What is Diet Anxiety and what can we do about it?

(Diet) Anxiety may overshadow but can be recon with

(Diet) Anxiety may overshadow but can be recon with

Dear Dr. Mo: Whenever I think of starting a diet, I begin to feel strong anxiety and I fear that I will fail – so I keep putting it off. I’m not having hopes of becoming any super-model looking person but I still cannot bring myself to start my diet. What’s happening to me? 

Dear reader: Losing weight can sometimes become an overwhelming pressure, imposed on us more from the outside than coming really from the inside.

True, we do want to look fit and feel good about our body because this is good for our health but it is the nature of our modern society, which favours skinny looking, (almost) anorexic appearance augmented further by computer programs to unrealistic shapes, that pressures us to achieve the unachievable – and to ultimately, fail.

Humans are the only animal capable of thinking about and more importantly, imagining the future and this unique feature we owe to our frontal part of the brain, the one whose level of development and complexity is so uniquely human. This ability is also responsible for anxiety.

Anxiety is the product of our fear of future and because we are able to imagine our futures, this can cause us to be frightened – to feel anxiety.

One thing that’s very well known to psychologists (but not to most other people) is how bad we are at imagining our futures: the more distant an event is in time the fuzzier it will look in our mind’s eye and the more it will be painted by our present thoughts and feelings (we are thus unable to escape the present – this is called ‘presentism’). The problem is that we won’t know this and will think that the way we imagined it is exactly the way it will happen – and alas, it won’t. Continue reading

Diet killers – how to succeed in weight loss?

Weight loss is tough and temptation knows this

Weight loss is tough and temptation knows this

Dear Dr. Mo: When is the best moment to start my weight loss diet? What should I pay attention to and strategize around?

Dear reader: Stress is one of the biggest diet killers.

Stress exhausts our mental capacities and diminishes our will power to stay the course and not give in to temptations.

Temptations are another big enemy of weight loss diets.

That said, the best you can do is start the diet while you are on vacation – although it may sound counter-intuitive, this way, less over all stress will give you a mental edge to keep up. 

We are more likely to stick to promises we make (to ourselves) and not cheat, when we feel good, relaxed and refreshed – in other words, when our minds are not tired and taxed.

While vacations reduce stressors, they usually offer more temptations. To tackle them head on you can make an effort to avoid them in the first place (this is the safest and easiest way).

Start with emptying your home (or a hotel room) of any food and drink items that might tempt you to give in. Do not really count on your will power to constantly refrain from the ‘forbidden’ food: every time you say ‘no’, a bit of your energy is spent and at the end of the day, when you come home tired and full of impressions and thoughts, this physical exhaustion alone is more than enough to deplete your ability to resist and sooner or later you will fail; so, best is not to have any louring food around.

Economist Dan Silverman says that a good way to save the will power for big temptations, when we really need it to resist, is to allow small indulgences to seep into our diet every now and then (like having an occasional desert). He calls this “rational self-indulgence”. Continue reading

Procrastinate your way into losing weight

Dear Dr. Mo: I can’t seem to make myself really start with a weight loss program – I always come up with a reason not to. I really have to lose some weight and it is a number 1. priority but I am failing to start. What can I do? 

Never start tomorrow!

Never start tomorrow!

Dear reader: It’s like with any other activity we feel a pressing need to perform – if we have to do it, most of us will rather do anything else instead.

This neat and classic evasive tactic our minds are using to postpone something into the future is called Procrastination, and I am sure you are aware of it. Continue reading

Mediterranean diet – a healthy way of eating

Dear readers: Many posts on this site discuss different aspects of a healthy diet and mostly emphasize the importance of balanced, versatile and flexible but

Versatile and healthy food choices

Versatile and healthy food choices

healthy food choices, whether you are staying put or travelling.

This pattern of eating could be named in different ways and many have heard of the so called Mediterranean diet, which is in fact exactly that – a variety of good foods arranged in a flexible manner throughout the day.

The most recent and very exciting results came out of one Spanish trial just a few days ago, proving without a shadow of a doubt, the benefits of this ‘Mediterranean’ eating style. Continue reading

That (in)famous water weight

Dear Dr. Mo: Why does weight fluctuate during the course of a day? Normally my weight is lower early in the morning than it is at night.

