Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fusion Wellness

Fusion—you read it right—not confusion, although there’s a lot of that where wellness is concerned. You’ve probably (maybe) heard of fusion cooking. Fusion cooking is about mixing and matching and substituting non-traditional methods and ingredients and creating something different. It’s about starting with old familiar recipes and changing the spices, even some of the main ingredients and cooking methods to come up with a similar but new and different taste. Fusion of ideas and pre-conceived opinions.

Here’s some food for thought—what if we take the same concept and come up with, let’s call it, “Fusion Wellness.” We take the basics that work, we mix and match, we make positive substitutions, we create a new “recipe,” and we find a way to make wellness “tasty” for each of us. We find ways to fuse our lives with positive and realistic wellness patterns. It’s kind of catchy (and it’s catching, sort of like our concept of viral wellness).

We all know that healthy living doesn't happen at the doctor's office. The road to better health is paved with the small decisions we make every day. It's about the choices we make when we buy groceries, walk the dog or play with the kids, instead of watching TV. It’s about how all of these things fuse together to create our lives.

How about if we really make it a main ingredient and blend wellness into the mix?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Diet Wars

Most of us have been in the trenches. As a generation we are trying to recover from the diet wars, looking for sustainable solutions. And, after years of obsessing about fat, calories and carbs, we’ve been left mostly … fatter. So much so that 65 percent of us are overweight, and 31 percent are officially obese. Maybe we’ve finally convinced ourselves that diets don’t work. But, lifestyle changes do.

The good news today is that nutritionists and health researchers are seeing signs of change. The percentage of people on traditional diets (about 50 to 60 percent for the last 5 years) appears to be falling, and we are seeing growing signs of a “positive eating” trend. Positive eaters avoid traditional diets and instead focus on eating well, adding foods like vegetables, nuts, fruits and berries, grains and healthful fats onto the plate. Positive eaters cook with olive oil and season with herbs rather than salt. The key word is health. And notice, positive eaters eat real foods, not pre-packaged, not drive-thru, not instant just add water foods.

If you aren’t familiar with Michael Pollan’s “In Defense of Food,” which highlights our unhealthy dependence on processed foods instead of “real” food, we recommend it. And, along the same train of thought, consider this—with all the diet foods available, sugar-free soft drinks and low-fat snacks, the majority of Americans still can’t seem to manage their weight.

We like the concept of “positive eating” and of eating real food. It’s what we’ve been promoting for three years, and let’s face it—change takes time. Let’s focus on the big picture—and that means thinking about what to eat as much as what not to eat. And then, let’s enjoy our good choices.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

How We Label Ourselves

Labels are interesting things. We look at them as a sort of compass, pointing the way to “true north.” They also mean different things to different people. And that’s what makes them interesting.

Being in the wellness business, it seems to us that for many people defining wellness is not an easy thing to do. We can define illness, or sickness, but is wellness just the opposite—or is it something more? What is this wellness “label?” We’d like to hear what you think.

Labels can be powerful. Most of us tend to accept labels as they’re applied. We—inadvertently or not—give the power to others to label us as normal weight, overweight, obese, or morbidly obese; as active, or sedentary. Don’t we already know? But then, here’s another question. Do we all have the same goals here? Do those doing the labeling have the same values as the labeled? And if we already know where we stand, why don’t we do something about it?

In reality, as adults, it seems we should be able to recognize when we (or our children) are carrying extra pounds, or spend our days sitting in front of a computer screen or television, never venturing out into the land of the physically active. After all, most of us know this is not a good thing. As adults, it is our job to decide how best to handle such situations. If someone points out that you “look great, that you appear to have lost weight” when you have not, you still have the extra pounds. But isn’t it up to you to decide what to do about those pounds? Or, do all of us who pay extra health care / insurance premiums for those costs associated with the chronic health conditions—and yes, the labels—of overweight, obesity and physical inactivity, have a say in what should be done with those extra pounds?

It seems to us the labels we apply to our situations—and what we decide to do about them—really should be our choice. But then we find ourselves addressing a new set of questions. Who pays for those choices? We all have options as to how we choose to respond to, or change, the situation. Yet, too often many of us passively accept both a label and a prescribed response rather than taking charge of both.

