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United States farm subsidies (source ewg.org)

United States farm subsidies (source ewg.org) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

I’ve heard that U.S. government farm subsidies are contributing to obesity and poor nutrition from many sources.  I thought I’d look into it and see what I could dig up. What I found surprised me. In his article in Environmental Health Perspectives, The Fat of the Land: Do Agricultural Subsidies Foster Poor Health?, Scott Fields writes that while farm subsidies for corn, soy and wheat are the norm, eliminating these subsidies likely would not result in much change in our health nor in the price of these products. (So why do we keep subsidizing them?)

HOWEVER, if the U.S. Department of Agriculture really wanted to help us out and eat healthier, experts recommend they channel those subsidies into production of fresh fruit and vegetables to encourage farmers to grow more of these more difficult to manage crops. (Apparently growing corn, wheat and soy is much easier than growing say broccoli, apples or kale.)

The relationship between farm subsidies and obesity is not clear to all. But the basic idea is that as sugary, fatty food is cheaper, people buy more of it and eat more of it. Can you image how tempted you’d be by a bag of chips if they cost $40!
Read the full  article here.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

US Navy 050203-N-4729H-005 Navy Delayed Entry ...

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For anyone that’s ever dieted or struggled to keep excess fat off, you know that conventional wisdom (increase activity, decrease calories) has tended to recommend very caloric intake for losing weight. But living on super low-calorie diets is not only not sustainable int he long-term, but it’s very difficult to maintain even for short-term results. Now scientist shave found the way to lose weight is not as strict and severe as we once thought! And the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has produced a wonderful new tool that allows you to more accurately estimate how many calories you need to consume and how you need to adjust your activity level to lose unwanted fat. This tool is called the Body Weight Simulator and is accessible here.

To use the Body Weight Simulator, you need to enter your Base Weight, your activity level and your age and height. The tool does the rest, providing you with an estimate of the number of calories you need to reduce each day to lose weight for the short-term as well as the number of calories you need to reduce to maintain the loss for the long-term. I tried the simulator myself and the number of calories I’d need to cut to lose 10 pounds in 6 months is just much smaller than most diet plans would have me reduce. (About 270 per day versus 500-1000 calories per day.)

The tool also provides graphs and charts that show the progression of weight loss, body fat % change, and activity level change.  Try it yourself and see how reasonable the new calorie goals and activity levels can be for your own fat loss plan!

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

There is a good article in this months’ Men’s Health Magazine about fat phobia and America’s obesity problem, titled “I Hate Fat People.”  The author, Richard Connif, did a thorough job of explaining how BMI numbers have been revised and how this affects our perception of our fatness in his article about fat phobia and prejudice. He also did a great job explaining the controversy between those that celebrate their fatness (and contend that fat doesn’t mean unfit and that thin isn’t necessarily more healthy or fit) and those that believe that obesity is a ticking time bomb of health problems that tend to manifest later in life no matter how fit an obese person is. But he also notes that obesity tends to cause health problems later in life as the extra weight takes its toll on the pancreas (contributing to Type II diabetes), heart disease, and I would also add, joint issues and back pain.

But what’s the cause of our obesity? I have read articles that explain that we as human beings are biologically predisposed to crave fat and sugary foods as well as protean to stave off hunger. For the majority of time humans have been on this planet, we were living in food scarcity. But in the last 100 years, and especially the last 30-40 years, we’ve been afforded an abundance of food in most developed nations. Walk the aisles of any grocery store and you’ll find more food than our ancestors likely ate in a lifetime. Advertisers, trying to sell their companies products, cater to our inborn cravings for fat and sugar and salt and load our prepared foods with it. Like literally giving candy to a baby, food manufacturers and retailers tempt us with sweets and treats and we, creatures of our biological nature, snatch them up, and eat as much as we want or can afford. Over time, as we add in the more sedentary lifestyle most of us now enjoy, due to car travel, television and long work hours and commutes. Add this all up and it’s a simple math equation. Too much fat, sugar and calories coupled with low activity levels and our bodies do what they are supposed to do: protect us from starvation and store fat.

