Posts Tagged ‘healthy lifestyle’

Best diets according to expert panel

January 8, 2012

This is an interesting listing and ranking of 25 potential diets according to a panel of experts and published in US News (here and here). The six top-rated diets overall are:

Dash Diet

DASH was developed to fight high blood pressure, not as an all-purpose diet. But it certainly looked like an all-star to our panel of experts, who gave it high marks for its nutritional completeness, safety, ability to prevent or control diabetes, and role in supporting heart health. Though obscure, it beat out a field full of better-known diets.

TLC diet

Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, or TLC, is a very solid diet plan created by the National Institutes of Health. It has no major weaknesses, and it’s particularly good at promoting cardiovascular health. One expert described it as a “very healthful, complete, safe diet.” But it requires a “do-it-yourself” approach, in contrast to the hand-holding provided by some commercial diets.

Mayo Clinic Diet

This is the Mayo Clinic’s take on how to make healthy eating a lifelong habit. It earned especially high ratings from our experts for its nutrition and safety and as a tool against diabetes. Experts found it moderately effective for weight loss.

Mediterranean Diet

With its emphasis on fruits and vegetables, olive oil, fish, and other healthy fare, the Mediterranean diet is eminently sensible. And experts’ assessments of it were resoundingly positive, giving this diet an edge over many competitors.

Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers is a smart, effective diet. It surpassed other commercial diet plans in multiple areas, including short- and long-term weight loss and how easy it is to follow. It’s also nutritionally sound and safe, according to experts. Among its pluses: An emphasis on group support, lots of fruits and vegetables, and room for occasional indulgences.

Volumetrics

Volumetrics outperformed its competitors in many categories. It earned particularly high marks for being safe and nutritious, and experts said it could have a positive effect on heart health and diabetes. “This is an eating plan that everyone can benefit from,” one expert said.

My recommendation is to read my previous post (here) and then choose the diet that appeals to you most, with the intention of sticking to it for at least a year. After that, choose another. The point is to stick to some kind of eating plan for the rest of your life.

Become a “lessmeatatarian” and help the planet

February 3, 2009

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One thing we can easily do now to help ourselves and others is:  eat less meat and dairy. Meat (especially beef) and dairy farming generate a huge amount of greenhouse gas and are unsustainable.  Like food writer Mark Bittman, we should all become “lessmeatatarians,” and try going vegan daily until 6 pm (dinnertime).  Bittman discusses this and related topics on public radio here.

Mark Bittman: Conscious Eating

Food writer and home cooking guide Mark Bittman is a hero in many American kitchens. His “How to Cook Everything” has put a lot of meals on a lot of family tables.

Now, Bittman is taking up a bigger cause than dinner: The way Americans eat, he says, is killing themselves and the planet. Too much meat. Too much junk food. Too big a footprint.

Just a little change, he says — vegan ‘til 6pm, ‘til dinner — could save our waistlines, our health, and the planet.

This hour, On Point: A save-the-Earth manifesto — with recipes — from food maven Mark Bittman.

Do not — DO NOT — deprive yourself

January 30, 2009

sleeper

In Woody Allen’s very  funny movie Sleeper (1973), he plays a health food store owner who travels to the future and discovers everything that was bad for you (smoking, fast food) is now good for you. I have often wondered whether, in such circumstances, I would change my long-standing eating preferences (which now happen to be “healthy”) so that I would eat heavy desserts, creamy sauces, sweets, McDonalds food, etc.  Now I dislike such foods, but if it turned out they were good for me, would I learn to like them?  The answer is, probably yes.

Over the last two decades, I have absorbed the culture of healthy eating to the extent that I PREFER to eat this way.  I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that I have brainwashed myself.  Which is a good thing.  There is ample and growing evidence that we can control our likes and dislikes to a great extent (it takes time and practice).

What I know does NOT work for me or many other people is to change the way I eat just to be “good” or “healthy.”  If I do that, I feel deprived, and will get angry, resentful, and ultimately go back to eating what I like.

