Jill's Blog 2016

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November 22, 2016

Why Thanksgiving's food choices don't matter as much as Saturday's

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I age, my opinion of holiday eating has evolved. The younger me used to encourage clients to eat slowly, savor, to eat the protein and veggies first to blunt any blood sugar spikes, to get up and use the restroom after the first helping to give the brain time to feel satiated...all kinds of things to minimize Thanksgiving overeating.

These are still valid tips. BUT...as I come to think of holiday times as more precious opportunities to bond socially, to make happy memories and to really enjoy life, the less I want to encourage anyone to do much of anything besides cherish their day. Being mentally present and enjoying the occasion might mean turning off the inner food cop.

So there you go -- encouragement to eat whatever you want tomorrow, if it will make your holiday more joyful.

HOWEVER (you knew there would be one...sorry!)

What matters more than what you eat on a single day is what are your day-in, day-out habits. Those daily routines are the place where only 20 excess calories can add up to 20 extra pounds of fat each decade. Whoa! So here's my advice:

Enjoy Thanksgiving however you like, but then be extra vigilant to get your habits back on track afterwards. This can be tough because:

So all of this means that no matter how you choose to eat on Thursday, it's worth it to exercise your best will power on Friday, Saturday and Sunday...or be prepared to have some new bad habits to deal with.

Alright, if you've read this far, then you are part of the Diet for Health Family...even if we've never met you. We are so thankful to have you in our lives, and we hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

October 31, 2016

Smarter Halloween Treats

It's a day to have fun, celebrate, and perhaps indulge in some tasty treats. But before you opt for the obvious treat--candy--consider this:

Because sugar is addictive, a big (or perhaps not-so-big) candy treat can cause cravings for days. It can alter your brain chemistry to make resisting sugar more difficult. It can make sugar taste even better the next time you eat it. Plus, research now shows that sugar depresses mood, after the brief high. All this saps willpower to resist the next sweet treat.

But don't worry! There are plenty of yummy indulgences that do not come with this hidden cost. Here are some of my favorites:

You get the idea...anything that isn't a sugar binge. It's an opportunity to enjoy an indulgence AND feel virtuous.

Have fun tonight!

October 8, 2016

Healthier Halloween Ideas

Halloween forces the question: Is the occasional sugar indulgence a harmless tradition or a foolish assault on your health?

That may sound overly dramatic--and goodness knows many of us have survived our share of sugar binges--but the latest research on sugar is pretty damning. So here are some ways to minimize sugar's effects:

  1. If you're gonna have sugar

    • favor long-lasting hard candies over soft ones that are gone in seconds
    • favor dark chocolate, which has some magnesium and antioxidants
    • enjoy it earlier in the day, when your blood sugar may be less likely to spike
    • enjoy some veggies and protein beforehand, to blunt the spike in blood sugar
    • enjoy it at a time of day when you are physically active
    • decrease the amount of starch or alcohol you eat that day
    • eat extra-nutritious foods the rest of the day, to help offset the empty calories
    • get rid of leftovers once you've had your fill

OR, better yet,

  1. Replace candy with healthier edible treats, such as

    • toasted pumpkin seeds from carved pumpkins
    • pumpkin, fresh baked, with cinnamon
    • bobbing for apples
  2. Consider replacing trick-or-treat candy with

    • stickers
    • coins
    • glow bracelets
    • small toys

Or, just fill your day with the non-edible delights of Halloween, such as costumes, pumpkin carving, decorating, scary movies and such. No need to have sugar-induced health problems on your list of scary, spooky frights.

September 23, 2016

Another healthy intention that backfires

If you are trying to lose weight, you might want to take off that Fitbit! ...or at least think about it differently.

Results are in from a two-years study at U Penn, where researchers randomly assigned 470 participants to undertake a weight loss program of either diet and exercise alone, or with an added fitness tracker. In both groups participants were asked to cut calories, increase exercise, and attend weekly group counseling meetings.

Those NOT using fitness trackers lost, on average, 13 pounds. Those using fitness trackers lost only 7.7 pounds on average. Doh! Isn't knowledge power?!

The study could not provide an explanation for this significant finding, but the lead researcher suggests that perhaps a fitness tracker makes wearers feel deserving of an edible reward when they meet goals.

This is reminiscent of the finding years ago that single serving snack packs led people to eat more, because they didn't feel the same guilt as when they opened an entire box of snacks. It appears that our feelings of guilt and/or entitlement to edible treats is a tricky factor in weight loss.

At any rate, this is great info for helping us avoid wasting money and effort. If you have a fitness tracker and aren't happy with your weight, you might try ditching it and/or changing your expectations of edible treats that you earn. If you want to read the original JAMA article, it's here: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2553448.

