Smart Healthy Eating Strategies to Get You Through the Holidays

healthy eating

 

The holidays are quickly approaching, which means it’s time to plan your healthy eating strategy for the season. Because most holidays are food-focused, they can cause a large intake of calories and throw your otherwise-healthy lifestyle off track.

Prevent the holidays from sabotaging your healthy lifestyle by putting a plan in place for handling all the extra food and drinks that will come your way during the season. Follow the tips below to celebrate guilt-free!

Plan activities that don’t center on food

Whether you’re hosting a holiday gathering or going to someone else’s house, keep some activities in your back pocket to take you away from the snack table. For example, bring a few favorite board games or set up some simple physical activities that children and adults can enjoy, like a bean bag toss or a relay race.

If you enjoy running or walking, sign your family up for a local 5K event. There are always a ton of turkey trots, jingle bell 5Ks and other holiday-themed races at this time of year. If you’ve never done one, you’ll be hooked after your first race!

Not only will these ideas get your mind off food, but they’ll give everyone something fun to do together. And isn’t that really what the holidays are about?

Avoid skipping meals

Many people make the mistake of skipping meals on the day of a holiday party to “save” their calories for the event. Skipping meals is unhealthy, however, as it leads to poor food choices and often results in overeating.

Instead, eat small meals and snacks throughout the day to keep your blood sugar levels stable and your appetite controlled. When you get to the party, you won’t risk derailing your diet because you’re starving.

Practice mindful eating

The most important thing to practice is being mindful about your food choices and portion control. When you’re mindful about selecting your food, you’ll choose a satisfying portion instead of piling your plate high. You’ll take a small amount of an “indulgent” food to enjoy and balance it out with healthier foods, rather than filling your entire plate with unhealthy choices.

The best part of mindful eating? When you pay attention to what you eat, you’ll actually taste and appreciate your food! Eating mindlessly, on the other hand, always results in the realization that you didn’t enjoy the ton of calories you just consumed.

Make food swaps

As you make your holiday cooking plan, choose your ingredients carefully to keep your dishes on the healthier side. For example, prepare traditional stuffing with whole wheat or whole grain bread rather than white bread. Make a cauliflower mash in place of the traditional mashed potatoes. Substitute whole-wheat flour in place of all-purpose flour in your favorite baking recipes.

Limit your cocktail consumption

The empty calories in alcoholic beverages add up. If you want to enjoy your favorite cocktail occasionally throughout the season without overdoing it, add some mineral water or seltzer to it to keep it light.

 

While food and drinks are certainly a great part of the festivities, holiday celebrations are not just about eating. Focus on the joyous, giving spirit of the season and enjoy spending time with your family, friends and colleagues.


Obesity: A Major Contributor to Rising Death Rates

rising death rates

After years of decline, mortality rates among middle-aged Americans throughout the United States have begun to increase. Additionally, in some parts of the country, life expectancy is falling.

What are the factors contributing to this rise in death rates? A recent article in the Denver Post highlighted the findings of a new study that sheds some light on this important issue.

Obesity a major contributor to rising death rates

Ryan Masters, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Behavioral Science and the lead author of this study, concluded that there are two main drivers of this trend in rising death rates: drug overdoses and obesity.

Masters and his research team identified the opioid epidemic as the bigger problem of these two drivers. According to the study, drug-related deaths of middle-aged white men have increased dramatically since 1980.

Obesity was also identified as a main factor in mortality. “We are just starting to see the real health consequences of the obesity epidemic,” Masters wrote. The study found that decades-long progress in fighting heart disease, diabetes and other metabolic diseases has slowed, contributing to the rising death rates.

Dr. Dirk’s opinion

Dr. Dirk agrees with the study’s conclusion that obesity is killing a lot of people. He also believes that, while the drug epidemic is dramatic, obesity affects far more people. There are many more obese people in the US than drug users, and more people die as a result of obesity because of the wide array of health issues it leads to, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and sleep apnea.

Dr. Dirk believes the drug epidemic is important and must be addressed. However, he feels that obesity is a more pressing issue with a simpler solution. It is high time to make being healthy financially and physically possible for everyone.


