Posts Tagged fat

I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture by orthopedic surgeon Vonda Wright. I was also proud to endorse her book Fitness After 40, and as a 41 year old was inspired and encouraged by what she had to say.

I’ve been a fitness buff (not an extreme one—but I have consistently done basic weight training and walking--and just a bit of running--for years. I've also loved being active and playing sports with my sons. But one day, at the ripe age of almost 41, I woke up with pain in my left wrist that would keep my left arm out of commission (and wreak havoc with my spirits!) for more than 8 months. At first, a hand surgeon told me that an MRI showed synovitis—that’s inflammation, and was likely the result of one too many push ups and supporting all my body weight on my wrists. After 7 long months that included 3 months of hand therapy, 2 cortisone shots, splinting, anti-inflammatory meds, 3 hand surgeons, and lots of head scratching, a second MRI revealed a small ganglion cyst. I decided that since conservative treatment was not working, I would have the cyst surgically removed. I started therapy earlier today to regain function. My next goal is to get my strength (and biceps!) back so that I can grow old gracefully and feel as young on the outside as I do on the inside.

Because I know that as we get older, our muscle mass naturally wants to diminish and our fat mass wants to increase, and because I have a longer way to go than most to regain the strength I'd been building up for years, I was especially interested to learn how to reduce the likelihood of that happening.  Fortunately, it is possible to preserve muscle and keep fat at bay according to Dr. Wright. Here’s my recent interview with her. I hope after you read it you’ll be encouraged to take the steps she recommends to make the most of and keep what you have for years to come.

Can You Prevent a Mid-life Muscle Crisis?

If you don’t use it, will you really lose it? Is it a given that as you age, you’ll gain fat and lose muscle? These aren’t wives’ tales. But does that mean we should throw in the towel (or save it to collect our tears!), and accept our fate (unless we start doing some heavy lifting right now)?

“It’s true that after age 40, you naturally lose muscle mass--up to eight percent per decade” says Vonda Wright, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon and author of Fitness After 40. (Full disclaimer: Vonda Wright is a spokesperson for Ensure.) “The good news is that although muscles can deteriorate with time, studies show muscle atrophy is reversible at any age” says Wright.

Wright thinks of muscles as celebrities that deserve special treatment. “Muscles help our bodies move, our hearts pump blood, and our organs work. The more they’re used, the better equipped they’ll be to support activity, keep your body strong, and slow--and possibly reverse--aging” she says.

The benefits don’t stop there. Wright says “Exercise also strengthens bones, and helps the body burn more calories.” Engaging in regular physical activity that includes aerobic, muscle- and bone-strengthening exercise may also help lower the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and some cancers (including colon and breast).

So can we really sidestep a mid-life muscle crisis?

F.A.C.E. Your Future: According to Wright, this means exercising smarter than we did when we were kids with a focus on Flexibility every day, Aerobic Exercise 3 to 5 times per week, Carrying a load (doing functional resistance training 2 to 3 times per week) and daily Equilibrium and balance training. She says “Start small by taking a brisk walk every day, or climbing stairs instead of using the elevator. These may sound trite, but simple, functional activities you do daily can dramatically rejuvenate your muscles” says Wright. She adds “Once these basics become habits, you can build from there.”

Raise the Bar. For regular exercisers, Wright recommends mixing it up. “Your body gets used to what you’re doing, so it’s important to tweak your routine and challenge your muscles in different ways” says Wright.  For example, if you usually walk, you can increase your pace or take a different path. Or you can try different modalities on a treadmill or instead, hop on a bike or elliptical machine.

Set Goals. Current Physical Activity Guidelines issued by the U.S. Department of Heath and Human Services (HHS) recommend that American adults aim for 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity (such as brisk walking where you’re sweating but can still carry on a conversation) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (such as jogging or running). Muscle strengthening exercise that works all the major muscle groups is also recommended at least twice a week. Wright recommends seeing where you are, and setting small reasonable goals (for example, adding 5 minutes to a walk, or doing an additional set of bicep curls) until you meet your quota. She also believes those who are chained to a desk for more than 40 hours a week may need even more exercise.

Feed Your Muscles: Wright recommends a balanced diet that's consistent with current Dietary Guidelines--one that’s loaded with protein-rich foods (including fish, skinless chicken, beef, and legumes), high fiber whole grains (such as whole wheat pasta, cereal, crackers, and brown rice), and colorful fiber-rich vegetables and fruits. This is a dietary pattern that provides fuel to support your brain and muscles. Nancy Clark, MS, RD, CSSD, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook, recommends that active people should aim for about 0.5 to 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day (for a 150 pound person, that’s about 75 to 113 grams.)

Plan for Success: Wright sums it up well by saying “It’s an urban myth that life goes downhill when you get older. My 40s have been the best years of my life mentally, physically and professionally. These can be the best years of your life too. The key is to stop freaking out, and to plan for physical success just like we would for professional success.”

What do you do to stay fit and strong?

"Can You Prevent A Midlife Muscle Crisis" originally posted on

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The other day, I was called by a reporter from the New York Daily News to comment on why Bristol Palin appeared to have gained weight despite burning tons of calories during her stint on ABC's popular show, Dancing With The Stars.

As a registered dietitian and past spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association who is not new to media interviews, I was, at first, taken aback and certainly didn't want to say anything to perpetuate the idea that it's ok to judge or criticize a teenage girl (famous or not) about her body weight. I expressed my frustration to the reporter and said something like "I really wish Palin's body weight didn't warrant a public discussion or newspaper article--but that's the media!"

