is too hard on the bowel. Their greatest discovery happens by accident. The brothers were working on boiling wheat, rolling it into sheets, then grinding it. One morning, they find a pot of boiled wheat left out from the night before and decide to roll it anyway. Instead of forming a solid sheet, the mixture produces hundreds of flakes, one from each wheat berry. They toast the flakes and serve them to their patients, who love them. They call this new cereal “Granose Flakes.”
 1896Image result for kelloggs granose  Will Kellogg, who had begun a packaged food enterprise to fill orders for Granose Flakes, successfully creates flakes from corn instead of wheat. He urges John to sell their flaky products in stores, but his brother fears commercialism would hurt his status as a medical professional.
 1897 Following a stay at the Battle Creek Sanitarium for his second nervous breakdown, Texan Charles William Post, impressed by the health foods served there, develops his own version of granula, known today as “Grape-nuts” and easier to chew than Jackson’s original. He also releases his own brand of corn flakes called “Elijah’s Manna” before changing the name to top-selling “Post Toasties.”
 1906Image result for will kellogg Will Kellogg buys out John’s interest in the cereal patents and creates the Kellogg Company. The entrepreneurial younger brother adds sugar to the boiled grains (and so it starts!) and begins mass-marketing his cereals. By its third year, the Kellogg Company has sold more than one million cases of corn and wheat flakes, thanks to Will’s marketing genius.
1910Related image Quaker Oats, a venerable oat-and-grain processing firm founded on the success of oatmeal, acquires puffed-rice technology. Puffed cereals were made by stripping the grain of fiber, believed at that time to impede digestion, then pumping the processed product full of sugar to get America’s children to eat it.
1922Image result for wheaties washburn Wheaties came about because a Minnesota dietician working for the Washburn Crosby Company (which became General Mills in 1928) accidentally spilled a wheat bran mixture onto a hot stove. After Washburn’s head miller perfected the process for strengthening the flakes for packaging (which took a couple of years), the cereal debuted in 1924 as Washburn’s Gold Medal Whole Wheat Flakes, which soon became Wheaties. General Mills subsequently created CheeriOats in 1941, which in 1945 became Cheerios (the original version).
1940’s-50’sRelated image Sugar content becomes a selling point as puffed cereals gain in popularity. Post comes out with Sugar Crisp, to eventually become Golden Crisp. In the 1950’s, Post also produced Sugar Coated Rice Krinkles, like Kellogg Rice Krispies but coated in sugar and marketed in a racist box. Not to be outdone, Kellogg debuts Sugar Frosted Flakes in 1952 and a year later introduces Sugar Smacks, renamed Honey Smacks in the 1980s. An analysis by Consumer Reports in 2008 found Honey Smacks and  Golden Crisp to have the highest sugar content of any processed breakfast cereal (50+ percent sugar by weight!), one serving is sugar-equivalent to a glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts.1

Today. Cap’N Crunch (from Quaker), Count Chocula (General Mills), Kellogg Frosted Flakes, and many others exemplify how far we have strayed from the health-food fervor of America’s founding fathers of breakfast cereal. Let’s do our part to support transparency in labeling and access to healthier, whole-grain, natural-fiber versions of breakfast cereal and other convenience foods. In this vein, the FDA has ruled that by July 2018, “added sugar” must have its own line in the Nutrition Facts box. This is a good start, but you still need to read the ingredients list. You can buy foods that are at least trying to get healthier. Here’s a partial list of cereals I can recommend:

  • Cheerios Original, NOT the version touting protein, which also has 17 g of added sugar (vs. 1 g in the original).
  • Several Kashi brand varieties like Autumn Wheat, Heart to Heart, GoLean Original, and Organic Promise types (Kellogg bought Kashi in 2000).
  • Post (formerly Nabisco) Shredded Wheat (unfrosted). The original toasted wheat version is healthy and simple; for a long time, Nabisco marketed it as floating over Niagara Falls.
  • Uncle Sam Original Cereal.
  • Wheat Chex.
  • Nature’s Path Heritage Bites.
  • Kellogg’s Fiber Plus Cinnamon Oat Crunch.
  • Fiber One Original.
  • Arrowhead Mills Organic Spelt Flakes.
  • Cascadian Farm Organic Multigrain Squares.