The importance of exercising after surgery

exercising after surgery

Whether you’ve undergone weight loss surgery or another kind of surgery, exercising after surgery is important for a quicker recovery and a more successful outcome. Exercise is a critical part of the healing process, and it has many benefits for people

Why it’s important to exercise after surgery

After surgery, it’s common for muscles to weaken and joints to become stiff from lack of use. For each week you don’t exercise after having surgery, it can take twice as long to regain strength in that area.

Additionally, the recovery time stated by your surgeon depends on whether you follow your post-surgery exercise program. Not exercising often results in a recovery period that’s longer than anticipated.

The benefits of exercise after surgery

Exercising after surgery provides numerous benefits for patients, depending on the specific surgery and the person’s unique situation.

While the following benefits are often seen in patients who exercise after having bariatric surgery, many of them are also seen in patients who exercise after having other types of surgeries.

  • Increased life expectancy
  • Reduced abdominal fat
  • Stronger muscles, bones and lungs
  • Reduced risk of disease
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Reduced triglycerides
  • Higher good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol
  • Improved blood sugar control
  • Improved insulin control
  • Reduced risk of cancer
  • Increased energy
  • Improved balance
  • Improved appearance
  • Improved motivation and mental alertness

How to ease into exercise following surgery

Before beginning any type of exercise after surgery, you’ll want to check with your doctor and ask when it’s safe for you to start, what types of exercises are safe and how much exercise you should begin with.

While the appropriate time to begin exercise following surgery will vary, a walking regimen is the best place to start once you get the OK from your doctor.

When you first begin, your walks don’t need to be long or intense. Start with a short, casual stroll around the block. Do this every day and gradually increase the amount of time you spend walking each day, whether by increasing the distance you walk or the amount of time spent walking. In addition to increasing the duration of your walks, you’ll also want to slowly increase your speed as your fitness level improves.

The main point is to start walking as soon as your surgeon says it’s safe to do so and then start slowly, working your way up gradually.

Types of exercise to do after surgery

All exercise programs should include components that focus on endurance, flexibility and strength. This is also true for post-surgery exercise.

1. Endurance

As mentioned above, walking is a safe bet following most surgeries. As the walking gets easier, increase the length and intensity of your daily walks. Eventually, you can check with your surgeon about incorporating riding a stationary bike and/or swimming into your exercise regimen.

2. Flexibility

Stretching is an important part of an overall exercise program and offers many benefits. Stretching helps to improve flexibility and coordination, as well as increase blood flow to your muscles, which results in less soreness and more energy.

Begin with basic stretching exercises provided by your surgeon. You could also try a beginner’s yoga class, which is great for increasing flexibility, in addition to building strength.

3. Strength

Strength exercises are the third part of a well-rounded exercise routine. However, these exercises should not be started until you have been doing your endurance and flexibility exercises for a while and your surgeon approves adding them to your routine. Speak with your doctor about using exercise balls or weights.

Keep the post-surgery benefits above fresh in your mind so they’ll motivate you to stick with your exercise routine on the days you’re tempted to skip it. Making physical activity part of your daily routine will become easier and easier over time and will eventually become a habit that you won’t have to think twice about.


Artificial sweeteners are not as sweet as they seem

artificial sweeteners

For years, people have used artificial sweeteners to lose weight. Once they begin a diet, they switch from consuming sugar to using products such as aspartame (Equal), sucralose (Splenda) and steviocide (Stevia) in hopes of satisfying their sugar cravings without interfering with their weight loss efforts.

But do artificial sweeteners really help with weight loss? According to a recent ABC News article, they don’t. In fact, studies show the opposite: Over time, artificial sweeteners are actually linked to weight gain.

Artificial Sweeteners and Weight Gain

Thirty studies from the Canadian Medical Association Journal that followed groups of people using artificial sweeteners over several years have recently been newly reviewed. The new analysis of these studies looked at the long-term heart health, stroke incidence and blood pressure levels of more than 406,000 people who said they use artificial sweeteners in place of sugar.

