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Neighbors of Kane County

Disease-proof your winter

By Richard J. Wolff, RD, LDN

Busy schedules and uncooperative weather can leave you inactive, and overfed, during the winter.  An occasional missed workout, or high calorie day, isn’t a big deal.  It’s when these behaviors become everyday occurrences that problems arise.  Contrary to popular opinion, living a healthy lifestyle does not require super-human discipline.  In fact, your health is more about making good decisions.  Here’s five simple strategies to disease-proof your winter.            

Work the Numbers   

For most adults, winter is a time they give up.  Why bother eating right and exercising when everyone around you is doing the opposite?  Most of us have lost perspective when it comes to our health habits.  We approach sensible eating and exercise with an all-or-nothing mentality.  We make poor decisions without realizing how easy it would be to make good decisions.  Gaining perspective is as easy as working the numbers.    

That five-pound weight gain is easy to prevent when you have perspective.  Five pounds is less than 125 calories per day, when you average the numbers out.  Cutting those calories is as easy as eliminating an ounce of cookies, cake, pastry, chips, mayonnaise, butter, margarine, peanut butter, chocolate, nuts, gravy, salad dressing, or cheese from your daily diet. When you work the numbers, good decisions are within reach.              

Take Your Medicine  

Imagine a medicine that makes you feel better, while strengthening every cell in your body.  According to the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), exercise is that medicine.  Several years ago, the AMA and ACSM spearheaded a bold initiate called Exercise is Medicine.  This initiative calls for physicians and health professionals to assess exercise with every patient visit.  The goal is to treat exercise as a “vital sign” so that patients receive the support and encouragement needed to stay active.      

Exercise improves mood by altering brain chemistry, burns calories by increasing metabolism and improves eating habits by functioning as a gateway behavior.  The research is clear, people that exercise manage stress better, and are less likely to gain weight.  Even more encouraging, small doses (such as a brisk, 10-minute walk) get the job done. 

The same is true when it comes to muscular fitness.  According to the latest guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine, a single full-body strength workout per week can maintain muscular fitness, as long as the weight lifted remains constant.  This level of muscular fitness can prevent the development of sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle that contributes to chronic illness).           

Think Easy Wins 

Most people avoid changing their diet because of the dread of giving up their favorite foods.  The good news is you don’t have to.  A better way to improve your diet is to think easy wins.  Easy wins are small changes you can live with.  For three decades now I’ve managed my diet with easy wins.  Here are three of my favorites;

Fruit Smoothies: I use fruit smoothies as a healthy option because they’re convenient.  One of my favorites is two scoops of chocolate meal replacement mix (I like HMR 120), 6 to 8 ounces of water and one cup of frozen unsweetened dark cherries.  Mix for 60 to 90 seconds on low, in a blender, for a great tasking smoothie that keeps you nourished and full for hours.     

Low-Fat Protein: My easy wins include: fish (not fried), poultry, low-fat yogurt, veggie burgers, and meal-replacement powders.  I save at least 500 calories a day by choosing low-fat over high fat protein sources.   

Reduced-Calorie Weekdays:  My weekdays are typically more structured than my weekends.  I take advantage of this structure by planning lower-calorie days during the week.  These lower-calorie days end up balancing off my unstructured, high-calorie weekends.

Create a Safe Haven 

In his book, The End of Overeating, Dr. David A. Kessler, former Commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, attempts to tackle the complex issue of why Americans overeat.  Despite the complexity, there’s one truth that stands out.  We eat what’s in our environment.  You can tell a lot about a person’s health by looking at their pantry.  Despite the notion that psychology influences eating habits, there’s little data linking it to changes in eating over the past century.  However, numerous studies link the environment to changes in eating habits.  If you want to improve your diet, change your environment and your diet will improve automatically.                  

Focus on Quality

By consuming high-quality foods, you’ll be applying what scientists have known for years.  Eating cookies for breakfast is a bad idea.  Telling people that cookies lack nutrition is unlikely to change that behavior.  However, adding healthy high-quality foods to your diet (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, yogurt, fish, etc.), automatically crowds out less-healthy foods.  The Dietary Guidelines for Americans have embraced this approach by encouraging Americans to get the most nutrition out of every bite.  Consuming more high-quality food is an easy way to improve nutrition as you displace less healthy foods from your diet.    

Richard J. Wolff,RD, LDN is the president of MEDFITNESS, a strength training studio specializing in efficient, evidence-based workouts. He is an adjunct faculty in the Graduate School at Northern Illinois University. Learn more about the MEDFITNESS Program at