Choose Your Own Holiday Health Adventure

Happy Holidays, ScintillaLife readers and followers!

The holiday season can be a trap for unhealthy decisions, between the get-togethers with lots of food, high-calorie treats, and seasonal foods, plus being extra busy with less time to work out and bad weather discouraging going outside.

The good news is, you don’t have to succumb to the siren song of the season! Check out this “Choose Your Own Holiday Adventure” to learn how you can wrangle the power of tips and tricks to help you participate while making smart choices, set yourself up for success, and change your mindset.

Each situation is called an Opportunity – it is a chance to make a decision that will contribute to your health during the holidays (and throughout the year!). Keep track of your answers and find the scores at the end of this post.

Opportunity 1

The holiday season is coming up! Last year, you gained a few pounds during the holidays, and now you’ve realized you never lost the extra weight. You decide to set a goal for yourself. Which do you choose?

A. Challenge yourself to match the weight you gained last year, and even gain a pound or two more.

B. Challenge yourself to lose all the weight you gained last year before January 1 – then you’ll be in shape to go to the gym for your Resolution!

C. Challenge yourself to maintain your weight for now, then focus on losing weight after the holidays are over.

 

Opportunity 2

You want to get a jump on wrapping gifts for your kids, so you stay up after they go to sleep and watch a movie on TV while you wrap. Once the gifts are wrapped, the movie is still on for two hours! What do you decide to do?

A. Go to bed – you’ll feel better if you get enough rest.

B. Watch the movie for one more hour, even though you know you’ll be groggy tomorrow.

C. Stay up and watch the movie – you can catch up on sleep during the weekend.

 

Opportunity 3

You want to have some friends over to spend time together between all the rush and fuss of the holidays. Which type of get-together will you host?

A. A potluck dinner where everyone brings their specialty dish

B. Game night with a few snacks served

C. A cookie exchange

 

Opportunity 4

The annual company holiday party is tonight, and the company always make sure to serve great food! What do you do to prepare for the food you know you’ll eat?

A. Skip breakfast and have a light lunch to save calories for the party.

B. Don’t eat throughout the day so you can eat as much of the party food as possible.

C. Eat meals and snacks as you normally would.

 

Opportunity 5

After mingling at the company party, you find yourself feeling full, but there are still foods you haven’t tried yet. What do you do?

A. Make a small plate to take home – you can try some of these items tomorrow.

B. Set out to eat at least one of everything you haven’t yet tasted before you leave.

C. Pick out the things you haven’t tried that look most appetizing and just have a small sample.

 

Opportunity 6

You’re out running errands before heading home to make and decorate your favorite holiday cookies with your family. A display with bags of red and green M&Ms catches your eye just as you’re jonesing for a sweet treat. What do you decide to do?

A. Buy a bag and treat yourself to a few handfuls before leaving the parking lot – that sugar craving was really nagging you!

B. Buy a bag and eat a few M&Ms while you drive – you would be a Grinch if you didn’t eat the festive candy!

C. Pass up the M&Ms – you can get regular M&Ms anytime; besides, you’re about to make and eat yummy cookies!

 

Opportunity 7

The whole family is together for a holiday dinner, and Great Aunt Gertrude made her famous roast goose. Since it is one of your all-time favorite food that you only get to eat once a year, what will you do?

A. Savor it and use the Fork Trick – set down your fork between each bite to take the time to really enjoy the goose.

B. Eat as fast as possible so you can get seconds before your cousin takes the last piece, like he always does.

C. Skip side dishes and eat a bigger serving of goose – why eat other foods when you’re really in it for the bird?

 

Opportunity 8

Your spouse sends you to the grocery store with a list. The two of you have talked about trying to eat healthier during the holidays. You notice items on the list such as cream cheese, milk, canned veggies, and rib eye steaks. What do you do?

A. Throw out the list and instead take home lots of fresh veggies, dried beans, and rice.

B. Stick to the list, but choose healthier versions of each item (neufatchel cheese, 1% milk, reduced-sodium veggies, and sirloin steaks).

C. Follow the list. Your spouse probably has a plan.

 

Opportunity 9

You get stuck at work and only have 15 minutes to exercise when you get home before heading to a New Year’s party. You had planned to work out for a whole hour, but since you can’t, what will you do instead?

A. Skip it – it’s not enough time to really make a difference anyway.

B. Remind yourself to make a New Year’s Resolution to start working out tomorrow, then leave for the party.

C. Exercise for the 15 minutes and plan to sneak in some extra standing and walking around the party instead of sitting down.

