Continue  healthy, well-balanced eating during the holidays to keep your energy levels high and your immune system strong.   Put an emphasis on lots of foods with color and probiotics for an extra boost!

Head Hunger and the Holidays

November 23, 2009

For many people, the holidays can be stressful, sad, lonely, joyful or all of the above!  Food is closely connected with our social and emotional world, especially during times like holidays and other celebratory times.  While emotional eating may be normal at certain times, when you are using food as your main coping mechanism, it could lead to overeating as well as other physical and emotional problems.

Dr. Michelle May suggests some helpful tips to preventing emotional eating:

Practice Self-Care: Give yourself the gift of adequate sleep, healthy meals, regular physical activity, and unscheduled time to decompress.

Do what you love: What are your favorite holiday activities? Who do you want to spend time with? Which events are the most meaningful to you? Which ones could you do without this year?

Eat What You Love: Deprivation and guilt are powerful emotional triggers that can lead to overeating so choose foods that nourish your body and your soul.

Love What You Eat: Eating can be a satisfying emotional experience. Savor each bite mindfully, staying conscious of how your body feels as you eat. 

Recognize Head Hunger: Whenever you feel like eating, first ask yourself, “Am I hungry?” Look for physical signs that you need fuel.

If you’re not hungry, FEAST instead!

Focus: What is going on inside of you? Focus on your physical state, your thoughts, and your feelings. Identify any possible triggers for eating such as fatigue, boredom, overwhelm, or nostalgia.

Explore: Complete this statement: I feel _______ because _______. Peel away the layers by asking “why?” and “what else?” Sometimes “I want a cookie” means “I want comfort,” or “I want rest,” “I want to escape from this conversation,” or “I want to experience the joy I remember from my childhood.”  

Accept: Criticizing yourself for your thoughts, feelings, and actions will keep you stuck in old patterns. Accept that your emotions, no matter how difficult or trivial they may seem, tell you something about your needs.

Strategize: What could you do to meet your underlying need? (If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got!)

Take Action: The step you take will depend on your specific need; just make sure it small, realistic, and takes you in the general direction of meeting your true needs. 

 (From Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle.)

As a chocolate lover, I am pleased to learn about yet one more reason to continue eating dark chocolate.  For several years, dark chocolate has been studied for it’s antioxidant effects, which have shown it’s ability to reduce risks for heart disease.  Now, a study, published in the American Chemical Society Journal, found that highly stressed individuals, who ate 1.4 ounces of chocolate (equal to approximately 3 blocks of Hershey’s Dark chocolate) per day for 2 weeks, had reductions in stress hormones. 


Choose your foods wisely

November 3, 2009

Now Kellogg’s is trying to promote a healthful image of their Cocoa Krispies cereal, by claiming “Now helps support your child’s immunity”.  The company is justifiying this claim by adding more vitamin A, C, and E to the cereal, which studies show can help support immunity.  However, what most people don’t realize is that all vitamins and nutrients help in some way to support a healthy immune system when part of a healthy diet.   If you take a closer look at this cereal, you’ll see the second and third ingredient is sugar and the fourth ingredient is partially hydrogenaged vegetable oil (i.e. ‘trans fat’).  Unfortunately, I would not classify this cereal as healthy or even recommend it as a way to enhance immunity.  This is a perfect example of how food labels may be misleading and consumers may need to depend on their common sense when choosing foods. See more in the article from USA today below:

Tricks for Treats

October 29, 2009

Dr. Michelle May recommends “Tricks to managing the treats”……

Halloween candy showed up in August (as though we needed to get a jump on our holiday shopping!) and will still be on sale in November. What is the trick to eating what you love when it is everywhere?

Scaring Away the Cravings

Halloween can be a scary time of year for those trapped in an eat-repent-repeat cycle. You seem to be haunted by all that candy in the house, leading to a full-blown candy binge, chocolate hangover, and vows to do better tomorrow. 

The tricky part is that labeling the foods you love as evil actually increases their power over you. When what you really crave is “bad,” you feel guilty for even wanting it and deprived because you can’t have it.

The result: You find yourself foraging treats from the pumpkin basket and burying the candy wrappers at the bottom of the garbage can so your kids won’t find out. And what does this say to your kids when they inevitably find out that you’ve been sneaking and stealing their candy? Talk about guilt! 