Instead of finding that consuming artificial sweeteners had positive effects, the analysis found that regular consumption of these sweeteners was associated with:

  • Modest long-term increases in weight and Body Mass Index (BMI)
  • Higher risk of obesity
  • Higher risk of Type 2 diabetes
  • Higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Higher risk of stroke

Even people in studies that took place over a shorter period of time did not show any consistent weight loss after six months.

Why Artificial Sweeteners Don’t Help Weight Loss Efforts

In the ABC News article, Dr. Jennifer Ashton, ABC News’ chief women’s health correspondent, states that any sweetener can trigger the same response from the brain, whether it’s regular table sugar, honey or an artificial sweetener. Ashton says that all sweeteners trigger the reward centers in our brains, ultimately leading us to want more — so we end up eating more.

When people use “diet” products like sodas, food or sweeteners, they tend to eat more calorie-heavy foods as a “balance.” The medical world has known for quite some time that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain, and some experts believe that the chemicals in artificial sweeteners may create a reaction in the human body that causes weight gain.

What does this mean for people looking to lose weight? It’s pretty simple. Forget the “diet” foods and drinks and focus on learning proper portion control and eating a healthy, balanced diet.


Which vitamins and minerals does your body need?

vitamins and minerals

We all know that one of the most important parts of any weight loss program is diet. Eating healthy, whole foods in the right amounts is crucial to weight loss.

It’s very important to make sure your body is getting the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly and stay healthy. Below are the top vitamins and minerals you need to maintain good health.

Vitamin A

Vitamin A is extremely important to the health of your eyes, as well as red blood cell production, immune function, skin health and embryonic development.

Vitamin A can be found in fortified milk, organ meats, dark green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes and carrots.

B vitamins

B vitamins include B-1, B-2, B-6, B-12, pantothenic acid, niacin, biotin and folic acid. These vitamins play a critical role in your body’s ability to create and release energy. B vitamins are also responsible for creating red blood cells, which allow oxygen to move throughout your body.

B vitamins can be found in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, yogurt, seafood and eggs.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is particularly important when your body is under stress, including the type of stress that can often come with dieting: food deprivation, calorie reduction and cravings. Vitamin C helps your body maintain a healthy immune system and correct any damage done to your body by stress. It also works as a disease-fighting antioxidant that keeps your cells healthy.

Vitamin C can be found in citrus fruit, orange juice, kiwis, guavas, red and green peppers, cabbage and tomatoes.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E helps maintain the tissues in your body, such as your liver, skin and eyes. It also prevents the pollution in the air from causing damage to your lungs and works with the B vitamins to create red blood cells.

Vitamin E can be found in egg yolks, sardines, nuts, seeds, wheat germ, almonds, peanut butter and some oils.

Calcium

Calcium is essential for bone health. As a matter of fact, 99 percent of its role is to keep your bones and teeth strong, supporting skeletal structure and function. Calcium is also important for cell signaling, blood clotting, muscle contraction and nerve function.

Calcium can be found in dairy products, dark leafy greens (such as spinach and kale) and some fish (like sardines, salmon and rainbow trout).

Magnesium

Magnesium helps develop and maintain bones, maintain normal nerve and muscle function, support a healthy immune system and maintain a steady heartbeat. It also helps regulate blood glucose levels and aid in the production of energy and protein.

Magnesium can be found in nuts, seeds, beans, whole grains, milk, bananas, dried apricots, avocados, halibut and other fish.

Potassium

Potassium helps maintain healthy blood pressure, reduce the effects of salt and maintain regular digestive and muscular functioning. It may also reduce the risk of recurrent kidney stones and possibly decrease bone loss.

Potassium can be found in tomato paste and puree, white beans, yogurt, leafy green vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts, soybeans, bananas, potatoes and fish (such as flounder, sardines, cod and salmon).

Regardless of what type of diet you’re following, be sure you’re getting sufficient amounts of these vitamins and minerals every day to avoid deficiency and keep your body healthy and functioning at its best.

If your specific diet doesn’t allow some of the food sources mentioned for a specific vitamin or mineral, talk about taking supplements with your doctor.