 

Answers

  1. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

  2. A – 2, B – 1, C – 0

  3. A – 0, B – 2, C – 1

  4. A – 1, B – 0, C – 2

  5. A – 2, B – 0, C – 1

  6. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

  7. A – 2, B – 0, C – 1

  8. A – 1, B – 2, C – 0

  9. A – 0, B – 1, C – 2

 

Scores

11-18 points: You’re making healthy decisions most of the time!

4-12 points: You’re on the right track!

0-3 points: Practice recognizing opportunities to improve your health!

 

Please share your favorite healthy holiday tips below and whether you learned any tips from taking the quiz! Download my Healthy Holiday Toolkit for helpful reminders of tips and tricks to steer you through the season!

How to Take Nutrition Advice

How to Take Nutrition Advice

How to Take Nutrition AdviceThere is a huge amount of nutrition advice out there, some even legitimate. Nutrition and food are relatable to everyone, and so often, people are interested in how to change their body. There are a few things to know before jumping on someone’s nutrition wagon.

  1. You are unique. You have your body, not someone else’s. No matter how insistent someone is that this diet will make you look like [insert chosen celebrity here], it’s just not likely to be true unless you already share that person’s body type.
  2. Not everyone who has lost weight, gained muscle, cured their gastrointestinal discomfort, etc., is a nutrition expert. Nutrition is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, and what another person has done may not be helpful for you, and may not even be recommended or healthy. Look for credentials from those who are offering nutrition advice to help decide its worth.
  3. You don’t need to follow every nutrition plan out there. As a kid, I always wondered why magazines had new workout and nutrition plans every month, instead of following up with the same one from the last issue. There is no way a person can continue piling on new rules and plans every month and find success, at least not at the cost of being very stressed. Once you figure out what works for you and helps move you toward your goals in a healthy way, stick with it.

Due to the sheer volume of nutrition information available at the click of a mouse (or bombarding you throughout the day), it can be tricky to figure out what’s noteworthy. When you find quality nutrition advice that works for you, have conviction in knowing that you are doing what is best for you and let the rest pass you by.

Science & Soda: What Product Changes Could Mean for Research-Based Evidence

Science & Soda: What Product Changes Could Mean for Research-Based Evidence

Science & Soda: What Product Changes Could Mean for Research-Based EvidenceIn the news: PepsiCo is reformulating its diet drinks to eliminate aspartame.

PepsiCo is making the change in an attempt to bring their products in line with consumer demand following recent decrease in sales. By replacing aspartame, a low-calorie sweetener commonly known as NutraSweet or Equal, with sucralose (think: Splenda), PepsiCo hopes that consumers will feel that diet Pepsi products are more safe and will begin to buy more of them.

This is a significant move in the nutrition world. PepsiCo is making this decision based on the idea that aspartame is unsafe, thus, by switching from aspartame to a different sweetener, diet Pepsi drinks will find favor with consumers once again. Here’s the thing: aspartame has not been found to be unsafe. It is commonly thought that aspartame is a carcinogen (cancer-causing agent); however, research does not back up this claim. Aspartame has been studied extensively and even in high doses, has not been found to cause cancer. The only health concern related to aspartame is the danger it poses for individuals who have phenylketonuria (an inability to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the amino acids found in aspartame). Even with all the research exhibiting the safety of aspartame, and reputable resources such as the American Cancer Society and Food & Drug Administration stating that aspartame is not harmful, the notion that this sweetener will cause cancer is pervasive enough that a major national beverage company has decided to change its products to remove aspartame.

Let me make three things clear: First, I am neither promoting nor bashing PepsiCo or soft drinks; rather, I am using this situation as an example. Second, I recognize that PepsiCo, as a corporation, is making a business decision in order to maintain their profits. Third, each individual is free to make their own decisions about what to consume or not consume based on their personal beliefs and perspectives.

What I see as the problem here is this: Even with a great deal of thorough research showing that aspartame is safe for human consumption, it is still thought to be unsafe by enough people that a national brand is removing it from their products. The implication of this is that, if comprehensive research is not considered reliable, the credibility of evidence-based practice in science-related fields like healthcare is undermined. Good healthcare (including nutrition) is based on making recommendations and following procedures found to be most effective and appropriate based on the preponderance of evidence available from research. If that evidence is deemed questionable or undependable, providing high-quality nutrition or healthcare services will get a whole lot harder.

As PepsiCo rejects aspartame to stay in the good graces of their consumers, recognize the change for the business decision that it is, rather than as a statement on the safety of aspartame or the trustworthiness of scientific evidence. Make your own decisions about what to consume or not consume, but know that the expert healthcare advice you seek should always be evidence-based.

Please weigh in with your thoughts and let me know what you think in the comments section below!