1 Better cereal choices for kids? Some child-focused products are 50 percent sugar
(consumerreports.org – Accessed January 21, 2017, archived from the original by the Internet Archive)


“Winterize” Your Workout

Baby, it’s cold outside. So maybe you’re not as motivated to suit up and do your daily walk or run. No problem! Just bring it inside with these warmer alternatives:

  • Devise a living room circuit for yourself. Set up “stations” around the room or coffee table and include strength moves like squats, lunges, pushups, bicep curls, etc., along with stations for 3 minutes of cardio moves like jump rope, jogging in place, or jumping jacks. The combo of resistance and cardio is a great way to optimize your workout.
  • Get wet—indoors. Check out which recreation centers near you have indoor pools and create your own routine, perhaps swimming laps using different strokes and/or water-walking with pool “toys” that add resistance. Varying up a pool routine keeps it from getting boring. Also, water aerobics classes are widely available for an effective, fun, and socially engaging way to work out. Water creates drag, so water aerobics also combines cardio and resistance.
  • Join a class, any class. Reach out to your community to find the exercise class(es) for you. Options include drop-in classes offered by rec centers, gyms, community centers, and churches. Our local Workhouse Arts Center Art of Movement program in Lorton has something for everyone, from Pilates and yoga to body blade to “Push, Pull, Flex, Move!” Hey, that’s my class! Click on the link and sign up today (scroll down for my class).
  • Try a virtual 5K. The beauty of this idea is that you pick the time and place to do your run. So if it’s icy in the am, wait till it warms up. As the website says, you run your own race at your own pace, and time it yourself. You even get a medal sent to you! Virtual 5K has raised nearly a quarter million dollars for charities. My niece and sister-in-law recently completed a race for World Toilet Day to improve access to safe water. They loved being able to do it later in the day (isn’t the medal cute?).

Don’t let grumpy Old Man Winter keep you from your fitness goals. Keep busy and keep moving, spring will come…

Not Ready to Go “Whole-Hog” into Plant-Based Eating? Consider “Flexitarianism”


If you’re interested in shifting to a more plant-based diet but aren’t quite ready to be fully vegetarian or vegan, try being a flexitarian (from flexible + vegetarian). This healthy trend focuses on eating plant foods more or most of the time, rather than avoiding meat completely.*


How does your plate look? Does it typically align with the Harvard Healthy Plate model, where fully half holds fruits and vegetables and the other half is evenly split between protein and whole-grain carbs?

Although Americans at every age generally meet or exceed recommended amounts of animal-based protein, including eggs and milk, we fall short when it comes to seafood, nuts, seeds, and legumes, such as beans, peas, lentils, and soy protein.** So what?  Well…


  • Plant-based foods are rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol, maintain a healthy digestive tract (and microbiota), and confer protective phytochemicals found only in plants.
  • Protein-rich beans, peas, and nuts are good sources of iron and zinc, especially if you eat them with Vitamin-C foods like fruit or tomato salsa.
  • Nuts, seeds, and “oily” fruits (think olives and avocados) are good sources of unsaturated fats and, unlike many meats, have little or no saturated fat. Fish provide omega-3 fatty acids, part of the group of “good fats.”

Vegetables—the new protein AND the new carbs?
My husband and I are flexitarians, not strict vegetarians. We both eat fish, and he eats meat occasionally, more as a condiment. Here are some of his favorite recipes to get more plant-based protein in our meals:beanbox-3

Veggie burger chili

Squash, chickpea, and red lentil stew

Spicy 15-bean soup

Spaghetti squash

Indeed, creative cooks everywhere are experimenting with vegetable-carbs like spiralized zucchini, edamame and chickpea pasta, and sweet potatoes and squash in lieu of processed starches like white rice and conventional pasta. People are even using the sticky water drained from chickpeas to whip up meringues and mayo, or to replace eggs in baked goods. It’s called “aquafaba” and it has a following: https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=aquafaba%20everything

“Flexitarian” menus are a hot trend in dining out, too!
In Washington, DC, José Andrés restaurant Beefsteak is named for the beefsteak tomato, not a cut of meat. In San Francisco, Al’s Place lists meats under “sides” on the menu. And if you visit Philadelphia’s Vedge, try the wood roasted carrot (pumpernickel, sauerkraut, carrot mustard, carrot kimchee) or the Ssamjang glazed tofu (edamame puree, roasted miso, yuba crackling, sea beans) or maybe the eggplant braciole (smoked eggplant, italian salsa verde, cured olive).

