Category Archives: Wellness

Jane Brody’s Personal Secrets to Lasting Weight Loss


By Jane Brody

When The New York Times hired me to write about science and health 52 years ago, I was 40 pounds overweight. I’d spent the previous three years watching my weight rise as I hopped from one diet to the next in a futile attempt to shed the pounds most recently gained.

No amount of exercise, and I did plenty of it, could compensate for how much I ate when I abandoned the latest weight loss scheme. I had become a living example of the adage: A diet is something one goes on to go off.

Even daylong fasting failed me. When I finally ate supper, I couldn’t stop eating until I fell asleep, and sometimes awoke the next morning with partly chewed food in my mouth. I had dieted myself into a binge-eating disorder, and that really scared me. Clearly, something had to change.

I finally regained control when I stopped dieting. I decided that if I was going to be fat, at least I could be healthy. I made a plan to eat three nutritious, satisfying meals every day with one small snack, which helped me overcome the temptation to binge in response to deprivation.

Much to my surprise, a month later I had lost 10 pounds — eating! Eating good food, that is, and plenty of it. I continued the regimen without difficulty because it was not a diet. It was a way to live and a healthy one at that. And I continued to lose, about two pounds a month.

Two years later, all the excess weight was gone. I never gained it back and never again went on a diet. (Even with a twin pregnancy, I gained only 36 pounds and lost them all when my sons were born at 6 pounds 13 ounces each.)

The greatest challenge to lasting weight loss, especially for someone like me with a food addiction, is the fact that no one can give up eating. Rather, one has to learn a better — and permanent — way to handle food.

I eat everything I want, in moderation. My meals — mostly homemade — are heavily loaded with vegetables, and I choose calorie-controlled snacks like popcorn at 35 calories a cup, a graham cracker at 59 calories for two squares, and ice cream (really ice milk) at 100 to 150 calories a half cup. No seconds!

My weight maintenance secrets are simple: I read nutrition labels before I buy anything in a package, I practice portion control, and I exercise and weigh myself every day to stay within a two-pound range appropriate for my height. If the number on the scale begins to creep up, I may walk, bike or swim a little more and eat a little less for a few days.

In a recent issue of JAMA, Dr. Eve Guth, internist at the Jesse Brown Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago, basically endorsed my approach. She wrote: “Successful long-term calorie reduction is most likely to result when patients decide for themselves which dietary changes to make and when. Essential to any effort is a clear understanding that dietary change is a slow process that requires ongoing vigilance” which, she admitted, “is not a popular concept in a world now accustomed to immediate results.”

Perhaps no one knows this better than Angelica Divinagracia, a fitness specialist in Los Angeles who at 53 still looks as good or better than she did as head cheerleader at U.C.L.A. In a posting mid-January on Facebook, she wrote, “The diet and nutrition business is a billion dollar industry because it’s designed for failure. When the diet ends, which ultimately it will, you go right back to where you were. Then you start another….”

Ms. Divinagracia said, “I don’t believe in diets or any particular products. I believe in learning how to create a healthy lifestyle, and the formula is simple.” The most salient points of her well-practiced advice are these: 1) Stop eating crap, 2) Eat good food that is real, not processed, 3) Avoid drinking your calories, 4) Know what one serving is and do not eat more than that in a sitting, 5) Move your butt every day — even just walking is better than being a couch potato, and 6) Stop making excuses.

Dr. Guth warns against numerous pitfalls, like being swayed by package claims of “low fat” or “low carbohydrate” instead of reading the facts on the nutrition label. “These foods do not necessarily have fewer total calories than the original version of the food,” she wrote, because sugar is often used to compensate for flavor lost, for example, when fat is reduced. Fruit juice may be fat-free but it is not low in calories because it contains large amounts of sugar, she noted.

She also urges closer attention to add-ons and condiments. “A beef patty has definite food value but after adding a large bun, dressing and extra cheese, the total calories (535) will far exceed the caloric content of the meat, pickle and tomato (240),” she wrote, adding that using butter, margarine or mayonnaise on a sandwich adds far more calories than mustard.

I don’t count calories, but I have a working knowledge of the approximate calories in nearly everything I eat. If you need to lose weight, I urge you to download a comprehensive calorie chart of common foods to help you make substitutions that will cut about 500 calories from your daily diet. You can do the same with an exercise chart, keeping in mind that the caloric cost of any activity depends on how strenuously you do it and how much you weigh.

Although most of the Jan. 16 issue of JAMA is devoted to studies of bariatric surgery, which offers the best route to permanent weight loss for some people, Dr. Guth pointed out that surgery is likely to fail too “if a patient is unwilling to make appropriate changes in food choices.”

