Archives for June 2008

Cleveland Clinic Takes Wellness Seriously

When your wellness director is Dr. Michael Roizen, it’s not a surprise. The Cleveland Clinic announced that it is partnering with Weight Watchers to provide their services free to Clinic employees who want to use it. In addition, the Clinic has banned trans fats from its menus and no longer hires smokers. All of these policies are excellent and should be a model for other employers. After all, since large employers typically bear much of the cost of healthcare increases, so they should also have a big stake in lowering those costs. It’s good business and in this case, it should help thousands of people get healthier and fitter.

My employer, in concert with other members of its healthcare consortium, has initiated a wellness plan and I quickly volunteered to serve on the committee. Now we have a model in the Cleveland Clinic. In this day and age, I don’t see how large employers cannot emphasize health and wellness, if anything for the sake of the bottom line.

A “Staycation” to Save Money

A lot of people are talking about “staycations” as opposed to vacations these days. A staycation is having fun locally as opposed to taking an expensive vacation. Many Americans are strapped for cash because of high gas prices, and don’t have the extra money for a huge vacation that involves a lot of driving. My wife and I are two such Americans.

Last year, my brother, his wife, and my then fiancee went to Mount Airy, North Carolina for a three day getaway. It was fun. It is about 400 miles to Mount Airy from my residence, so the round trip is 800 miles. Since I get around 25 mpg on average (city and highway averaged), that would be a little over 32 gallons of gas, which is 128 dollars just to get there and back. Local driving probably would add an extra 50 dollars or more.  Food would run about 30 dollars a day. A hotel room for two costs about 100 per night. So to repeat that vacation this year (which was the original plan) would cost about 600 dollars.

This year, we have decided to just visit my brother and his family for a week, four days longer than our more traditional vacation last year. Since my brother is working at his school this summer, and there is a nearly newborn baby in the family, he really couldn’t have gone on a vacation anyway, so it just makes sense. He lives about 300 miles round trip away from me, shorter than just one leg of the Mount Airy Trip. Room-and-board is free. While we will eat out a few meals, many of them will be cooked at his home. They will be good, healthy, and cheap. Since we are viewing this as a vacation, all of us will get a chance to check out local beaches, bike paths, state parks, festivals, etc, things that we may not have ever visited before, even though they are only a few miles from my brother’s residence. In other words, this is a real vacation. And, despite saving money, we are still going to get to do what matters: have fun, see family, and relax.

So, let’s compare:

Longer, traditional vacation: 3 days, $600

Shorter, money-saving, vacation: 7 days, about $200

Image taken at a bike path near my brother’s home.

Counting Calories

I’ve read it on many occasions from dieting experts: don’t count calories. I totally disagree. I have lost weight counting calories. Losing weight (metabolism aside) is essentially a math problem. If you consume more calories than you burn, you’ll gain weight; consume fewer you lose; consume the same, you stay the same. So, it’s helpful to know, especially when you’re trying to lose weight, the specifics of your diet. This is especially true because we can consume so many hidden calories or can be misled about what foods are helping us put on weight. A good friend of mine lost a bunch of weight, but before this, when he tried and failed to lose, he ate a lot of pretzels because pretzels were better than other snacks. True. However, he would sometimes eat nearly a whole bag. Counting calories would tell you that a 10 oz. bag would give you around 1100 calories, or over half of your daily calories.

Calorie counting (and keeping track of calories burned) in my life has been beneficial for several reasons:

1. It has revealed hidden calories- Those “little” snacks that I ate throughout the day added up to not so little numbers at the end. In addition, meals that didn’t seem so bad really were. For example, who would’ve guessed that a cup of that broccoli, bacon, cheese, and mayo salad that I loved could have over 400 calories a cup!

2. It allowed me to accurately gauge loss, gain, and maintaining weight- This was important especially as I moved towards maintenance in my diet. I needed to know if my calories were realistically coming close to my exercise output.