So your mom was right—eat your vegetables, y’hear? And get some “flex” in your diet.

–Keep moving, Jen

*Delmonico, Susan MS, RDN. “The protein shift: plant-based options.” IDEA Food and Nutrition Tips. Nov-Dec 2016.

** HHS and USDA. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th ed. Accessed Nov. 23, 2016 http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.


The Elixir of Life

Image credit: 123rf.com

Question: if you could do one thing that reduced the risk of sarcopenia, osteopenia, obesity, diabetes, heart disease stroke, metabolic syndrome, low back pain, arthritis, falls, cognitive decline, depression, and premature all-cause mortality–AND it was free–would you do it?  Of course you would.

For those of you who know my mantra, that “one thing” is obvious: resistance training.  Still, you may not know (1) how meaningfully it can affect weight, particularly as we age, and (2) how easy it is to get started.

Muscle matters: Adults who do NO resistance training lose between 3% and 8% of their muscle mass every decade after 50 years old. So a 60-year-old woman who weighs what she did at 20 may have an unchanged BMI (a measure based on age, weight, and height), BUT her body composition has shifted to less muscle and more fat.1

Looking to lose weight? Despite what you’ve heard, research shows that physical activity is more strongly associated with desired weight than diet. Still, many more people embrace reduced-calorie diet plans over regular exercise. While diets can help you lose weight in the short term, more than 90% of dieters will regain the weight within one year.2

Resistance, or strength training, promotes muscle gain and increases resting metabolism, which in turn promotes fat loss. A pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day just to sustain itself, while a pound of fat burns only 2 calories daily. Resistance training is thus key to achieving and especially sustaining desired body composition.3

More good news: it’s easy to get started. Although enlisting a personal trainer to set you up is a grand idea, you can also get started on your own. Here are the basic components of an effective resistance routine:

  1. Purchase some basic at-home equipment. I recommend 5- and 10-lb dumbbells, a medium strength resistance band, and a stability ball. Check out Wal-mart and Target for these things, since they’ll be cheaper than a sports store. You can also use your own body for resistance training.
    Join my Push, Pull, Flex, Move! class (or another class) at the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center, which has something for everyone. You can join anytime, whether or not the session has started.
  2. Work each muscle group (upper body, core, lower body) at least 2 days a week. Here are some moves to get started.
  3. Do 2 sets of 10-15 repetitions of each exercise, OR do one set of as many as you can to muscle fatigue. Both produce results in a few weeks.

Finally, a note to women: you will not bulk up like a man. Why? Testosterone! Or rather the lack of it. And while all those aerobics are great for burning calories and increasing cardiovascular fitness, they do not generally increase muscle mass and resting metabolism.

Have a question about how to get started, what to buy, how to hold form on the moves? Please ask me!! I love to share what I know and spread the gospel about resistance training and muscle growth.

  1. Westcott, W. Strength training for those who need it most. ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal 20(5): Sept./Oct. 2016.
  2. Brehm B, Keller B. Diet and exercise factors that influence weight and fat loss. IDEA Today 8: 33-46, 1990.
  3. Campbell WW et al. Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training older adults. Am J Clin Nutr. 60(2):167-75, 1994.

Think big. Help overcome the stigma of obesity

image credit: 123rf.com

According to a recent article, “It’s time to end the stigma of obesity” (Muth, IDEA Fitness Journal, July-August, 2016), weight bias may be the last socially acceptable form of discrimination and widespread stigmatization. How can this be acceptable to a society that prides itself on equal opportunity for all? Moreover, this view exacts a high cost, both from individuals and society at large. For example, as Muth reports:

Many people with obesity avoid or delay preventative healthcare for fear of encountering disrespect, negative attitudes, embarrassment when being weighed, unsolicited weight-loss advice, and medical equipment too small to accommodate their body size (Phalanx et al. 2015).