Dear reader: The most common reason for such daily weight fluctuations is so called “water weight”.

Water influences our weight

Water influences our weight

What does “water weight” mean?

You retain some water during the day and this is reflected in changes in your scaled weight within 24-hour periods. These changes are not drastic and are usually anywhere between a few hundred grams to about 2 kilograms (a few pounds).

Now to be clear, these gains are certainly not in fat – to gain so much fat in a day (say about 2 kilos) one would have to consume about 14 000 to 15 000 calories, which is borderline impossible and probably not even survivable. Continue reading

The importance of eating breakfast

Dear Dr. Mo: How important is breakfast for my health? Should I skip it if I want to lose some weight? I see some of my friends do this.

Dear reader: To answer simply – breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you should never skip it.

That said; let me quickly give a few important reasons for this.

Make it a healthy choice

Make it a healthy choice

Fist and foremost, if you want to lose some weight or just maintain the one you have (especially if it is a healthy one and feels good to you) eating breakfast every morning is the way to go.

I’ve spoken to people whose strategy was to skip breakfast thinking they would reduce their daily amount of calories – you are guessing already – they have failed at that. The reason such a strategy doesn’t work is because without a proper breakfast, you become very hungry by lunch time and not only that but you drive your body into energy conservation mode in which calories are being conserved and stored rather than spent and where your metabolism slows down – all of which is bad news for weight loss. Continue reading

Alcohol – that social lubricant

Dear Dr. Mo: I want to know some basic facts about alcohol and what it does to me when I drink. Is there a safe amount that’s actually good for health?

Don’t drink and drive!

Dear reader: Sometimes you might hear from a doctor that moderate alcohol consumption is good for health.

The peril lies in the word “moderate” for it is arbitrary; it is not the same for everyone and one could easily slip from moderation to amounts that are not at all useful to health. We could certainly argue if alcohol is useful in any amount because while it may be beneficial to one part of the body, it is damaging to another.

We don’t really need alcohol as far as maintaining our health is concerned so if you’ve never drank, don’t start as risks outweigh potential benefits.

Drink water to stay healthy

Dear Dr. Mo: How much water do I really need to stay hydrated and healthy?

Dear reader: This is the time of year where common colds are indeed common and when you will often hear that advice to drink lots of fluid, usually herbal teas or water. Of course, water is essential to your health but the needs for water vary from person to person and many factors may influence that, like for example your health condition, your daily activities, where you live, your age, metabolic rate etc.

Water means health!

Water is our main constituent – it makes up about 60% of our body mass. We need water to maintain normal functions: we throw out waste matter dissolved in water, water participates in digestion of food, it carries nutrients to cells, we use water to show emotions when we cry etc.

Water also helps to regulate body temperature through perspiration (sweating).

When water is insufficient we dehydrate. Dehydration is a state in which our cells don’t have enough water to function normally. Even a mild dehydration could cause fatigue because when tissues lose water, enzymes are slowing down their functions and energy production drops.

A simple way to see the link between health and water is to observe what happens when we age. As we age, the water content of our bodies is decreasing steadily and while a newborn is 80% water, in an adult this ratio is at 60% and it keeps on decreasing as years go by. Continue reading

Diabetes and weight – what is the link?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the link between being overweight and developing Type 2 diabetes? Can diabetes be prevented or cured somehow?

Dear reader: First of all it is worth pointing out that diabetes is a chronic condition. For most types (except gestational type) this chronicity means that once it occurs, it stays for life – this is not a disease we can effectively cure with our present knowledge but we can quite successfully manage it.

Before I go into your question, let me first explain the diabetes landscape and basic mechanisms behind it as Type 2 is not the only game in town.

Diabetes occurs either when the pancreas no longer produces enough insulin or when the body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood sugar.
The danger of diabetes lies in a condition called Hyperglycaemia – raised blood sugar level – which is a common result of uncontrolled/undiagnosed diabetes, which over time causes serious damage to the body, especially to blood vessels and nerves.

Food choices affect our health

Diabetes has its types and these differ in both the ways they start and the ways in which we manage them.