She, like me, endorses Michael Pollan’s diet mantra: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” And like me, she notes that slow, steady weight loss suggests that you’ve made sustainable changes in your diet and exercise habits that can become second nature and last a lifetime.


The Key to Weight Loss Is Diet Quality, Not Quantity, a New Study Finds


Anyone who has ever been on a diet knows that the standard prescription for weight loss is to reduce the amount of calories you consume.

But a new study, published Tuesday in JAMA, may turn that advice on its head. It found that people who cut back on added sugar, refined grains and highly processed foods while concentrating on eating plenty of vegetables and whole foods — without worrying about counting calories or limiting portion sizes — lost significant amounts of weight over the course of a year.

The strategy worked for people whether they followed diets that were mostly low in fat or mostly low in carbohydrates. And their success did not appear to be influenced by their genetics or their insulin-response to carbohydrates, a finding that casts doubt on the increasingly popular idea that different diets should be recommended to people based on their DNA makeup or on their tolerance for carbs or fat.

The research lends strong support to the notion that diet quality, not quantity, is what helps people lose and manage their weight most easily in the long run. It also suggests that health authorities should shift away from telling the public to obsess over calories and instead encourage Americans to avoid processed foods that are made with refined starches and added sugar, like bagels, white bread, refined flour and sugary snacks and beverages, said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University.

“This is the road map to reducing the obesity epidemic in the United States,” said Dr. Mozaffarian, who was not involved in the new study. “It’s time for U.S. and other national policies to stop focusing on calories and calorie counting.”

The new research was published in JAMA and led by Christopher D. Gardner, the director of nutrition studies at the Stanford Prevention Research Center. It was a large and expensive trial, carried out on more than 600 people with $8 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Nutrition Science Initiative and other groups.

Dr. Gardner and his colleagues designed the study to compare how overweight and obese people would fare on low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets. But they also wanted to test the hypothesis — suggested by previous studies — that some people are predisposed to do better on one diet over the other depending on their genetics and their ability to metabolize carbs and fat. A growing number of services have capitalized on this idea by offering people personalized nutrition advice tailored to their genotypes.

The researchers recruited adults from the Bay Area and split them into two diet groups, which were called “healthy” low carb and “healthy” low fat. Members of both groups attended classes with dietitians where they were trained to eat nutrient-dense, minimally processed whole foods, cooked at home whenever possible.

Soft drinks, fruit juice, muffins, white rice and white bread are technically low in fat, for example, but the low-fat group was told to avoid those things and eat foods like brown rice, barley, steel-cut oats, lentils, lean meats, low-fat dairy products, quinoa, fresh fruit and legumes. The low-carb group was trained to choose nutritious foods like olive oil, salmon, avocados, hard cheeses, vegetables, nut butters, nuts and seeds, and grass-fed and pasture-raised animal foods.

The participants were encouraged to meet the federal guidelines for physical activity but did not generally increase their exercise levels, Dr. Gardner said. In classes with the dietitians, most of the time was spent discussing food and behavioral strategies to support their dietary changes.

The new study stands apart from many previous weight-loss trials because it did not set extremely restrictive carbohydrate, fat or caloric limits on people and emphasized that they focus on eating whole or “real” foods — as much as they needed to avoid feeling hungry.

“The unique thing is that we didn’t ever set a number for them to follow,” Dr. Gardner said.

Of course, many dieters regain what they lose, and this study cannot establish whether participants will be able to sustain their new habits. While people on average lost a significant amount of weight in the study, there was also wide variability in both groups. Some people gained weight, and some lost as much as 50 to 60 pounds. Dr. Gardner said that the people who lost the most weight reported that the study had “changed their relationship with food.” They no longer ate in their cars or in front of their television screens, and they were cooking more at home and sitting down to eat dinner with their families, for example.

“We really stressed to both groups again and again that we wanted them to eat high-quality foods,” Dr. Gardner said. “We told them all that we wanted them to minimize added sugar and refined grains and eat more vegetables and whole foods. We said, ‘Don’t go out and buy a low-fat brownie just because it says low fat. And those low-carb chips — don’t buy them, because they’re still chips and that’s gaming the system.’”

Dr. Gardner said many of the people in the study were surprised — and relieved — that they did not have to restrict or even think about calories.

“A couple weeks into the study people were asking when we were going to tell them how many calories to cut back on,” he said. “And months into the study they said, ‘Thank you! We’ve had to do that so many times in the past.’”

