Author: whchapma

Wellness Wednesdays: A NEAT Strategy for Maintaining a Healthy Weight

It’s no coincidence that overweight and obesity began increasing as a problem as the world became more industrialized. As what it meant to earn a living transitioned from the farm, to the factory, to the office, we’ve become more sedentary – and the consequences of our ‘advancement’ can be seen in our expanding waistlines.

Although not the only reason, one of the contributing factors to the obesity crisis is NEAT – or more precisely, a lack of it. NEAT stands for ‘non-exercise activity thermogenesis’, and it includes all the energy we expend doing things other than eating, sleeping, and sports-related (i.e. intentional) exercise. NEAT activities can include housework, like vaccuming, or walking around campus – even fidgeting in class!

Culture has a lot to do with how much NEAT you get – students, who spent most of their time in class and studying, have fairly few opportunities to build NEAT activities into their day (particularly if they ride the bus around campus because they don’t have enough time between classes to walk). In contrast, restaurant workers and manual laborers have pretty NEAT lives, since they’re on their feet and moving around most of the day.

Some evidence suggests that 30 minutes of purposeful exercise every day isn’t enough to offset the negative health consequences of being sedentary for 8 hours or more. Employers are starting to realize this, which is why some spring for standing desks and on-site gyms as part of ‘workplace wellness’ initiatives. If you aren’t lucky enough to work for one of these more progressive companies, try taking a 5 minute ‘stretch break’ every hour if you’re studying or working at the computer. You don’t have to leave your desk, but just the act of standing or walking in place can be enough to stimulate blood flow and prevent your metabolism from slowing excessively.

Got more tips for working NEAT activity into your daily life? Please share them in the comments section below!

Wellness Wednesdays: Stuffed – More Than A Harmless Thanksgiving Tradition?

Tomorrow, millions of Americans are planning to eat waay too much at Thanksgiving dinner. For some reason, Thanksgiving is a day when ‘dinner’ time is always 2 pm, and it’s socially acceptable to stuff yourself before falling asleep in front of the television. This behavior is almost certainly harmless when conducted in isolation, but as a society we often lionize such excess (immortalized in hot dog and pie eating contests). What other messages does this send?

For the first time, the fifth rendition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) includes ‘binge eating disorder’ as a distinct condition. In previous versions of the DSM it had been included under the catch-all – ‘eating disorder, not otherwise specified’ (ED-NOS).

Characterized by repeated episodes of eating large quantities of food accompanied by a feeling of loss of control, binge eating disorder is now considered to be the most common eating disorder in the United States, affecting 3.5% of women and 2% of men. Unlike anorexia or bulimia, individuals with binge eating disorder don’t engage in compensatory behaviors, meaning that this condition can lead to considerable weight gain over time.

Binge eating has been normalized in American culture, particularly in our holiday celebrations. This may prevent many people from ever seeking out treatment for what may be pathologic behavior. It is important to raise awareness about eating disorders, particularly among men – the culture of silence around mental health appears even stronger when the ‘problem’ is related to food. Unlike alcohol or drug abuse, one cannot simply abstain from food, making professional treatment a particularly important component of recovery.

 

Wellness Wednesdays: The Dangers of (Un)‘Natural’ Supplements

Millions of people take nutritional supplements every day. Used by a variety of demographics, from fitness enthusiasts to couch potatoes, the Nutrition Business Journal recently reported that the supplement industry in the United States was worth nearly $37 billion annually. That is serious money, and with such high stakes in an unregulated market, consumers have to be very careful to protect themselves from fraudulent manufacturers who are just out to make a buck (or a few million…)

Many consumers may still not understand that, unlike prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, dietary supplements are almost entirely unregulated. In February 2015, an investigation by the New York State attorney general’s office found that 80% of the ‘herbal supplements’ they tested contained none of the active ingredient they claimed. Some even contained potential allergens like gluten, while marketing themselves as ‘gluten-free’.

But we’re not talking about multi-vitamins or protein powders here. The biggest concern right now are workout supplements, products plastered with fitness models and bold claims like ‘clinically proven to boost muscle gains, decrease fatigue’, etc. and so forth – snappy marketing aside, some of these products contain dangerous synthetic chemicals that have been associated with several deaths.

