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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Plan Ahead for a Stress Free Holiday Season

The countdown is counting down quickly.  Christmas is around the corner and in addition to trying to maintain healthy eating habits around all the holiday parties and get togethers most of us are trying to maintain some semblance of sanity as well.

Sure its all pretty lights, happiness and good cheer, but if you are the one in charge of … well … almost everything then there are also a lot of opportunities for stress (and stress related over-indulging).

Here are some tips I’ve gathered to hopefully help keep the stress under control.  Nothing we haven't all heard before ... but definitely worth hearing again ... go me anyway -- sometimes it takes a lot of repetition before things really sink in!


It’s the middle of flu season and that means all those part guests congregating around the kitchen table, buffet table or cocktails probably all brought along their germs.  Give yourself a fighting chance of avoiding colds and the flu by getting enough sleep and eating healthy.  Wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer frequently … especially before raiding the appetizer tray and after shaking a lot of hands.

Dr. Oz recommends trying to “ward off seasonal colds with fruits like cranberries and clementines.  These seasonal favourites are bursting with anti-oxidants to keep you heart and blood vessels happy.  They are high in vitamins A and C, so they also pack a punch for you immune system.  Tart cranberries offer antibacterial benefits, which are known to lower the risk of urinary-tract infections.  For the biggest boost – eat you cranberries fresh and not dried.

There are a lot of tempting treats this time of year, but often an unpleasant side effect of all that food and those fancy cocktails is heartburn.  Avoid that uncomfortable burning sensation by leaving the tight fitting clothes at home.  Wearing something tight may encourage you NOT to overeat, but should you indulge they make you uncomfortable in more ways than one!  Try to eat plan ahead for larger than normal meals.  Have them early enough so that you won’t have to lie down for three hours afterwards.


You shouldn’t have to rule out alcohol altogether.  It’s even been proven that, in moderation, a drink can be good for your heart.  A DRINK – that means 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.

Try to enjoy your cocktail or wine from a tall skinny glass instead of a short, wide one … studies prove you will drink less.

Be sure to stop consuming alcohol well before its time to do to bed.  A nightcap may cause you to feel drowsy, alcohol ultimately disrupts nightly shuteye by decreasing REM sleep and causing more nighttime awakenings.


Getting enough sleep this time of year isn’t easy but it’s worth the effort!  If you skimp on slumber you are guaranteed to be more stressed, sick and – plump.  Lack of sleep throws off the hormones that help control your appetite. 

To get better rest, skip the cookies and spiked cider; a full stomach and alcohol can inhibit sleep (see above).  Make an effort to allow some winding down time as part of your bedtime routine.  If your holidays involve some long distance travel remember to allow for jet lag and travel fatigue.


We gain an average of one pound each winter (if not more), and while that may not seem like a lot, the average person never loses that weight.

One way to ward off seasonal weight gain is to only eat when you are truly hungry.  How do you know?  Start by checking the time.  If it is less than three hours since you last ate something, try drinking some water before grabbing a snack.  We often confuse hunger and thirst because the signals the body sends are similar. 

By eating only when you are truly hungry, you reduce the total calories you take in, improve your blood sugar levels and help lower insulin resistance.


With everything that is going on this time of year it may be difficult to try and find the time to fit in a workout … go for an hour-long jog … or even a quick class at the gym.  Just keep in mind a little can go a long way.  A recent study found that even 15 minutes of moderate activity every day ups life expectancy.  Don’t stress about skipping workouts.  Instead, “think movement and activity” says Kathryn Nobrega-Porter, a naturopathic doctor in Toronto.  “Do some squats in your cubicle, go for a walk at lunch and plan active social outings”.  Mall-walking is a great way to “pre-shop” for gifts and get some exercise in at the same time.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Patting Myself on the Back

After buying a Fitbit as a birthday gift to myself, I also gave myself a walking challenge.  I have tried this before as a "Virtual Walk" and did not stick with it.  The Fitbit seems to help.  It's funny how toys and apps can help to motivate me.  I don't want to think too long and hard about what that says about my personality but I think I like the positive feedback ... even if it is electronic.

Anyway ... long story short ... I challenged myself to walk 150 Km in November and I managed to bypass that by a whopping 34 Km, so I feel pretty good about that.

I also had one day when I walked 20,000 steps.  I am going to guess that 20,000 steps in one day is not going to happen too often.  No matter what anyone says ... that's a lot of walking!