Calorie counting has long been ingrained in the prevailing nutrition and weight loss advice. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, tells people who are trying to lose weight to “write down the foods you eat and the beverages you drink, plus the calories they have, each day,” while making an effort to restrict the amount of calories they eat and increasing the amount of calories they burn through physical activity.

“Weight management is all about balancing the number of calories you take in with the number your body uses or burns off,” the agency says.

Yet the new study found that after one year of focusing on food quality, not calories, the two groups lost substantial amounts of weight. On average, the members of the low-carb group lost just over 13 pounds, while those in the low-fat group lost about 11.7 pounds. Both groups also saw improvements in other health markers, like reductions in their waist sizes, body fat, and blood sugar and blood pressure levels.

The researchers took DNA samples from each subject and analyzed a group of genetic variants that influence fat and carbohydrate metabolism. Ultimately the subjects’ genotypes did not appear to influence their responses to the diets.

The researchers also looked at whether people who secreted higher levels of insulin in response to carbohydrate intake — a barometer of insulin resistance — did better on the low-carb diet. Surprisingly, they did not, Dr. Gardner said, which was somewhat disappointing.

“It would have been sweet to say we have a simple clinical test that will point out whether you’re insulin resistant or not and whether you should eat more or less carbs,” he added.

Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the study did not support a “precision medicine” approach to nutrition, but that future studies would be likely to look at many other genetic factors that could be significant. He said the most important message of the study was that a “high quality diet” produced substantial weight loss and that the percentage of calories from fat or carbs did not matter, which is consistent with other studies, including many that show that eating healthy fats and carbs can help prevent heart disease, diabetes and other diseases.

“The bottom line: Diet quality is important for both weight control and long-term well-being,” he said.

Dr. Gardner said it is not that calories don’t matter. After all, both groups ultimately ended up consuming fewer calories on average by the end of the study, even though they were not conscious of it. The point is that they did this by focusing on nutritious whole foods that satisfied their hunger. “I think one place we go wrong is telling people to figure out how many calories they eat and then telling them to cut back on 500 calories, which makes them miserable,” he said. “We really need to focus on that foundational diet, which is more vegetables, more whole foods, less added sugar and less refined grains.”

— From the New York Times, February 20, 2018

Quick Guide to Nutritious Meals


Planning saves time and allows the opportunity to pack the family meal with an extra nutritional punch. Before you make your shopping list and head to the grocery store, consider the following criteria for healthier options:

  • Include at least one selection from each of the five food groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, dairy and protein foods.
  • Limit foods that are fried or highly refined.
  • Incorporate high-fiber foods like whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, fruits, beans, nuts and seeds.

Here is a balanced and nutritious dinner that the entire family will love: Mediterranean chicken breast (a boneless, skinless chicken breast baked for 20 minutes with lemon juice, a pinch of oregano and topped with feta cheese); steamed broccoli; brown rice; low-fat vanilla yogurt topped with fresh berries; and a glass of water.

Make Meals a Family Affair

Even if in a rush, families still can work together for speedy meal preparation: adults can be in charge of the entrée, older kids can prepare a salad and little ones can help set the table.
Finally, to make the most of your family meals, make conversation part of the dining experience and reduce distractions by turning off the TV and phones and tuning into your loved ones.

When You Don’t Have Time for Homemade

If you don’t have time to whip up a homemade meal, you still can enjoy all the benefits of a nutritious family dinner. Here are four speedy meals you can prepare without breaking a sweat.

  • Frozen ravioli with store-bought sauce and a salad. A well-stocked pantry and freezer can go a long way in cutting down on last minute trips to the supermarket. Fill your pantry with go-to ingredients such as your favorite tomato-based pasta sauce, whole-wheat pasta and polenta, and load your freezer with different varieties of frozen ravioli, stuffed shells or manicotti. A healthful dinner will never be more than 20 minutes away.
  • Rotisserie chicken, frozen mashed potatoes and peas. When it comes to frozen veggies you can lose the guilt. Because they’re flash frozen within hours of harvesting, frozen vegetables actually may have more nutrients than fresh which can sit at the store for days. Plus, they’re ready in the microwave or on the stovetop in minutes. In addition to peas, load up on edamame, carrots, corn, chopped spinach and even mashed potatoes.
  • Veggie burgers with a cucumber salad. A vegetarian meal doesn’t have to mean hours slaving over the stove. Keep staples such as veggie burgers and whole-wheat buns on hand for a meatless meal you can throw together on the fly. Serve with sliced cucumbers drizzled with your favorite light vinaigrette dressing.
  • Grilled chicken Caesar salad with French bread. For a convenience meal that feels homemade, slice up store-bought grilled chicken breasts and toss with hearts of romaine and light Caesar dressing. If you have a few minutes to spare, bake up frozen whole-wheat dinner rolls or French bread and the house will smell like you’ve been baking all afternoon.