 

Sources:

Ferdman RA. Why Pepsi’s decision to ditch aspartame isn’t good for soda – or science. The Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/04/27/why-pepsis-decision-to-ditch-aspartame-isnt-good-for-soda-or-science/. Published April 27, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.

American Cancer Society. Aspartame. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/aspartame. Published May 28, 2014. Accessed May 11, 2015.

Novella S. Pepsi removing aspartame. Science-Based Medicine. https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/pepsi-removing-aspartame/. Published April 29, 2015. Accessed May 5, 2015.

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition Wand

Shattering the Illusion: There is No Magic Nutrition WandThere is no magic nutrition wand. And no, I’m not hiding one in my desk drawer while telling you this. Good nutrition is a lifestyle, not a rule book. It’s a moving target for every person since every day is not the same and there are constantly new foods and new choices. No single food will make or break your health, eaten in moderation. As a mentor dietitian once told me, “I never give my patients meal plans because I want to teach them how to eat, not what to eat.”

I come from a background philosophy that every food fits a healthy lifestyle. There are parameters, though. Portion size is one of those. A person can’t gorge them self on less nutritious foods daily and expect to be healthy. A few chips with a sandwich at lunch, though, or a small bowl of ice cream once in a while are fine. As long as you don’t have nutrition-related health problems or metabolic disorders, there is not necessarily any need to strictly prohibit any particular food. But you still have to be mindful of what else you eat and how much you eat.

The question “Can I eat __________?” will often be met with, “That depends.” It depends on several factors: what else you eat and how much as previously mentioned, but also how often you eat that food, how much exercise you do, the health risks you may have, and what you’re trying to achieve, among others.

Nutrition is simultaneously unclear since it is not black-and-white, while also being much simpler than how it is generally perceived. A varied diet of foods from each food group is a great general rule of thumb, and figuring out the details is where things get a bit trickier. That’s what I am here for, to help give you the tools to navigate the choices available in world full of food. So even though there is no magic nutrition wand I can share with you and I won’t tell you what you can and can’t eat, conscious decisions about food choices can lead to a healthier, more nutritious lifestyle.

Reading Minds What Dietitians Want You to Know

Reading Minds: What Dietitians Want You to Know

If you’ve ever seen a dietitian – or if you haven’t – you may wonder what goes on in a dietitian’s mind. Why do they ask all those questions? Are they going to think I’m a terrible person for drinking this Coke? I bet they only eat kale and quinoa.

Reading Minds What Dietitians Want You to Know

Here is what your dietitian wants you to know:

  1. We care about more than just what you eat. Health, physical activity, overall lifestyle – all those things go into the food choices you make. We are even interested in the medications and supplements you take, because those can affect how your body metabolizes or absorbs various nutrients.
  2. We are not the food police. Dietitians are there to help you, not judge you. If you fudge a little when telling us what or how much you eat, we won’t have a clear idea of what’s going on and how to work with you.
  3. We’re human, too. Dietitians know which food choices are better and more nutritious, but that doesn’t mean we don’t treat ourselves. We give ourselves a break, and we expect you to do the same sometimes. No one can be perfect.
  4. We have worked really hard to become dietitians. After a bachelor’s degree and an intensive dietetic internship followed by a national registration exam, we have spent a huge amount of time studying the science of nutrition. We pride ourselves on evidence-based practice, so we strive to give you quality advice.

Dietitians live in the same world as everyone else. We recognize that myriad obstacles to nutrition exist, and we want to learn about your unique situation so we can use our expertise to help you achieve better health.

 

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

In the world of nutrition and health, there are good guys who altruistically look out for your well-being, and there are bad guys who try to trick you and take advantage of you.

Stopping the Bad Guys: How to Catch a Villain Diet

As a soon-to-be-dietitian, I get several questions such as, “Is such-and-such a good diet for weight loss?” There are loads of fad diets and diet books out there claiming that they can help you lose weight, and it’s important to equip yourself to know which ones are worth your time.

In my opinion, there’s a simple answer and a complicated answer.

The simple answer: Don’t bother with anything labeled as “diet.” No one needs anything called a DIET to lose weight. What everyone needs is a healthy eating PATTERN.

The complicated answer:

There are a few (I repeat, a few) diets that are backed by research and recommended as heart healthy diets. These include the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet, and the Mediterranean Diet. These diets are intended to improve heart health and reduce cardiovascular disease risk, but as they represent overall healthy eating patterns, weight loss may be an additional benefit.

What about all those other diets? The ones that are advertised on TV and the ones that are described in books and the ones that claim to have you slimmed down in no time?