There may be more to this picture than all that. Some believe that obesity isn’t a sign of lack of self-discipline or solely our biological drives. It may be caused by an addiction: Compulsive overeating. An article in WebMD by Elizabeth Lee talks about former FDA Commissioner David Kessler, MD ‘s book,  The End of Overeating. In the book, Kessler, a Harvard-trained pediatrician and medical school professor at the University of California, San Francisco, described Hyperpalatable foods. He defines these foods as those high in fat, sugar, and salt that stimulate the senses to provide a physiological reward that causes many people to eat more to repeat the experience. Kessler explains that when a person eats a high sugar, high fat food they like this stimulates the body to produce endorphins, the brain chemicals that tell us we are experiencing something pleasurable. (Similar to runners high but less calorie burning!) Since our brains feel so good from the ingestion of endorphin producing sugar and fatty food, we want more. Eating more momentarily calms our nervous systems and  makes us feel good. Eating these foods also stimulates our brings to produce more dopamine. This in turn signals us to eat more of that feel good food. Visual cues lead us to seek more of the feel good food-pictures of food on TV ads, the signs of fast food restaurants, the packaging of our favorite candy bars in vending machines and at the checkout line. We eat without thinking and don’t realize why it’s so hard to control our cravings and eating habits. Once we get “hooked” on these feel good foods, we may develop a tolerance. And then we need food with more fat and sugar to bring us the same high, Kind of sounds like cocaine addiction, doesn’t it? Well, chemically, to our brains there are a lot of similarities. Read the full WebMD article here.

Not everyone is susceptible to the hyperpalatable foods. But for those that are, similar to people who are more susceptible to becoming alcoholic or addicted to other substances, there is help. One of the self-help groups that many people with compulsive overeating issues can turn to is a group called “Overeaters Anonymous.” Link here to take  short test to see if you may be considered a compulsive overeater.

More about OA from their website:

What is OA?

Overeaters Anonymous is a Fellowship of individuals who, through shared experience, strength and hope, are recovering from compulsive overeating. We welcome everyone who wants to stop eating compulsively.

There are no dues or fees for members; we are self-supporting through our own contributions, neither soliciting nor accepting outside donations. OA is not affiliated with any public or private organization, political movement, ideology or religious doctrine; we take no position on outside issues.

Our primary purpose is to abstain from compulsive overeating and to carry this message of recovery to those who still suffer.

Who belongs to OA?

In Overeaters Anonymous, you’ll find members who are extremely overweight, even morbidly obese; moderately overweight; average weight; underweight; still maintaining periodic control over their eating behavior; or totally unable to control their compulsive eating.

OA members experience many different patterns of food behaviors. These “symptoms” are as varied as our membership. Among them are:

  • obsession with body weight, size and shape
  • eating binges or grazing
  • preoccupation with reducing diets
  • starving
  • laxative or diuretic abuse
  • excessive exercise
  • inducing vomiting after eating
  • chewing and spitting out food
  • use of diet pills, shots and other medical interventions to control weight
  • inability to stop eating certain foods after taking the first bite
  • fantasies about food
  • vulnerability to quick-weight-loss schemes
  • constant preoccupation with food
  • using food as a reward or comfort

Where can I find OA?

Go to Find a Meeting on this Web site and follow the instructions to find a meeting in your area. Or you can contact the World Service Office at (505) 891-2664 or email for further assistance. You can also look for Overeaters Anonymous in your local telephone directory and in your local newspaper’s social or community calendar section.

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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Today I received an email from a group I belong to, Building a Healthier Chicago. They profiled a local Chicago area chef who has a company, Centered Chef Food Studios,  that combines good nutrition with culinary arts.

Focusing on natural ingredients, owner Chef Ryan Hutmacher reinvents “health food” and doing so, shows that “nutritious” and “delicious” are compatible.  Ryan is well known within the marathon and triathlon community in Chicago, as well as within the corporate sector. His own personal story of trial and triumph has inspired countless to reinvent their own lifestyles.

As chef Ryan’s Culinary Wellness Initiative has grown, he and his team created a new culinary studio.  In this multi-story, state-of-the-art facility, Ryan and his team meld culinary arts and nutrition through practical solutions that use education and entertainment to promote individualized wellness.

They offer interactive cooking studios (one of which is a gluten free test-kitchen) along with live and filmed cooking demonstrations, and hand-on cooking classes.

Centered Chef Studios specializes in supporting people who manage disease states such as: Diabetes, Cancer, Obesity, Multiple Sclerosis, Hypoglycemia, Heart Disease, Elevated Cholesterol/Blood Pressure and Digestive Disorders.  They also offer options to help alleviate food allergies.  In addition, they work closely supporting the nutrition of endurance athletes and business people who need to balance demanding schedules with proper nutrition.

According to the Centered Chef website, the idea of being centered is key to good health: Being centered is the relationship between how we feel and how we perform in our lives. You can achieve this state by eating well, exercising, getting enough rest, and engaging in meaningful activities and relationships. As food experts, we know good nutrition is at the core of fueling a healthy mind, body and soul. With the right foods as part of your healthy lifestyle, you will experience increased physical health, energy and mental awareness.

Watch the 15 minute video of Chef Ryan’s transformation from an overweight, smoker, with pre-diabetes turn into an Ironman in great health here. If he can do it, so can you!

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Saratoga chips at the Mississippi State Fair i...
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By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Having a hard time switching from potato chips to carrots? You are not alone! As people in our country continue to grow more and more obese, many research scientists are putting in long hours to investigate biological causes. Last month, scientists from the Scripps Research Institute issued a report that shows -definitively, for the first time- that the same biological processes that cause drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat. Many obese people have been making this statement for years–that they feel out of control after eating junk food, and the more they eat, the more they want.