Of course I could have refused to answer the reporter's questions about Palin's supposed weight gain. But as a credentialed nutrition professional who is particularly sensitive to negative or harmful media messages about body weight that can impact girls and women alike, I decided to not comment specifically on Palin's body weight and instead took this as an opportunity to pat Palin on the back for the all the obvious hard work and effort she put forth during her time on the show.

Famous or not, it's hard enough for a young girl to learn how to deal with being in the spotlight whether she's there due to circumstance (her mother ran for vice president AND she got pregnant and became a teen mom), or because she chose to be there (it's likely Palin decided to participate on the show because she wanted to). No matter why Palin's on the show, and why we even know her name, in my opinion a teen girl's body weight should not make for water cooler conversation. Free speech aside, there's no upside or benefit to the morale of girls and women everywhere to be judged by others based on how much they weigh.

Palin is by no means the first, nor will she be the last celebrity to be judged publicly about her body weight--beautiful women like Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tyra Banks (and not so long ago, the magnificent Kate Winslet) have been judged or critiqued about their weight. And what did Love Hewitt and Banks do after unflattering photos and a barrage of cruel weight-related comments surfaced? They lost weight, and got back to a weight that was supposedly "ideal" to the public. Even Oprah has been judged for getting too thin, being too fat, gaining weight, and reaching 200 pounds again last year.

Will the madness every stop--will girls and women be able to just be, without having to worry about everyone telling them how thin or how fat they are, or how much weight they've lost or gained? I know I'll do my best to look for the good and withhold judgement about others, especially females--and teach my young sons, aged 12 and 8, to do the same with their friends and other females in their lives-- because there's little that's more hurtful (and less forgettable) to a young girl than being called fat or otherwise being judged based on her body weight. Perhaps I feel this way because I know too well what it's like to be called "thunder thighs" and to grow up being not so pleasantly plump. It's not a good feeling, and I would never want to do that to someone else.

Your thoughts?


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For this week's From Me to Oprah: Weekly Tips for Managing Weight and Life,  I decided to weigh in on the latest ad from the New York City Department of Health. In this 30-second video called "Are You Pouring on the Pounds?"  a man is shown drinking globs of what's supposed to be fat. The video states that having one sugary soda a day can make you 10 pounds fatter in a year. At the end of the video, we viewers are urged to not to drink ourselves fat; instead of soda, we should guzzle water, seltzer, and low fat milk.

I was interviewed about this video for last night's local ABC affiliate broadcast. I was asked about my thoughts and feelings about the video, and whether it would be effective in fighting obesity and reducing sugary soda consumption. I'll admit that I'm the last person to advocate making regular, sugary soda a dietary staple; my husband and I don't drink it nor have we ever offered it to our boys (who are  11 and 7). In general, we seldom consume sugary beverages (including spiked decadent coffee beverages or energy drinks), though once in a while my husband and our 11 year old son, who mostly drink water and low fat milk, will have a sports drink like Gatorade at sports games or practices when they sweat a lot and burn tons of calories. Although I'm not a sugary soda fan, I also don't think it's the enemy and the cause of obesity in America.

Here, in a nutshell, are some of my other thoughts about the video:

1) The video uses shock value to get the anti-soda message across; a more understated ad that simply says drink less soda and more low fat milk and water would certainly get lost in cyberspace, so of course I completely understand why the NYC Department of Health went to an extreme in this case.

2) I found watching the video to be a disgusting exercise; and after warning my 11 year-old son about the content of the video, I did show it to him; he doesn't drink soda anyway, and said this ad would certainly not make him want to either!

3) The video is a bit misleading. On one hand, soda can certainly be over consumed and the calories can definitely add up fast (especially because liquid calories are generally so much less filling than calories from solid foods and because soda portions are often huge--and the more you're given, the more you tend to consume). On the other hand, studies have not proven that soda is the cause of obesity and overweight. Yes, the more soda you consume, the more likely you are to engage in other dietary behaviors that cause you to over consume calories and perhaps your overall diet is less healthful as well. And yes, sugary sodas provide so-called empty calories and few if any key nutrients, and too much soda can contribute to excess calorie intake (unless other dietary adjustments are made to keep daily calorie intake in check to support healthy weight management). But too many calories from any source--even healthful foods or beverages--can contribute to excess calorie intake and subsequent weight gain and/or obesity. Too little physical activity is of course the other side of the equation and can have a huge impact on your body weight, good or bad.

4) Unfortunately, I believe the healthful message of the video--consuming more water, seltzer and low fat milk--got lost under the globules of fat poured down the man's throat and onto a plate.

As a registered dietitian, I often use the bees and honey analogy when communicating messages about nutrition and health. It may not get people talking, and may not be controversial or cause a stir, but it can and does help people change their behavior over time. I like to encourage people to focus first and foremost on their overall dietary pattern rather than on single foods. I encourage them to fill dietary gaps with more nutritious foods and beverages like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and seeds, fish, lean meats, and low fat dairy foods. Of course I encourage people to limit fatty, greasy, sugary, nutrient-poor foods (and to keep portions small if and when they consume such foods). For those who like sugary soda, I say it's ok to drink it, but it should be counted as a treat (it has about the same number of calories as three small cookies).  I like to always point out diet rights and show people what they can and should have more of than point a finger at all the wrongs--the foods and beverages they should avoid because they're supposedly evil.

Only time will tell if this negative video campaign will get people to drink less sugary soda, and opt instead for more healthful beverages. But for now, as always, I will continue to promote positive nutrition and health messages, and encourage people to consume more healthful foods from all the important food categories, and find ways to fit more physical activity  into their lives. In my mind, that's a better recipe for long-term health and weight management.


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