5 Essential questions to ask during your weight loss surgery consultation

essential questions

 

The decision to have weight loss surgery is a big one, and it can’t be taken lightly. You’ll need to change your habits and commit to a new, healthy lifestyle for the rest of your life. Otherwise, you won’t see results after the surgery or be able to keep the weight off for good.

Because weight loss surgery is not a quick fix, you need to take control and learn as much as you can about the surgery as early as possible. It’s important to go into the first consultation with your weight loss surgeon with a prepared list of questions.

Here are five questions you’ll want to ask during your initial weight loss surgery appointment. It’s a good idea to write these questions down in a notebook and bring it with you so can refer to your questions and write down answers.

1. What is your experience?

Experience plays a big role in how skilled a person is at their job, and it’s no different for surgeons. This is a good question to start with, since it will help you better understand the surgeon’s background and skill set.

Of course, experience isn’t the only factor you need to consider. A surgeon who has performed a lot of surgeries isn’t always the most skilled. But a surgeon with more cases under their belt will often be a doctor you can be confident in.

2. Which weight loss procedures do you perform?

Many surgeons don’t perform every bariatric procedure that’s available, and there’s usually a reason why they don’t offer certain ones. Once you’ve found out which surgeries your surgeon offers, ask if there are any procedures they don’t perform and why. A lot of times you’ll find that, after offering a certain type of procedure, the surgeon found that too many patients weren’t seeing results, so they stopped offering it.

Usually, you’ll want to go with a surgeon who has enough options. If only one type of procedure is offered, do your research to see if that procedure is the best choice for you before moving forward. If not, it’s best to find someone who offers one that’s a better fit for your needs.

3. Which procedure would you recommend for me?

Any good, honest bariatric surgeon will tell you that there isn’t one procedure that will work for everyone. To answer this question, the surgeon will need ask you about your lifestyle, risk tolerances, exercise and dietary habits and medical history.

Your surgeon won’t choose a procedure for you — they will give their professional opinion about which procedure(s) will be most suitable for you and explain the benefits and risks of each procedure.

4. What kind of resources do you offer before and after surgery?

Weight loss surgery is a long process that you’ll need to be mentally and physically prepared for both before and after the surgery. The most successful weight loss surgery patients change their habits, take time to learn how to keep their weight off and have a good support system in place.

Your weight loss surgeon should be able to provide you with resources that will help you be successful over the long term. For example, does the surgeon provide a follow-up program after surgery to keep you accountable with sticking to the diet and other lifestyle changes that are critical to your success? Do they run support groups or recommend a good support group? Can the surgeon provide resources to help educate close friends and family members about how they can support you throughout this process?

5. What are your complication rates?

There’s no beating around the bush here. While complications vary depending on the specific procedure, they can and do happen. However, according to a study published in the July 2010 issue of JAMA, serious complication rates during bariatric surgery are relatively low. Serious complication rates were listed at 3.6 percent for gastric bypass and 2.2 percent for gastric sleeve surgery (sleeve gastrectomy).

If your weight loss surgeon’s rates are around or lower these national averages, you’re in good hands.

Stay informed

The questions above will give you the information you need to make the best decision for you. Remember to continue to write down all your questions and the surgeon’s answers before and after surgery. You’ll find this helpful for keeping track of questions and concerns you have throughout the entire process.


Universal diet: Why there is no diet that works for everyone

v

Have you tried diet after diet, only to be disappointed when it doesn’t lead to the weight loss and better health you hoped for?

You are not alone. Most people have felt discouraged when the latest fad diet didn’t deliver on its promises. While there are many theories about which diet plan is the best, there is no one diet that works for every single person. Put simply, a universal diet just doesn’t exist.

Why one diet doesn’t fit all

Why can some people eat nuts or dairy products without any issues, while others need to avoid them due to allergies or other problems? It’s because genetically, every person’s body is different and we all react to food differently.

The same is true for diets. While one diet may work great for one person, it could be a complete flop for the next person. Don’t beat yourself up if your friend is seeing results on a certain diet plan and you’re not. Your bodies are different and don’t respond the same way to the same foods.

Supporting research   

study done by researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science found that even if people all eat the same exact meal, the way their bodies end up processing the meal is different from person to person.