Again, silly I know, but I like the badges Fitbit sends when you reach a milestone.

Well, I'll stop boring you by tooting my own horn, but I just wanted to keep a record of my very successful November 2014.  

With Christmas around the corner I hope December 2014 is as successful.  

I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

What's the Calorie Count of Love?

You have had a really good week – you worked out a few times – you ate properly – you kept your portions under control – and you’re feeling pretty good.  Then the unthinkable happens …

… Your mom bakes your absolutely favourite cake and brings it over to have with coffee

… Your husband comes home with a treat from your favourite ice cream shop because HE had a craving

… Your friend (who can eat whatever he/she wants and never gain an ounce) offers to treat you to lunch at the newest food truck – the one with no salads on their menu

Sound familiar?

We’ve all been there!

Everyone’s intentions are good, but tempting a dieter with food or treats they know are forbidden is probably an unconscious act on their part.  Yet, when it happens, it can make it difficult when you are trying to stick to your diet.  We’ve discussed sabotage (intentional or not) by family and friends before so this time I want to focus on the worst culprit of all – the person you share you home with – your husband or partner.

While it may seem that your loved one is deliberately tempting you by bringing home that ice cream treat or you favourite donut, but experts say that their intentions are not as evil as you may think.  People who don’t have issues with food often do not realize the level of temptation that those of us on diets experience.

The most important thing to do is let them know how difficult it is when they lovingly offer temptation.  They need to understand that no one has an unending supply of willpower – and no matter how strong you are you cannot stare at fattening foods every day without your willpower breaking down.  Tell them not to bring you food as gifts – and nicely ask that they eat any calorie-laden food they may enjoy when you are not around to see, hear or smell it.

Even if your partner tries his/her best not to tempt you, there are many other reasons that you might gain weight when you are in a marriage/partnership.  Weight gain happens to men too, but since our TOPS group is all ladies at the moment and, with regards to weight gain in relationships the truth of the matter is – the female typically gains it. I am going to focus on why women gain the weight.

Why does it happen?

It’s more than just the “nesting-bulge”.  In a relationship where men and women are sharing the same space one does as the other does. When women start sharing meals with their husbands, eating habits change.  Some men might actually begin eating healthier; better balance meals, fruits, and veggies, while women might start eating LESS healthy – they begin to allow more junk food into the house and they start consuming larger portions, similar to those their partner’s are enjoying.  Portion judgement seems to go out the window.  With smaller muscle mass and body size, women don’t need as many calories to keep the body functioning.  When there is excess – weight gain is inevitable!

The phenomenon is very real and is called “Spousal Concordance”.  It happens more frequently in the
beginnings of relationships but can carry through the years, or begin at any point.  Are you an empty nester with only two mouths to cook for instead of more?  Did you or hubby recently retire and now you spend more time in each other’s company?  Spousal concordance is sneaky and you may not even be aware it’s happening … have you submitted to his Sunday TV binge-watching routine?  Joined his late-night taco runs?  When women spend more time at home with their mates, they tend to shift towards eating more and exercising less.  Beware of those upcoming fall and winter nights when the TV and ice cream seem very appealing. 

In the March 2010 issue of Women’s Health they offer some reason why the weight gain happens and how to get it back under control.

You match him bite for bite – it’s tough to stick to tiny portions when your partner downs 500 to
1500 more calories than a day than you do.  Women tend to develop “portion distortion”.  You don’t recognize a normal-size serving anymore because you are always eating with a guy who consumes huge platefuls of food.  He might be able to get away with it because men have more muscle mass, so they require more calories, but shovelling in all those extra forkfuls WILL eventually catch up to you.

How can you fix this?  It’s pretty basic!  Serve yourself less.  Eat about three quarters of what he’s eating.  Sorry, but women burn 26 percent fewer calories than men do, so at that rate you’ll break just about even.  It’s not fair but it is what it is … men lose weight faster then women too … can’t hate them for the cards Mother Nature dealt.

His snacks are your snacks – you might not buy chips for yourself, but when he leaves the bag out on the coffee table, you need supreme willpower to ignore it.  Believe it or not women are more likely to adopt their partner’s eating habits than vice-versa.  For some reason women feel that this is a way for them to “connect” with the men in their lives.

