It’s that time of year again when we make resolutions for improving ourselves. I have always thought New Year’s resolutions were smart, optimistic and goal-directed ways to start the year. No one is perfect and change is good for us, so let’s embrace it.
It might interest you to know that there are certain foods which can actually help with weight control! A large study, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, surveyed diet and exercise patterns of U.S. men and women over a 20-year period, it revealed that there are particular foods associated with either weight loss or weight gain. Individuals were evaluated at 4-year intervals for diet, physical exercise, and body weight. The 20 year study found:
- Higher amounts of vegetables and fruit, whole grains (instead of refined grains), nuts and yogurt protected against weight gain. Each individual food group had a separate protective effect. It was found that if an individual ate vegetables, fruits, nuts and yogurt daily there was a greater protective effect than just eating extra vegetables and fruit. The reason these foods gave protection against weight gain suggests that as consumption of these “good foods” increased, other “bad foods” were reduced. Higher fiber content in fruits, vegetables and nuts results in slower digestion and great satiety. Yogurt consumption promotes growth of good bacteria in the digestive tract that prevents weight gain. Often people avoid eating nuts because nuts tend to be high in calories – but not all the calories in nuts are digestible. One ounce of almonds contains approximately 160 calories, but because of the insoluble fiber present, only 130 calories are digestible.
- Foods that caused weight gain were potatoes in all forms (particularly potato chips), sugar sweetened beverages, alcohol, refined grains, sweets and desserts, unprocessed red meat, and processed meats. Foods that contained the highest amounts of refined carbohydrates – whether these were added (e.g., in sweets and desserts) or were not added (e.g., refined grains) – caused weight gain because they are rapidly digested. Likewise, the potato, which is mainly starch, is also quickly digested. Sugar-sweetened beverages, juices, and alcohol are digested even faster. No surprise that these liquid calories caused weight gain.
The take-home messages from this large study are: 1.) Eating more vegetables, nuts, fruits, yogurt, and whole grains will keep you slim and trim. Higher fiber content and slower digestion of these foods enhance satiety or fullness. 2.) Potatoes, refined grains, sugar- sweetened beverages, and alcohol will cause you to gain weight.
What about exercise? When I ask patients about their exercise the two most frequent replies are: “I don’t have enough time” or “I go on the treadmill for 30 minutes”. Sorry, but both responses signify that you are not being efficient with your time! In the first case, given the fact that the current President of the United States (and his predecessor) has time for daily exercise signifies that you are not prioritizing. The second response indicates that the workout is becoming stale.
When you exercise you want to get the most benefit from the time spent. Our bodies become quickly accustomed to exercise – this is called the training effect. The training effect is welcomed when we are learning a sport but actually hampers progress in your daily work-outs.
Spin classes are hugely popular and for good reason. During a spin class the intensity is constantly changing through resistance, leg speed and body position. The variety in 45 minutes of spin class keeps you engaged by motivating you to push harder. Personally, I think Soul Cycle is just about perfect in terms of getting people motivated.
If you are a steady inhabitant of the gym – try taking your workout outside. Hey, I know it’s cold but just layer up. A beautiful winter day outside is invigorating. Central Park and Bryant Park both have beautiful ice rinks – why not try them out? Or take an ice skating lesson.
How about a group class? There are two classes that I love and will recommend to you. Barry’s Boot Camp downtown is a tough, nonstop workout. Body by Simone is a high-intensity, high-impact dance class that is just more fun than any class I have ever taken! Expect to sweat in both.
Shake up your routine with something new: pick up a new activity. Working out in a new way will challenge muscles with unfamiliar patterns resulting in more calories being burned.