This week, the United States Justice Department filed criminal and civil charges against more than 100 companies engaged in the manufacture and sale of nutritional supplements, and their executives. The fallout of these charges remains to be seen, but it seems unlikely to put more than a temporary dent in sales for the booming supplement industry.

Still, how many people would be willing to pay big bucks for promises of six-pack abs if they knew they were risking their lives? Everybody wants a ‘quick fix’, the shortcut to a perfect bod – just remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Photo credit: www.ibtimes.com

Wellness Wednesdays: The Importance of Body Image

In the past week, several ‘Instagram celebrities’ have shut down their accounts and opened up about some of the unpleasant ‘realities’ of social media. I have a great deal of respect for these young women, some of whom are walking away from sizable paychecks – it takes a lot of guts just to be honest in today’s image-obsessed world. I commend them for calling attention to the negative effects of social media, for the unrealistic expectations that it helps to promote and maintain for young men and women all over the world. Because social media isn’t ‘real life’ – and I think that many people have forgotten that.

 

I was never very comfortable with my body growing up – I was short, and pudgy, with chubby cheeks and nerdy round glasses. Once I started swimming competitively in middle school, my body image issues got even worse – the skimpy Speedo I wore for several hours each day didn’t exactly provide much  coverage to hide behind. My sister and I both participated in sports that emphasized aesthetics – she was a nationally-ranked gymnast for a number of years, until repeated injuries caused by relentless training forced her to leave the gym.

 

I kept swimming through my senior year of high school – since then, I can count the number of times I’ve been in a pool on one hand. But I kept up a strict exercise regimen throughout college – the picture at the top of this post was taken shortly after I graduated. I remember the sense of brutal satisfaction I took in manipulating my body, subverting it to my ‘will’ – I had an unhealthy relationship with food at the time, one that I’ve struggled with for much of my life.

 

It took meeting my wife, and my in-laws, to change some of those bad habits. In their culture, food meant family – and love. Refusing a meal was tantamount to a slap in the face; certainly not an option when one is trying to make a good impression.

 

Food is as commonly featured on social media as are scantily clad bodies – seemingly a contradiction, and certainly one that sends mixed messages to those still trying to find their place in a judgmental world. It took me a long time to find my place, and I’m grateful that I grew up without Facebook and Instagram to further fuel my own dissatisfaction. When I look in the mirror now, I try to embrace my ‘flaws’, instead of denying them. I remember that this is reality, unfiltered – and everything else is just a mirage.

Wellness Wednesdays: Is Cheese Addictive?

In a word…No. Yet it seems as though this question has been brought up more and more frequently over the past few years, with a broad array of foods, from bread to milkshakes, being treated as scapegoats for the world’s obesity crisis.

 

So why cheese? According to a recent study from the University of Michigan, people rated cheese (and foods containing cheese) as the ‘most addictive’. Now, that seems like pretty limited evidence, particularly because the sample included only 500 people (all Americans), and the list of foods included some of America’s favorite foods, such as pizza and cheeseburgers. But is there more to this story?

 

Maybe. But not in the way ‘they’ might want you to believe. Cheese is a dairy product, meaning it contains a protein called casein. After you eat it, your body converts casein into a number of different molecules, some of which fall into a class of compounds called casomorphins. These compounds attach to the same receptors in the brain that the powerful narcotic drugs morphine and heroin do, hence where the ‘addiction’ claim comes into play.

 

The thing is, the same claim has been made about gluten…and sugar. Foods contain thousands of different molecules that our bodies use to create everything we need to survive (which is kind-of why we have to eat in the first place…) That includes endogenous opioids – the ‘natural’ painkillers responsible for the runners’ ‘high’ and other normal human phenomena, like child birth.

 

But let’s talk about the real question – can a food every really be ‘addictive’? I studied habit- and goal-directed behavior in animals for several years, working in a neuroscience lab that studied the effects of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Some of the research I did centered around this question. However, food is very different from drugs of abuse like alcohol and cocaine – drugs provide no essential function for our bodies. But foods do – cheese, for example, contains essential minerals like calcium, iron, and zinc, in addition to macronutrients like protein and fat. Some research even suggests that the saturated fats found in cheese aren’t even as unhealthy as we used to think.

 

So feel free to enjoy your cheese – just please enjoy responsibly.

GUEST SPEAKER SPOTLIGHT: Ken Eudy

Ken Eudy is the co-founder and CEO of Capstrat, a communications consulting firm with big-ticket clients from around the country. Specializing in crisis management and message development, Capstrat helps companies share their stories in an honest, impactful way.

After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a BA in Journalism, Ken spent several years as a television reporter for WBTV News before making the transition to print journalism. His position as Chief Political writer for The Charlotte Observer prepared him for his role as Executive Director of the NC Democratic Party in the early 90’s.

In 1994, Ken co-founded Capstrat, where he has held the title of Chief Executive Officer for more than 20 years. In that time, Ken has built his firm into a PR powerhouse by constantly staying ahead of the curve as the communications field evolved over the first decade of the 21st century. First it was recognizing the importance of the user interface in website design, as more and more clients began building their online presence. Then it was surfing the wave of social marketing. By always keeping the needs of the client first, Ken has kept his firm at the cutting-edge of communications technology.

Capstrat has a broad client base, from healthcare to industry to public health. In the moving TRU campaign, Capstrat partnered with the NC Department of Health and Human Services to develop some of the most effective anti-smoking ads ever used. Far from being disingenuous (as you might suspect of many marketing firms), behind the scenes of Capstrat may be the characteristic most responsible for its lasting success: heart.

Wellness Wednesdays: Easy Ways to Make Your Halloween Pumpkin…Healthy!

Carving a pumpkin for October 31st is a popular way to celebrate Halloween. It also gives us a chance to express our creativity, which (more-often-than-not) also stimulates our more competitive sides. But when I see a pumpkin, I see more than just a squat, orange canvas – in the immortal words of Alton Brown, pumpkins can also be serious Good Eats.

 

The Seeds

While you’re scooping out the gooey insides of your Special Squash (a.k.a. the pumpkin you’ve chosen to carve), don’t just toss that goop in the trash. Separate the flat white seeds from the fibrous ‘brains’ and rinse them with water. Toss them with some salt and pepper, and bake them in an oven at 425°F  – in 15-20 minutes, you’ll be enjoying delicious, fresh-roasted pumpkin seeds.

 

The Flesh

Even the different parts of a pumpkin fit the mood of Halloween – first the ‘brains’, now the ‘flesh’. You know that canned stuff people use to make pumpkin pie? Instead of smashing your pumpkin in the street on November 1st, make your own (tastier) pie filling by pureeing the flesh of your pumpkin in a blender until smooth. Try adding cinnamon, nutmeg, and vanilla (along with a little brown sugar), and you’ll be more than halfway done with a scratch-made pumpkin pie.

 

The Skin

You can use the small, decorative pumpkins to make ‘stuffed’ squash – just cut off the tops, carve out the insides, and replace them with whatever tasty mix of ingredients you like. I’m a fan of cooked rice and black beans, spiced with cumin, coriander, and a little black pepper. Sprinkle with cheese and bake in a 400°F oven for 20-25 minutes.

 

Got another great idea for using pumpkin in your kitchen? Please share it in the comments section below!

Wellness Wednesdays: Surviving Flu Season

Fall is my favorite time of year – watching the leaves change colors, pumpkin spice lattes, and…influenza. In the US, flu outbreaks generally start around October and peak in December, although the ‘flu season’ can sometimes last as late as May. Vaccination, via injection or nasal spray, is the best preventative measure we have against the flu. Many different viruses can cause the ‘flu’ in humans – the vaccine contains proteins from the strains that experts think will be the most prevalent in any given year.

But even vaccination can’t guarantee protection – so what other tools do we have at our disposal to keep ourselves flu-free?

 

Handwashing

Sometimes the simplest solutions are also the most effective. Wash your hands after using the bathroom and touching doorknobs in public places to significantly reduce your chances of infection.

 

Chicken soup

Chicken soup contains an amino acid called cysteine, which can help to reduce the severity of flu symptoms and may help your immune system clear the infection more quickly. Homemade is your best bet, so break out Grandma’s recipe and make your chicken stock from scratch by cooking down the bones left over from a roasted chicken.

