Obesity Epidemic – Part IV

Taking back our health requires much more than taking a pill to mask symptoms.  While it will initially take a lot of discipline and effort, in most cases obesity and related health issues can be overcome.  Being heavy and unhealthy doesn’t have to be our new norm. While the food industry will tell you the answer is to simply exercise, specialists say reducing targeted calories is the first step, and all calories are not alike.  Eating healthier takes off the pounds and exercise builds muscles to keep off the weight.

Any lifestyle changes take time – it’s a process, not an event.  While many serious health issues require drastic measures, it is more nurturing to “ease” into a healthier lifestyle. A moderate approach might mean starting by eating fast foods one less day a week, eating vegetarian one day a week, drinking more water, not eating at a desk or while driving, enjoying more family sit-down meals, or shopping at a Farmer’s Market. Gradually adding movement to your day might mean stretching more often, taking a fifteen minute walk, playing catch with your kids, take up gardening, strengthening your balance by standing on one foot or joining a yoga or fitness class. Study labels, try new foods, gradually shift to a healthier diet and move more.  Positive results lead to more positive changes – you will be on your way.  Change is invigorating.  Just keep in mind, for optimal health, the Department of Health and Human Services and American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (or a combination).

I find the Environmental Working Group dietary guidelines to be quite helpful.

Eat more vegetables and fruits, avoid pesticides when you can.

Eat less meat, especially red and processed meat – “Red and processed meats are believed to cause cancer and heart disease, and their production is bad for the environment”.

Skip sodas, sugary and salty food.

Eat healthy and sustainable seafood that’s low in mercury.

Beware of processed foods – “The federal Food and Drug Administration allows more than 10,000 chemical additives in food.  Some of these substances are linked to serious disorders.”

While the issues surrounding obesity are quite complex, during my discussion I have focused on dietary changes and a more active lifestyle. Minimizing stress, staying well rested and maintaining a strong support system all help to prevent emotional eating. Cutting down on screen time filled with advertisements, especially those targeting vulnerable kids can also be extremely effective. If you feel the need, continue researching on your own and see what works for you.  Feeling healthy, happy, and energetic is worth the effort!

This is the last of my Obesity Epidemic series – Thanks for staying tuned in!


Join the Earth Day Celebration



Earth Day will be here tomorrow – 4/22/16 – an annual celebration shared by billions of people all over the world.  Perhaps for you, Earth Day has already arrived! This event was first established in the United States in 1970. During a 1969 UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Science, and Cultural Organization) conference in San Francisco, a peace activist, John McConnell, proposed a day to honor the earth and the concept of peace. His idea caught on quickly as twenty million Americans celebrated forming peaceful demonstrations favoring environmental reform.  Two thousand colleges and universities, roughly ten thousand primary and secondary schools and hundreds of communities across the United States participated the first year. The Earth Day celebration was held locally in Columbia at Peace Park, on the University of Missouri (MU) campus, from the get-go, an annual tradition that continues today.

In 1990, Denis Hayes promoted the event internationally, organizing events in 141 nations. With the world-wide expansion came a huge boost to recycling efforts worldwide and the beginning of United Nations summits focusing on environmental concerns. By year 2000, the Internet helped link activists world-wide; over 5,000 environmental groups reached out to millions of people in 184 countries. Now it is observed in 192 countries, coordinated by the nonprofit Earth Day Network, making it the largest secular holiday in the world celebrated by billions of people every year.

For years I have participated in this fine tradition. This is a fun event I enjoyed sharing with my girls while they were growing up, they loved celebrating Earth Day! Hopes are you too have been enjoying this annual tradition.  If not, click on the Earth Day Network, and find an event in your area.

As for “my” local, this year’s event, the 27th Annual, will again be held in Peace Park on the MU campus from noon to 7pm  this Sunday, 4/24; rain date 5/1/16.  Peace Park is located at the north end of the MU campus along Elm St, between 6th & 8th Street. Over the years the event has expanded onto the adjacent streets, including 7th, 8th, and Elm Street.  Events include a packed performance on the musical stage, Kids Park, Eco Avenue, and many educational and food booths. The stage will be filled with performances including two children’s choirs, dance performances, folk music, bluegrass, sitar, woodwind music, and close out with a couple bands including Violet and the Undercurrents and Catdaddy’s Funky Fuzz-Bunker Band.  For more information go to – http://columbiaearthday.org/contact; 573-875-0539 or email mail@columbiaearthday.org. Mark your calendars now! Then 4/24, bring your family and friends along and join the celebration with the rest of the World!


Obesity Epidemic – Part III

Fortunately by wielding our power of choice, we can mindfully choose what we eat and how we move our bodies, enhancing our quality of life. In the late 1970s, I was propelled into a healthy lifestyle while co-managing a natural food grocery store.  Already quite active physically, my diet drastically improved as I voraciously studied all things related to nutrition; those studies continue today. While I have read widely on the topic and found what works for me, I’m not a medical professional.

My approach is pretty simple.  I avoid most processed foods preferring whole and nutrient-dense foods.   I spend most of my time at the grocery store shopping on the perimeter; spend ample time in the produce and health food sections and very little time among the stacks of processed food in the center aisles.  I’m an avid label reader and avoid high fructose corn syrup, preservatives, food enhancers, artificial ingredients, and saturated fats.  I buy organics as financially able, eat very little meat, and avoid products made from genetically modified organisms (GMO) with a vengeance.  Fortunately, it seems my taste buds have evolved along during this process, as I love vegetables and crave healthy foods. That’s good because the closest I come to dieting is limiting my dark chocolate intake!

I feel my best when I exercise regularly, usually a rigorous walk every other day. I have found, if I get too busy and forget to exercise, my stress level increases so I get back out there and walk. I start and stop, still striving to commit to a weight-lifting regimen as it’s empowering when I feel strong.  I also stay quite active while involved with what I like to do. Outdoors is always alluring as I immensely enjoy nature and hiking. I have a large yard to maintain, Food Bank shelves to stock, and litter and cigarette butts always need to be picked up.

I recently watched “In Defense of Food” by Michael Pollan and highly recommend it, as I like his approach to food.  Here are some of his recommendations – Eat real food, not too much, mostly plants; Eat only foods that will eventually rot; Eat only foods that have been cooked by humans; Avoid foods you see advertised on television; Make water your beverage of choice; Stop eating before you are full; Fill your plate with color, without artificial colors; Eat slowly to maximize the pleasure of food; Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food; Break the rules once in a while – what matters is not the special occasions but the everyday default practices; and cultivate a relaxed, non-punitive attitude toward food.

Obesity Epidemic – Part II

According to the Mayo Clinic, 70% of Americans take at least one prescription drug, more than half take two, whereas 20% take five or more. The Union of Concerned Scientists site studies predicting for the first time in a century, many children will have a shorter life span than their parents!  It’s time to take our health back.  While researching this topic, the most frequently mentioned culprits were artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, unhealthy fats, and refined grains, all common in processed foods.

Artificial sweeteners – We can’t “trick” our bodies and just keep eating. When we eat or drink, our body is poised to receive nutrients, when they don’t come the body continues to crave food so we keep eating, then the body quickly converts calories to fat as a survival mechanism.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – Widely studied, this pervasive ingredient has a direct link to weight gain, diabetes II, and heart disease.  This type of sugar confuses the metabolic system in such a way you don’t realize you are full, sugar cravings increase, and calories are efficiently stored as fat. It is inexpensive to produce and highly addictive, consequently everywhere! Consider soda alone; after drinking one 8 oz can of soda a day for one year, 35 pounds of sugar is ingested. Burning off one soda requires running 50 minutes; if 35 pounds of sugar isn’t burned off, it potentially converts to 14.4 lbs. of fat – all in one year.  Now, think about those Big Gulps up to 64 ounces!  Make water your beverage of choice – our best hydrator. Meanwhile, watch for HFCS common in breakfast cereal, cookies, cakes, granola bars, crackers, condiments, salad dressings, canned goods, sauces, cough syrups, and more – Read Food Labels.

Fats – All fats are not created alike.  Our body needs and feels fulfilled when we eat monosaturated and polysaturated healthy fats – salmon, avocados, olive oils and nuts.  We need to eat minimal saturated fats (fried foods, chips, junk food, red meat) and completely stay away from trans-fats and partially hydrogenated oils -French fries, and a common ingredient in packaged goods including cookies, cakes and crackers.

Following a 20 year grain promoting USDA food pyramid stint, in 2011 the MyPlate guide was developed to promote healthier eating. New recommendations are portion control, reduction of salt and sugar, and eating a wide variety of food with your plate proportioned as follows – 40 percent vegetables, 30 percent grains, 20 percent protein, 10 percent fruits and some dairy on the side. Nutritionists voice concern the food industry used its influence to make these new guidelines watered down and confusing.  An independent science advisory panel clearly advised the guidelines recommend eating less meat, cutting down on soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages, mention the risk of eating fish high in mercury, and encouraged food sustainability practices; all were ignored.


The Obesity Epidemic

Granted it’s a sensitive topic and almost even taboo to discuss, but I’m going there anyway. When I hear projections such as one in three children will get diabetes in their lifetime unless they get more exercise and improve their diet, it’s time to get the dialogue going loud and clear. Obesity typically leads to multiple health risks including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Obesity has become a major health issue both diminishing our quality of life and straining our healthcare system.  Some fear the upswing of obesity related diabetes alone will break the bank of our healthcare system.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports one third of US adults are obese, weighing 26 more pounds than they did in 1950. Children and adolescents from ages 2-19 years have a 17% obesity rate.  All rates continue to increase at a quick pace across all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.  A National Institutes of Health report states from 1962 to 2006, obesity in adults more than doubled, from 13.4 percent to over one third.  Another third are overweight.  Since 1975 Americans with diabetes has more than tripled.

Our modern diet filled with processed and fast foods has caused a lot of suffering.   Fortunately, if we take responsibility as individuals, this is a national health problem we can prevent.  How did we get here and what can we do to stop this trend?

With subsidized corn in the 1980s came inexpensive high fructose corn syrup and cheap junk food ingredients flooding the market, making “super-sizing” possible.  Sadly, as taxpayers we pay millions of tax dollars annually to subsidize these practices.  The food industry has gotten really good at manipulating food. They use chemicals to make it taste great, with the right texture, color and smell to keep people over-consuming and craving. By spending billions of dollars advertising, and using appealing packaging, they have created a secure market for their highly profitable products.  Fast foods and chains compete by increasing portion sizes. Our bodies aren’t satisfied when we eat nutrient-deficient food; we overeat as our body signals for more food in search for nutrition.

These days, a typical diet includes larger meals filled with an increasing amount of low nutrient refined grains, red meat, unhealthy fats and sugary drinks along with less fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts.  With this high calorie intake has come a more sedentary lifestyle.  Days past, survival required hard physical work; now we have more leisure and enjoy “screen time” – television, computers and smart phones.  To add to the injury, during much of that “screen time” advertisements bombard us encouraging us to keep eating!

This topic is so important and complex, it morphed into a four part series.

Image by – Huffpost Healthy Living, 11/5/13 “So This is Why Children are Craving That Fast Food