Monday, March 26, 2012

That Little, Bitty Thing

You can’t see them. You can’t hear them. You can’t touch them or taste them. But you can count them and cut them. It’s not a riddle. We’re talking about calories, and we are obsessed with them.

We all know we need enough calories to support our basic needs, but not so many calories that we exceed those needs. And, yet  more than 64 percent of us exceed those needs on a regular basis, regular enough that it’s resulted in an obesity epidemic, with chronic illness and type 2 diabetes mushrooming out of control.  One-third of all children consume too many calories on a daily basis, and as a result are overweight or obese.  Those pesky excess calories are everywhere—convenience stores, gas stations, pharmacies, bookstores, electronics stores, garden centers, department stores. Grocery stores offer free food samples, and of course you can expect a lot of calories from the food court at most malls.

Not only is food everywhere, including places it doesn’t really need to be, but there’s so much of it. This is where portion size meets calorie intake. Meals are super-sized, sodas come in 64-oz “Big Gulp” sizes, and those personal pizzas can house a day’s calories. Restaurant portions generally provide enough food—and calories to constitute a meal for two—or more.

If you’re one of the 45 million Americans counting calories, you need to also consider where those calories come from, and what they do once they’re on their way down your throat. While it’s important to be mindful of the calories taken in, it’s also important to be mindful of how those calories are stored and burned. Those 100 calories from the fun-size candy bar aren’t going to provide the nutrition you’ll get from a handful of almonds or walnuts, or an apple or a banana with 100 calories—but they will be stored as fat.  (And, don’t you appreciate how using the word fun-size makes it seem more OK to eat than if it said junk-size?)

The majority of us underestimate how much we eat, and how many calories we consume. But, if we’re mindful, we might be in for a big surprise, one that might provide the motivation to think first about the nutritional choices we make, and how those choices will ultimately influence our overall health and general well-being.

And if you’re wondering what a calorie really is, it’s a measure of energy, just as a volt is a measure of electricity, a pound is a measure of weight and a mile is a measure of distance. Technically a calorie indicates how much energy it takes to change the temperature of 1 gram of water by 1 degree Celsius. (This would make more sense maybe if your body was made of ice, but, it’s not, and this is the definition.)

Now, are you ready to take on the “energy” of something you can’t even see, touch or taste? What do you have to lose?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Don't Fence Me In

When Robert Frost wrote “Mending Wall” and penned the phrase, “Good fences make good neighbors,” it’s a sure bet he wasn’t talking about food. He was talking about barriers.

Fences can be a good thing. They provide boundaries, or the perception of limits. They can promote a feeling of safety and security. They define our spaces. They keep things in and they keep other things out. They also create walls. And, sometimes those walls get in the way of choices we need to make.

We are creatures of habit. We do things the same way, day after day, and we become comfortable with our patterns and our walls. But sometimes the walls are unnecessary. They become barriers and that’s when the fences need to come down – and now we are talking about food, and food choices and lifestyle behaviors and habits

Work, family, time constraints, cost, and maybe just not knowing are all real barriers to creating healthier habits and healthier choices. Yet, when each of these fences holding us in is carefully scrutinized, those barriers fade away. Our existing patterns of comfort are habits which we can change to form new, healthier, sustainable replacements.

But just like a fence or a wall, you don’t just knock it down—you take it apart board by board or brick by brick. And, that’s the secret to creating your new barrier-free choices. Start small. Don’t do it all at once. Ask yourself  “why” you want to change. Define your motivational triggers. Be aware of situations and circumstances that set you up for failure (popcorn at the movies comes to mind). Have a new response ready. Get support from family and friends. Involve them in your choices to create healthier lifestyle behaviors. Congratulate yourself on each success. Stay with it. You didn’t build your old fence or form your old habits in one day, or week or month, and you won’t dismantle them that quickly either—but you will transform them over time.

When the fences come down, there’s a whole new field to explore, and an opportunity to expand into new territory. That would be the territory of healthy choices, healthy substitutions, and a new outlook on what might have been holding you back from making these choices in the first place.

So, here’s something to ask yourself . . . Are your personal fences holding you in or keeping you from discovering new territory? Are they creating boundaries it’s time to cross? Without that fence, are you ready to explore healthier lifestyle options?