Type 1 Diabetes

This type had previously been known as insulin-dependent, juvenile or childhood-onset diabetes. Here, our pancreas gland becomes deficient in insulin production and there is simply no longer enough of it to properly regulate our blood sugar levels. Management requires daily administration of insulin and this type cannot be prevented with our current understanding as the cause is not known although we do think it is due to the self-inflicting damage to pancreas (process called “auto immune response”). Continue reading

Sleep, health and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo: I am looking into some weight loss programs and I am trying to work out my strategy to come back to my healthy weight. My work sometimes requires giving up on sleep and I tend to be too tired too often. Should I also consider better sleep as part of my weight loss strategy?

Dear reader: What an insightful question! Many of the dieting programs focus heavily on dietary habits and the types of foods we eat, when we eat them and how much. This is rightly so because to attain and maintain a healthy weight, we require a careful selection of healthful foods and a balanced way to eat them. We should also be mindful of our calorie total– don’t go below 1200 calories a day to avoid driving your body into starvation mode.

Sleep is a big part of your healthy weight

Dieting programs also focus on exercise, again rightly so because you need a way to burn through a few hundred calories a day in order to lose about 500 grams a week – which is the pace I’d recommend.  If you cut out 500 calories a day, every day, you’ll be losing about 500 grams of weight a week.

What most dieting programs don’t talk about, and I think they should, is a major component of our health – sleep.

If we don’t sleep well and don’t get enough of it, our health suffers and it becomes increasingly difficult to curb the appetite and control our weight. Being overweight deteriorates our health in both the short and the long run.

Disrupted sleep patterns disrupt the circadian rhythm and increase sleep deprivation, which in turn increases the hunger hormone ghrelin.
There are two of these hormones that regulate our appetite and feelings of hunger and fullness – leptin and ghrelin – and both are directly affected by how much sleep time we give ourselves. Continue reading

6 myths about healthy eating and weight loss

Dear readers: After receiving many of your questions related to weight loss, diet and healthy eating, I have realized that there are several misconceptions about dieting, which are bound to affect your diet plans. I think now is the good time to talk about some of the most common advice, which you will hear the minute you announce that you’ve decided to lose some weight or to change your diet habits. I am not saying that all these are completely devoid of truth, but even with a grain of truth in it, a proper interpretation is in order.

One of the first things you’ll probably hear is that you shouldn’t eat after 6 pm or 7 pm or 8pm, or generally in the evening and at night.

Dieting is riddled with myths and fads

Of course, there is no magical cut off time after which you must not eat or else…
What matters in your weight loss plan are your total calories you eat and not really when you do it. What’s true here is that most of us tend to eat more calories in the evening times during dinner or snacking after dinner. In this regard, it makes sense to limit the calories at night if you are one of those who eat more later in the day.

The next word of advice you’re likely to hear is that “eat smaller but more often” myth.

Just because some people eat like this naturally, and stay thin, doesn’t make it a rule for everyone. People who naturally eat like this tend to answer their body’s call and not some strict timing and schedule. Do not eat on the clock but rather listen to the signals the body sends. Eat when you are hungry and don’t wait for a specific time because then you might be too hungry and overeat.
Normally, whichever way works for you, be mindful of the calories to avoid eating too many. Continue reading

Tricks to avoid extra calories

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m trying hard to balance my weight but it doesn’t always work. Are there some tips and tricks to help me in my struggle?

Dear reader: Having a healthy weight and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is a challenging task for all of us.

In today’s fast-track world we certainly need a few tricks up our sleeve to be able to stand our ground when eating is concerned and not give in to many calorie dense food pleasures, which end up adding tons of calories to our daily intake increasing our weight and chances for long term health problems like heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and stroke.

Switch to water!

First of all, think of water!

Water is life and we are all told this repeatedly but it is also a good way to help you lose 2 – 3 kilos in 6 months! That’s what the research shows and what all of us can try – simply switch from other beverages (sodas, alcohol etc.) you drink each day to water and you will see the results. This trick of course works only if your other eating habits do not compensate for the calories you are saving by drinking water. This also works with calorie free beverages but since some studies have linked these beverages to a paradoxical weight gains and increase in triglycerides, it is best and certainly healthiest to stick to water. Continue reading

Low-carb foods – is low-carb healthy?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m considering a low-carb diet. I’m thinking to cut my calories in order to support my weight-loss plan. Is it a good idea and what are some low-carb foods to start with?