In the study, scientists monitored brain chemicals in rats, noticing that as the rats got more obese, their brains were less and less able to issue a reward to the body. As this pleasure center in the brain became less and less responsive, the rats developed the tendency to overeat, seeking that chemical reward. This is the exact same pattern that occurs in rats that are administered cocaine or heroin, and scientists believe that the pattern plays a large part in the development of drug dependency.

Paul J. Kenny, an Associate Professor at Scripps, conducted the study. He says that the nearly three year long study confirms the “addictive” properties of junk food:

“The new study, unlike our preliminary abstract, explains what happens in the brain of these animals when they have easy access to high-calorie, high-fat food. It presents the most thorough and compelling evidence that drug addiction and obesity are based on the same underlying neurobiological mechanisms. In the study, the animals completely lost control over their eating behavior, the primary hallmark of addiction. They continued to overeat even when they anticipated receiving electric shocks, highlighting just how motivated they were to consume the palatable food.”

The scientists offered the rats many types of food, but they always chose “junk” food. As a test, the researchers removed the junk food and tried to put them on a nutritious diet. Their preference for junk food was so strong, however, that they starved themselves for nearly two weeks.

To read the entire article, visit the original Press Release.

So if anyone tells you junk food is not addicting, think again. And pass the carrots!

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I'm on diet #2
Image by floodkoff via Flickr

By Sue Shekut, Owner, Working Well Massage, Licensed Massage Therapist, Certified Wellness Coach, ACSM Personal Trainer

Whilst tooling around the internet looking for good nutritional info for my loyal readers, I came across an interesting blog about food and food politics called “WiseEats.” According to the blog’s author, Jayne Jang, “Unfortunately, fad diets will not help reverse obesity trends.”
Jang has a lot of ideas about combating obesity, but thinks that fad diets are not the answer and I agree.

Jang writes: “At the Gastro 2009 conference in London last week, Professor Chris Hawkey, British Society of Gastroenterology (BSG) president, said that fad diets are making Brits fat.  He concludes that that “if Britons continue to follow unhealthy diets and favour certain foods over others, nine in ten are likely to be overweight or obese by 2050. The methods he used to reach this conclusion are unclear, but generally, I agree that fad diets are not a sustainable solution.  These fad diets try to single out whole categories of food or claim that one food (ex. grapefruit) will burn fat like no other food can.  These diets may help people eliminate some processed junk food, but today, we have lost all sense of normal portion sizes.”

Read the entire post on Jang’s WiseEats blog here.
Read about Jang’s blog and approach to food and food politics here.

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By Sue Shekut, Licensed Massage Therapist, ACSM Personal Trainer, Certified Wellness Coach, Owner, Working Well Massage

Chicago is famous for many things. Chicago is “the Windy City,” The Second City,” the home of the Cubs, the White Sox and da Bears. Chicago also has the dubious honor of being one of the top 20 most “fat” cities in the U.S. But there are those of us that want to change that last claim to fame for Chicago.

One group that is making serous headway in tackling high blood pressure, obesity and activity levels of Chicagoans is Building a Healther Chicago.

Building a Healthier Chicago

Building a Healthier Chicago (BHC) is a collaborative of local and national stakeholders working to strengthen efforts to promote the health of Chicago residents and employees.

Through collaboration BHC promotes and tracks the adoption of selected programs, practices, policies, and supportive environments throughout the worksites, schools, health care organizations, faith based organizations, parks and neighborhoods of Chicago. BHC works with community organizations, academics, health care and government to improve the health of all citizens.

To make a significant impact on the health of all Chicagoans, BHC works to support its stakeholders broadly in:

  • Increasing physical activity levels
  • Improving healthy eating
  • Prevention, detection and control of high blood pressure

Why focus on physical activity, nutrition, and blood pressure?

Physical inactivity and obesity are at epidemic proportions in the U.S., resulting in an increased prevalence of many chronic diseases. Meanwhile, health care expenditures associated with physical inactivity and obesity continue to rise.

Becoming a Stakeholder in Building a Healthier Chicago

Working Well Massage is a stakeholder in Building a Healthier Chicago. If your firm is involved in promoting wellness or has a workplace wellness program you are proud of, consider joining BHC as a stakeholder!

Building a Healthier Workplace Resources

American Cancer Society Workplace Solutions

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Center for Value-Based Health Management

Federal Occupational Health

Health Enhancement Research Organization

Health Resources and Services Administration

National Business Group on Health

National Wellness Institute

Partnership for Prevention

Start! For HR Professionals (American Heart Association)

WELCOA: Wellness Council of America

WellSteps

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