How do you fix this?  Know your options.  You have two diet-friendly choices.  Serve yourself a small amount of his snack and put it on a plate.  Dipping your hand into the bag over and over again leads to nothing but diet disaster.  Or, have a portion controlled, lower-calorie alternative on hand to munch while he takes down that bag of chips or pint of ice cream.  Pop Chips(120 calories per serving), with just three servings in a big bag can satisfy your salt craving, while hockey puck size Skinny Cow ice cream sandwiches (140 calories each) fill in nicely for fattening frozen desserts.  Who knows – you may even convert him!

If you eat out all the time – sometimes life gets busy and cooking a meal seems like one more thing you
have to do.  The easiest solution is to order in, grab something on the way home or go out to a restaurant.  That’s bad news for your waistline.  A study of 24 national chains revealed that the average entrĂ©e at a sit down restaurant contains 867 calories.  And that does not include Apps, sides, drinks and dessert.

How can you fix it?  Cook meals together.  Not only can it be some time that you can share together (food is a bonding experience) but also you can control the fat and calories by using healthy recipes and ingredients that are low fat.

You are always at home – with the kids, on the couch, in the kitchen – anywhere but at the gym.  A study by the Obesity Journal found that couples who live together for two or more years are less likely to be physically active, and the women are the ones more likely to become obese.  As positive as relationships can be, they also change your routine. 

How can you fix it?  Get him involved.  Women who exercised with a partner lost more weight than those who sweated it out solo.  When people do something together they are more likely to stick with it.  You don’t have to join a gym – just decide to go for a walk after dinner every night.  In a perfect rose-coloured world – when you don’t feel like going, he’ll drag you out, and you’ll do the same for him.

So – I guess love does come with calories.  But stop blaming you partner/spouse for your weight gain.  They are not forcing you to consume the food – you own that decision.  But, by the same token don’t be afraid to ask for help.  Love may have calories but it should also have understanding.  Adding a few extra pounds isn’t the really bad part.  Starting unhealthy habits is! 

If you both need to get back on healthier track, set small goals you can achieve together.  Commit to taking that 15-minute walk together, or forgo take-out (whether fast food or green juice) twice a week in favour of a home cooked meal.

If you partner does not want to or does not need to participate, nicely ask for his support 
of your efforts … and CARRY ON!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Sweeteners? Sugar? Or Are You Sweet Enough?

In 1879, Ira Remsen, a researcher from Johns Hopkins University noticed that a derivative of coal tar he accidentally spilled on his hand tasted sweet.  (My question being … why would he ever assume to taste it?) While he did not morph into a slim, but obnoxious Buddy Love like Jerry Lewis did in The Nutty Professor, his spill did set the stage for the development of saccharin – an artificial sweetener known today to many seasoned dieters as Sweet-n-Low.  This is the most recognized name brand of the saccharin based sugar substitutes.

It’s now more than 125 years since that fateful lick of coal tar derivative and saccharin has been joined by a growing list of artificial sweeteners.  Reportedly there is a long list of more on the way.

These products substitute for sugar.  They can replace corn syrup, used in many soda and sweetened drinks, and table sugars.  The substitute allows the sweet taste to remain in anything and everything from chocolate and ketchup to gum, ice cream, and soft drinks.

At every restaurant or coffee shop table, between the salt shaker and the A1 Steak Sauce there sits a box jammed with pastel packets.  If you are trying to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes.  You are not alone.  Hoping to dodge a few calories people use them in their coffee or tea.  According to a 2006 survey, 61 percent of U.S. women use artificial sweeteners daily, and 50 percent drink diet soda.

But …

What exactly is in those packets?

Are they safe?

Can they help people shed extra weight?

What part should they play in a healthy eating program?

Let’s start with the real deal – Sucrose aka Sugar.  We know sugar contributes to tooth decay and obesity, yet we still spoon it onto cereal and into coffee (and the food industry puts heaps – known as added sugar – into other products).  North Americans eat 165 pounds of added sugar each year.  Sugar contains 16 calories per teaspoon.  It is found naturally in fruit, added to baked goods, jams and everything else from marinades to salad dressings.

Sugar offers energy but no nutritional benefits.  In 2003 it was recommended that sugar make up no more that 10% of your diet, or about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) for a 2,000 calories diet.  In 2009 the Heart Association slashed that even further suggesting women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar and men no more than 9 (37.5 grams)

Check your food labels folks … those numbers are not difficult to surpass in one sitting!