Even personal trainers hired to help people with obesity have weight biases. Do you? Take this quiz (developed to assess weight bias among Australian physiotherapists [Setchell et al. 2014]), and see your score at the end.*

*Note: study results reflected a common belief that people with obesity are to blame for their condition and if they just had more willpower, they’d achieve a healthy weight. Not that simple of course.

Refuse to engage in weight shaming
of yourself and others. Educate friends,
family, and coworkers to do the same.

Sedentary desk jobs, communities and work places that are not conducive to increasing daily activity, and time spent on working and commuting–nevermind genetic disposition and biological “setpoints”–stack the deck against one’s best efforts to overcome obesity.

big woman surveying diet options

What can you do?

Counter negativity and champion efforts to make the easy choice the healthy choice. Advocate for “behavioral justice,” which demands full access to resources that promote healthy behaviors, such as affordable, healthy food, safe streets and sidewalks, walkable communities, etc. And please–REFUSE to engage in weight shaming of yourself and others. Educate friends, family, and coworkers to do the same.

Here is an eye-opening podcast titledTell Me I’m Fatfrom NPR’s This American Life. Totally worth the listen.

JUN 17, 2016
The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off, maybe it’s time to rethink the way we see being fat. A show inspired by Lindy West’s book Shrill.

It is up to all of us to advocate for these basic rights and to help overcome weight stigma, prejudice, and discrimination. Improving our view toward others always elevates us all.

In that regard, check out this website for the obesity action coalition, a nonprofit group advocating for the rights of people with obesity.

Keep moving. — Jen

Learn the Sport of Triathlon and See Your Fitness Soar: Guest Blog by Tom Saulsbery

tom s running in

Crossing the finish line, Dublin City marathon, 2000

The following is a guest blog by my good friend and tri-trainer extraordinaire, Tom Saulsbery, an 8-time Iron Man, among other accomplishments. Read on and consider taking up this fun and very rewarding sport that will keep you at the top of your game for years to come. Thank you, Tom!!

Remember back about 6 months ago when you came up with those New Year’s resolutions? Do you even remember what they were? Kind of running shy on self-discipline and perseverance? Are you hanging your head, feeling like a weasel and looking for Scotty to beam you up and away?

Well, it’s now the first day of summer and a great time to give yourself another chance. This time, however, resolve to have fun while achieving something physically, mentally, and emotionally challenging yet so rewarding. Triathlon. Yup. You know, the swim-bike-run event that most folks can’t spell correctly–and yes, it is all done the same day! The beauty of the sport is that you only compete against others in your age group, and you can choose from among a variety of distances. This makes the training doable and able to fit into your real life.

There is no need to be intimidated. Triathletes are a great group of human beings. They are supportive, encouraging, and willing to help you. It really is less about competition and more about participation. Triathletes are positive, goal-oriented, and happy! Why not! When training for triathlon, you fall into a healthier lifestyle with a ready-made support structure surrounding you. Tri coaches don’t care if you finish first or last. You are out there training, giving it your best, and all of us respect that. During a race, you are only competing in your own age group (5-year increments). Who cares who the overall winner is when you are out there with those just like you? They, too, are juggling jobs, families, and all sorts of responsibilities. See, you have no good excuse not to give triathlon a shot.

Already I am hearing some whining, sniveling, denial, sobbing, excuses, and an occasional tear shed out of fear! Please see Ms. Katt. She is handing out the Kleenex. I’m not. Why? Because you can participate to some degree. I have faith in you. Why don’t you have some faith in yourself?

“I’m too old.” Bull. People are doing triathlons into their 80s.

“I can’t swim!” OK, so do a duathlon. It involves just biking and running.

“My knees are shot. I can’t run!” OK, so do an aquabike. Swimming and biking.

“Wah-wah-wah…I’m not sure…wah-wah-wah…!” OK, then be part of a relay. If you’re a runner, get a biker and swimmer and, voila! you have a triathlon relay team.

See, there is something for everybody. Don’t let fear hold you back!

tom s running2

Out on the road during an Iron Man race

Getting started may seem complex but after a while you will fall into a routine and balance training intensity and duration with a sensible nutrition and hydration regimen. You will get stronger, you will feel more alive, you will lose excess weight, and you will more than likely be sharing all this with some training partners. Like I said before, it’s the healthy lifestyle that is its own reward.