Dear reader:Eating a low carb diet as a way to lose weight may sound attractive but it may also backfire as such dieting could drive our body into an energy conserving mode. In this mode, the body stores more fat for a rainy day than it normally would – this is because we provide insufficient amount of calories over a longer period of time and in anticipation of yet another calorie-poor meal, our metabolic engine slows down and conserves energy more and more.

Veggies are a great source of nutrients while being low-carb.

What this actually means is that over time, eating a low carb/low calorie diet may turn out to bring more fat during intermission when ou are not on a diet and even during the diet itself. Read about counting your calories as a tool to plan your weight loss.

Still, low-carb food could be useful to control your blood sugar and to support your weight loss but only in combination with other foods with complex carbs, protein, fiber etc. What I’m saying is that a balanced diet is more efficient and certainly healthier than any extreme diet in which some nutrients are almost completely eliminated – i.e. low carb diets.

Here are a few well-known and smart low-carb choices I’d use every day in combination with other healthy foods to maintain a healthy diet and attain and maintain a healthy weight: Continue reading

Skipping your meals – how bad is it?

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m on a diet, but it sometimes turns into no-food scenario for hours and hours after which I feel nervous and weak. How bad is it to skip meals?

Dear reader: Delaying or skipping meals is among the worst things you can do in your diet.  It causes your blood sugar levels to fall, even beyond optimal limits and this in turn causes you to feel cranky and nervous.
When the blood sugar is low this condition is called Hypoglycemia and it is usually mild but it can become severe and even life-threatening.

Hypoglycemia is often caused by glucose-lowering medications such as insulin, sulfonylureas or glinides but in case of skipping your meals this too can be the culprit for the condition. It deprives you of the needed carbohydrates and other nutrients and causes your blood sugar to drop, sometimes to dangerous levels.

Never skip your meals – rather, plan ahead and eat healthy

As I said, if the hypoglycemic state becomes severe, it may cause seizures, loss of consciousness and even coma. These grave consequences are usually the result of a combination of factors like anti-diabetic medication, vigorous exercise and too little or no food and rarely happen just if you’ve skipped a few meals, but this doesn’t say skipping meals is something you should tolerate.

For your note, symptoms of hypoglycemia could include the following:

Foods to lower your Cholesterol

Dear Dr. Mo: I’m worried about my cholesterol levels and I am thinking of ways to avoid foods that will keep on raising it. What to do to bring my cholesterol down?

Dear reader: Following a healthy diet usually brings up the question of which foods to avoid. The follow up thought in our heads leads us to figuring out which foods could raise our cholesterol levels and add kilograms.

Normally, you’d want to avoid too much saturated fats from meat, full fat-dairy products (cheese, high fat milk) and trans fats found in many processed foods like pastries, processed cheese like the ones in a fast-food burger, cakes, cookies, biscuits, creams, candy etc. Even your favorite chips or pretzels are packed with trans fats (these hide behind tech terms like hydrogenated plant-based fat or palm fat so don’t be fooled).

Go nuts – it will regulate your cholesterol

These foods hurt our bodies not just by raising cholesterol levels (mostly the ‘bad’ one – LDL) but by exposing our cells to un-natural compounds, which we were simply not designed to handle.

In response, our systems are stressed out and over time, chain biochemical reactions lead to cancers, heart disease, strokes, diabetes, tons of autoimmune diseases, genetic alterations etc.

The list of unhealthful foods would be far too long. Here’s a hint – those advertised the most are usually suspicious.

Instead, and further to my previous post, I will list 8 foods (and functional foods), which strongly help to regulate your cholesterol level and have appropriate ratio of HDL (the ‘good’ one) Vs. LDL (the ‘bad’ one).
Of course, for some people, diet alone is not enough to bring cholesterol under control in which case your doctor may start you on some medication to help you reach desired levels but even in these cases, proper diet is of large significance for success and long term health. Continue reading