Archive for the ‘Fat and Fit’ category

Fit Tip #2

July 1, 2009

One third of us have too much weight; another third: obese. The skinny third has problems too; remember that, oh please.

Food Choices: Not as Easy as Pie

September 15, 2007

“Just make healthy food choices,” diet gurus say. As if choosing to be well nourished and svelte were simple.

Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and founder of Consumer Camp, studies food choices in Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab. An article in this month’s Stanford Magazine (“Mind Over Platter”) desribes some of his fascinating (and helpful) findings:

1) We eat more M&M’s when they’re sorted by color.

2) We eat more nuts or candies from a jar when we can see through the jar than when it’s opaque.

3) We eat more popcorn if given a huge bucket than we do if given a medium-sized bucket. Same goes for plates.

4) We value food more when it comes with pleasant surprise, even a simple thing like a plastic toy. (Parents filling school lunchboxes, take note. Also anyone planning a dinner party. Airline dieticians – ignore this! We’d really rather have edible food!)

5) We prefer food with exotic, descriptive names – such as Bavarian Dark Forest Chocolate Cake – as opposed to chocolate cake. Same goes for Starbucks’ “grande chai soy latte” and infinite other variations on that theme.

The “takeaway” lesson? We’re not as “in control” as we might think we are. Our choices and perceptions are greatly influenced by the subconscious, which has its own ideas about what it likes and wants. Therefore, pay attention not only to food, but to how it’s prepared and served and described. And if you prefer not to eat a lot of popcorn, never buy the big bucket.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Fat Friends: Obesity Study Hard to Swallow

July 27, 2007

The “fat friendship” story was all over the media this morning. Yikes.

The implications of this are so upsetting I’m already eating my seventh Hershey’s kiss.

(Good news: check out the “nutritional information” on the package. Serving size is nine!)

Really, though, could it be true that just having a fat friend or spouse can somehow make you fat?

So says this new research based on the famous Framingham Heart Study, which is tracking more than 12,000 people over 32 years. “Social networks play a surprisingly powerful role in determining an individual’s chances of gaining weight, transmitting an increased risk of becoming obese from wives to husbands, from brothers to brothers and from friends to friends,” reported the Washington Post.

My heart hurts just hearing this. Aren’t fat people already shunned and mocked enough? Now they have to take responsibility for everyone’s fat as well? Yikes. (And she pops Hershey’s kiss Number Eight.)

Sure sounds credible, coming from Nicholas A. Christakis of Harvard Medical School, and to be published tomorrow in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“Watch out,” the new study seemed to imply. “Stay away! Get too close to a dreaded Fat Person, and their fat will magically and irreversibly rub off on YOU!”

As an afterthought, at the end of the Washington Post article and also at the CNN report I saw this morning, reporters note that the opposite also seems to be true: when one person loses weight, so do their friends.

This is the concept behind Weight Watchers, Alcoholics Anonymous, running clubs, and many other health-oriented groups. We inspire each other to achieve our goals.

Why wasn’t this the headline?

Why aren’t researchers putting half as much energy into promoting healthy behaviors as they are into exploring obesity?

We already know what prevents obesity: daily physical activity and relatively healthy food choices. You don’t have to be a nut about it. You can have some Hershey’s kisses now and then (she says, finishing off Number Nine.)

The key is to move: moderate to vigorous activity on most days.

But by all means, please please please don’t abandon your fat friends out of your own fat-o-phobia or misinterpretation of this research.

Fat friends do not cause obesity; overeating and under-exercising do.

The moral of this story is not to avoid fat people.

It’s to be a leader yourself, inspiring all of your friends and colleagues, fat, thin, and middle-sized, to follow in your footsteps, literally, and choose a path of daily physical activity.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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A Whole Lot of Skinny, Unhappy, Unhealthy People

July 3, 2007

The news on the front page of the Washington Post today (“Way to Shrink, Grow Fat Is Found”) did not make me jump for joy. And I’m the kind of person who DOES jump for joy – unlike those who only jump to burn calories.

Georgetown University scientists have discovered that these three things are true of mice:

1) If you stress them out (more on stress techniques for mice later) and feed them junk food, they gain more weight than their little mouse-peers who eat junk food without being stressed out; and

2) If you inject mice with Certain Stuff (more on that later too,) they don’t gain weight, even if they’re stressed AND eating junk food.

3) Injections of that same Certain Stuff can actually shrink fat deposits by up to 50 percent in two weeks.

You see why jumping for joy comes to mind. Surely, if these results hold true for humans, this Certain Stuff is going to become bigger than Google itself.

Can you imagine the line of fat people lined up to get these shots? Now add to that line all the imaginary fat people (those who obsess over fat that isn’t really there,) and the pharmaceutical company that gets the patent on this stuff is going to get one heck of a fat payday.

