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Foods That Boost Mood and Fight Holiday Weight Gain
Neither stress nor holiday weight gain need ruin your holidays this year. Here are tips about eating habits and foods that can boost your mood when a stressful situation strikes. You’ll feel calmer – and be trimmer -- throughout the holiday season.
How Blood Sugar Alters Your Mood
The best way to cope with holiday stress and obligations is to keep your mood and energy stable. You'll not only feel better, but will be much less likely to overeat. "Choosing foods that your body absorbs slowly keeps blood sugar steady, maintaining your feelings on an even keel," says Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Food & Mood. Slow-digesting foods include whole-grain cereal with milk, brown rice with salmon or chicken breast, a peanut butter sandwich on whole-wheat bread, or a spinach salad and half a turkey sandwich with milk. You want to eat either quality carbohydrates or carbohydrates mixed with protein, she says. Foods that absorb quickly, such as sugar, white bread, or anything refined, spike blood sugar high; then cause it to suddenly crash. After a crash, you'll feel crabby and hungry, and end up grabbing chocolate bars or candy -- setting yourself up for yet another blood sugar dive, Somer says.
Boost Your Mood With Feel-Good Serotonin
High-protein diets may help you drop pounds, but they won’t do much to raise your spirits. That's because your body craves serotonin, the feel-good chemical found in foods that boost your mood. "Carbohydrates are essential for moving tryptophan (the amino acid that makes up serotonin) across the brain," says Susan M. Kleiner, PhD, RD, co-author of The Good Mood Diet. When your blood sugar drops, less carbohydrate is available in the bloodstream; less tryptophan moves across into the brain and your mood can plummet. In fact, researchers at Arizona State University found that after just two weeks, a very low-carb diet increased fatigue and reduced the desire of overweight adults to exercise. Serotonin fights holiday weight gain, too. "It tells you when you've had enough by causing satiety (a feeling of fullness) and reducing your appetite," says Judith J. Wurtman, PhD, co-author of The Serotonin Power Diet.
Nix Stress-Induced Mood Swings
Although experts generally advise avoiding simple carbs, afternoon mood swings beg for fast fixes. "If you feel grumpy in the afternoon, eat only carbohydrates," Somer says. Eating protein with carbs blocks serotonin production, while high-fat foods keep digestion slow. Wurtman agrees. "When you're stressed, reach for carbs -- simple sugars that digest quickly," she says. "Bingeing on simple carbohydrates is your body's natural way of dealing with stress -- but you can’t include protein or fat.” Wurtman recommends trying low-fat foods with carbs such as a baked potato, graham crackers, popcorn, pretzels, or low-fat cereal, which is also loaded with healthy fiber.
Food and Diet Tips to Keep Your Mood Stable
Besides carbohydrates, studies indicate that many other foods -- along with healthful eating habits -- may help our moods and somewhat ease depression.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Population studies show that people who infrequently eat fish, which is high in omega-3 fatty acids, are more likely to suffer depression. So add foods rich in omega-3s to your diet. Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids include fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines. Other good food sources include flaxseed, nuts, and dark, green leafy vegetables.
Vitamin B-12: Studies also indicate that people who eat diets low in vitamin B-12 may be at higher risk of depression. Good food sources of vitamin B-12 include lean and low-fat animal products, such as fish and low-fat dairy foods.
Selenium: Preliminary small studies indicate that selenium may help improve mild depression. Although more research is needed, many foods rich in selenium are healthy regardless of your mood. It can’t hurt to add these to your diet: seafood, nuts, lean meat, whole grains, beans, and low-fat dairy.
Frequent small meals: Eating frequent, small meals of healthy foods helps keep your blood sugar levels even, avoiding diet-related mood swings. Eat a small meal or snack every three to four hours to give you sustained energy and keep your blood sugar stable.
Fight Holiday Weight Gain
It's easy to feel overwhelmed during the holiday season -- what with shopping, parties, decorating, baking, and the inevitable stress of unwanted obligations. But a healthy diet not only helps boost your mood, it also helps you fight holiday weight gain. Try these tips to get through the holiday season in a good mood without gaining weight:
- Eat breakfast! If you skip it, what you eat for the rest of the day won't matter, Somer says. Breakfast-eaters report maintaining a better mood and more energy throughout the day, studies show.
- Drink water. "The first symptom of dehydration is fatigue," says Somer. If you're dragging your feet, don't dig in the holiday treats you've been baking. Instead, down a glass or two of water; then see if you're still hungry. Not drinking enough water is the first thing that will impact your mood, Kleiner tells WebMD. "Without it, you won't be able to exercise at peak levels, and you won't burn fat as readily.”
- Drink nonfat milk. "It has the tryptophan you need for your brain, plus the natural carbohydrate that assists its transport," Kleiner says. "It's also a fabulous energy drink, and an excellent way to rehydrate both before and after exercise."