September 10, 2016

Nifty Tricks for Sleeping Better

What if you had better mood, memory, metabolism, muscle, will power, discipline, energy, and weight loss with less hunger and fewer cravings?

Life would be a breeze, right?!

Most likely, you can improve all this. It just takes sleeping better on a regular basis.

We all know this, but that doesn't make it any easier to quiet the mind and calm the body come 10pm.

Below are some easy things that have been shown to improve sleep. They are taken from our free app, Sound Sleep, which explains them in more depth and helps you put your favorites into a routine. Most of these work because they either stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, reduce stress hormones or promote alpha wave activity in the brain.

In the Morning:

During the Day:

In the Evening:

At Bedtime:

Do some of these sound odd? Their explanations are in the app, and pop up when you click the "?". Click here if you'd like to download it. There is no cost and no advertising...we made it because we wanted it to exist to help us all sleep better and get better results from our healthy eating.

September 3, 2016

The future of food tracking

Have you ever wished for a nutrition app that would turn you into an effortlessly svelte, high-performing superhero with perfect willpower? Me too. This may be our best chance to get it.

A team of Silicon Valley superstars (I'm not allowed to name them) has asked us for feedback on existing nutrition/food trackers and what features we'd like to see in the future. This is our chance to dream big and challenge them to rock our world.

The survey is brief, about 3 minutes: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PP8WGP8.

Thanks for helping! We really appreciate your input.

August 18, 2016

How watching sports affects eating habits and heart health

Watching the Olympic Games is inspiring and fun, but being an avid fan can influence eating habits and health, for better or worse. Check out these fascinating findings:

For starters, the outcome of a big game can influence food intake the next day. Researchers followed two seasons of Sunday Night NFL games, and looked at sales of junk food in cities whose teams were playing. They found:

Researchers believe that winning boosts fans' self-control while losing fans eat to feel better. (You can read more here: http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2013/09/20/224148230/diet-of-defeat-why-football-fans-mourn-with-high-fat-food)

If that's not wild enough, get this: Avid fans appear to have higher rates of heart-related deaths after a tough loss.

Do you remember the huge upset at Super Bowl 2008? The New York Giants beat the New England Patriots in the final minute. Want to guess what happened to rates of heart-related deaths in New York and Massachusetts the following week? You probably guessed it: Compared to the same week of the previous year, New York heart-related deaths stayed constant, while Massachusetts had a 20% spike. The researchers believe the heart-breaking Super Bowl loss was literally that: Heart-breaking. (You can read the study here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/23979499/)

So this is one more reason to eat SUPER healthy snacks while you watch your favorite sporting events. ...and stay physically fit if you want to be an avid fan: It's literally not for the faint-of-heart.

July 8, 2016

Is a healthy rut still healthy?

This week's tip is for everyone who has been eating the same few healthy foods for weeks on end. You know who you are. Maybe it's oatmeal with blueberries every day for breakfast, kale salad for lunch or almonds for every snack. First of all, kudos for such a healthy habit!

Indeed, research shows that LESS variety helps improve self-control and also cements habits faster, because the repetition quickly puts behavior on auto-pilot. It's also convenient. Many nutrition experts suggest limiting variety when starting a new routine.

BUT, your health needs variety in the long run. Even the healthiest eating day will leave you deficient in some nutrients if you repeat it long enough.

So here's a way to get the best of both worlds: Stick with your routine, but replace each go-to food with a "sibling food." A sibling food is one in the same food group, adjacent at the grocery store, and ideally a different color of plant food, to maximize variety of phytonutrients. Buy a different set of siblings every week, and change up your combinations so that the different nutrients can synergize. Recent research is suggesting that this is more valuable than previously thought.

So now your morning oatmeal with blueberries and flax alternates with hot rice cereal with raspberries and coconut flakes, then quinoa with peach slices and chopped pecans, then millet with mango chunks and slivered almonds, and on and on. It's like Geranimals for mealtime. You open up your choices just a tad, without having to make any major decisions...because, in nutrition, more decisions usually means worse decisions.

Of course, if you have the energy to be even more creative and diverse, go for it. But for those busy souls who want to improve variety but minimize food decisions, this approach can be the best of both worlds.

June 18, 2016

How Fitspiration Backfires

"Fitspiration" describes images designed to motivate us to make healthier lifestyle choices. It usually features fit, attractive people looking like they're having the time of their lives while exercising, eating salad, or engaging in other healthy habits. In some ways, it works. One recent study found that Fitspiration made women want to exercise more.

However, the study also found a dark side. Fitspiration images also triggered women to feel

By contrast, women who instead looked at travel photos felt more inspired to travel, but did not feel worse about their bodies or appearance. Men were not tested.