How to stop raiding your kid’s trick-or-treat loot

  • Minimize your exposure. Wait until the last minute to buy Halloween candy then buy only what you really think you’ll need for the big night. Get the stuff kids love rather than bags and bags of your favorites.
  • Remember, it’s not your food. All too often we eat whatever shows up–Halloween candy, donuts in the break room, or samples in the grocery store. But you didn’t choose to put it there so stop mindlessly putting it in your mouth!
  •  Get your own. You’ll be less tempted to get into the kid’s holiday candy if stop depriving yourself the rest of the year. Scary, I know. (Learn how in Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat Chapter 5: Fearless Eating.)
  • Share! If you really want some candy, ask your child to share a few pieces with you. Through observation, they learn that it is possible to balance eating for nourishment with eating for enjoyment.
  • Eat what you love. Skip the sugary kid candy (unless that’s what you love) and instead choose a few that you really love. Set them aside to eat when you really want them (I like to keep mine in a plastic bag in the freezer).
  • Save room for dessert. If you’re going to eat Halloween candy (you know you are!), then adjust for it. After all, does it really make sense to eat all your dinner to earn dessert?
  • If you love it that much, act like it! Enjoy those M&Ms one at a time, mindfully without distractions.
  • Just right! The fun-sized treats are the perfect size for a few mindful bites of heaven. And those first few bites are always the best, so think before you dive in for more.
  • Eat fearlessly without guilt. We all know that guilt leads to more eating, not less, so let it go.
  • Don’t torture yourself with exercise. Being physically active feels good and provides numerous benefits for your health; don’t turn it into punishment for eating.

Pass it on. Halloween is a great time to teach your kids how to enjoy a little candy as part of a healthy and active lifestyle.

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat.

Last weekend I had the great pleasure to attended the American Dietetic Association,  Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo in Denver, Colorado.  This is the largest annual event for dietitians from all corners of the U.S., to meet and share information with each other. In addition to educational seminars focusing on the latest nutrition science information and foodservice trends,  this event enables us to exchange many best practices with fellow dietitians while learning about new products on the market.

One of the hottest topics this year was probiotics and prebiotics.   I noticed a significant increase from last year in the number of products that claimed to have probiotics and or prebiotics.  This is reflective of the growing number of these products in today’s markets. While most of the products were made from dairy (yogurt or milk), there were also some juices, cereals, and nutrition/energy bars that claimed probiotic and prebiotic.

As I walked around the Expo, I had the (gut) feeling that I was facing the same predicament most of my clients do when navigating the grocery aisles for probiotic or prebiotic products- how do I choose among all these options?

The first place you, as a consumer, can start the decision process is by educating yourself .  Because there are currently no government guidelines for probiotics labeling, it is important to know that many products can claim to have probiotic even if the product does not contain the level needed to have a beneficial health effect. So how do you know which products are actually probiotic-worthy?  Here are a few key things to consider when choosing a probiotic:

  1. What strain of probiotic is being used? Identify the type of probiotic in the product genus, species, strain name. For example: Lactobacillius (genus) Casei (species), Shirota (strain).
  2. How much of the probiotic is in each serving? Identify the level of the probiotic contained in the product (in CFU’s)
  3. Is there clinical data to support the claims? Contact or visit the manufacturer’s website to determine if any human studies have been done to demonstrate a health benefit using the level of the strain in the product. 

When in doubt, you should consult with your Registered Dietitian or other health professionals who have experience in evaluating and recommending pre and probiotics.

Each year an estimated 25–50 million cases of the flu are reported in the U.S. This year, in addition to the familiar seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu is also a threat. Maintaining a strong and healthy immune system is key to preventing the flu.

One way to keep your immune system running optimally is to consume a healthy diet and get plenty of rest. Many people don’t realize that 70-80% of your immune system is found in your digestive tract. This means that a healthy digestive tract equals a healthy immune system!

The ideal immune-enhancing diet consists of:

  • at least 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables (choose a variety of colors for optimal benefit)
  • whole grains such as whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta;
  • lean proteins such as fish, poultry (without the skin), beans, eggs, and soy products;
  • healthy fats such as olive oil, nuts, avocado, and omega-3 rich fishes such as salmon and halibut;
  • low fat dairy products such as milk and yogurt.

In addition to consuming a wide range of nutritious foods, you can keep your body healthy by consuming probiotics each day. Probiotics are beneficial cultures that increase the number of good bacteria in the intestinal tract. These bacteria can help support immunity as well as improve digestive health and nutrient absorption. Probiotics can be consumed through dairy products, some dry foods (such as cereals and bars), as well as supplements.