Friendship Is Good for You


Family and friends are two important kinds of relationships in your life, no doubt. But when it comes to making you happier over the long term, you might be surprised which group is the more powerful. While family members are important, when it comes to better health and happiness, it’s friendships that make the biggest difference—especially as you get older, according to new research.

An article published in the journal Personal Relationships, which summarizes the findings of two related studies, revealed that while both family and friends contribute to health and happiness, it was the relationships people have with friends that have the biggest impact later in life. In total, more than 278,000 people of varying ages from nearly 100 countries were surveyed, rating their health and happiness levels. Notably, in the second study (which focused on older adults, specifically), it was found that when friends were the source of tension or stress, people reported more chronic illnesses, while when someone felt supported by their friendship, they reported fewer health issues and increased happiness.

Why? It all comes down to choice, says William Chopik, Ph.D., author of the paper and a professor at Michigan State University. “I think it might have to do with the selective nature of friendships—we can keep around the ones we like and slowly fade out of the ones we don’t,” he explains. “We often spend leisure activities with friends too, whereas family relationships can often be stressful, negative, or monotonous.”

It’s also possible that friends fill in the gaps left by family or provide support in ways family members can’t or won’t, he adds. Friends may also understand you on a different level than family, due to shared experiences and interests. This is why it’s so important to maintain ties with old friends or make the effort to reconnect if you’ve lost touch with your childhood bestie or sorority sister. While life changes and distance can make this difficult at times, the benefits are well worth the effort to pick up the phone or send that email.

“Friendships are among the hardest relationships to maintain across the lifespan,” says Chopik. “Part of that has to do with a lack of obligation. Friends spend time together because they want and choose to, not because they have to.”

Thankfully there are some simple steps to maintain and enhance important friendships. Chopik recommends making sure to be a part of your friends’ day-to-day lives by sharing in their successes and commiserating with their failures—basically be a cheerleader and a shoulder to lean on. In addition, he says sharing and trying new activities together helps, as does expressing gratitude. Telling people that you love them and value their presence in your life is such a small thing to do, but it can make a huge difference in everyone’s lives.

Health Benefits of Aromatherapy


Aromatherapy is a fascinating alternative medicine that involves the use of volatile plant materials, also known as essential oils, that can be aromatically inhaled by patients of a wide variety of health conditions. It is often used to improve mood, change cognitive states, and can also be utilized as a supplemental medicine. Some of the most common health benefits of aromatherapy are explained in greater detail below.

Stress Relief: Perhaps the most widespread and popular use of aromatherapy is for stress relief. The aromatic compounds from many different essential oils are known as relaxants and can help to soothe your mind and eliminate anxiety. This is what most people who perform aromatherapy at home use it for, since the mixtures are very simple and the research on this aspect of aromatherapy is very well-known and widely studied. Some of the best essential oils for stress relief are lemon oil, lavender, bergamot, peppermint, vetiver, and ylang ylang essential oils.

Boost Energy Levels: We can all use more energy to get through the hectic daily tasks of modern life. While diet and exercise can also help, many people turn to aromatherapy to put a bit more pep in their step. Many essential oils are known to increase circulation, raise energy levels, and generally stimulate the body and mind. The best essential oils for giving yourself an energy boost include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, clove, angelica, jasmine, tea tree, rosemary, and sage.

Headaches: Everyone gets headaches from time to time, and aromatherapy can be a wonderful solution that may not only eliminate your current headache, but possibly reduce the stress, anxiety, or origin of your headaches to prevent them in the future. Some of the best essential oils that have been connected to reducing headaches and migraines are peppermint, eucalyptus, sandalwood, and rosemary essential oils. You can also mix these oils in a carrier oil and spread that oil onto your skin, scalp, neck, and temples. Some of the best carrier oils for headaches include almond, avocado, coconut, apricot kernel, and sesame oils.

Sleep Aid: Not getting enough sleep can exacerbate or cause a huge range of medical conditions and can leave us feeling unproductive and devoid of energy. Luckily, aromatherapy can provide us with a more balanced sleep schedule and even realign our Circadian rhythms so our body naturally gets tired at an appropriate time, sleeps restfully through the night, and is energized in the morning to face the day. Some of the best essential oils for managing your sleeping habits and having a healthy, sedative effect on the body include lavender, chamomile, jasmine, benzoin, neroli, rose, sandalwood, sweet marjoram, and ylang ylang essential oils.