The same is true for exercise; do it because you want to, not because you “have to.”   You will be happier, and healthier.  What’s the point of being healthy if you’re not happy?

Please, don’t Resolve to “get healthy” in the new year!

December 31, 2008

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There is nothing wrong with setting a goal to walk 30 minutes a day, or to stop buying fat-and-sugar-laden snack foods to keep in the pantry. The problem with New Year’s Resolutions is that they are usually reactive and rarely work.  By reactive, I mean they tend to be the result of a feeling that “I have overindulged” or “been bad” in December, so I will make amends next year.  This kind of thinking is self-defeating.  Diets don’t work, and Resolutions don’t work.  What does work is a full time commitment to practicing specific, realistic behaviors.  The idea of an annual review and re-commitment is not bad, but I suggest the best time to do this might be December 1 — certainly not January 1.

Here is an excerpt from Weight Management for Your Life that may give you some idea why I think December, with all of its “special occasions,” would be a good time to review and renew your healthy-living plan:

If you have been successfully working on changing your eating and exercise patterns for some time, you will encounter situations where someone will say to you “This is a special occasion, so go ahead and eat that cake!” The cake is not the issue, but the implication behind the statement is. People observing your healthier lifestyle will assume you are in a constant state of self-deprivation, and will want to see you “loosen up.” It is important to them to feel okay about
their own “indulgences.” The problem with your buying into that theory is that it discounts the fact that you already are eating (and exercising) the way you want to. You are not depriving yourself – in fact, by doing what you want, you are indulging yourself. Your ongoing healthy lifestyle is its own reward.
Another problem with going back to old unhealthy habits, even temporarily, is that such “special occasions” come up frequently: out-of-town trips, weddings, graduations, birthdays, holidays, cruises, office parties, etc. etc. Add the special occasions with their special “indulgences” or “rewards” up over the course of a year and you have put on an unwanted five to ten pounds. … Special occasions are even more special when they don’t throw you off your chosen path.

Happy new year!

The power (and controversy) of self-change

August 4, 2008

I have written before (here) about self-change and its relevance for adopting a healthy lifestyle. This recent article in Scientific American Mind summarizes the issues (and controversy) quite well. In case the link to the article goes away, here is the article:

Do-It-Yourself Addiction Cures?

Former drug and alcohol users can show impressive results without professional treatment, through the phenomenon of self-change

By Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld

July 31, 2008

“To cease smoking is the easiest thing I ever did. I ought to know because I’ve done it a thousand times.”—Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens (Twain was his nom de plume) humorously mocked his inability to end his nicotine-fueled habit. But he might have gone for Quitting Round 1,001 had he had the benefit of recent research.

In 1982 Stanley Schachter, an eminent social psychologist then at Columbia University, unleashed a storm of con­troversy in the addic­tions field by publi­shing an article showing that most for­mer smokers and overweight people he interviewed had changed successfully without treat­ment. He also cited a study that repor­ted even higher rates of recovery among heroin users without treatment.

A particularly controversial finding was that the success rates of his so-called self-changers were actually greater than those of patients who underwent professional treatment. Schachter discussed two possible explanations. First, treatment seekers may be more severely addicted than self-changers. Second, studies typically examine only one change endeavor, whereas his interviews covered a lifetime of efforts. Perhaps it takes many tries before a person gets it right, he suggested.

Schachter’s findings were met with intense skepticism, even outright disbelief, particularly by those who believed in a disease model of addiction. In this view, addictions are diseases caused by physiological and psychological factors that are triggered by using the substance (drugs or alcohol); once the disease is triggered, the addict cannot control his or her substance use, and complete abstinence is the only way to manage the disease. Proponents of this model did not believe that so many people could change their addictions at all, let alone without treatment. Other criticisms came from researchers who questioned the scientific value of Schachter’s work because it was based on a small and selective sample and relied on self-reports of past behavior, which often are not accurate pictures of what really happened. Nevertheless, his findings served as a catalyst, encouraging many researchers to study self-change in addictive behaviors. Let us examine what the research tells us about how widespread successful self-change is for problem drinking and drug addiction.

