Friday, January 30, 2009

Break Emotional Eating Habit

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(Editor’s Note: Sandra May is an extension associate and program manager for the LSU AgCenter’s Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP). She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at LSU and is a registered dietitian.)

Our desire to eat at times has more to do with boredom and emotions than with a physiological need for food. We all know we should eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full, but human behavior is complex. We are constantly surrounded by sights and smells that affect our eating behavior – fast food advertisements, the smell of popcorn in a theater, vending machines in the break room, and buffet-style meals – just to name a few. These eating cues are not limited to things in our surroundings, however. Emotions can also trigger food cravings. You may turn to sweets when you are upset or anxious or reward yourself with a favorite dessert for a job well done. If your feelings lead you to the fridge, you’re engaging in a behavior commonly referred to as emotional eating.

Emotional eating leads to eating when you are not really hungry. Foods you may typically turn to for comfort tend to be loaded with fat, sugar and calories. And because you are thinking about your bad day at work or flipping through TV stations rather than paying attention to what you’re eating, you may eat much more than you planned or even realized.

The best strategy to halt emotional eating is to stop it before it starts. Before grabbing that leftover pasta or bag of chips, ask yourself:

How hungry am I? – Rate your hunger on a scale from one to 10, with one being not hungry at all and 10 being extremely hungry. If you rate your hunger at six or above, grab a healthy snack and enjoy it. If you rate it at five or below, step away from the cupboard or fridge and turn your attention to something other than food.

What am I thinking about? – Are you thinking about the heated conversation you had with your coworker or were you stuck in traffic for an hour after a long day at work?

What am I feeling? – Are you depressed, sad, bored or even happy?

Why am I really eating this? – Think about your motives for eating.

Write down your responses in a journal so you can reflect on what is really going on. If you find that you are not hungry at all and your eating is a reaction to your mood, think of some alternative behaviors:

  • Pick up the phone and call a friend. Not only will it help keep your mind off the fridge, but the positive interaction may be just what you need to lift your mood!
  • Get active. Go for a walk or visit the gym. This activity will not only serve as a distraction, but you’ll be one step closer to reaching your health goals!
  • Play with your pet. Fido or Fluffy will thank you for it.
  • Get those chores out of the way. Sure, maybe mopping floors or pulling weeds isn’t your idea of a fun afternoon, but it needs to get done eventually! As an added bonus, if done vigorously enough, some of these routine tasks are light exercises so you’ll be getting a calorie-burning bonus.
  • Discover a new hobby. Craftwork, for example, is soothing and will leave you with a finished product and a sense of accomplishment. Plus, it will keep your hands busy, which makes eating difficult.
  • Come up with your own ideas. Anything that keeps you from eating is a good place to start. Anything that gets you moving is even better. Post them on your pantry or fridge if you need a last-minute reminder.

Just remember that one mistake doesn’t mean failure. Don’t get discouraged. Tell yourself that you’ll try harder!

Sandra May 


Friday, January 23, 2009

Maintaining Your Exercise Plan in Winter

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(Editor’s Note: Celia Jackson is an extension associate in the School of Human Ecology and a field coordinator in the Family Nutrition Program.)

Not everyone has a gym membership. Therefore, winter weather can make it difficult to participate in outside activities. But don’t let the cold weather break your routine. Avoid inactivity during winter. Develop a workout plan specifically for the cold season and avoid making excuses for not exercising. When planning your winter exercise, think of all the benefits you will enjoy from regular exercise.

First, think about your exercise goal. We set goals for ourselves to provide a finish line to work toward. Whether your goals are to lose weight or to improve your blood pressure, remember to be realistic. Setting unrealistic goals such as a 20-pound weight loss in a short period sets you up for failure. Start off slow and work your way up to reaching your goals.

Next, determine what physical activity you can and will enjoy doing during winter. You should consider available blocks of time you have for accomplishing physical activity when choosing an exercise routine. Some great indoor exercise activities that can keep your routine going are dancing, Pilates, yoga, jump roping or mall walking. To relieve boredom, try choosing three or four activities to do on different days of the week. Invest in some dumbbells and a stash of fitness DVDs to create a at home gym.