Another natural sweetener is – Honey.  Honey contains 21 calories per teaspoon and is found in cereals, baked goods and commonly used in tea.  Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals and studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products.  It is generally better for the body to have a slow and steady rise in blood sugar after eating, rather than a drastic spike.

Honey does, however, contain calories and should be used as sparingly as any other full-calories sweetener.

Something that has been around for a long time is – High-Fructose Corn Syrup.  It contains 17 calories per teaspoon and is most often found in sodas, desserts and cereals.  It contains the sugars fructose and glucose from processed corn syrup has become a hot topic of debate lately.  Because it is less expensive that sucrose and gives products a longer shelf life, more packaged foods – especially soda, cereal, and yogurt – contain HFCS as added sugar instead of sucrose.  I always question how good anything can be for your body if it gives products "a longer shelf life"?

Some studies say beverages sweetened with HFCS contribute to obesity more than sucrose, but others show it’s no worse for health.  Like any sugar or sweetener, it’s best to limit your consumption.

The new kid on the block is – Agave Nectar.  This contains 20 calories per teaspoon and is found in cereals, yogurt and added to tea.  The nectar is a product of the agave cactus, and its taste and texture are similar to honey.  It does not contain as many antioxidants as honey, but it contains approximately the same amount of calories.  Agave, however, is sweeter than sugar, so proponents argue that you can use less to get similar sweetness.

Agave nectar contains more fructose than table sugar, which, according to a recent study, means it is less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar but could be more likely to reduce your metabolism and insulin sensitivity.


Sugar substitutes are loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar.  Artificial sweeteners are the most common type of sugar substitute.

So let’s look at the grand-daddy of artificial sweeteners – Saccharine.  I remember the days when saccharine was a little white tablet my mom and aunt put in their coffee.  It would fizz up when it was added.  And you can forget the bitter-sweet after-taste of the original Fresca or Tab diet drinks (sweetened with saccharine).  These days saccharine is known as Sweet-n-Low.  It has 0 calories and is commonly found in drinks, canned goods and candy.

Saccharin got a bad rep because rat studies in the early 1970’s found a link between consuming saccharin and bladder cancer.  This prompted the U.S. Congress to mandate in 1981 that all foods containing it bear a warning label.  Later studies showed that these results occurred in MALE rats (not humans) and further research has shown that male rats have a particular predisposition to bladder cancers.  The Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) states “the cancer risks are not something that an individual person should worry about”.

Nutrasweet and Equal are examples of products containing – Aspartame.  Aspartame has 0 calories and is most commonly found in drinks, gum, yogurt and cough drops.  One of the most studied artificial sweeteners is aspartame.  It has been accused of causing everything from weight gain to cancer.  Howver, since being approved in 1981, studies have found no convincing evidence and the World Health Organization as well as the American Diabetic Association say aspartame poses no threats.  The CSPI says “the only caveat is aspartame in people with a rare disorder known as phenylketonuria (PKU), who are unable to metabolize phenylalanine.  This is an inherited, genetic disorder and PKU is detected at birth through a mandatory screening process.  Some people, particularly those prone to migraines may develop headaches after consuming foods sweetened with aspartame.

Another fairly recent addition to the artificial sweetener shelf is Truvia that contains – Rebiana.  It also contains 0 calories and is found in diet drinks, yogurts, and sold in individual packets.  Derived from the stevia plant, rebiana is deemed the natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.  Although crude stevia extracts are not approved by the FDA, refined stevia products such as Truvia are generally regarded as safe.

However – a group of UCLA toxicologists wrote a letter to the FDA stating several (but not all) of their lab tests showed the sweetener to cause mutations and DNA damage and urged further testing.  Until further testing, be mindful of the amount you’re consuming.

And we move on to – Stevia.  A shrub native to Paraguay and a member of the sunflower family, Stevia is a herb that is 300 times sweeter than sugar.  In North America, the safety, efficacy and acceptability of Stevia as an ingredient in natural health products or as a sweetener food additive are currently the subject of much debate.  Evidence suggests that Stevia and its isolates may be present a risk to pregnant women, children and those who have low blood pressure.  As a result, the labels of Stevia-containing natural health products are required to carry warnings.