Rates of Success
Psychologist Reginald Smart of the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto recently reviewed the findings on the prevalence of self-change efforts among problem drinkers. We draw the following conclusions from his review and from our reading of the literature:

  • Most of those who change their problem drinking do so without treatment of any kind, including self-help groups.
  • A significant percentage of self-changers maintain their recovery with follow-up periods of more than eight years, some studies show.
  • Many problem drinkers can maintain a pattern of nonproblematic moderate use of alcohol without becoming readdicted.
  • Those who do seek treatment have more severe alcohol and related problems than those who do not.

Although fewer studies of self-change in drug addiction exist, the results generally mirror those for problem drinking. In summary: self-change in drug addiction is a much more common choice for solving the problem than treatment is; a substantial percentage of self-changers are successful; a significant percentage of those who were formerly addicted continue to use drugs occasionally without returning to addiction-level use, and they maintain these changes fairly well over time; and those who seek treatment usually have more ­severe problems than those who do not.

The experiences of Vietnam veterans are especially instructive. Sociologist Lee N. Robins, then at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and her associates published a widely cited series of studies beginning in 1974 on drug use and recovery in these veterans. While overseas, about 20 percent of the soldiers became addicted to narcotics. After discharge to the U.S., however, only 12 percent of those who had been addicted in Vietnam were found to be in that state at any time during the three-year follow-up. Fewer than 5 percent had overcome their addiction through therapy. Additional findings from Robins’s studies suggested that abstinence is not necessary for recovery. Although nearly half the men who were addicted in Vietnam tried narcotics again after their return, only 6 percent became readdicted.

The results of Robins’s studies suggest the power of self-change in drug addiction, but they also have been the target of many criticisms. For example, most men who became addicted in Vietnam had not had that problem before their tour of duty, suggesting that they may be unrepresentative of the general population of drug addicts. Moreover, their drug use may have been triggered by the stress of serving in Vietnam, making it easier for them to stop when they returned home. This last criticism is weakened, however, by the finding that most men who continued using some narcotics after discharge did not become addicted and by the fact that the return home was also very difficult because of the popular sentiment against that war in the U.S.

Next Steps
We need more and better research on the potential for self-change to conquer problem drinking and other addictions. Studies suffer from differences in the definitions of important terms such as “addiction,” “treatment” and “recovery.” The use of reports of past behavior and relatively short follow-up periods are problematic as well. We also do not know of any studies on self-change with prescription drug addiction. Finally, we need to know if recovery from drug addiction leads to substitution with another addiction. At least one study revealed that many former drug addicts became problem drinkers. Because of these caveats and others, the percentages we have reported should be taken only as rough estimates.

Although we have reviewed some encouraging initial results from the literature, it is our impression that many addictions professionals do not view self-change as very effective. Their conclusion may be largely correct for those problem drinkers and drug addicts to whom they are typically exposed—treatment seekers.

Generalizations from those who seek treatment to the population of problem drinkers and drug addicts as a whole may be incorrect for two reasons, however. First, those who seek treatment have more severe problems than those who do not; second, they may overrepresent those who have failed repeatedly in their attempts at self-change.

We may learn a great deal from people who successfully change addictive behaviors on their own. Whatever they are doing, they are doing something right. In addition to the work with problem drinkers and drug addicts, we are beginning to make headway in the study of self-change in other problem areas, such as problem drinking, smoking, obesity and problem gambling. Greater knowledge about self-change and how it comes about might be used to help people who are not in treatment find ways of shedding their addictions as well as to enhance the effectiveness of our treatment programs.

Note: This story was originally printed with the title, “D.I.Y. Addiction Cures?”.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld serve on the board of advisers for Scientific American Mind. Arkowitz is a psychology professor at the University of Arizona, and Lilienfeld is a psychology professor at Emory University