If time is an issue, try bringing your athletic shoes to work and take a short, brisk walk on your lunch break. If space allows, team up with your co-workers and do a short aerobic DVD during your breaks. You can also exercise throughout the day. Try exercising for 15-minute intervals at least two to four times throughout the day. And don’t count out the family. Build your exercise routine around family time. Exercise as a family. This allows you to spend time with your family while becoming physically fit and showing your children model behavior. Remember, some physical activity is better than none.

Some other tips to remember while planning and achieving your winter exercise routine are to maintain hydration and purchase the appropriate exercise wear for the season. It’s easy to remember to drink fluids when it’s hot outside. But in the middle of winter, you might forget. Proper hydration means drinking fluids before you feel thirsty. A minimum of 64 ounces of water or water-based beverage per day is a good start. But any physical activity increases your need. Also, sport drinks can provide hydration, but be aware of the extra calories. Choose some of the low-calorie options. If you choose to conduct physical activity outside during the winter season, dress properly. Long-sleeve shirts, gloves, hats, pants and thicker socks can help you avoid feeling cold or experiencing dry skin or wind burns.

Aim for at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderately intense physical activity per week. A low level of physical activity can contribute to the onset of chronic diseases, thus decreasing your quality of life. Being physically active during the winter season can be simple and enjoyable with a plan that is best for you. Most importantly, enjoy the benefit of keeping off winter weight gain.

For more information, go to the American Dietetic Association’s Eat Right Web site.

Read more about the LSU AgCenter’s Family Nutrition Program.

Celia Jackson 


Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year’s Resolutions and Weight Loss

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At the beginning of a new year, people look at their lives and decide what needs to be changed. It might be having a better handle on where their money goes. Or it might be that they will want to get to bed earlier so not to be exhausted the next day. Or it might be that they want to make a change for a healthier lifestyle. Many people want to lose weight.

Whatever your New Year’s resolution may be, how do you stick to it? If you stray even once, do you give up? One of the important things to remember about making resolutions is that we make them to improve our lives. So, we do not agree to be perfect (i.e. spend every dime as our budget tells us, or not eat a morsel of white flour, or stay up for one movie late), but we agree to try to be better than we were before.

The idea that we need to be perfect is what foils us. If you never exercised, but now decided to walk around the block after the evening meal, but you miss once – that’s not a reason to give up. You just had a temporary setback, but you can dust yourself off and start again the next day. That is one of the great things about our lives. We can make new decisions each day better than we made yesterday.

The second thing to think about when making New Year’s resolutions is to keep them simple. What makes us stop are the expectations that are too great that we can’t reach them. If you agreed to lose 50 pounds because you are that much heavier today than the day you graduated from high school or got married, it is probably too great a weight loss to try to achieve all at once. Any small weight loss will seem so minute. And if you gain any because of salt and fluid balance changes, you will likely give up.

How about agreeing to a 10-pound weight loss? That is much easier to reach, and 1- and 2-pound losses can give a boost to your self-esteem.

Third is that we need to do something new and different. The newness may be a turn-off and stop you from sticking to your plan. If you want to lose weight and you feel your current weight is due to excessive snacking, eliminating all snacks may be too hard and impossible to stick to. However, you know you have to change your habits if you want to change your weight. Eliminating some snacks while changing others to lower calorie varieties of snacks can help in weight loss.

Things to remember about making resolutions that can help you stick to them:

  • Don’t think of things as win/lose, think in terms of improvement.
  • Temporary setbacks happen because life happens. Get over it. Move on.
  • Learn to reward yourself in ways that help you with your goals. Reward yourself with new music, an event or activity.
  • Share your goals with important people in your life so they can help you reach your goal.

Happy New Year!

Heli Roy

2/7/2009 2:46:18 AM
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