Here is an example of an immune enhancing diet:

Breakfast: 1 cup cooked oatmeal 1 Tbsp ground flaxseed 1 cup mixed berries 1 or 2 egg whites 2.7 ounces Yakult dairy beverage

Lunch: 3 cups spinach salad with added tomatoes, shredded carrots, ½ cup beans + 1 Tbsp olive oil + vinegar dressing 3 ounces skinless chicken breast 1 whole wheat dinner roll 1 cup yogurt (enhanced with probiotic bacteria)

Dinner: 3 ounces baked salmon 1 cup steamed broccoli 2/3 cup cooked brown rice 1 cup cantaloupe

On my day off on Monday, I happened to catch a few minutes of a popular day time television host promoting healthy eating on her show, so I decided to tune in.  I was instantly appalled when she started to tell the audience that they should AVOID most fruits and vegetables like carrots, beets, and corn if they wanted to lose weight because these foods are TOO HIGH IN SUGAR! (Actually, many of my clients used to have this same belief)

This is one of the most absurd things I hear in my practice as a dietitian! Do people really think that the weight problems we have in this country are due to eating too many of these fruits and vegetables?! Ironically, the very same people that avoid these “sugary” fruits and vegetables seem to “overlook” the fact that they drink regular soda or other sweetened beverages everyday.

To prove a point to myself (and to those reading this), I opened the refrigerator and compared the nutrition labels on a bag of baby carrots and a bag of fresh broccoli.  I found that the baby carrots had exactly 5 grams of sugar per serving, while the broccoli had 2 grams of sugar per serving. That’s a difference of only 3 grams of sugar and 12 calories! This is the equivalent of 1/5 of a tablespoon of sugar.  In my opinion, this is miniscule compared to the amount of sugar found in so many other foods:

Jamba Juice- Pomegranate Paradise (original size)- 74 grams of sugar

Starbucks Grande Caffe Vanilla Blended Frappuccino- 60 grams of sugar

3/4 cup Kellogg’s Honey Smacks cereal- 56 grams of sugar

12 ounce can of regular soda- 39 grams of sugar

8 pieces of Starburst Candy- 23 grams of sugar

I hope it is clear to you now that instead of worrying about how much sugar is in the foods needed for good health (or for some, finding reasons not to eat them), we should be concerned with reducing our intake of sugar from all of the other non-nutritious foods that we are faced with each day!

The Superwoman Syndrome

September 15, 2009

You’ve probably seen this before…your mother, your sister, your friend, or possibly yourself-

She appears to have it all together- balancing motherhood, career, and housekeeping.  She’s a good daughter, friend, and wife.  She cares for everyone else and makes THEM her priority.  She does it ALL without blinking an eye.  From the outside, she may appear like some kind of superwoman. 

I see these kind of women weekly in my office –  Some are caring for ailing parents; some are caring for a child in need; Some are overworked and wanting to please their boss; Some are attempting to do all of these things.  But, they all have similar characteristics- they neglect their own self care while trying to uphold their “selfless” status.   Eventually it all catches up with them, and suddenly they realize that their own health is suffering and they need to get help.

One of my clients gained 50 pounds after the birth of her son- She gave up her exercise regime and ignored her own hunger in order to tend to her family and work needs. By the end of the day, when all of her duties were done, she would overeat and fall asleep . She also stopped doing things that gave her pleasure like going to the movies and spending time with her husband.

Healthy eating, exercising, and finding time for relaxation are all ways of caring for oneself.  In order to help my clients break the “selfless” cycle and to gain control over their health, I teach them to practice self-nurturing activities. This may include taking a walk, listening to music, taking a bath, or preparing a healthy meal.

It’s different for everyone, but, everyone needs to practice self nurturing regularly in order to live each day vibrantly and healthfully.

Eventually these women realize that if they don’t take care of themselves, they won’t be around to take care of those that they love and who love them most.

“Bread is bad!” “Fat is bad!”  “Fruit has too much sugar!” These messages make figuring out what to eat each day and each meal a daunting task. Even as a nutrition professional, I have my moments of bewilderment! But, then, I remember what has been known for decades: A healthy diet consists of a variety of foods (emphasis on plant foods), low in saturated fats, added sugar, and salt.

But, even despite this very general principle, it is important to remember that we are all different and have different dietary needs.  Some people, for example, must follow a restrictive diet for a specific health condition.  Yesterday, CM, my 24-year old client needed help with a special diet for his high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. Initially, he felt extremely overwhelmed- as a young, twenty-something, the thought of  knowing how to shop and prepare his own meals alone left him dazed.  But, now, he has to think about how much salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats he takes in! Many people like CM, feel defeated and often ask “What’s the point in eating?”   

Obviously, not eating is not the answer.  Instead, it may be helpful to take a gentler approach, which includes: understanding which foods may be harmful for your specific condition; reducing intake of these foods and/or replacing or adding foods that will enhance your health; paying attention to how this eating pattern makes you feel and/or understanding the benefit it has on your health; and most importantly, realizing that one specific food or one meal will not predict or guarantee health, but, it’s your overall choices that have the greatest impact.

For help with a special diet, it is best to consult with a Registered Dietitian.