3. It gave me a mental sense of accomplishment- I could look at the trends in my calorie counting and see how I’d done over a long period of time. This gave me a sense of accomplishment and also allowed me to make adjustments where necessary (e.g. cutting out foods that brought lots of calories but few nutrients)

4. It created structure- This is probably the hardest to explain, but putting in my calories and fitness output was (and is) an important part of my day. It helps keep me focused and structured in my plans and also as a check on tendancies towards getting back to previous poor routines.

How should you count calories? If the thought of pen and paper scares you, it should! You don’t have to be an accountant or statistician to count calories these days; computers do it for you. I recommend the program Fitday. They have a free online version at www.fitday.com, but I recommend the software. It allows you to keep track of all your calories and fortunately has a huge, if somewhat outdated, database of foods. It not only keeps track of calories, but also a host of other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. If your food is not there, you can create custom foods. You can also write down your activities and the calories burned. There are tons of prelisted activities and you can create custom activities. The software also includes options for measurements, mood, weight, etc. The best part is that you can run reports to see various trends, such as how your weight has fluctuated over 6 months or if you’ve gotten enough Vitamin C for the week. I also like Calorie King and Nutrition Data as resources.

So, it may go against what you’ve heard in the past, but if you want to lose weight and get fit, start counting!

Drug Company Wants to Outlaw Vitamin B6

A drug company has filed a petition with the FDA to outlaw a form of Vitamin B6 (pyridoxal 5’phosphate) because it is doing research with it, and wants to have it declared a “drug.” Because this pharmaceutical company is researching pyridoxal 5′-phosphate as a drug, then their circular reasoning implies that P5P supplements are “adulterated” with a “drug.” It doesn’t make much sense, but this is what they are requesting of the FDA. I am not opposed to all pharmaceuticals, and use them when I need them. However, I worry when pharmaceutical companies try to use their money and sway to get government agencies to outlaw cheap, safe, natural, alternatives to their drugs.

The Park Bench and Overweight Americans

Sit down on a bench in a park with a person on either side of you. If you’re not overweight, statistically speaking, both of the other people sitting with you are.

–Penelope Slade-Royall, director of the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion quoted in Time magazine.

Time magazine, in its June 23rd 2008 issued devoted a lot of space to the epidemic of childhood obesity. I noticed a common theme that is really common sense: modeling leads to obesity. That’s right. Parents who eat too much and live sedentary lifestyles model that to their children. In addition to raising obese children, according to Time, nearly 40% of parents don’t even recognize that their child is obese. I guess the see no evil approach applies equally to progenitor and its offspring.

The expert recommendations are that schools and the government need to do more to combat childhood obesity. While I agree that schools need to do a lot more in the matter (I remember having horrid lunches where a fruit roll-up counted as fruit and french fries and ketchup as vegetable(s)), as a teacher I can tell you that if the impetus for change does not come from home, any school effort is futile. Basically, kids will never eat healthily at school if dinner at home is a burger, fries, coke, and a shake at Burger King  Also, I think getting the government involved will probably make it worse, but that’s another story.

I want to focus briefly on the 2/3 number. While overweight could be anything from a few pounds to obesity, I wonder if we are not entering a phase where being overweight is the “new normal” in the USA. I have noticed, through my stepdaughter’s friends and through my job as a teacher that more and more kids are overweight and obese. And yet, I have no doubt that our popular culture will still sell hyper-thinness as the standard of beauty, further confusing and confounding people of all ages. Alas, the “new normal” and the opposing trends in the gaining of weight in mainstream American and the increasingly super-thin models in popular culture will have to wait for another post.

Vitamin Addiction

 

Hi…my name is David and I am addicted to vitamins (and that includes herbs, minerals, a few amino acids, a handful of enzymes, some lipids, and even a phytoalexin). Is there a 12-Step program for vitamin addicts? Well, if so, I think I need start working the first step, but I guess I have to admit I have a problem first.