Here’s the skinny on which weight loss diets to say “no” to:

  1. Any diet that promotes a pill, drink, or other supplement to lose weight. It’s just not necessary and the company is just trying to make money.
  2. Any diet that calls for extremely restricted calories. While everyone is different and calorie needs should be determined by a professional on an individual basis, think twice before going on any diet that limits calories to less than 1,200 calories per day.
  3. Any diet that promises rapid weight loss. A weight loss rate of 1-2 pounds per week is recommended as safe and sustainable, as it is often achieved by genuine lifestyle changes rather than crash dieting behaviors.
  4. Any diet that cuts out entire food groups. Each food group provides an array of important nutrients, and your body can make best use of these nutrients when they come in different combinations from a variety of foods.
  5. Any diet that is masked by client testimonials. If the diet tries to sell itself mainly on rave reviews from clients instead of legitimate science, be wary. There are likely lots of other people out there who hated the diet and had a negative experience.

myplate_greenThe bottom line is, weight loss takes time, effort, and lifestyle changes. The process of ‘yo-yo dieting’ (losing weight on a crash diet, then gaining it back, just to attempt to lose it on another diet) is a harmful to your body and will cause higher body weight in the end. No weight loss diet system is going to do it for you. Rather, follow a healthy eating pattern including foods from all food groups in moderate portions, and incorporate some physical activity into your daily routine.

Spend your time with the good guys and your weight loss journey will be much healthier and more pleasant!

 

Sources:

Liebman M. Nutrition & Weight Control Course Manual. 2012. University of Wyoming.

Mahan LK, Escott-Stump S, Raymond JL. Krause’s Food and the Nutrition Care Process.

Hand B. 12 Ways to Spot a Fad Diet: Identifying Weight Loss Scams. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=395. 2015. Accessed April 2015.

ChooseMyPlate. www.choosemyplate.gov/about. USDA. 2011. Accessed April 2015.

The Meaning of TRY

The Meaning of TRY

As Yoda said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”The Meaning of TRY

Far be it from me to disagree with the character of Yoda, but within the realm of health goals, I disagree with this particular piece of advice.

“All-or-nothing” thinking is a common problem among those who have health goals. It is the idea that if you’re going to eat healthy, you’ll have nothing unhealthy, and if you slip up and eat something less nutritious, you give up and stop eating healthy foods altogether. Another example is if you were to set a goal to go to the gym for an hour 5 days a week. If you only have time to work out for 30 minutes, you won’t go at all.

You can see where the all-or-nothing mindset is problematic. Often, you’ll find yourself worse off as a result of all-or-nothing thinking than if you had just allowed yourself a treat and continued on with your healthy behaviors.

From my perspective, Yoda is encouraging this all-or-nothing thinking. And while that may be sound guidance in other aspects of life or in a galaxy far, far away, it doesn’t have a place in health goals and behaviors. In this area, this IS ‘try.’

Try covers the middle ground between do or do not. Try is what you do when you don’t know what you’re capable of and you want to move forward. Try is how you accomplish the small steps to reach a bigger goal. Try is how you keep yourself on track even after slipping up, and try is how you avoid making yourself crazy by being super strict with yourself. Try is brave, because it’s an attempt in the face of possible failAs long as you are trying - honestly trying - it will get easier.ure.

Here’s the tricky part, though – how do you know that you’re trying? It’s important to make sure that you’re truly making an effort and actually taking real steps toward your goals, rather than just skating by on old habits instead of making the decisions to do better, wishing things were different, and labeling it as “trying.”

Try Check-in:

  1. Do you feel satisfied with your effort, or do you feel like you could easily have done better? If you’re at the end of a workout, feeling like you’re making no progress toward your goal to run a 5K, but you still have plenty of energy, maybe you could have run a little harder or a little longer.

  2. Are you using mini-goals as stepping stones to your big goals? If you are a chronic soda drinker and you quit it cold turkey, but find yourself picking up the habit again every time you slip up and drink one soda, it would probably be helpful to set mini-goals to cut out one soda a day each week.

  3. When you have a bad day or a slip-up, are you able to regroup and continue making progress? Health is a lifelong journey, and abandoning good habits because you ate too much cake at a birthday party or you ate out every day while on vacation will be detrimental. Cut yourself some slack and get back on track.

Do and do not certainly exist. But for all the times in between when you don’t know if you can make it from do not to do, there is try. Skip the all-or-nothing mindset. As long as you are trying – honestly trying – it will get easier.

How do you try to meet your health goals?

 

Sources:

Anderson D. Moderation in All Things: How to Avoid the Diet Blues. SparkPeople. http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/motivation_articles.asp?id=729&page=3. Published 2015. Accessed April 2015.