Monday, May 13, 2013

Did I really need a Cornell University research study to tell me that hungry shoppers buy higher-calorie products?

Researchers paid 68 people to avoid eating for five hours before hitting the supermarket. A follow-up study tracked 82 participants shopping at different times of the day, when they were either likely to be famished or full.

So here's what they found:
The hungry participants chose a higher number of higher-calorie products. If they shopped between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., they bought less low-calorie food compared with those who shopped sated.

My question:
How much money was spent on this survey? When the desire to publish is so great that the topics studied are ridiculous, the question WHY needs to be addressed.

What is most distressing is that this study comes out of Cornell. 

For cripes sake: Anyone with a weight problem knows to never set foot in a grocery store if you are hungry. Eat. Then shop. 'Nuff said.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chew on this

My friend Mary Ellen has perfected the art of eating slowly. I could eat 10 meals in the time it takes her to get through a salad. And I know she is on the right track.

I just read a study that found that people who chew their food well eat 12 percent less than those of us who gobble it down. Watching Mary Ellen, I can attest to this. Not only does it take her an hour to eat a plate of food, she leaves half of it untouched.

How did this happen? She didn't always eat slowly. And as the mother of seven kids (yup, seven), her meals were always being interrupted. It was a life change she made about a decade ago, and one she forced herself to think about each time she sat down to eat.

It's all about mindfulness, that new buzz word that has us thinking about everything we do. But when it comes to eating, it can do wonders for our waistlines.

The goal for every bite of food you take is to liquefy it. When I have succeeded in eating this way, I am amazed by how much more I have enjoyed my food. I really get a chance to taste each morsel, discovering hidden ingredients that don't come through with gobbling.

And there's one more bene: Chewing food aids digestion, since digestion begins in the mouth. The digestive enzymes in our saliva break down starches into simple sugars. That's why chewing a piece of bread actually makes that bread taste sweet. Studies show that chewing each bite for up to a minute will digest half of the starch before you swallow.

Saliva also contains fat-digesting enzymes, so if we chew well, by the time we swallow, the process of breaking down the fats  has already started. Chewing also gets stomach acid and pancreatic juices primed, so the digestive sequence happens smoothly.

Thanks to wikiHow, here are five steps for slowing down and chewing:

  1. Give yourself enough time. Do not eat if you are in a rush. Instead, allow yourself enough time so that you can take your time and chew thoroughly.
  2. Cut the food into small portions. It is important not to put too much in your mouth at once, as this makes it more difficult to chew the food thoroughly. The smaller the bites, the better. And the longer it will take you to eat your meal.
  3. Chew thoroughly. The exact number of chews vary with the food's texture and individual salivary glands, the goal is to have the food a complete liquid before you swallow. 
  4. Swallow slowly. No gulping, which can cause choking or damage to the esophagus.
  5. Wait until you are completely finished chewing before taking another bite. While you chew, put your fork down and concentrate on what is going on in your mouth. When there is nothing left in your mouth, pick up your fork.
I'm printing this out and leaving it by my plate.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Hey, sugar

Hello, my name is Val, and I am addicted to sugar.

That felt good. But the realization that even a little bit of sugar can send me into an eating frenzy was powerful medicine for my mind. And although I might have thought this was true, it wasn't until I began journaling a month ago that I made the connection.

I hate to journal, but I now know that for me to stay on a healthy eating track, I need to write everything down. I know no one is going to read my food journal, but I still can't write down a lunch of jellybeans and Twizzlers. That would be too much for my psyche to handle.

So I gave up sugar, and threw in caffeine for good measure. First came the headaches. And of course, the cravings, which were OK the first few days. It was day four through eight that I had to sit on my hands and stay out of the market. And away from anything sweet and caffeinated.

On day 9 -- and I know this because I am journaling -- I was calm. I slept through the night and woke up feeling refreshed and ready to go.

And the really wonderful outcome: Now when I eat an apple or splash balsamic on my salad, I am sated. That is all the sugar I need. It tastes that sweet.

I have stared down all sorts of things the past month. A piece of cheesecake? I know I will wake up at 2 a.m. feeling horrid. Twizzlers at 3? Sure, I'll get a burst of energy, but I'll spend the rest of the day craving everything I shouldn't eat. I consider it poison for my body. Dramatic? Sure. But sugar really was killing me slowly.