Participating in a triathlon is a great experience. It is an individual effort where you don’t need four other folks and a basketball to get a sense of accomplishment. When you cross the finish line you have that humble awareness that you have achieved something special. No one can take it from you.

Talk to other triathletes. Find a coach. Attend a seminar or workshop. The pieces will start to fall in place. Give triathlon a chance. It is one resolution that you may never let go of!

Train smart, smile extra, and be safe!


Big Difference between Exercising Too Little and Sitting Too Much

couch potato3Recent studies have shed light on the influence of daily movement in preventing weight gain. This type of movement—different from socking in bouts of cardio at the gym—is known as non-exercise activity thermogenesis, or NEAT.

NEAT describes all your daily activities that require movement, such as getting the mail, mowing the lawn, walking from parking lots, pacing on the phone, even fidgeting. Research shows that people who stay active during the day can chalk up an extra 300 daily calories—that’s ~2 lbs a month!! Especially when combined with resistance training, NEAT counters the lethargy and down-regulation of metabolism that occurs with weight loss.*

NEAT accounts for energy you expend when not sleeping, eating, or doing structured exercise like jogging–even fidgeting can turn up the calorie burn.

time-to-move-trans-2Simply moving more throughout your day, or even standing, may even work better than diligently exercising and returning home or to work and SITTING.

A study in the American Journal of Health Promotion (May/June 2015) found that those who did light activity such as yard work, slow dancing, walking for an hour a day, etc., were comparable to more intense exercisers in terms of weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels.

You Can’t Beat NEAT

In 30 minutes, a 150-lb. person can burn the following calories through daily activities: **

Raking leaves = 147 calories
Gardening or weeding = 153 calories
Moving (packing and unpacking) = 191 calories
Vacuuming = 119 calories
Cleaning the house = 102 calories
Playing with the kids (moderate activity level) = 136 calories
Mowing the lawn = 205 calories

NEAT = Moving More!

Even Oprah highlights “Move More” (The Oprah Magazine, Jan. 2016, pp. 92-93) as the single best thing you can do to live longer. Health benefits relate to weight, stress, muscles, joints, brain, and heart.

Here are some NEAT examples that you can start doing today:†

  • Take up gardening as a hobby
  • Stand up and move whenever you take a drink of water at work
  • Get a pedometer and strive for 10,000 steps a day
  • When watching tv, get up and move whenever a commercial comes on
  • Walk up and down the shopping aisles at the store before you start to shop
  • Walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling
  • Take the stairs
  • Clean your house yourself instead of enlisting help (yeah, right)
  • Increase the number of dog walks–everyone will benefit!
  • Pace while you’re on the phone
  • Park far away from your destination—you’ll save your car from getting dings as well

Up, Up with People

have a seatNEAT not only helps with weight loss, but also with better overall metabolic health. A large prospective 7-year study‡ with 154,614 women and men (ages 59-82) showed that sitting for 12 or more hours a day vs. 5 hours or fewer was associated with 20-40 percent higher mortality risk—and specifically, a 40-55 percent greater risk of death from cardiovascular causes.

On the other hand just 1 hour a day of NEAT activity, such as household chores, gardening, daily moving, etc., predicted much lower risk of death from all causes. 1-2 hours a day of NEAT garnered a 30 percent reduced death rate in men and a 50-60 percent reduction in women.

Moving more + sitting less = healthier populations. A landmark Australian study that examined more than 11,000 adults to identify changes in waist circumference over 12 years found an average increase of 2.6 inches for those who reduced their moderate-vigorous activity and increased TV time.

Sooo, how much are you moving?  Wear a pedometer or other fitness technology to find out. Then challenge yourself to keep increasing your steps.

*Hunter GR et al. 2015. Exercise training and energy expenditure following weight loss. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 47(9): 1950-57.
**Coy K. Burning Calories with Everyday Activities. Everyday HEATH, April 2009.
†Partially excerpted from Kravitz L. (Jan. 2016). New clues to prevent weight regain. IDEA Fitness Journal 13(1): p. 16.
‡Matthews CE et al. 2015. Mortality benefits for replacing sitting time with different physical activities. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 47(9): 1833-40.