The authors of the study suggested that the harm of Fitspiration may outweigh the benefits, and suggest limiting exposure.

Interestingly, research on motivation and achievement also suggests that it is counterproductive to look at photos of a "dream body" when trying to lose weight or get fit.

So you might try avoiding Fitspiration this summer and see if it makes you happier. If you want to read more, you can find the study in the journal Body Image (2015; 15, 61-67).

May 23, 2016

Check your freezer: Recall of fruits & veggies has been expanded

Heads Up!

Don't eat any frozen fruits or veggies until you consult this list and make sure you aren't eating foods possibly tainted with listeria (and if you checked recently, check again, because the recall was expanded):


Dozens of brands are involved, including:

Listeria can be fatal, so please spread the word.

May 23, 2016

Kitchen clutter makes you fat

Here's a great new finding from the Cornell Food Lab (the folks who bring us all the best practical nuggets about our eating habits):

Imagine this experiment:

A female volunteer is made to wait for 10 minutes in a kitchen stocked with cookies, carrot sticks, and crackers. She is either first primed to reflect on a time when she felt "in control" or felt "out of control." Additionally, the kitchen is either made to look messy and chaotic, or else clean and orderly. 98 women total were put through these various conditions. Want to guess what happened?.

When in the messy kitchen...

  1. The women ate twice as many cookies.

  2. Women primed to feel "out of control" ate more than those primed to feel "in control." One average, they ate 100 calories more.

Whoa! That all took place in just 10 minutes--that could add up fast!

Luckily, there is an easy fix: Tidy up your kitchen! ...especially when stressed or feeling out of control.

You can read the full article here: http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/discoveries/clean-kitchens-cut-calories

April 12, 2016

3 times when moderation doesn't work

While the golden rule of eating -- "everything in moderation" -- is often a great policy, there are a few times when it can backfire.

Moderation doesn't work for:

  1. Food allergies or Celiac disease. If you have a true allergy or Celiac disease, then eating just a little bit of the trigger food can still bring on the full wrath of your immune response (i.e., inflammation and damage). That one little bite isn't harmless.

  2. Food addictions. Sugar addicts know that a little sugar just makes them crave more and more and more. It awakens a beast. Eating none is easier than eating a moderate amount. Sugar isn't the only food that can be addictive, so watch out for anything that makes you act like a junkie.

  3. Justifying bad habits. We commonly hear from people who never realized how unhealthy their diets were because they believed they were eating junk in moderation. The problem is that while they commendably never ate the same kind of junk food more than once or twice per month, they ate a wide enough variety of junk that rubbish dominated their diet.

These instances prove that even moderation should be practiced in moderation. Hmmm...are we proving or disproving the rule now? I'm not sure, but have a good week!

March 13, 2016

How tax season can make you healthier this year


If you are like me, preparing your taxes makes you want to groan, pull out your hair, then drown your frustration in a glass of wine. Not so healthy.

But tax time also provides an opportunity to boost health for the coming year.

It's a great time to evaluate whether your spending habits might be tweaked for better health. For example:

Finally, don't forget the fantastic finding of happiness researchers at Harvard. They report that adding a daily 30-minute walk OR joining a fun hobby club can boost happiness as much as a $50,000 salary raise. That's gotta be worth a try, right?!

Hope your tax season goes smoothly!

Jill & Amy

March 2, 2016

8 ways to make veggies feel like treats

If you are getting tired of conventional veggie form factors, here are our favorite ways to make them feel like special treats:

  1. Zucchini spiralized into noodles. You can eat them raw or cooked, and they have a different taste and texture depending on how long you heat them. Mix them heated with marinara, parmesan, turkey meatballs, or your own creation. Or try them in a cold pasta salad, mixed with your favorite confettied veggies, olive oil, queso fresco crumbles, black beans, or whatever you like on noodles. Toasted sesame seeds and a little sesame oil works on either hot or cold noodles. Yellow squash work great, too.

  2. A grilled or roasted portobello mushroom turned into pizza. Just fill with spinach, onion, garlic, pesto, cheese or whatever you like.

  3. Grilled eggplant slices as taco shells or "bread" for a grilled cheese sandwich. Just slice them thin, grill each side with a spriz of oil and voila.

  4. Cabbage roasted into steaks. Slice purple or green cabbage into 1/2" disks, spray with a little oil, then top with herbs, garlic, spices or whatever you like.

  5. Cauliflower diced into rice or risotto. You can either put cauliflower in your food processor and chop it to bits before cooking, or just buy it ready-to-go at Trader Joe's. As an extra perk, it cooks very quickly.

  6. Riced cauliflower pizza crust. Here is a recipe from Cacique that I've been meaning to try: http://www.caciqueinc.com/blog/2016/01/cauliflower-crust-pizza/#.VtdLaZWCOrU.