The study found huge differences in the rise of blood sugar levels of different people who ate identical meals. Eran Segal, a co-author of the study, says that these research findings show why “personalized eating choices are more likely to help people stay healthy than universal dietary advice.”

Basically, what works for one person won’t work the same way (or at all) for another person.

So which diet is right for you?

Now that you know why diets you’ve tried in the past haven’t worked, how can you figure out which diet plan is right for you?

There isn’t one quick and easy way to find out. You can try one (or a combination) of these options:

Trial and error: You will need to experiment to find the right diet for you. Try starting with a high-protein, low-carb diet option, since this type of diet tends to have higher success rates for more people than some other types of diets.

However you decide to start, it’s best to stick with one type of diet plan for at least six weeks to find out whether it’s working or not. A shorter period of time isn’t long enough for your body to adjust to the new diet.

Consultation with a doctor: The number of calories you should eat is very personal and unique to you. A doctor can help you create a personalized diet plan for you based on this number, as well as other information like your medical history and current health status.

Work with a nutritionist: A nutritionist can also work with you to develop a personalized diet plan and coach you through the process, providing guidance and support.

Whichever path you choose, be sure to pay attention to how you’re feeling along the way and write down as much as you can in a log book or journal. A doctor or nutritionist can help you start one and show you what type of information you should track.

Don’t give up

You will learn a ton of information during this process. You’ll get to know your body and learn what works for you and what doesn’t.

Just remember that, no matter which type of diet you follow, it needs to be sustainable for the long-term for any changes to last. Don’t think of healthy eating as a temporary diet, but as a permanent lifestyle.

Keep at it and don’t give up!


Preparing yourself for surgery with 5 easy to follow steps

If you’re feeling nervous about your upcoming surgery, don’t worry — there are a few things you can do to get yourself ready for surgery and the recovery process. Going into surgery feeling relaxed and confident will help you have a better experience and an easier recovery.

5 helpful pre-surgery steps

Following the five steps below will help you prepare for surgery and the recovery process. Putting in this effort beforehand will be worth it when you’re feeling calm and prepared on the day of your surgery.

1. Learn about the surgery

As early you can, get good information about your surgery from reliable sources, including Dr. Dirk and his team. Make sure you understand the expected outcomes, success rates for the surgery, the risks that are involved and the average recovery time. The more you know about your surgery, the better you’ll feel going into it.

2. Get some exercise

People who are active tend to handle surgery better and are more likely to have less pain, fewer complications and a faster recovery.

Talk to Dr. Dirk to find out which specific activities you can do before surgery. Depending on your current health condition and activity level, Dr. Dirk may suggest activities like yoga, stretching or walking.

3. Eat the right foods

Talk with Dr. Dirk about which foods you should be eating as you get ready for surgery. You may need to stay away from certain foods or drinks before surgery. You may also need to fast (stop eating) for a certain number of hours before surgery.

For certain surgeries, including weight loss surgery, you will need to change to a healthy diet after surgery to get the best results.

4. Stock your pantry and freezer

Be sure to fill your home with plenty of healthy foods and drinks before the day of your surgery. Not only will this keep you from having to shop during your recovery, but it will also help you stick to your new healthy diet after surgery.

If you run out of time to do this step, don’t be afraid to ask family or friends for help. They’ll be happy to pitch in, and you’ll feel good knowing you have people in your life you can rely on.

5. Arrange for help during your recovery

Whether or not you end up needing help stocking up on food before surgery, you’ll definitely want to line up family and/or friends to help get you through the recovery process.

Depending on the type of surgery you’ll be having, you may need a ride home or help doing daily tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. It can also be very helpful to have someone stay overnight with you on your first night home after surgery.

Follow these steps, and you’ll be surprised at how positive and in control you’ll feel on the day of your surgery.


Spices with health benefits

spices with health benefits

Do you use spices regularly in your cooking? If not, you should start. Here’s why.

The Benefits of Using Spices

Not only do spices add a ton of flavor to your food, but they offer great health benefits. Here are a few ways spices are good for your health:

1. Aid Weight Loss

Spices can help to increase your metabolism, helping you to lose weight. For example, studies have shown that capsaicin (found in chili peppers), may cause the body to burn extra calories for 20 minutes after eating.