 

Zinc supplements

Some studies have shown that supplementation with zinc can reduce the duration of cold symptoms, as long as you start taking it within 24 hours of symptom onset.

 

Mega-doses of Vitamin C

Some people believe that taking large doses of vitamin C (more than 1,000 mg), can support the immune system and help fight off cold and flu viruses. Although vitamin C does play a role in proper B and T cell functioning, there is no need to take such excessively large amounts – as with any water-soluble vitamin, the body eliminates any extra via the kidneys.

Wellness Wednesdays: The Best Time of Day to Eat

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day…”

“Don’t eat before bed, or you’ll have nightmares…”

There is a great deal of folklore regarding what, and when, we should eat. For many people, however, mealtimes are dictated not by hunger or habit, but by when they can find the time to eat. Long gone is the fabled ‘lunch hour’ – for most professions, workers are lucky to have 30 minutes for lunch. Even so, many feel pressure to eat at their desk to avoid being singled out as the office ‘loafer’.

Trying to keep up in the daily rat race causes many to forgo lunch altogether – perhaps they consume two larger meals rather than three, or perhaps they choose to ‘graze’ on snacks over the course of the day. But what does this mean for our food ‘culture’ – are we abandoning the ‘three square meals a day’ concept? What does ‘science’ have to say on this important issue?

Considerable research has been done to evaluate the impact of meal timing on weight gain (or loss) in humans. I’ll start by saying that in today’s culture, the majority of adults are sleep deprived. Compared to Americans in the 1950’s and 60’s, working adults today get 1.5 hours less sleep per night, with an average sleep duration of just over 6 hours. Now, it stands to reason that if you are awake for more hours each day, then you might be inclined to eat more each day as well. The proof can be found in America’s rapidly expanding collective waistline.

However, science may have an answer for us. Arguably, the specific time at which you eat your meals is less important than the window of time during which you eat. If you feel hungry in the morning, by all means, eat a hearty breakfast – just don’t end the day in the same way you started it. That is, if you start eating earlier in the day, you should stop eating earlier in the day, vice-versa.

Myself, I prefer to eat a heavier meal at night, and lighter meals during the day. That pattern of meals simply fits my current lifestyle. The hard part is figuring out what works best for you. Just know that there is no one right way – the right way is the one that works for you.

Wellness Wednesdays: ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Fruits and Vegetables

Wellness Wednesdays: ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ Fruits and Vegetables

Spoiler Alert: ‘Dieting’ won’t help you lose weight. What to know what will? A conscious effort towards making healthier lifestyle decisions. For some people, maybe that means choosing a salad instead of fries – it’s important to them that they try to eat a ‘healthier’ diet. When you mention a ‘healthy’ diet, the first thing that comes to mind is often ‘fruits and vegetables’. But can eating fruits and vegetables really help you lose weight?

Cosmo Online published a piece last week titled, ’11 Fruits and Vegetables to Eat if You Want to Lose Weight: Not all veggies are created equal’. The article referenced a recent study published in an online scientific journal called PLOS Medicine. Here is some of the data they used to arrive at the conclusion mentioned above.

journal.pmed.1001878.g002

Reference: Bertoia ML, Mukamal KJ, Cahill LE, Hou T, Ludwig DS, Mozaffarian D, et al. (2015). Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies. PLoS Med 12(9): e1001878. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001878

On the right, you’ll see the abbreviation of the data source used by the authors – it’s very expensive to collect new data, so these authors simply ran a new analysis using several existing data sets. In short, that means that each colored line represents dietary information from tens of thousands of people. The dot indicates the average weight change for each serving of that ‘class’ of fruit or vegetable – with citrus fruits, for example, they suggest that eating one additional serving of citrus fruit per day was associated with a 0.25 lb weight loss over four years.

I would encourage the interpretation that fruits and vegetables can, and should, be part of a healthy diet, and that following a healthy diet can lead to weight loss. As far as specific fruits and vegetables to support weight loss, the evidence is far less established. Beyond eating a variety of colors to ensure the adequate intake of vitamins, I think all fruits and veggies can be enjoyed without discrimination.