  7. Cauliflower as mashed faux-tatoes. Boil cauliflower and blend it 'til it looks like your favorite Thanksgiving treat.

  8. Zucchini French fries. Roast or grill thin slices of zucchini, with salt and pepper sprinkled on, and perhaps a spritz of oil. Sliced portobello mushroom strips also work well.

Thanks to our clients, who taught us these tricks. We know you have more great ideas...will you share them with us?

February 24, 2016

New tricks for curbing cravings

Lately it seems that many folks are struggling with cravings, so here are the latest research-proven ways for curbing them:

If you are beginning to crave a junky treat, load up on a healthier version of a similar flavor, so that your taste buds get sick of it. For example, if you are craving pizza, eat tomatoes and lowfat cheese. For pasta cravings try spiralized zucchini noodles or Shirataki noodles with tomato sauce and parmesan. If you are beginnng to crave chocolate mint ice cream, try putting cocoa powder and mint extract in almond milk.

It sounds corny, but a recent study found that daydreaming about happy things helped reduce cravings, especially after a little practice, and when incorporating happy sights, sounds and smells.

Especially if you can find distractions that keep your hands busy, like knitting, video games, or giving your honey a foot massage.

Because of "taste bud ping pong", there are some seemingly-innocent foods that can trigger cravings. Top offenders are coffee, anything salty (even cottage cheese or canned tuna or deli meat), and anything very sweet (even natural sweeteners, like stevia.) One strong taste--even if it was a nutritious or calorie-free food--can send you craving the opposite taste.

Again, it sounds corny, but spending just a few minutes writing and/or stating things for which you are grateful has been shown to help people eat healthier and resist cravings...and boost mood!

Easier said than done, I know, but keep in mind that when you choose to burn the candle at both ends, you also are choosing to increase your cravings.

Okey dokey. Good luck!

February 2, 2016

Super Bowl Snacks

Watching football (I.e., hours of sedentary snacking and high adrenaline) is the optimal condition for promoting blood sugar spikes, fat storage and inflammation, if you don't watch it.

One way to reduce the risk is to do a good workout before the game, to deplete your muscles of glycogen. Another option is to choose healthier snacks to replace the chips and pizza. Here are some ideas:

If skipping your favorite junk food bums you out, take heart: Research shows that most people mindlessly much on anything within reach during the Super Bowl, and enjoy it the same whether it's raw veggies or hard core junk food.

So make us proud Sunday! And please share your healthy snack ideas. We can never have too many.

January 26, 2016

New Year's Res-illusions Mistake

Some recent nutrition findings explain why many Americans don't lose weight after the holidays, despite eating healthier. Here's the (rather humbling) summary, after grocery bills were examined for 207 households:

On average, households bought more unhealthy food during the holiday season (between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day) compared to the previous months. No surprise. After January 1, they bought more healthy foods. Again, no surprise.

HOWEVER, after January 1, while buying more healthy food, they still purchased holiday levels of UNhealthy food. They just bought MORE food and MORE calories. Doh!

If you want to see the gory details, the complete article can be read at: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0110561

Since I'm currently in Truckee, where the Donner Party famously starved to the point of cannibalism, I'm reminded that over-buying food is a survival instinct baked deep into our biology. But...if your New Year's weight loss has been stymied, you might want to pay closer attention to your grocery purchases.

January 14, 2016

New Year's Willpower Tip

Happy New Year!

If you want to improve your health habits this month, then here is a valuable tip:

Willpower succeeds much better when you focus on what you WILL do, rather than on what you WON'T.

For example, replace "no-no" resolutions like this:

with "to-do" resolutions like this:

The best to-do items are those that actively interfere with the unwanted habit. For example, mindless nibbling isn't possible when you're taking a bath, a walk or a yoga class. And, incidentally, if you wanted to justify playing computer games, they've been proven to help people avoid nighttime munching.

It's a seemingly minor shift in focus, but it hugely raises your chances for success: So take some time RIGHT NOW to rephrase any "will not" resolutions into positive "to-do" items.

And have a wonderful new year!

January 14, 2016

Why Blood Sugar Rises in Winter

If you monitor your blood sugar, you might notice that it creeps up in winter months, even if you eat, sleep and exercise the same as ever. What's the deal?

Vitamin D, most likely.

Vitamin D helps your cells take in carbohydrate, to burn it up as energy. When vitamin D levels drop, less sugar can enter your cells and get used, so that sugar stays in your blood stream longer.

So monitor your vitamin D level with your doctor (or with www.grassrootshealth.org, where they send you blood test kits every 6 months) and consider adding these blood sugar lowering habits:

Or plan a tropical vacation!