Monday, April 27, 2009


Have you heard about the “conditioned hypereating” theory? (Check the link section.)

Dr. David Kessler of UCSF suggests that millions of us can’t resist foods that are bad for us because we are slaves to the pleasure-inducing combination of fat and sugar. And because many foods that are marketed as “healthy” simply replace fat with more sugar, we wind up wanting to eat even more, our bodies can’t metabolize the sugar so it turns into fat, and we’re right back where we started. Thank you, makers of “light” ice cream everywhere.

It’s not major news that food can be addictive, just like alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. Look at our obesity rate: we didn’t get this way because overeating is a challenge. The difference is that even at the height of addiction, any logical person can see the reason to stop drinking, smoking or taking drugs: your body doesn’t need that stuff. But you can’t stop eating.
The key is retraining your brain to resist those foods that are so unhealthy.

One way you can do this is to stop buying it in the first place. If I don’t put the cookies in my shopping cart, I don’t have them in the pantry later when I’m bored and looking for a snack, hungry or not. So I might eat an apple or a banana, a piece of cheese or some turkey instead.

Of course, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and over time, if I really want that cookie, I’ll go to the store to get it. A little indulgence once in a while is fine, and it keeps us from going on a binge. So here’s another trick: buy or make a single serving. Just buy one cookie from your grocery’s bakery department, instead of a big bag that you will inhale in no time flat.

Or make one of my family’s favorite desserts: parfaits. We’ll layer pudding, whipped cream, and cake, cookie or brownie pieces in a tall sundae glass. You can also use fruit or granola. Get creative. The kids love it because it looks like a fancy treat. I love it because there are no leftovers to tempt me the next day. It helps when I can say, “I had it, I enjoyed it, and now I can burn it off.” And my craving has been quashed.

Finally, recognize that no food should be off-limits. Just enjoy it in moderation. Put a portion on a plate or in a bowl and then put the package away. It’s a lot easier to stop eating those chips when the bowl is empty, even if you know there’s ¾ of a bag left in the pantry. Seeing the portion size makes you feel satisfied faster, so you’re less likely to gorge.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cola Wars

I'll admit it: I have a love/hate relationship with diet soda. On the one hand, it's a calorie free way to quench my thirst and has more flavor than water. On the other hand, there is more and more research to show that it can be much more harmful than you may realize. Recent studies suggest that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda actually make us crave more of the real thing. And that leads to overeating.

I joke sometimes that I need a diet Pepsi "patch." I've given it up several times--as part of a new nutrition plan, for Lent, as a New Year's resolution--but I always seem to find myself running back to my old flame. I'll be out running errands and that cooler at the checkout will seduce me like Antonio Banderas holding a bouquet of roses in a candlelit room. Without thinking, I add it to my cart. As soon as my purchases are stored away, I climb in behind the wheel, open the cap and those fizzy bubbles start tickling my nose. I take a long sip of the sweet, dark beverage, savoring it as it bounces down my throat. OK, I'll say it: I might even let out a loud, raucous burp of satisfaction. But as is true with any addiction, the following sips are not quite as fulfilling as the first.

At one point, I was going through 2 to 4 cans every day. More than a 12-pack each week. That can really add up, especially if you're not the only one in the house drinking it. And I've found that it's true: I really do crave sweet things when I drink diet sodas. I try to avoid caffeine, but sometimes it's the only option. When I drink too much of it, I get headaches and I tend to develop fibroid tumors in my breasts, which can be painful, and may panic you into scheduling a mammogram if you haven't had one recently. Better to be safe than sorry.

Well, this year I took a different approach to giving up soda, one not entirely of my choosing. Like most humans, I have been forced to reexamine my spending during this recession and eliminate anything that's not an absolute essential, so soda has been out for the past few months. Instead, I usually drink water or decaf herbal tea. And guess what? No more headaches, no sugary cravings, my skin looks better, and I just feel better in general. I can't really say for sure, but I think I may have finally kicked the diet soda habit for good.

There will always be that temptation at the checkout, and it will be hard to avoid diet soda entirely. In the past four months, I have had maybe 8 diet sodas, a dramatic change from my 2+ can a day habit. Sure, I'll probably still order an occasional soda if we go out to eat or if we're at a party and there are some in the cooler. But from now on, I'm putting diet soda in the category of "sometimes food" and I think that's the way it will stay.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

National Turnoff Week

I've blogged about the benefits and drawbacks of TV in the past. It can be entertaining, inspiring, and informative. It can also be a convenient excuse to sit on your bottom and do nothing. And when your kids see you doing that, it's all they want to do, too. This week, April 20th - 26th, is Turnoff Week, promoted by the Center for Screen-Time Awareness (CSTA). It is intended to help people "take control of the electronic media in their lives and not allow it to control them." Sounds like something that could benefit all of us. It started as an environmental campaign, but it can certainly provide help to families looking to cut the cords to TVs, music players, gaming devices, computers, cell phones, and other things that encourage inacivity. So this week, families are challenged to find out what it's like to turn these devices off. Instead, plan a family hike or picnic, head to your local roller skating palace, go on a family bike ride to the nearest school and then play on the playground. There are so many things you can do. In the evening, plan a family game night, complete with old fashioned popcorn made on the stove--not the microwave! Do you like to watch sports? Gather up the neighbors for a baseball game. Go fishing. Addicted to home improvement shows? Plant a garden. Clean out the attic. Restain the fence. If cooking shows are more your style, plan an outing to your local farmer's market and buy all the ingredients you need for an organic feast. You will hardly miss those things you gave up.

For more information, click here: