Thursday, June 23, 2011

Know Thine Enemy: Potato Chips

A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine finds that the quantity of food you eat is the biggest factor in weight gain, and nobody can eat just one potato chip. Ergo, the potato chip is making America fat. Behold the AP article below (emphasis added by me to my favorite line):

LOS ANGELES – Blame the potato chip. It's the biggest demon behind that pound-a-year weight creep that plagues many of us, a major diet study found. Bigger than soda, candy and ice cream.

And the reason is partly that old advertising cliche: You can't eat just one.

"They're very tasty and they have a very good texture. People generally don't take one or two chips. They have a whole bag," said obesity expert Dr. F. Xavier Pi-Sunyer of the St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York.

What we eat and how much of it we consume has far more impact than exercise and most other habits do on long-term weight gain, according to the study by Harvard University scientists. It's the most comprehensive look yet at the effect of individual foods and lifestyle choices like sleep time and quitting smoking.

Weight problems are epidemic. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. Childhood obesity has tripled in the past three decades. Pounds often are packed on gradually over decades, and many people struggle to limit weight gain without realizing what's causing it.

The new study finds food choices are key. The message: Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts. Cut back on potatoes, red meat, sweets and soda.

"There is no magic bullet for weight control," said one study leader, Dr. Frank Hu. "Diet and exercise are important for preventing weight gain, but diet clearly plays a bigger role."

Doctors analyzed changes in diet and lifestyle habits of 120,877 people from three long-running medical studies. All were health professionals and not obese at the start. Their weight was measured every four years for up to two decades, and they detailed their diet on questionnaires.

On average, participants gained nearly 17 pounds over the 20-year period.

For each four-year period, food choices contributed nearly 4 pounds. Exercise, for those who did it, cut less than 2 pounds.

Potato chips were the biggest dietary offender. Each daily serving containing 1 ounce (about 15 chips and 160 calories) led to a 1.69-pound uptick over four years. That's compared to sweets and desserts, which added 0.41 pound.

For starchy potatoes other than chips, the gain was 1.28 pounds. Within the spud group, french fries were worse for the waist than boiled, baked or mashed potatoes. That's because a serving of large fries contains between 500 to 600 calories compared with a serving of a large baked potato at 280 calories.

Soda added a pound over four years. Eating more fruits and vegetables and other unprocessed foods led to less weight gain, probably because they are fiber-rich and make people feel fuller.

For each four-year period, these factors had these effects on weight:

• An alcoholic drink a day, 0.41-pound increase.

• Watching an hour of TV a day, 0.31-pound increase.

• Recently quitting smoking, 5-pound increase.

People who slept more or less than six to eight hours a night gained more weight.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and a foundation. Several researchers reported receiving fees from drug and nutrition companies.

"Humans naturally like fat and sweet," said Dr. David Heber, director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, who had no role in the study. "That's why we always tell people to eat their fruits and vegetables."

Pi-Sunyer, who also wasn't involved in the research, said the study gives useful advice.

"It's hard to lose weight once you gain it," he said. "Anything that will give people a clue about what might prevent weight gain if they follow through with it is helpful."

The federal government earlier this year issued new dietary guidelines advising people to eat smarter. This month, it ditched the food pyramid — the longtime symbol of healthy eating — in favor of a dinner plate divided into four sections containing fruits, vegetables, protein and grains.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Close Encounter of the Bear Kind

It's been a busy few weeks full of adventures!

Apologies to my 37 followers and (hopefully) other readers for disappearing -- have been caught in a whirlwind of work and fun, pretty much in that order.

After a sudden trip to Atlantic City for work (I won ZERO money at the blackjack table), it was off to upstate NY for a trip to check out my nephew's summer camp, and then back for another rapid-fire week of work, and then back up to upstate NY for a weekend at our friend's beautiful Catskills cabin.

Sandwiched in between there have been bike rides aplenty, and one scary bout of food poisoning that almost had me back in the hospital (luckily I rebounded and the ER doc decided to send me home).

I was healthy enough this weekend to travel to beautiful Fleischmann's in the Catskills. I had perused several hiking books in advance and was really excited to try a 4-mile hike to an old farm way up in the mountains. Driving out there M and I both commented on the area's extreme remoteness....

We should have paid heed to our instincts, because not 30 minutes into our hike, who did we meet? Momma Bear and her two cubs.
Haines Photos

These are not the bruins we met (I grabbed this pic from TripAdvisor) but the cubs were just about this size. We had been moving silently up the trail when we heard a sudden rush of movement about 30 feet to our left -- it was Momma Bear sending her cubs up a tree to escape us. We were obviously a dire threat to them, in her mind.

It. Was. Scary. O..M...G. She stared us down and growled about three times -- short, panting, angry blasts. M started to run up the hill but I grabbed him and said, sotto voce, "Do. Not. Move."

Thank the Ursula Goddesses, she decided we were harmless and looked away. We chose that moment to melt backwards down the trail. If she had charged at us, we would have been goners. There was a stream about 10 feet behind us, and I whispered to M that if she ran at us, we would sprint to the stream and try to pelt her with rocks.

After viewing this, I realize we would never have made it to the stream -- those bears can move.

It only took this one encounter with the wilder side of Mother Nature to send us mewling back to our fancy cabin, complete with hot tub. We stayed there for the rest of the weekend!

All is well otherwise, health is good. Check in with you all soon.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Zen and the Art of Bicycling

Long bike rides are the best therapy in the world (sore bum excluded, of course). Today I took a long one after work, all the way up to the George Washington Bridge that crosses the Hudson into NJ.

There's a pedestrian path to go over the bridge, and from there you can bike up the highway to upstate NY. I have a friend who goes as far as Nyack. I can't do it though -- I have too much vertigo to make it across that span on foot.

Here it is, in the distance, and as I approach up Riverside Park and into Washington Heights.

Got there at last! Phew. Quite a ride. I tried to just be zen, not stress about work, and enjoy the moment. I came home and wiped out the rest of the cashew nut butter. Thank goodness it's gone, and thank goodness I was at least self-aware enough to buy a very small jar -- I knew, deep down inside, it was going to cause me problems. Now it's gone, and it's going to be a very long time before I get more.

I'm still on my upped protein intake and, funnily enough, I think it's helping me lose weight. !

Even M said to me this morning, as I was bending over to pick up something the cat knocked over (that is NOT my most flattering angle), "You look like you've lost some more weight."

For now, if eating more protein (in smaller but more frequent meals during the day) is working for my body, I'll keep rocking it. The more weight I lose, the faster I can be at the "Dodge the Boss" game I play at work everyday!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Toxic Shock

What does one do when there is a person in one's life -- not a close contact, yet someone who wields considerable power over one's daily life, (i.e. a boss) -- who is really toxic?

Does one -- and that one would be me, obviously -- chuck all sense and practicality and march out the door in righteous indignation? (The most appealing option to my non-pragmatic side).

Does one recall the recent, unexpected medical situation that would have bankrupted her if it had not been for the insurance provided by the job she currently holds? (The job that brings her into contact with the toxic avenger?)

Seriously folks, I can't deny that the difficult work situation is only becoming more difficult. I have a supervisor who is full of anger, in general, and prone to viewing everything as a personal challenge to his authority, and it makes for an unbearable work environment at times.

It's really time to try and move on, and I have to achieve this ... life's too short, and all that. It's a cliche, but it doesn't mean it's not true.

The stress makes me eat. Today I bought a small jar of cashew nut butter, knowing as I did it that it would be an epic mistake. I just got it home and it's already almost half way gone. Bad, bad judgment.

I did a long bike ride today, and I'm trying desperately to keep myself from going way way out of control. I can't let one Toxic Avenger in my life throw me off track. But wow....I'm not kidding when I say this person is really, really sick, and I struggle to not let his disease take over my working life.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


Every summer on certain dates the sun lines up perfectly with some of the city's biggest, widest boulevards as it sets over the Hudson River. It makes for same darned purty evenings.

This is not my picture, to be fair, but I would have snapped one if I could have gotten my hands free. I was biking home in all this glory last night. I'm trying to get off my derriere and get moving more, and so far so good with the bike. It's such a joy to be on it again, and pushing myself to regain some fitness.

I really huff and puff a lot, but I think I can feel my strength returning with every ride I take. I am also trying to lay off the wine, which is not easy for me because a friend of mine recently returned from Spain with a truly delicious bottle of Rioja that he gave taste, and I was hooked.

Naturally, I tracked down a wine store in Manhattan that carries it and have been indulging all too frequently. Must battle down the wine demons!

Next Manhattanhenge: July 12.