That connection is firmly implanted in my mind. Hopefully, it is there to stay.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Where oh where do you walk?

Diet Detective Stuart Platkin's suggestions for how to build walking into your routine are too good not to pass on. Food for thought for anyone who wants to get healthier.

Make a List
Research shows that having many reasons to walk (or to perform any increased physical activity) will help you sustain the activity.  This makes sense. Any time you’re trying to change a behavior, the more reasons you come up with to support that change the more likely you will be to maintain it.  It’s best to make a list of pros and cons for walking.

Your Environment Counts
It's important to understand your environmental constraints and barriers. The biggest barriers or excuses for not walking, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine, are the lack of walking trails or sidewalks, not seeing other people exercising, unattended dogs and heavy traffic.
Ask yourself the following questions about where you live:

  • Does your neighborhood have public or private recreation facilities (such as parks with walking or hiking trails)? Are they in good condition? Can you see yourself using them?
  • Does your local public school have any facilities you can use (like a track)?
  • Does your neighborhood shopping mall have walking programs available?
  • Do concerns about safety at the public recreation facilities in your community influence your using them? Do you have safety concerns about walking in your neighborhood? Have you thought about how you can overcome these safety issues?
Map It
Safe and precise walking paths are the surest way to sustain a walking plan. Find parks, trails and paths in your area by going to sites like,, or for interesting walking ideas.  Look for a walking path by searching the American Heart Association’s Walking Path website ( According to the site, new routes are being added all the time.

Once you’ve found the trails or paths you’d like to use, go to Google Maps (or other mapping sites such as to create several walking routes.

Make It Scenic
Research shows that the more scenic your walks are, the more you'll want to take them. Seek out the best-looking walking routes. Some parks offer trails specifically designed for hikers. Grass and dirt paths are flat and reduce shock and stress on your feet. If you want a little extra challenge, find paths with hills, and take a few breaks if you need to.

Try to locate walking tours around your city. Sightseeing is very distracting, and before you know it, you'll have walked a few miles while discovering more about your neighborhood or even a new neighborhood.

On rainy or cold days, use the shopping malls ­ before you know it, you will have walked the entire mall as you window-shop.

Get an App, Pedometer or Fitness Tracker
There are many great apps and fitness trackers out there, and research shows that accountability helps. Turn your smartphone into a pedometer with the Every Body Walk app from the American Heart Association ( It allows you to start, end, pause and resume your walk with the tap of a button; set targets such as distance, time and calories burned; view your walking routes on maps; watch your progress in real time; and save walks for future reference.

Other great smartphone apps include Walkmeter and MapMyWalk. They’re all very user-friendly and typically either free or very low-cost.

Fitness trackers such as Nike+ FuelBand, LINK by BodyMedia and Fitbit, claim to keep track of steps taken, calories burned and sleep patterns. They are more expensive than the phone apps mentioned above, but they are also great to use for accountability and can make exercise fun.   Most of these new devices automatically upload info to a website tracker or app. They typically cost around $100.

Then there is the basic inexpensive pedometer that simply keeps track of steps walked.  You can learn more about pedometers at The typical cost is about $20 to $40.

Get a Dog
Research reported in the Journal of Physical Activity and Health found that “not only did owning and walking a dog impact the amount of walking a person does but also that dog walkers were more active overall.” That said, you don’t get the health benefits of dog ownership if you simply let your dog out in the backyard to do his or her business.  

Make it Social
Research has consistently indicated that social support is a significant factor in determining physical activity participation. This support seems to be effective whether offered directly by a significant other actually engaging in the activity or in more indirect ways, such as when one receives words of encouragement from a friend or family member. Various communities sponsor walking clubs; take advantage of those resources and join. Walking in a group will increase motivation and distraction, and will help you challenge yourself by keeping up with the others. You can even create a walking club of your own using Twitter, Facebook or sites such as
Or go old school and put up fliers in your neighborhood school, religious and/or recreational center.