Ok joking aside (or am I?), I admit I have been fascinated by supplements and nutrition, and after theology, I read more about health than any other topic. I think I took an interest in health because in junior high I was a bit pudgy, which was caused in part by genetics. Eating too much, lying around, and playing too much Nintendo may have played a part…but other than these minor factors, it was definitely genetics, *ahem*. I also had fairly thin hair growing up, and was convinced that I was going to go bald when I was older. Incidentally, at 30, I still have about as much hair as I did when I was 15, which is a full, but thinly spaced, head. I was, and am, proactive, preferring action to b*tching, so knowing that bald fat teens don’t usually get a lot of hot dates, I started taking my health seriously. Jonathan checked out Lendon Smith’s Diet Plan for Teenagers from the library, which I read, and my interest in health, nutrition, and supplements was born.

Even at age 14 or so, I tried to change my diet, started exercising, and bought some vitamins at the local health food store. I think I bought Folic Acid, Iodine, and maybe vitamin C. It’s written in an old high school planner somewhere. It snow-balled from there. I even remember checking out health magazines from the library and contacting advertisers from the back and seeing how many free supplements I could get. I have always liked to read, and after a night of football practice, going out on a date, or whatever, I would usually retire to my room, put on some Bob Dylan songs, and read, often from health books. I eventually found the mail order supplement company Lee Nutrition (and its sister company, Nutrition Headquarters), with its testimonies from people from quaint sounding towns that I suspected didn’t actually exist: “Thank you for your vitamin C. It really helped me feel better. Sincerely Jennifer G., Santa’s Village, IL.” So I ordered some of the supplements that I had read so much about: Chromium, Vitamin E, Alfalfa, and others. I discovered Lee Nutrition in the back of a magazine of my grandpa’s, maybe AARP, I can’t remember, but discovering mail order vitamins saved me some money.

Even though I was “into” health in high school, I went through a fairly unhealthy stage during my senior year of college, and I stopped taking supplements, started eating too much, and quit working out regularly. I remember eating three large meals a day, topped off with two small bags of salsa verde Dorritos and a pint of whole milk. I got out of breath climbing the dorm stairs, and did not feel very well. I felt tired all the time too. I weighed 205 pounds (my all-time high), and felt tired all of the time. In high school, even though my weight would fluctuate at times by about 10-15 pounds, I usually just wore 33 pants…my senior year I had to buy 38 pants…how embarrassing!

When I got to grad school, I knew I had to get with it. Not only did I start eating well again and exercising, I started ordering supplements online from Puritan’s Pride, and I began to use the internet to find studies about supplements and conditions they might treat. Over the years, I have started taking different supplements based on the newest research (for example, vitamin D, which at one time I wondered why supplement companies even bothered making since it seemed to have little therapeutic benefit…boy was I wrong!). I also stopped taking a few after research showed no benefit or perhaps harm (Beta-Carotene, for example).

I still take quite a few supplements, including herbs (Garlic), enzymes (Bromelain), lipids (Fish Oil), miscellaneous (Co-enzyme Q10), and minerals (Magnesium and Selenium…on days my dietary intake is low, which is rare thanks to regular consumption of nuts). I have even added some new supplements to the mix (Acetyl L-Carnitine and Alpha-Lipoic Acid) rather recently. I enjoy laying out my supplements the night before I take them, and organizing them; this kind of orders my day, and if anything, allows me to feel in control of at least one aspect of my health. I try to micromanage my intake so much that I often break up tablets into fourths, and even try to get a few doses out of some capsules, which means I have to open the capsules and mix the contents with water. Let me share my insights with you about this latter point: Acetyl L-Carnitine is sweetish, DMAE tastes awful (or at least the filler does), and Japanese Knotweed (a source of Resveratrol) taste a bit like tea.

So maybe I am addicted to supplements. I have told my wife part of it could be the same reason I like trying new foods: multiple colors, textures, etc. Or maybe I just want to be healthy and this is one way to do it. It sure beats taking drugs I guess, and one study showed that those folks who take a lot of supplements actually are pretty healthy.

Images taken by me. This article originally appeared on my personal blog in modified form.