Rapidly becoming the most popular sweetener on the market is Splenda that contains – Sucralose.  It contains 0 calories.  As it says on the label, sucralose – which has been around since 1998 and is used in ice cream, sauces, and jellies – is made from sugar and tastes closest to the real thing.  To create it, food chemists substitute chlorine atoms for three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sucrose molecule.  The switch makes Splenda a tongue-tingling 600 times sweeter than sugar.  Splenda is not affected by heat and retains its sweetness in hot beverages, baked goods, and processed foods.  This has some advantages. 

As the obesity epidemic continues, chemists continue to search the perfect sugar substitue.  Next up for FDA approval is a product called Alitame, which is similar to aspartame but 10 times sweeter, with no aftertaste.

Can you overdose of sweeteners?

According to WebMD as far as nonsugar sweeteners there is not a tremendous potential for overdose.  Even if a person binges on low-calorie Fudgesicles or Creamsicles, as long as the rest of their diet is healthy, there is no downside because they would otherwise probably be bingeing on something a lot worse.


“Artificial sweeteners can serve a definite purpose in weight loss and diabetes control.  It enables people that are either carb, sugar, or calorie conscious to take in a wider range of foods that they would either not be allowed to eat or could only eat in such teeny amounts that they were not satisfying.  Artifical sweeteners allow people to stick to a good diet for a longer period of time.  In a diet, artificial sweeteners are considered “free foods”.  The sugar substitutes do not count as a carbohydrate, a fat, or any other exchange.

These products can be useful when used appropriately for people like diabetics who need to control their sugar intake and in overweight people who need to control their calorie intake.

Artificial sweeteners do not affect blood sugar levels, but some foods containing them can still affect blood sugar because of the other carbohydrates or proteins in those foods.  In other words, while foods that contain artificial sweeteners may be sugar-free, they may not be carbohydrate free.

Just because a food contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar is not carte blanche for grazing!

The real key to weight loss is calories.  If you substitute a diet soda for a sugar soda, you save 100 calories, but if you eat 15 sugar free cookies (which have calories) instead of two regular cookies, you may not be helping yourself at all.”  (Ruth Kava, Phd, RD, director of nutrition for the American Council on Science and Health in New York City)


Okay … so faux sugars won’t do you any serious harm.  And they look even better when you consider the problems that sugar can cause.  But remember … if you get more than 15 percent of your calories from foods and drinks with added sugar vs. naturally sweet foods like fruit, you increase your chances of mood swings, cavities, even grogginess.  And of course excess sugar can result in excess pounds.


You’d think that artificial sweeteners, which don’t cause blood sugar spikes would lead to slimmer middles.  Alas, not necessarily so.  One Harvard Medical School study did show that aspartame helped women maintain weight loss over time by helping them cut calories.  But another study in the International Journal of Obesity suggests that when we offer our bodies sweet tasting foods and beverages but give them no calories, they crave real sugar even more.  Substitutes may not signal the same satiety hormones as sugar, making it easier to overeat.

There are some guidelines for “maximum intakes for sugar substitutes”.  The FDA has established the amount you can ingest every 24 hours with no adverse effects.  The rule?  A 150-pound adult can have 8 and a half packets of Sweet-n-Low, 87 packets of Equal or NutraSweet, or 25 packets of Splenda daily. 

If you need more than those quantities, again, you need to be re-evaluating your overall diet!

Still confused?  Me too!

The bottom line (according to “Health” magazine):  Most nutritionists agree that you’ll end up healthier and more satisfied eating a few squares of chocolate after lunch than feasting on artificially sweetened foods all day.  And when you face your morning coffee, remember that sugar delivers just 15 calories per teaspoon – which you can burn by sleeping for 13 minutes.

The bottom line for me:  I cannot stop at “a few squares” of chocolate … so that’s a bad suggestions for me!  I don’t “feast” on artificially sweetened foods all day … if I snack in the afternoon I try to make it fruit.  I like using sweetener in my coffee, but use sugar or honey in my tea.  Why?  For me – it’s based on taste.  I like having diet Pepsi with my dinner, but very rarely even finish a 355 ml can.  I do not overindulge in other “diet products”.  I know I don’t indulge in 25 packets per day!  So, I’m going to stick with Splenda in my coffee. 

Personally, I am glad I looked into this topic (suggested by one of my TOPS group members) because it does lay to rest some of the health concerns.  But, as with everything else, I guess everyone has to decide what is the best for themselves.