Don’t you have to wonder—if it’s in our power to make a change in our own self-interest and long-term health and wellness, if it’s in our power to find our way to the “true north” of wellness, why we don’t?

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bias, Stigma or Reality?

In addition to our own thoughts and ideas regarding wellness, we know there are many others out there with very similar—and very different opinions.

The Mayo Clinic has just released an article quoting a study that finds evidence of what they call an “obesity stigma.” The Mayo Clinic states up front that this is a sensitive topic (and it is), and that it is not their intent in reviewing this study to offend anyone. Nor is it our’s.

The study, reported in the July 2008 “International Journal of Obesity,” was conducted with the objective of creating a tool that would measure and compare bias: Bias regarding obesity, homosexuality and Muslims. Why these targets? We don’t know. Maybe because they are all documented targets of discrimination. But, look at them, they did. It’s also worth noting that the study acknowledges the words “bias” and “prejudice” for purposes of its findings are interchangeable.

The findings: The strongest prejudice was against obesity, followed by bias against homosexuals, and then against Muslims. It’s worth noting that while there are laws in place to protect against and discourage discrimination against race, gender, sexual orientation and religion, there are no laws in place (yet) to discourage or punish bias against obesity.

Here’s a fact. We are all, as individuals, paying higher health insurance premiums, and we are all paying for Medicare and Medicaid benefits that treat a huge percentage of preventable chronic illness. And, we know that:

  • Approximately 40 percent of deaths in the U.S. are caused by behavior patterns that could be modified.
  • Almost one-half of all Americans report having a chronic illness—and those illnesses account for 75 percent of our national spending on health care—and that about 80 percent of all chronic disease is caused by three preventable health behaviors—physical inactivity, poor nutrition and overeating, and smoking.

It is well documented that employers pay a premium in health insurance and disability benefits for obese and overweight employees. Annual medical expenses for employees range from $114 for normal-weight individuals to $573 for overweight individuals to $620 for the obese. A Cornell University study (Dec. 2007) reported that obesity-related sick days cost employers $4.3 billion a year in 2004 dollars.

Here’s the question. We know behaviors can be modified and changed. We know healthy choices can replace unhealthy choices, and we know almost all of us can find ways to become more physically active and improve our dietary behavior.

So, is this issue really about bias—or lifestyle choice—and the answer to that question leads to another—who pays (and who should pay), and more to the point, how will this play out for all of us in the months and years ahead?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Don’t Eat This Food!

Is there anyone out there still unaware of the dangers of artificial trans fat? If so, this post is for you.

Trans fat—found in cookies, muffins, breads, mayo, baby food, yogurt, packaged meals, french fries, doughnuts, fried chicken and many other foods—is touted as the most harmful fat (on a gram-for-gram basis) in the food supply. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, trans fat is responsible for about 50,000 fatal heart attacks annually.

Getting rid of artificial trans fat means getting rid of partially hydrogenated oil, which is the only source of artificial trans fat. Unfortunately, as consumers we continue to be flooded with these unhealthy, chemically-modified ingredients every day. Unless we educate ourselves and are constantly vigilant, most of us don’t even know what we’re actually ingesting.

Artificial trans fat is more dangerous on a gram-for-gram basis than any other fat in food because, like saturated fat, it raises LDL, the "bad" cholesterol that promotes heart disease. But unlike saturated fat, it also lowers HDL, the "good" cholesterol that guards against heart disease.

In July, the California State Senate passed a measure to phase out the use of artificial trans fat in restaurants putting the state on track to being the first in the nation to adopt this life-saving measure. Other states, including New York, Massachusetts, Kentucky and Washington are looking at menu labeling and mandates to phase out the use of artificial trans fats.

And while some processors of packaged foods have replaced partially hydrogenated oils with healthier fats, making the reformulated products not only free of trans fat, but also lower in saturated fat, there are many who have not.

We don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that, “artificial trans fat belongs in the history books, not our recipe books.”