Your Water Bottle Could Be Harming You

The culprit? Bisphenol A (BPA) which has been linked to cancer and a host of other problems. Typically the worst offenders for BPA are the harder plastic bottles, unfortunately the ones that people tend to use over and over again. Disposable pop and water bottles are actually some of the safest since they lack BPA. A good way to tell if your bottle contains BPA is to look at the little number that appears in the recycling symbol. The doctors at RealAge advise avoiding any bottles that contain 3, 6, or 7.

Source: How Healthy Is Your Water Bottle?

Dieting and Struggling With Weight

You’ll probably see me write about this quite a bit, but I have struggled with my weight most of my life. From birth to second grade I was naturally thin. I didn’t think about my weight, and I wasn’t one of the “fat kids” in school. However, by third grade, I started getting pudgy, until in 5th grade I was certified chunky. I wasn’t one of the “fat kids” but I was pretty darn close. What is funny is that I often wondered “why did it start in third grade?” Recently I realized that is when we got our Nintendo, and it went downhill from there!

By the time I got to junior high I naturally lost weight because of a growth spurt, but I still had to struggle with my weight into high school. However, struggling with my weight in high school had one positive effect: I learned how to eat right and exercise. A lot of teens had naturally fast metabolisms and could eat all they wanted, without gaining weight, but not me. I struggled. Yet today, I am in shape while many of my high school friends have gained weight, because when their metabolisms slowed down, they didn’t have the tools to keep the weight off like I did – tools I developed in high school.

Nonetheless, many people in the U.S. and around the world struggle with weight gain. For many of us, it is (and will be) a difficult and constant battle to stay fit and healthy. I think the sooner we accept that, the better off we will be. And a long-term problem deserves a long-term solution, not a quick-fix, quickie diet, like drinking shakes for a month. A war plan that includes a healthy diet and plenty of activity is the only way to truly attack a problem like obesity. This is something that requires fortitude, and I can tell you from experience that it is never easy, and you will fall off the wagon, maybe even for long periods of time, but winning the war requires picking up the pieces after battle losses (like not exercising for a few weeks), and carrying on.

Who’s Responsible for High Health Care Premiums?

Look in the mirror for the answer. Yep, it’s you and me and millions like us. Healthcare is an industry driven by the market and strong demand leads to higher prices. Look at oil. Healthcare is the same way. Treating your body like crap is the equivalent of driving a gas guzzler. You have a greater risk of demanding services (or perhaps even greater demand now), so your premiums go higher. And since most healthcare is figured into employee groups, it doesn’t matter if you are healthy because the ten people who aren’t will raise your premiums too. Yep, it’s like driving a hybrid and watching all the Hummer owners keep gas higher for you, even if you use less of it. This is why I find the idea of universal government healthcare without serious reforms silly. It will only drive up the cost of healthcare even more, as well as adding huge waits for services. The only way to insure everyone (or nearly everyone) is for Americans to get healthier, thus using fewer health services and driving down costs to levels affordable for the vast majority of people.

Doctors for the Healthy?

Jesus said, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31 RSV)

Jesus used this saying in a symbolic sense, to justify his associations with sinners. In other words, people who needed him most were those who were spiritually sick, not the righteous. However, his words reveal a a literal truth about medicine in the past and certainly in the contemporary Western world: doctors are for the sick. As I listened to this verse in the Gospel readings at mass recently, it got me thinking: why aren’t doctors trained in a way to advise the healthy in staying that way? I think this illustrates what is wrong with our entire healthcare system. We have elaborate structures and policies designed to treat diseases, but preventing illness is a lonely endeavor with little or no structure or support. My insurance program has all sorts of rules and programs to treat illnesses, but very little to promote actual wellness. I have a great doctor who is open to wellness, but I know of people whose doctors have literally walked out of the room when they mentioned alternative treatments that were actually working! It seems to me that as long as doctors, insurance companies, and most health institutions ignore wellness, our healthcare system will continue to spiral out of control.