Tuesday, January 25, 2011

And a Few Centuries Later . . .

Here we are. You’re not alone. We’re not alone. For anyone trying to lose weight and improve their nutritional behaviors—there’s a lot of history to consider. That’s a good thing, and at the same time, it’s pretty discouraging. It’s discouraging because about two-thirds of all Americans at any given time say they are trying to lose weight. And, we’ve been at it for close to 200 years. It’s also discouraging because more than two-thirds of us are now officially overweight or obese.

Ever heard of an “obesity soap?” It was advertised in 1903 with the “never fails to reduce flesh” claim, and sold for a dollar a bar. That’s expensive soap for 1903. If only we could just wash away our fat.

Even before obesity soap, in 1863, the first low-carb “diet” was introduced by William Banting—no potatoes, bread, butter, milk, sugar, beer or pork; but fish, mutton or beef were encouraged for every meal. Back in the late 1800s “banting” actually became slang for “dieting.” Banting himself lost 50 pounds in one year on his diet (a little over 1 pound a week, which is still accepted as a healthy rate of weight loss).

Way back in the day (150 plus years ago), it was thought that extra weight was a sign of prosperity, and might actually help ward off disease. But by 1900, excess weight was looked at as a disease. By 1916 the Department of Agriculture introduced the first five food groups. By World War II, we had the first charts showing ideal height-weight metrics (not all that far off from today’s BMI recommendations).

Then came the diets. Google “diets” today and you’ll get almost 18 million hits. But, guess what? Diets don’t work. That’s why we feel the need to try them all out. When we think of a “diet” most of us think of inconvenience, deprivation and temporary sacrifice. In reality, there’s nothing temporary about it—once you achieve your goal, you have to maintain it. Now if we shift the focus from “diet” to, hmmm, say “lifestyle change,” we’re also shifting our focus from negative to positive. And when we do that, we change our focus from denial and sacrifice to our ability to embrace positive, sustainable choices and behaviors.

Yes, our individual and collective health and wellness is complicated. It takes commitment, it takes motivation and requires self-belief, and it takes each of us making the decision to create a long-term change in our wellness behaviors—and in the way we view and embrace those behaviors.

Sure, it’s been centuries in the making, but in the end, it’s all right here in front of us. Comments?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Your Sodium Footprint

You have one, and it’s probably bigger and badder than you think.

Believe it or not, it’s hard to make a dent in sodium intake. Cutting back on calories is one thing—you can see your portion size. Cutting back on something that doesn’t have any calories, and that’s also mostly invisible, is something else. In fact, 77 percent of the sodium we consume isn’t out of the salt shaker—it’s in the prepared foods we buy in cans, boxes, fast food bags and restaurants.

Here’s more scary news. A recent report published in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (just the name of the publication should get your attention), points out that fewer than 10 percent of U.S. adults limit their sodium intake to recommended levels (between 1,500 and 2,300 mg of sodium per day). The average adult consumes 3,466 mg of sodium per day. To top it off, we only need between 180 mg and 500 mg a day to keep our bodies working properly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say effects of excessive sodium include increased rates of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Because nearly 400,000 deaths each year are attributed to high blood pressure, decreasing sodium intake could prevent thousands of deaths annually. It’s estimated that cutting back even one-half teaspoon a day could save the U.S. $24 billion a year in health care costs.

If you think you’re not consuming too much sodium, keep a list for a few days. Note the sodium per serving size and jot it down. Even if you never pick up the salt shaker, we think you’ll be surprised. Let us know what you discover.