Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mindless Eating Pitfall #4: Portion Distortion

My first job many years ago was at McDonald's where I worked for three (long) months during high school.  I happened to be there when super sizing was first introduced.  Yep, at one time I was personally responsible for asking people, "Would you like to super size that?".  At the time, I had no idea of the implications that super sizing would have in our country.  But I am not here to pick on McDonald's because expanding portions have hijacked our food supply in many other ways, too.  In fact, one study found that portion sizes for 181 commonly consumed food items ranging from beer and soda to steak, cookies, and muffins have ballooned significantly over the last 40 years.  Even "diet" foods, such as Weight Watchers and Lean Cuisine frozen entrees, have expanded in size.  An analysis comparing original and updated recipes from the popular cookbook, "The Joy of Cooking", found that newer recipes now yield larger portions.  It doesn't stop here. The sizes of standard dinner plates, bowls, and beverage and wine glasses have increased significantly, too. For example, the dinner plates I received as a wedding gift just a few years ago measure 11.5" in diameter.  A standard sized dinner plate used to be about 7-9" in diameter 40-50 years ago, so that means my plates are about 33% bigger!  This is where mindless eating comes into play.  Short-term studies show that when people are served food in increasing portions, in larger packages, or on more sizable dinnerware, they tend to eat more.  Researchers providing study participants with 6", 8", 10", or 12" deli sandwiches on different days found that the larger the sandwich, the more they consumed.

Why do we do this? Good question!  There are a few  possibilities.  One is that as we have been increasingly exposed to greater portion sizes, we have become accustomed to those sizes. We rely on those measures to determine how much we should eat rather than measuring and weighing for accuracy.  What seems extreme now has the tendency to become the new norm.  An example? Big Macs...remember when that was considered HUGE?  20 ounce bottles of soda? Once unthinkable, but now it's normal because many other larger sandwiches have been introduced. Thank you, Carl's Jr.  Another reason portion distortion could pose a problem is because we aren't very good at determining how many calories are in that portion, especially with larger portions.  Finally, we have the tendency to rely on perceptual cues to determine how much food to serve ourselves (size of plate, bowl, glass).  For example, serving smaller portions of food on a 12" plate may be perceived as an inadequate portion whereas if we serve the same portion of food on a 10" plate, we will believe the portion is more adequate.  It's an optical illusion.  The same goes for glasses. We have the tendency to pour more in a shorter, wider glass than a taller, skinnier one.  See examples here.

Strategies to Manage
  • Downsize. Purchase smaller or single-serving packages of food.  Portion out larger packages of food into smaller ones (think snack baggies) or onto plates or bowls.
  • Honey, I shrunk the plates!  Use smaller plates, bowls, utensils, and serving dishes.  By serving your food with smaller dinnerware, you're likely to eat less.  Check out The Small Plate Movement, a challenge to participants to use 10" plates for the largest meal of the day for at least one month.   
  • Divvy it up.  Order two appetizers instead of one large entree. Consume half of your regular order and take the other home.  Share your dish with a mealtime companion.
  • Load up.  If you do end up using larger plates, fill half of the plate with vegetables and/or fruit.  This way you'll satisfy yourself with a lot fewer calories and a lot more nutrition.
  • Be an early bird. Prepare your plate in advance of the meal with smaller dinner portions. 
  • Deep and High.  Replace shorter, wider glasses with taller, skinnier ones for caloric beverages like juice and alcohol.  

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Black Friday Healthy Holiday Gift Wish List

One of the most anticipated days of the year is embarking upon us...Black Friday!  I know that some people anxiously await this day. I'm not one of them.  In anticipation of this day, and of the shopping season ahead, I thought I'd post a blog with healthy holiday gift wish list ideas.  I like to get some fresh gift ideas just before the holidays, and I thought I'd share some of what I found here. These are a few of the items that I already have, have tried, or would like to have.  So in case you need some ideas for items that promote health for your holiday wish list or someone else's, these are a few of my favorite things...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Mindless Eating Pitfall #3: More is not necessarily merrier

Mindless Eating Pitfall #3 
  • The more the merrier but maybe not when it comes to our food.  During the holidays, we spend a lot of time fraternizing with family, friends and colleagues...usually around food.  While the fellowship is great, the mealtime socialization can wreak havoc on our eating behaviors. When we eat with others, especially familiar people like family and friends, our dining experience can be more pleasurable and comfortable resulting in our spending more time eating. Also, what or how much they eat can influence what and how much we eat. This can work for us or against us depending on with whom we are dining.  Have you ever eaten around someone who made you think twice about what you eat?  A first date or a fit friend perhaps?  Maybe you're around what I call a "food pusher" or a "food caretaker", like a well-meaning mom or grandma?  Previous research suggests that as the number of mealtime companions we have increases so does the amount of food that we eat.  Meanwhile, another study found that when a group of people share a meal together, there tends to be less variance in the amount of food consumed compared to individuals eating alone. Heard of "groupthink"? Well, I'll call this "group eat", and if your comrades tend to eat more, then that could impact your eating as well.
Strategies to Manage
  • Plan ahead.  Develop a game plan of what and how much you plan to eat in advance of the actual event. Making your food choices and committing to them before the meal rather than during the meal will reduce the influence that others may have on your consumption behaviors. If you know that Mom will want you to savor her special dishes, begin with small servings of her best dishes rather than big portions. Why?  People don't necessarily remember how much food we ate.  If you go back for more, she'll remember that, and you'll likely eat less.
  • Be a leader. Serve yourself or order your meal first.  I know, rude, right?  At the same time, by taking the lead, you are less likely to be influenced by what or how much everyone else eats.  And you may actually have a positive impact on what those who dish or order after you consume. 
  • Be a follower.  Take your eating cues from someone who appears to be consuming smaller amounts of food or who is eating at a more leisurely pace.
  • Take a break...from the food. Arrive late and leave early and you'll be spending a lot less time around the food.  Offer to help put the food away after dinner. Help guests move to another room for socializing.  Take a walk together or do some exergaming after the meal to take the focus off the food.
  • Do something different.  Most of the big holiday events we attend revolve around food, so it might be hard to avoid them. But what about those other get-togethers?  The shopping trip with the family? Gift exchange with the girls? Lunch with the colleagues?  Having a meal for all of these other outings can really add up.  Consider suggesting non-food-related activities, if possible. Meet up at non-meal times.  Go out for coffee instead of breakfast or lunch. 
  • Focus on the family.  I've learned that love is spelled T-I-M-E not F-O-O-D.  The season presents many wonderful opportunities to celebrate and appreciate what matters most in life, and believe it or not, it's not about the food.  If you look back, what do you remember most about the holidays? Is it Auntie Esther's pumpkin pie? Mom's special stuffing?  That sweet gift you got from...who was it?  Or do you revel in the quality time that you spent with your family and friends above all -- playing games, sharing stories, reminiscing, connecting?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Mindless Eating Pitfall #2: The greater the variety, the greater the volume

Mindless Eating Pitfall #2
  • The greater the variety, the greater the volume.  I've said it before, and I will say it again: the greater the variety of food that we are exposed to, the more we are likely to eat.  Participants in one study were offered sandwiches with either a single filling or a variety of four different fillings, and researchers found that when offered the sandwiches with more fillings, participants ate 14% (or ~282 kcals) more. Why does this occur? It's still unclear; however, something called sensory-specific satiety (SSS) has been suggested. Essentially, our taste buds don't get burned out as easily when we consume a wide range of flavors (i.e., salty, sweet, savory, etc.), and possibly even textures and colors, within a meal . We end up feeling less full after consuming a variety of foods and eat more as a result.  Just think about the variety of food that we're exposed to at meals and parties during the holidays.  The kickers are those {special} foods, like stuffing or pumpkin pie, that are specific to the holidays.  You know, the ones that we think we'll never get again...or at least not until next year this time, so we must indulge now.
    Strategies to Manage
    • Survey the scene.  Scan the food selection before serving yourself so that you can see what's available.  Keep the variety and your appetite at bay by zeroing in on 2-3 of your holiday favorites at any given time.  Yes, you may want to go back for seconds, but this strategy will give you just enough pause to think twice about it.
    • Be wise, organize.  Even perceived variety can fire up our appetite, so shy away from offering more than one dish of the same food.  For example, serve the stuffing in one large bowl rather than two to three smaller ones.  Increased structure may also curb consumption, so position foods on the table in an orderly (think rows) rather than scattered pattern.
    • Diversify with veggies and fruits. Let the variety factor work for you rather than against you.  Increase the variety of vegetables and fruits you eat by aiming for at least 5 cups a day.  You may want to read my previous blog post for more tips on this topic. 

    Tuesday, November 17, 2009

    Mindless Eating Pitfall #1: If it's there, you'll eat it!

    Mindless Eating Pitfall #1:
    • If it's there, you'll eat it.  And you know that during this time of year, the food will be there...and then some!  When foods are located in convenient locations, people tend to eat more.  Think about how easily accessible food can be during the holidays.  It's going to be at home, work, school, church, and our family's and friend's places.  Food will be everywhere.  In fact, some research suggests that the simple sight or smell of food can provoke our consumption of that food, whether an individual is actually hungry or not. One trial examined the affect of access on consumption by placing opaque or clear containers filled with 30 Hershey's kisses on office workers' desks or on a shelf 6 feet away from their desks.  Investigators found that the workers consumed a daily average of 3 kisses when placed in a clear bowls on their desk and an average of almost 8 kisses when placed in an opaque container 6 feet away from their desk, which equates to about 125 more calories at ~25 calories a pop.  I'm sure your mind could drum up at least one occasion in which you recall eating a food simply because it was there, right?
    Strategies to Manage
    • Out of sight, out of mind.  Keep tempting foods out of sight or in an inconvenient location (i.e., covered with a cloth or foil, top/back of the pantry, back of the fridge or freezer, in the trunk of the car).  I've even had clients who not only threw away such foods, but they also doused them in salt to drastically reduce the food's appeal. Better yet, consider not buying or making tempting foods. 
    • Keep your distance.  One of my colleagues has a saying, "Stay away from the buffet!"  One study actually suggested that heavier restaurant patrons sit facing the buffet vs with their side or back to the buffet.  Leave serving bowls and platters off the dining table, and you might think twice about that second helping.   
    • Occupy yourself.  When mingling at a party, carry something in each hand (i.e., a glass of water and napkin).  Without a free hand, you are less likely to mindlessly nibble.  Or hold something in your dominant hand. For example, if you're a righty, hold a drink in your right hand. This way you're less inclined to reach for something because it'll feel unnatural or uneasy to eat with your less dominant hand.  When cooking or baking, keeping your mouth busy with chewing gum or a hard candy.
    • Fill 'er up.  Remember, if it's there, you'll eat it.  If you leave fresh vegetables and fruits on the kitchen counter, dining table, pre-prepped in the front of the fridge, or in other plain sight locations, you'll be more likely to eat them.  Aim for at least 5 cups of vegetables and fruits daily!
    • Stay ahead of your hunger.  Saving up calories for the special event leads to an incredibly ferocious appetite, and this will not help you stay on track with your weight and health management goals.  Before heading off to an event, satisfy your hunger with a pre-event meal or snack.  Consider a source of fiber, a quality source of protein, and/or a quality source of carbohydrate.  Examples, you say?  Fresh vegetables or fruit alone or with low-fat cheese or nut butter, low-fat milk or string cheese, low-fat yogurt with fruit or whole grain cereal, whole grain pita bread with hummus.  Filling up on these options leaves a lot less room for other calorically dense, and sometimes less nutritious, holiday staples.
    • Limit or avoid the alcohol.  Do I really need to explain it? I will add that it can also lead to lower blood sugar levels, which can stimulate hunger.

    Monday, November 16, 2009

    Mindless eating during the holidays

    The tsunami of food is about to be upon us.  You know, that huge wave, after wave, after wave of food that occurs from Thanksgiving to New Year's. And while this time of year brings us memories and experiences of great joy, it also unleashes a great tsunami of work, and parties, and visitors, and to-do's, and stress!  With this onslaught of busyness, it is no surprise that American adults may gain about 1 pound during the period just before Thanksgiving through several weeks after New Year's (aka, the Super Bowl).  It doesn't sound too bad, but it is 1 pound that the average person also does not lose year after year.  And this is part of what I call the "weight creep". Weight creep is what happens when a person gains a small amount of weight over a long amount of time and then one day wonders, "How did this happen?"  While this isn't an ideal time to attempt weight loss, given the previously mentioned stats, it is an excellent time to practice maintaining our weight and managing our health.

    During this time of year it's very easy to engage in a lot of mindless eating behaviors that undermine our goals to achieve and maintain optimal health and well-being.  Mindless eating occurs when we consume something without much thought, and this type of eating causes us to eat certain types or amounts of foods that we wouldn't normally consume had we paid closer attention.  Think about it. Have you ever eaten something and later thought, "Wow, I do not even remember eating that." or "How did I get so full?"  In order to stay ahead of the game, we need to see how mindless eating creates pitfalls for us. Remember that knowing doesn't equal doing, so we also need to develop defensive strategies to manage these pitfalls. Fear not, because the next series of posts will provide the playbook that you need for a more healthful, enjoyable, and nourishing holiday season ahead.

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Chicken soup for the cold?

    With the wave of sickness that's been hitting our little neck of the beach in Southern California, it's no surprise that many of us are sharing our personal cold remedies. In fact, just last week a friend whose entire family had been sick mentioned that she fed everyone lots of chicken soup.  Ah yes, chicken soup! Why hadn't I thought of that when my family was sick a few weeks ago?