Make it Practical
A common complaint is being too busy to exercise. So fit your walking into things you need to do anyway. The kids need to go to school ­ why not walk them to the bus stop? If it's too far to walk all the way to the store or wherever you need to go, drive or take the bus halfway and walk the remaining distance.
Walking Shoes

Before you go outside and start counting your steps, keep in mind that you need to have the proper shoes. Podiatrists suggest getting cross trainers, or shoes designed specifically for walking or running. And, stay away from those "designer" shoes that are all looks but no support.

Get Creative
A nonprofit group called America on the Move has actually come up with a list of 100 ways to add 2,000 steps to your day ­ here are the first 12. You can find all of them at

1.     Circle around the block when you go outside to get your mail
2.     Walk the outside aisles of the grocery store before shopping
3.     Walk the track at a nearby high school ­ four laps is roughly 2,000 steps
4.     Make several trips up and down the stairs doing laundry or other household chores
5.     Pass by the drive-thru window and walk into the bank or restaurant
6.     Stroll the halls while waiting for your doctor appointment
7.     Listen to music or books on tape while walking
8.     Invite friends or family members to join you for a walk
9.     Accompany your kids on their walk to school
10.  Take your dog for a walk
11.  Start a walking club in your community
12.  Walk to a nearby store, post office or dry cleaner to accomplish errands

And one from me: If you are at a desk all day, log onto,
scroll to the bottom of the home page, and click on "try it." It's Leslie Sansone's gift to the world -- a one-mile walk that is free. Each time you do a walk, you've added around 2,000 steps to your daily total. Do this 5 times a day and you've reached that magic 10,000 steps a day.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Power to walking

Need more convincing that walking is great exercise? According to Stuart Platkin, a k a The Diet Detective, there are two new studies that we should all take notice of.

The first appeared in the American Heart Association journal Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis and Vascular Biology and said that if we expend the same amount of energy walking that we would running we will get the same benefit. Of course, you have to walk more. Platkin says that you need to walk 60 minutes to get the same benefits you would from running 35 or 40 minutes. My take: I'm less likely to get injured if I walk, so the extra 20 minutes is worth every minute.

Another study appeared in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, the official journal of the American College of Sports Medicine. It probably comes as no surprise that Americans walk less than people around the world. Daily:
  • Adults in western Australia averaged 9,695 steps;
  • Adults in Japan , 7,168 steps;
  • Adults in  and Switzerland, 9,650 steps;
  • And Americans: 5,117 steps.
Some more non-surprising news from the study: The median weight gain in U.S. adults is 1.8 pounds per year. We are living at least into our 70s -- which is a lot of extra weight - about 10 pounds every five years.

And one more study, published in the American Journal of Public Health that found that people who live in the suburbs ­ and  drive everywhere ­ weigh 6.3 pounds more than city folks who walk everywhere. And people in Manhattan have the lowest rate of obesity in our country, which comes as no surprise to this Bronx girl, who never had a weight problem until I moved to the 'burbs.

Tomorrow: Platkin's tips to increase your daily steps.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Walk the walk

For years I swore cardio exercise would eventually kill me, because each time I started something new I would get injured, which set up a cycle: Exercise. Begin losing weight. Exercise more. Get injured. Stop exercising. Gain back the weight I lost.

And truth be told, I hate cardio exercising.

But that didn't stop me from joining a gym 18 months ago. Daily, I would meet my friend Ann at the gym. We would happily do our cardio as we solved the world's problems. I loved those early-morning sessions, but it didn't take long for me to become weary of the gym. Things like them dropping MSNBC from the TV list annoyed me more than it should. The one soap pump in the bathroom that didn't work was annoying. And the constant please to sign up for a trainer were more than upsetting. Plus, the 25 minutes I wasted each day going back and forth.

I vowed to start exercising at home and see if I could sustain it. I got out all my Leslie Sansone walking DVDs, and each day would do a different walk. I was still going to the gym a few days a week, but soon realized I enjoyed walking with Leslie so much more than the gym.

Throughout the day, I would pop in one of her quick 12-minute miles, a great break from the computer and a perfect way to rev up my energy. Hitting 10,000 steps a day became a snap. Most days I am over by at least 3,000 steps.

I love cardio  exercise -- something I have NEVER said before.

This is not a quick fix. It is a lifelong commitment to talking care of my body. But not only do I have more energy, last weekend I was able to keep up with my 19-month-old granddaughter, never once getting out of breath or wishing she would take a nap.

I'm finally walking the walk!