- Hit your usual holiday parties, but avoid alcohol. You may feel relaxed in the short term, but drinking interrupts sleep and increases depression and anxiety -- not the best way to boost your mood.
- Lose the bowls of high-fat foods like chocolate, and replace them with small low-fat crackers, popcorn, pretzels, and hard candy.
- Fall and winter tend to increase carbohydrate cravings. “Instead of trying to ignore them or reaching for chocolate, cookies or ice cream, plan portion-controlled carb snacks at least once or twice a day, such as 3/4 cup of crunchy cereal,” Wurtman says. They'll help keep your mood even and your waistline small.
Reap the Rewards
"Alter your eating habits, and you'll notice a change within just two weeks," Somer says. "Your body will reward you with more energy, and your mind with a calmer, positive, more stable mood." During the stress-filled holiday season, who could ask for more?
Submitted by: Maria Albus
Over the past few weeks, numerous people have been off track with their eating and exercise. Many of us are experiencing the “November Blues” – days are shorter, night comes early, and we sometimes feel an overwhelming sense of tiredness. However, we must realize that if we’re nibbling and eating more as a source of comfort, we ARE still able to control this despite the change in seasons. Many people have been saying things like: “I’m too tired;” “I’m too busy;” “I’m getting home late;” “I’m taking a new course;” “I’m under a lot of stress;” and so on.
I always wonder if people think that their feelings are unique to them; the perception that “everyone else” has no stress, or no fatigue. That’s not the case. EVERYONE is busy; most people feel exhausted at the end of their day, and most people carry a lot of stress. So given these feelings, why is it an excuse to eat? Physiologically, if we eat more “comfort foods” (namely, high-carbohydrate foods like sugar, breads, pastas and potatoes), we retain more fat; the fat cells then excrete inflammatory cytokines into the blood stream which cause fatigue, muscle aches, joint pain and even depression or anxiety.
So, the very thing we turn to in order to soothe our emotions ends up making us feel worse. How do we break the cycle? Realize that we are making excuses. Fatigue can truly be relieved by a walk, time on a stationary bicycle, going to the gym, or even doing some push-ups against a wall. Release of serotonin and dopamine by the brain during exercise improves our mood and energy. Sitting in front of the TV simply increases our fatigue and our likelihood of nibbling: again, stress. The best stress reducer is exercise. It is equal to most anti-depressants and is an excellent way to reduce anxiety. Yet we avoid it because “we don’t feel like it.” Nobody, including me, “feels like it.” We do exercise because we know it has positive benefits to our health.
What about snacks and portions when we are tired? First off, recognize that you are more likely to eat when you’re tired. The most important thing is not to give in. Remove yourself from the kitchen, make some tea, start reading a book, or walk to the end of your street and back; anything that will help take your mind off food. Always ask yourself, “am I really, physically hungry?” As you know, when we feel tired, most of us don’t nibble out of true stomach hunger; we eat because we simply thought about a food reward. If you must eat, have a healthy, higher-protein snack first (i.e. cheese, almonds, turkey bacon, peanut butter, etc.) and then re-assess.
There is no magic to controlling eating behaviours; it takes PRACTICE – but, try to make a point of avoiding excuses. Realize that, in the long run, “comfort” food will actually make you feel worse – either physically, mentally, or both.
“No TIME” is an excuse many of us use. We truly start to believe that going out to dinner or fast food is quicker than going home to eat. It is far easier and healthier to eat at home than going out. Salads, chicken, vegetables, etc. can be made very easily and quickly. Also, crock pot cooking is easy. Throw a few pieces of chicken in a crock pot with some broth & vegetables in the morning and let it cook all day; it’s ready when you get home. Yes, eating at home & meal preparation takes some organization & pre-planning – but knowing we have things organized makes us feel in control and empowered. Of course, all of us will eat out every so often; more often if you’re someone who travels for work…making healthy choices is a key to long-term success.
We must not give in to excuses. Today I saw a woman who slowly and steadily has lost 112 pounds. There is no great secret. She simply watches her portions daily and eats this way no matter what is occurring in her life. She now has bought a pedometer to count her steps at work, and she strives to reach 10,000 steps each day.
Anything you can do to increase body movement throughout the day is fantastic for both mind and body.
Achieving success is fairly easy, but we must be consistent in our eating and exercise, and we must not make excuses. Work on it. Be honest with yourself. I know there is time in everyone’s day to go for a 5 or 10 minute walk. I know that the evenings are long, but be conscious of NOT bringing unhealthy snacks into the house – boredom and tiredness make us reach for them, if they’re there.
Remember that feeling in control and making healthy decisions takes PRACTICE. You can and WILL achieve your goals; avoid excuses, and instead look at what is POSSIBLE for you to accomplish within the reality of your life. Don’t ever give up!
Written by: Dr Doug