Here’s the catch, though. Imagine the impact on physical activity.

How many people currently exercise for the health of it? Or, better yet, the sheer joy of it?

Most people already get zero exercise.

And from the looks on the faces of the people at my gym, the large majority who exercise at all do so because of some grim determination to avoid getting fat.

What if all these people stopped riding the stationery bicycle and doing Pilates? What if the only place they ever ran was to the doctor’s office, for their next fat-blocking shot?

Here’s what would happen: There would be a lot of skinny, unhappy, unhealthy people in the world.

We know that physical activity is essential to help prevent osteoporosis, heart disease, breast cancer, stroke, and a zillion other bad things that can happen.

We know that physical activity is an antidote to depression.

We know that people who sit around on their butts all day — even if those butts become fashionably thin — get depressed and sick.

Which is why I’m not jumping for joy.

Neither are the stressed mice, by the way. To stress them, scientists made them stand in cold water or endure the company of alpha mice. They were trying to create the mouse equivalent of chronic human stress, such as sitting in traffic – or having to endure the company of an alpha boss.

Standing in cold water does not exactly bring to mind Abu Gahraib, but for the record I do not support mouse torture techniques, and hate the thought that scientists get paid to think this stuff up.

The other thing I promised to explain is what I called Certain Stuff. It’s a substance that blocks another substance that triggers the stress-induced obesity phenomenon, apparently. Read the Washington Post story if you’re the kind of person who can understand that neuropeptidies are not a form of detergent.

All I know is that anything that gives people another excuse to avoid moving is going to be one big fat mistake.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Easy, Effective Diet Plan

June 15, 2007

Eat less for dinner.

That’s pretty much it. Eat a normal breakfast and lunch. Snack if you’re hungry.

Oh yeah – choose healthy foods. That’s a big caveat.

But the real trick to this diet — or maintenance plan — is to eat less for dinner. Just a little less, so you go to bed a wee big hungry.

Lying there in bed, you don’t need to do anything (usually,) so you don’t need fuel. You can let your body burn off a few calories because of the caloric deficiency you just created by eating a little less than you were hungry for.

The next morning, eat a normal breakfast. Eat a normal lunch. Oh yeah – keep choosing healthy foods. Then eat less for dinner.

The reason this works is because you’re not starving yourself. You don’t feel deprived, emotionally or physically. You just feel a wee bit hungy – which, on the way to sleep, I find to be a rather pleasant sensation, much preferable to going to bed full.

Most importantly, you wake up happy, because you’re a little thinner – and you still get to eat a regular breakfast and lunch.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Lesson from a Fat Friend

April 25, 2007

Today I learned something from a fat friend. Oh, don’t yell at me. My friend is fat, and she uses that word herself, matter-of-factly. Sometimes (such as when it doesn’t offend your friend) it’s good to call a spade a spade.

My fat friend (let’s call her Eve) takes a water aerobics class “with a bunch of old women.”

Now we have to digress to deal with the word old. It’s not popular these days, but I like it. I like telling the truth. I find it liberating. Spare me the “vital” and “vigorous” and “60 is the new 40” baloney.

In fact, I imagine an Old People’s Rights rally on the Washington Mall in which everyone would chant:

We’re old.
We’re bold.
We’re always too hot
Or too cold.

Anyway. Back to Eve, who is probably immersed in a pool right now, treading water with a bunch of old women wielding Styrofoam “noodles” like swords.

Eve is 51 — and, as I mentioned, fat. She enjoys the weightlessness of water exercise, naturally. If I were lugging an extra 100 pounds around, I’d slip into a pool every chance I got, too.

Great weight-loss technique! Just melt in the water, and you’ll weigh about one-eighth of what you weigh on land!

Unfortunately for Eve and other amphibians, most human activity takes place on land. It’s on land that Eve feels fat.

She doesn’t feel as fat as she looks. She feels fatter. She also feels that her fat is exaggerated by standing, walking, moving.

“Whereas if I stay on the couch, the fat is contained,” she says.

That’s what I learned from her that I hadn’t thought of before.

“If I stay seated, people won’t notice my fat as much,” she said. “There’s a better chance that they’ll see me as a whole person, not just a fat person. It’s when I get up that the fat starts jiggling around. Ask me to participate in some sort of dance or even walk, and I just feel fatter and fatter and fatter.”

Surely not all fat people feel this self-conscious. But I bet many do.

And what a trap! The fatter Eve gets, the fatter she feels, and the fatter she feels, the less likely she is to engage in activities that might help her get fit.

Notice I said, “get fit,” not lose weight. The primary benefit of exercise is not weight loss but fitness. And all of us, even fat people, can be fit. But that’s another story, for another day.

For today: Thanks, Eve, for helping me understand the role of social censure, and self-censure, in resistance to movement. And good for you for changing into the bathing suit and getting in the pool.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation