Nutrition & Physical Activity

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How to choose/use exercise DVDs

Dear Reader,

When it comes to workout DVDs, not all are created equal. What works for a friend may not work for you, and vice versa, which is why you should try to do as much research as you can before you press play. Also, keep in mind that it may take a few attempts or selections to figure out which one is the best fit for you. 

Choosing a workout DVD can be tough because once you tear off that cellophane packaging, there’s usually little chance of being able to return it. So how do you make an informed decision? Here are a few tips that might help you in your quest:

  • Don’t believe the gimmicks. A workout DVD that advertises itself as a quick fix for muscle toning and weight loss is often misleading. Everyone’s body is different, so not everyone will achieve the same results. As you mentioned, you are trying to be more active and challenge yourself so visible physical changes aren’t necessarily indicative of achieving your end goal.
  • Credentials matter. Since there aren’t standard guidelines that dictate who can be featured on a workout DVD, consider who might be most qualified to give advice about fitness. A fit looking celebrity might not have much expertise in health and fitness. It’s a good idea to look for workout DVDs that feature an instructor who is accredited by a national agency like the American Council on Exercise (ACE).
  • Preview DVDs. Borrow DVDS from a friend, the library, or rent one to test it out for yourself. You might also find that full workout videos are posted online for free or for an affordable price. Reading user reviews online might also be helpful, but keep in mind that everyone has a different opinion on what works.
  • Take it slow. Since you’re new to the workout DVD world, look for those that offer beginner workouts. It may prove helpful to watch the entire video before jumping into your workout. That way, you can get used to the format and intensity before you get started. Get prepared! Do you have the space for the workout? Do you need to purchase any equipment?
  • Listen to your body. Is the instructor going too fast for you? Do you need a water break? You can do the exercises at your own pace by taking advantage of that pause button!

Don’t forget, the best workouts are ones that keep you fit and are also enjoyable. There’s more than one way to get in shape and many different exercises work the same muscles. Let’s say you detest lifting weights, you might find that a yoga DVD provides the same benefits as a weight lifting DVD. So don’t be afraid to try new techniques!

Before you begin any type of new exercise routine it’s always a good idea to consult a medical professional. If you’re a Columbia student, you can make an appointment at Medical Services (Morningside campus) or the Student Health Service (CUMC campus). You can also check out Columbia’s physical activity program, CU Move, for general tips on how to stay active and improve your fitness.

Good luck finding the right DVD for you!



Healthy regional diets?

Dear Reader,

Delicious and nutritious foods can be found all over the world! Adopting a diet similar to that of another region could positively impact your health and add some variety to what you eat. Ultimately, it’s important to pick a diet that’s right for you and for your lifestyle.

Studying regional diets can (and should!) certainly impact what we decide to put on our plates. Some of the healthiest diets around the world tend to feature lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fewer servings of dairy, red meat, and poultry. They also limit unhealthy fats and instead include healthier ones. You might want to consider what types of foods you have available because not everything that is available in another country will be readily available where you are.

You specifically mentioned the Mediterranean and Japanese diets. The staples of the Mediterranean diet — which have been associated with a lowered risk of heart disease, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease — are fruits, veggies, legumes, and nuts. Cooks also use olive oil instead of butter, limit the use of red meat, and incorporate fish several times a week. The Japanese diet has been linked to long lifespans and lowered risk of heart disease, but also hypertension (high blood pressure). Foods commonly found in the Japanese diet include eating a lot of omega-3-rich fish and protein-dense soy, drinking green tea, and limiting intake of sugar and white flour. Finding fresh olive oil or fresh fish might not be as easy, or inexpensive, for you as it is for someone living on the Mediterranean coast or in Tokyo, but you do not need to eat these all the time. Fresh fruits, veggies, beans and nuts might be easier to come by depending on where you live.   

Overall, the ideal diet for you depends on a lot of things, such as your genetic makeup, hormonal profile, culture, and food preferences. The USDA Ethnic/Cultural Food Pyramids display recommendations for healthy eating from many different countries. Reviewing these may help you find food choices that work for you. You may also want to check out the Get Balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating to look at other healthy food options. Foods that are easily accessible and your level of physical activity are also factors to consider when choosing what to eat. Talking to a health professional may also be helpful — if you’re a Columbia student, you can make an appointment to speak with a registered dietitian or a health care provider at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

Here’s to eating well wherever you are!


Nutrition of freeze-dried vs. raw fruits and vegetables

Dear Reader,

Ever try freeze-dried ice cream in a pouch designed for astronauts? Well, freeze-dried foods are no longer just for space travel! They are now available to anyone who enjoys snacking on the go and there are a lot more options than just ice cream.   

The main difference between freeze-dried foods and fresh foods is water. Freeze-drying is a process that preserves food by removing 98 percent of its water content. This prevents food from spoiling, while still maintaining most of its flavor, color, texture, and nutritional value. Some freeze-dried food can last for several years! Just remember that if you’re eating a lot of freeze-dried foods, you want to stay extra hydrated to make up for their lack of water. Also keep in mind that the freeze-drying process involves chemical treatments. While most of the chemicals used in these processes are FDA approved and regulated, it is good to be aware that some chemicals may have adverse health effects, particularly for those who have a sulfite sensitivity. So, the question is, are freeze-dried fruits and veggies good for you?

Research has shown that while freeze-dried fruits and vegetables contain slightly lower amounts of certain vitamins, they are rich in antioxidants and fiber. Most researchers agree that the amount of nutrients lost from freeze-drying is miniscule.

What about calories? Because freeze-dried fruits and vegetables lack water, they are highly concentrated, which means they contain more calories than their original form. Confused? Think about it like this — if one cup of a particular fresh fruit is 100 calories, when you freeze dry that same amount of fruit it will shrink in size. So, one cup of freeze-dried fruit will contain more pieces of fruit than one cup of fresh fruit. This translates to more calories. This is why nutrition experts recommend that freeze-dried foods might be added as a supplement to someone’s diet, but should not act as a replacement for fresh foods.

In any form, fruits and vegetables provide you with vitamins and nutrients that are essential to your health. Whether you choose fresh or freeze-dried, it’s a good idea to include plenty of fruits and vegetables in your daily diet. The recommended number of servings varies from person to person, but general guidelines suggest between two and six servings daily. You can calculate your recommended daily intake on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.

For more resources on how to keep up a healthy diet, check out Columbia’s Get Balanced! Guide for Healthier Eating and other Alice! Health Promotion nutrition initiatives. Both provide useful tips on how to stay healthy, all of which are easy to incorporate into your everyday life.


Enough nutrients on a gluten free diet?

Dear Reader,

Eating gluten-free certainly warrants paying attention to what you are excluding and how that may impact your health. Good for you for thinking carefully about your diet and asking questions. As someone with celiac disease, it's even more important to learn about how your food choices may impact the amount of certain vitamins and nutrients in your meals.

Let’s start with some basic facts about gluten-free diets. While eating a gluten-free diet is advised for those with celiac disease, it is not a quick fix, and it is not a flawless nutritional regimen.

  • The pros? Removing gluten will reduce inflammation and hopefully reduce damage to the intestines caused by celiac disease. Initiating and maintaining a gluten-free diet is universally recommended as a lifelong treatment for those with celiac disease.
  • The cons? Gluten-free diets/foods may be low in certain nutrients (like B vitamins, calcium, vitamin D, iron, zinc, magnesium, and fiber). Many gluten-free packaged foods may also be higher in fat and cholesterol.

One way, and perhaps the preferred option, for increasing your intake of vitamins is through food. Some food sources of B-vitamins, calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, vitamin D, and zinc are:

  • Fruits — apples, berries, figs, oranges, pears, plums, prunes
  • Legumes — lentils, split peas, beans (black, garbanzo, kidney, lima, pinto)
  • Meats, fish, and eggs — all kinds!
  • Nuts and seeds — almonds, chia seeds, flax seeds, pecans, pistachios, sunflower seeds
  • Vegetables — artichokes, broccoli, green leafy vegetables (chard, collards, kale, spinach, etc.), squash
  • Whole grains — amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, brown rice, teff, millet  

Vitamin D is exceptionally hard to find in a wide variety of foods. The foods with the highest levels of vitamin D per serving are cod liver oil, swordfish, salmon, and tuna. Vitamin D is also produced in our bodies when we exposed to sun. For this reason, many people in northern climates have lower levels and may take supplements. You may want to talk with your health care provider to determine whether taking vitamin D supplements in addition to food sources is right for you.

Maintaining a healthy diet is important for everyone — and especially for those with celiac disease. Some good tips to get the most benefits from your food are:

  • Opt for fresh produce, whenever possible. Fresh vegetables and fruits will have the highest levels of vitamins. Also try to eat foods that are grown local and in season. If you can’t always eat fresh, frozen is second best.
  • Don’t overcook vegetables. Cooking vegetables too long will detract from their nutritional value. Using various cooking methods like sautéing, steaming, blanching, or even baking your veggies will reduce the amount of vitamins and minerals lost so your veggies will still pack a nutritious punch!
  • Aim for “whole” foods. The fewer ingredients in your food, the better. One way of doing this is to avoid processed and packaged goods. Processed foods will have higher levels of unhealthy fats, sodium, and sugars.
  • Eat the rainbow! A diet that includes a variety of colors (like those found in fruits and vegetables) is indicative of different vitamins. Keeping your plate or bowl colorful will ensure you’re eating a wide range of nutrients.

Before beginning a new nutritional program or diet, consider talking with your health care provider about the pros and cons and whether it is right for you. Additionally, a registered dietitian can give you in-depth information about the benefits and risks of excluding and including specific foods or supplements. If you are a Columbia student, you can make an appointment to speak with a registered dietitian or a health care provider by contacting Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). Checking out the Academy for Nutrition and Dietetics' celiac disease page may also help you get ideas on what to look for at the grocery, how to decipher what is gluten-free, and links to other helpful websites.

Here’s to noshing for nutrients!


Working out while getting over a cold?

Dear Reader,

Regular exercise is good for the body and mind — and can also boost your immune system! But what to do when germs already have you down? Here are a couple rules of thumb:

Are your symptoms above or below the neck?

  • “Above the neck”— if you have symptoms like a runny nose, watery eyes, a mild sore throat, or other symptoms of a mild cold, it is generally ok to exercise. Listen to your body — if you feel up to a light work out, go for it.
  • “Below the neck”— if you have symptoms like chest congestion or tightness, muscle aches, cough, or nausea, hold off. Exercise may do more harm than good, no matter how exercise-ready you feel. Monitor these symptoms closely, get plenty of rest, hydration, and if you’re not starting to feel better, set an appointment with you health care provider.

If you have “above the neck” symptoms, and want to get in a light workout, some of your best options are walking, jogging, qi gong, yoga, or other low-intensity activities. In general, try to exercise at a lower intensity than your normal routine — less weight and more reps, jog or cycle at a slower pace, etc.

Try to avoid gyms or group settings, where you may be exposed to more germs and spread the germs you are carrying to others. As an alternative, try to workout at home with body weight exercises or personal equipment.

Here are some additional ways to keep yourself healthy when you work out:

  • Drink up! Hydration is key when you are sweating. If you become dehydrated your mucous membranes also dry up and are more susceptible to infection.
  • Re-Fuel! Exercise will burn up calories faster than normal — and calories are your primary source of energy. Eat a healthy post-workout snack with both carbohydrates and protein to make sure your body can continue to work efficiently, even after your sweat session is over.
  • Get your R&R! Rest and recovery is just as important as your regular workout. Balance training days with regular rest days so your body can recover from tough workouts and perform at its peak.
  • Get out of those sweaty gym clothes! Sweating helps your body regulate temperature — as you heat up from exercise, sweat cools you down. But staying in cool, damp clothing post-workout is not ideal. Ditch the sweaty spandex and opt for drier, warmer options.
  • Wash your hands! The signs in the bathroom are not just for employees — everyone benefits from hand washing. Even at the gym. Sharing weights, mats, and even using the water fountain are all ways you can spread germs and pick up germs. Do yourself and your gym-mates a favor and wash your hands thoroughly and frequently.

If you are feeling under the weather, keep track of your symptoms and exercise in moderation. If you notice increased congestion, coughing or wheezing, it’s a good idea to make an appointment with a health care provider. If you’re a Columbia student on the Morningside campus, you can use Open Communicator to schedule a visit with Columbia Health Medical Services. If you are on the Medical Center campus, contact the Student Health Service for an appointment. More serious symptoms include chest tightness or pressure, trouble breathing, dizziness, or difficulty with balance. If you experience any of these symptoms, stop exercise and seek emergency medical attention right away.

Hope this helps!


Drinking wine without breaking the bank (or your belt)

Dear Reader,

Although wine snobs may claim they can taste the difference between cheap and expensive wines, the truth is that delicious wines can be purchased at a wide range of prices. Many different factors, such as land price, farming practices, the fermentation and aging processes, and even the brand name can affect how much wine costs — but none of these are directly related to adding sugar.

Sugar serves several purposes in the complex process of winemaking. First, sugar is what yeast metabolizes into alcohol to make wine alcoholic. The riper grapes are, the higher sugar content they have, and the more alcohol the wine will eventually contain. If grapes are less ripe, sugar may be added before fermentation so the final product will be more alcoholic. In dry wines, all the sugar is allowed to ferment into alcohol, whereas sweet wines have more residual sugar. Sugar can also be added after the fermentation process to change the sweetness level of the wine. In some cases, risking losing the grape crop by letting the fruit ripen for longer on the vine or complicating the process by using sugar for flavor or a secondary fermentation may increase the price of wine.

However, what determines the calorie level of your wine is not how much it costs, but a combination of its sugar content and, most importantly, the amount of alcohol in it. A six ounce-serving of wine can contain anywhere from around 107 to 275 calories depending on whether it is red or white, dry or sweet, and light or heavy alcohol. As alcohol contains close to twice as many carbs as sugar, heavier wines tend to be more caloric. If you’re looking for the wine with the smallest effect on your waistline, you’re best off choosing a light, dry white wine. Since you said you prefer red, however, try looking for a light, dry wine such as a Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Syrah — not only do these wines tend to have fewer calories, but they also contain different minerals and antioxidants which, when consumed in moderation, may be beneficial for heart health.



Yoga on the cheap?

Dear Reader,

Congratulations on finding an exercise program that you truly enjoy and want to stick with. Good news — your yoga practice doesn’t have to suffer now that your months’ worth of yoga classes has run out! Taking yoga classes can be expensive and time consuming, but there are numerous ways to work around the cost.People practicing yoga in Times Square. Image via Andrew Dallos on Flickr.

Free yoga classes are often available through community centers, the YMCA, public parks (New Yorkers should see Shape Up NYC), and university clubs and student organizations. Some private yoga studios offer free classes during off-peak hours with teachers-in-training. Other studios, such as New York City’s Yoga to the People, are donation-based and operate under the principle that yoga should be accessible to everyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. Most studios also offer class punch cards, purchased in bulk (usually between 10 to 20 classes), that are offered at a discounted rate. Finally, don’t hesitate to ask your local yoga studio if you may participate in karma yoga, a practice in which yogis trade assistance around the studio (such as front desk work, cleaning, or publicity) for free yoga classes.

The benefits of practicing at home are numerous — the fact that it’s free is just one of them! Doing yoga at home may help release you from self-consciousness, mitigate the stress of daily life, permit you extra time to focus on the poses you prefer or want to work on, allow you to focus your attention inward, and help you establish awareness of the relationship between the mind, body, and breath.

Indeed, there are guidelines for practicing yoga at home:

  • Block out time for your at-home yoga practice in your schedule just as you would an in-person yoga class. You might try 30 minute sessions three to four days a week, for example.
  • Set a timer at the beginning of your practice — some yogis prefer long sessions, but research shows that consistency, not the duration of the practice, helps build routine.
  • Consider purchasing a yoga mat, block, and strap for home use. This equipment does involve an initial investment, but it will pay off the more you practice at home.
  • If you’re not sure where to start, consider following a CD or video (available online and at most public libraries). As you grow more accustomed to at-home practice, you’ll naturally become your own teacher.

Other types of exercise, such as Pilates, dance, barre, and Tai Chi, function similarly to yoga in that they focus on stretching, strengthening, and mindfulness. Like yoga, you may that they require some guidance, especially when first starting, but that you can eventually move to an at-home practice.

Engaging in a combination of full cost, low-cost, free, and at-home yoga practice methods may be the best way to address your various needs. If you’re a Columbia student, check out the various low-cost exercise classes offered at the Dodge Fitness Center for more ideas and inspiration. While you’re at it, take a look at the CU Move program to discover other ways to stay physically active on campus, and if you’re interested in addressing stress outside of your yoga practice, look into the Stressbusters program or, if you’re on the Medical Center campus, the Center for Student Wellness.



Best protein toppings for my salad?

Dear Pondering Protein,

Everyone knows that the best part about hitting the salad bar is having free reign over all the toppings! As you know, when it comes to protein toppings for your salads, there’s a long list of options; but with so many options to choose from, it can be difficult to decide which ones are the healthiest. Ultimately, the “best” protein to add to your salad is the one that will satisfy your appetite and contribute to a balanced diet. So, while there’s no definitive answer as to which protein is the smartest choice, let’s discuss some things to consider before you dig into that salad.  

You are certainly correct that turkey is leaner than chicken. In fact, turkey has about two-thirds fewer calories per ounce! Turkey also contains less saturated fat, which is good for keeping your cholesterol down. While both chicken and turkey are excellent sources of protein, chicken contains almost double the amount of protein per ounce. Chicken also contains less sodium, which means it can help stabilize your blood pressure. So it really depends on what you’re looking for, especially when you take into account the other foods you’re eating throughout the day. It’s all about balance.

There are also trade-offs to consider with the other sources of proteins you mentioned. Tuna has less calories and fat than chicken, but it also has less protein. And, as you mentioned, tuna, depending on where it's from and whether it's fresh or from a can, can also contain mercury, so you will need to keep that in mind. Eggs contain less saturated fat, but are high in cholesterol. With a family history of high cholesterol, you might want to try egg whites instead or do the whole egg, just not every single day. Don’t forget that popular salad toppings like beans, nuts, and some grains are also great sources of protein, in addition to offering plenty of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Just think about all the options: bulgur, quinoa, black beans, chickpeas, kidney beans, walnuts, almonds, lentils, tofu, tempeh — the list goes on and on. You can also add some protein to your salads in the way of a dressing. What about using hummus, cottage cheese, or a yogurt-based dressing?

Each option offers different pros and cons, so try switching it up to add variety to your diet. This will also keep you excited and looking forward to your meals. If you want to investigate further, check out the USDA National Nutrient Database, which will give you information about the nutritional content of all your favorite foods. If you’re a Columbia student, you may also want to check out the Get Balanced Guide for Healthier Eating.

Whichever protein you choose, keep eating those leafy greens!


Feeling out of control from binge eating

Dear Reader,

The situation you describe is, unfortunately, all too common. That is to say, you are most definitely not alone in your feelings of not being in control and having the sense that food controls your life. Disordered eating, including binge eating disorder, is an issue that affects approximately 20 million women and 10 million men at some point during their lives. While there are a number of helpful online resources that can help, it’s highly recommended that you consult with a mental health professional about treatment. Fortunately, there are several reduced-cost treatment options you can take advantage of to help you on your road to recovery.

Let’s start with the online resources. The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) has a wealth of resources for people who struggle with eating disorders. Beyond the information on their website, the NEDA runs an Information and Referral Helpline through which you can connect with staff members who can help you find treatment programs, support groups, and other information specific to your situation. NEDA also allows you to search for treatment services with sliding scale payment options and runs an interactive website just for teens.

Other affordable options for treatment are training institutes accredited by the American Psychoanalytic Association. These institutes allow people to receive psychotherapy from therapists in training. This treatment comes with a low price tag, sometimes only $10 to $15 per session, or is priced on a sliding scale basis. If you are a student at Columbia, contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or Mental Health Services (CUMC) to make an appointment with a therapist.

As far as the issue of weight gain goes, working with a professional, in addition to figuring out the underlying reasons behind your overeating, will help you become more comfortable with your body. Restrictive dieting is usually not the best approach, as it can be an unhealthy and ineffective method of losing weight. Finally, eating healthfully, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep are great first steps and will positively complement other treatments such as therapy.

Hope this is helpful,


March 11, 2014

I don't know if this helps but I went through the same situation you're dealing with right now. It's usually hard at first but you'll get through it. Just eat something healthy, it can help you...
I don't know if this helps but I went through the same situation you're dealing with right now. It's usually hard at first but you'll get through it. Just eat something healthy, it can help you coping with food and when you feel like you can deal with it, don't eat too much, just eat only when you are hungry but stick with healthy food. Eat 3 meals per day, of course. I do cheat sometimes to satisfy my sweet needs so I don't go out of the control. I've lost about 25 pounds and I'm almost to my goal weight. I hope this makes you feel better? :) good luck!

Food aversions and nutrition

Dear Reader,

Being a picky eater is one thing, but having such strong aversions to certain foods that you gag violently is quite another. You’re right to associate symptoms such as ongoing lethargy with an unbalanced diet, and it sounds as though the difficulties you experience when trying to eat certain foods may be preventing you from meeting your most essential nutritional needs, including calories for energy. Good news — studies show that treatment for individuals who experience similar aversions to a wide variety of foods is highly effective, so keep at it!

Parents and babysitters will attest to the fact that picky eating is very common among children and adolescents. However, highly selective eating behaviors that begin in or last through adulthood are much less prevalent. Fortunately, treatment works; in a study with individuals whose diets were composed of six foods or less, phasing new foods into the diet with an emphasis on trying new foods, not eating large quantities of them, was effective. All study participants who accepted treatment were able to incrementally diversify their diet.

One of the principal consequences of eating an unbalanced diet low in nutrients is becoming underweight. Being underweight may cause a variety of short- and long-term health consequences, including fatigue (as you mention), weakened immune system, fragile bones and osteoporosis, anemia, and for women, interrupted periods and fertility issues. One of the best ways to prevent becoming underweight is to maintain a healthy diet. For a thorough summary of what a balanced diet looks like, check out the Get Balanced Guide to Healthier Eating. Looking over the Guide will help you set goals and give you ideas about new foods you may be willing to try, such as delicious and nutritious fruits and vegetables. While maximized for students at Columbia, the key ideas in the guide can work for anyone and there are additional resources listed.

Seems like your current diet is high in carbohydrates, which may give you a short blast of energy but fade away rather quickly. Have you considered trying other foods of various textures that can help sustain your energy, such as fruit smoothies, nuts, yogurt, and berries? Alternatively, consider recombining ingredients in your existing diet — for example, you might try putting some cheese with tomato sauce on your pasta (almost the same as pizza). Experimentation within the range of your “safe foods” list may help you become more open to trying new foods. Once you’re ready to try new foods, take small tastes and evaluate what you like and don’t like about the food. You won’t necessarily like every new food you try, and that’s okay — it’s all about being open to experimentation.

In addition to simply disliking the texture of certain foods, there may be emotional factors that are preventing you from eating a well-balanced diet. In fact, clinical trials show that gagging, vomiting, and retching when exposed to a new food is often stress-related. Meditating, using breathing exercises, and experimenting with other relaxation techniques is highly effective. Seeking treatment from a professional may also be helpful. Columbia students are encouraged to contact Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside Campus) or Mental Health Services (CUMC Campus) for support.

By slowly incorporating different foods into your diet, you will be on the right path to achieving a healthy weight. For additional input, consider reaching out to a dietician. Columbia students may schedule an appointment with a nutritionist through Medical Services (Morningside) or Student Health (CUMC) and should also check out Alice! Health Promotion Nutrition Initiatives. If you are not a student at Columbia, check with your campus health service or primary care provider for a referral.

The long term health benefits of working to overcome food aversions are well worth it; those who undergo treatment often report enjoying eating more, being less anxious about social situations involving eating, and increased self-confidence both at and beyond the table. Bon appétit!


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