Whatever your condition, and whatever essential oils you choose to use, always consult your doctor before embarking on a new treatment plan. Also, be sure to only acquire essential oils from approved sources and don’t attempt to mix and use oils unless you have been trained as a professional aromatherapist.

Breakfast Alert!

Healthy breakfast. Yogurt with granola and berries

As a teenager, you may have rolled your eyes when your mom insisted that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” as you were running out the door. But guess what? She’s right. A new study just found a link between skipping breakfast and what may seem like an unrelated condition: atherosclerosis, otherwise known as hardening of the arteries.

In the study, those who skipped breakfast or ate very little for breakfast were more likely to have the condition — and also have unhealthy cholesterol levels and a higher waist circumference, blood sugar, and body-mass index. What’s the connection? Research suggests that eating a healthy breakfast may help to regulate your appetite throughout the day, leading to fewer cravings and more appropriate portions. So frequently skipping breakfast may spell bad news for your eating patterns, which can affect your heart health.

The researchers emphasized that people who eat little or nothing for breakfast tend to have a less healthy lifestyle overall. Which is why skipping breakfast may be a signal to take a look at your daily habits. Keep a journal for a week or two, without trying to change anything, and record your habits without judgment. Write down how much time you spend exercising, your ratio of whole foods (spinach, apples, legumes, brown rice, salmon) to processed foods (frozen pizza, white-flour bread, packaged muffins or cookies), how often you cook, order in or eat out, your alcohol intake, and your sleep. When you’re done, don’t try to overhaul your whole life at once! Get support from a health professional, and from family and friends, for any changes you’d like to make. And by all means, add in a bowl of oatmeal in the morning — try the steel-cut variety, with nuts and fresh berries.

Workplace Ergonomics

Ergonomics is the science of designing the workplace. The ultimate goal of ergonomics is to design the workplace so that it accommodates the variety of human capabilities and limitations and prevents injuries. Working Americans spend about 2,000 hours per year in the workplace. All of these hours can take a toll on your eyes, back, arms, and neck. Here’s how to set up your workplace to make it a healthier and safer place for you to work.


Power of Produce Club


The Power of Produce Club helps children ages 5-12 to make healthy food choices by offering educational activities, recipe tasting, and money to spend at the Fort Bragg farmers’ market!

Participating children will receive $4 each week of the program to spend on fruit or vegetables. Look for the POP booth at the farmers’ market, and enjoy fun activities like recipe tasting, seed planting, art and science activities. Read more about the program here:

POP Flyer

Join POP at the Fort Bragg farmers’ market every Wednesday in the month of September: September 6, 13, 20 and 27 from 3:00 to 6:00 pm at Franklin and Laurel Streets in the heart of downtown Fort Bragg.

If you live outside the Mendocino area, go to Farmers Market Coalition to see if your local farmers’ market has a POP Club already. If they don’t, you can apply to start your own in your own backyard. Let’s keep the Power of Produce growing and our children growing stronger and healthier!

Got happiness? Enjoying life boosts your health!


Enjoying your life doesn’t just put a smile on your face. It’s good for your health!

Life satisfaction, enjoyment of life, optimism, and other aspects that make up what researchers call “subjective well-being” may profoundly affect health. Positive emotions, both passing happiness and longer-term contentment, seem to make us more resilient to stress and are linked to healthier behaviors as well as better cardiovascular health and improved immune system functioning. Good feelings may even slow down the aging process itself.

Of course, unlike clothes, books, and blenders, good vibes can’t be ordered with the click of a button, and “don’t worry, be happy” is easier said than done. You have to generate good feelings. Healthy daily routines, like regular exercise and good sleep habits, can produce feel-good brain chemicals and lower stress hormones.

Make sure your relationships support your happiness, too, by investing in the ones that make you feel good — and divesting from the ones that don’t.

Adding a mindfulness meditation practice to your routine will help you manage the inevitable stresses of life and keep you feeling good. Don’t know how to meditate? Try this:

1. Sit or lie comfortably.
2. Close your eyes.
3. Make no effort to control the breath; simply breathe naturally.
4. Focus your attention on the breath and on how the body moves with each inhalation and exhalation. Notice the movement of your body as you breathe. Observe your chest, shoulders, rib cage, and belly. Simply focus your attention on your breath without controlling its pace or intensity. If your mind wanders, return your focus back to your breath.

Maintain this meditation practice for two to three minutes to start, and then try it for longer periods.