    Touted as "Jewish penicillin", a few investigators have found that chicken soup may have properties that make it beneficial in treating the common cold.  In one study conducted over 30 years ago, scientists found that the consumption of hot chicken soup briefly sped up the movement of mucus through the nasal passages.  Basically, it made for a temporarily runnier nose.  What this could mean for the cold sufferer is greater relief of nasal congestion and less exposure of the nasal passages to the cold virus (mostly rhinovirus, which binds and replicates inside the nose).  In another trial, investigators found that homemade chicken soup, as well as several commercial versions, suppressed the migration of neutrophils (white blood cells that move toward the site of viral infection and produce an inflammatory response that contributes to cold symptoms).  Essentially, chicken soup may act as a natural anti-inflammatory agent that lessens cold symptoms, such as phlegm production and coughing.  One major caveat of both studies is that they were conducted on healthy volunteers rather than people who were actually sick. So far, no studies appear to have evaluated the direct effect of chicken soup on infected individuals.

    Though the evidence doesn't really cut it for Mama's favorite cold remedy, I say go for it as it's very unlikely to hurt and may actually make you feel much less miserable.  Not only could the hot chicken soup alleviate lung and nasal congestion, but it's also a great way to hydrate while sick, which is also important for helping to loosen up those secretions.  And there's just something to be said about having a comfort food like this when you're sick with the cold or flu.

    Here's to some happy and healthful soup slurping!

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    Zinc up?

    So, have you survived or have you succumbed to the awful cold season that is upon us?  I thought I'd follow-up my post on Vitamin C and the Common Cold with a post on another popular homeopathic cold remedy...zinc.  Because of its role in assisting with immune function, it is no surprise that quite a few studies have evaluated the effectiveness of zinc for the treatment of colds.  While its mechanism of action is still not clear, some investigators hypothesize that zinc plays a role in preventing the attachment and  reproduction of rhinovirus, the most common cause of all colds, inside of the nose and suppressing the inflammation that is responsible for many of the awful symptoms.

    When it comes to zinc and the common cold, it appears that the jury is still out.  In a thorough review of research spanning 40 years that examined zinc as a cold remedy, investigators evaluated 14 of the highest quality studies conducted in this area.  Of those, half of the studies found no effect of zinc lozenges or nasal sprays on the common cold while the other half found zinc lozenges and nasal gels beneficial for reducing the duration and/or severity of cold symptoms.  Two other major review studies  also concluded that the evidence is inconsistent but that further research is warranted (1,2).

    Of the studies that have detected potential benefits from zinc for treatment of the common cold, I found a few interesting and possibly helpful pieces of information.  Zinc lozenges in the form of zinc gluconate (aka, zinc gluconium) or zinc acetate taken every 2 hours while awake within 24 hours of the onset of symptoms (at the very first sign of the symptoms is best) may help reduce the duration of the cold symptoms by an average of about 3 days!  It also appears that low doses (<9 mg of elemental zinc) are not as beneficial as higher doses (~9-24 mg).  As for the nasal sprays and gels, I wouldn't suggest touching those with a ten foot pole for now as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently warned consumers to stop using such products due to numerous reports of anosmia (loss of sense of smell) that may be long-lasting or permanent! (Something I've been telling my students and clients for a long time!)  Be forewarned, too, that anyone using zinc supplements should not consume greater than 40 mg/day as there are some negative side effects associated with excessive zinc consumption, which include:  nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, headaches, copper deficiency resulting in anemia, elevated cholesterol, and interestingly enough...impaired immune function.  (Note that an individual could possibly experience some of these side effects given the typical dosages and treatment protocols of these types of supplements.)

    If you're not so sure about taking the supplements and thinking, "Hey, maybe I can just boost my intake of zinc through food if I get a cold.", think again.  Increasing our intake of zinc through food at the onset of a cold will not have the same effect as that of the zinc lozenges given the proposed mechanism of action that I discussed before.  The rhinovirus is replicating in the nasal mucosa. Therefore, the zinc needs to be in close proximity to that area on a regular basis (every 2-3 hours) in order for it to possibly work, and food that's chewed and swallowed won't have the same effect.

    So there you have it...the scoop on zinc-ing up when you come down with a cold, but you may still be asking yourself, "So, what should I do?"  We have to ask a few important questions.
    1. Is this type of therapy more effective than mere suggestion or doing nothing?  Possibly.  
    2. Is it as safe as doing nothing?  Maybe not.  
    3. If there is a possibility of it being unsafe, does the potential for benefit exceed that of its potential harm?  Maybe not.    
    4. WWMD? (or What Would Michelle Do -- lol)  Aw shoot, I admit it. I've taken zinc lozenges at the first hint of a cold.  Call me desperate!  In some cases, I believe it worked. In others, not so much. Maybe it's because I didn't follow the protocol 100%.  Or maybe it was good ol' placebo effect at it again. And maybe it just doesn't plain work!
    Stay tuned for more along this same thread of some of the proposed cures for the common cold.
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