2. Improve Heart Health

Research has shown cultures that eat spicy foods have a lower rate of heart attack and stroke. This may be because chili peppers can reduce the damaging effects of bad cholesterol (LDL). Additionally, the capsaicin in chili peppers may fight inflammation, a risk factor for heart disease.

3. Protect Against Cancer

According to the American Association for Cancer Research, capsaicin has the ability to kill some cancer and leukemic cells. Also, turmeric (a spice found in curry powder and some mustards) may slow the spread of cancer and the growth of tumors.

4. Protect Against Diabetes

Inflammation and high blood sugar levels both largely contribute to diabetes. Spices can improve blood sugar levels and reduce inflammation, helping to prevent or improve diabetes.

5. Improve Your Mood

Spicy foods increase your body’s production of “happy” hormones, like serotonin, which can help lessen stress and mild depression.

How to Get Spices into Your Diet

Small amounts of both dried and fresh spices can provide health benefits, so don’t worry if you’re not a spicy food person!

Below are some easy and delicious ideas for using spices in your cooking:

  • Put some slices of ginger or a pinch of cumin in a cup of hot tea
  • Add chopped chili peppers to soups, stews and chili
  • Coat shrimp in cumin and coriander and then sauté
  • Grate fresh ginger into vinaigrette
  • Add red pepper flakes or chopped ginger to stir-fry dishes
  • Make chicken curry
  • Sprinkle ground ginger on cooked carrots
  • Add cumin to brown rice or red lentils
  • Sprinkle ground cloves on applesauce or add to quick bread batters
  • Sprinkle turmeric* on egg salad, add to a chicken or seafood casserole or add to water when cooking rice

*To absorb 2,000 percent more turmeric, pair it with black pepper

Start with the suggestions above and then let them inspire you to experiment with your own ideas. In no time, you’ll be a pro at using spices in cooking and will enjoy the great taste of your food, as well as the added health benefits.


Feeling nervous before surgery? Try these 6 tips

surgery anxiety

It’s totally normal to feel stressed or nervous before having weight loss surgery. If you’re feeling a little surgery anxiety — or if you want to prepare for potential anxiety about your upcoming weight loss surgery — the following tips may be helpful in the days and weeks before your surgery.

Here are six simple and effective ways to help ease some of the fear and anxiety you may feel as your weight loss surgery gets closer.

1. Do your research

Get lots of information about your surgery as early as possible. The more you know about what to expect, the better you’ll feel about it. Pay close attention to information about success rates and the steps you can take to make your experience more positive before, during and after surgery.

2. Talk to your doctor about your fears

Talking to your doctor about your fears is a great way to learn more about the surgery and get further details on anything you’ve come across in your research. This open communication will also increase your level of trust in your doctor and help ease your worries.

3. Take care of pre-surgery tasks

Focusing on what you need to do to prepare for your surgery will keep you productive and give you a more positive outlook about your surgery. Tasks can include packing your bag, arranging for rides to and from the surgery and making sure you have friends and family around to help with daily chores and activities as you recover.

4. Keep a written list of questions and fears

Sometimes just the simple act of putting your thoughts and fears on paper can help you feel better. Your mind will be free to focus on more positive thoughts and actions. Keeping a list also allows you to keep track of things you want to discuss with your doctor.

5. Get support

Remember, you’re not alone! You can find support from family, friends and co-workers. If you’re feeling especially anxious — or want to talk to someone who can relate more — it might be a good idea to talk to other people who have already gone through the surgery. Hearing about their experiences and getting tips from them can lessen your worries. If you don’t know anyone personally, see if your doctor knows of a local support group or a former patient who would be open to talking to you.

6. Find a calming activity

Spend time each day doing something that helps you to relax. This could be reading, walking, meditating, listening to music or something else. If you aren’t sure what works for you, try different activities until you find the one that suits you best. If possible, take some time doing this activity on the day of your surgery to help you feel as relaxed as possible.

Try these suggestions to combat surgery anxiety and feel more at peace on the day of your procedure. Before you know it, you’ll be on the other side and others will be asking you for support!