Nutrition & Physical Activity

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Weightloss diets for vegetarians, and everybody

Dear Reader,

Fortunately for people who wish to lose weight, there are universal rules that apply, regardless of your typical diet — whether you're a vegetarian or omnivore. First, to lose weight a person has to use more energy (calories) than s/he takes in. To achieve this deficit you can either make dietary changes (so you're taking in less calories), get more physical activity (so you're using more calories in a day), or you can make changes in both areas. Experts recommend making both dietary changes and getting more physical activity for the best results.

It takes a deficit of about 3500 calories to lose one pound of body weight. This means if you are able to cut 500 calories per day from your regular diet you should be able to lose a pound a week (a healthy weight loss rate). It may be beneficial to consider finding the right balance of increasing your physical activity and decreasing caloric intake. You can check out the ChooseMyPlate.gov SuperTracker as a resource that can help you calculate how many calories you need per day, what nutrients are in the foods you eat, and how many calories you burn doing different exercises.

Some suggestions for dietary changes to reduce calories:

  • Steam, boil or bake foods instead of frying in butter or oil.
  • Sauté foods in vegetable broth, wine, or water instead of oil.
  • Limit of high-fat condiments (like mayonnaise, margarine, sour cream, cream cheese, salad dressing, etc.).
  • Try low-fat dairy products and nut- or peanut butter. Vegetarians sometimes begin to rely heavily on these foods as sources of protein, but low-fat dairy and nut products provide the same amount of protein as their full-fat counterparts.
  • Add beans and legumes to your diet as low-fat sources of protein.
  • Eat actual fruit or vegetables rather than drinking them in juice or smoothie form. The fiber in fresh produce works well to satisfy hunger.
  • Substitute water, tea, and diet beverages for regular soda, juices, and other high-sugar drinks.
  • Limit the amount of alcoholic beverages consumed (empty calories for everyone).
  • Begin lunch or dinner with a broth-based, vegetable filled soup or a large salad with a small amount of low-fat or fat-free dressing. These foods take longer to eat and can help curb your hunger so you don't overeat during the rest of the meal.
  • Be mindful of portion sizes — read nutrition fact labels to find out serving sizes. Some rules of thumb:
    • A medium apple or orange is the size of a tennis ball.
    • A medium potato is the size of a computer mouse.
    • An average bagel is the size of a hockey puck.
    • An ounce of cheese is size of four dice.

Some suggestions for incorporating more physical activity into your day:

  • Take the stairs as often as possible.
  • Park at the far end of the parking lot or get off the bus or subway a stop early.
  • Schedule your cardiovascular exercise (walking, jogging, swimming, biking, frantically cleaning your apartment before visitors come over, etc.) so you know you will be able to fit it in. If you're at Columbia, you can participate with CU Move to help stay motivated with your physical activity efforts and earn incentives.  Check out the site to learn more. 

Hopefully, you'll find some of these suggestions new and helpful. Good luck!

Alice

Eating soap — obsession

Dear Soap-Eater,

Kudos for thinking about how your behavior might affect your long-term health and writing in to ask about it. What you describe is called pica, an eating disorder where people frequently eat non-nutritive (non-food) substances. Depending on what a person eats, pica can be very dangerous. Ingesting dangerous substances or large amounts of some substances can lead to medical problems, including poisoning. There is also a risk of infection resulting from some substances, such as soil, and stomach problems including constipation, and other issues.

Fortunately, in your case soap is not a very dangerous substance, though in large amounts over time it could disrupt your health. Soap is generally non-toxic and should not lead to poisoning. However, it can cause diarrhea, vomiting or skin irritation.

The causes of pica are not known but some suggest that the following may contribute to the desire to eat non-food items:

  • Nutritional deficiencies. Some speculate that pica is your body's way of telling you that you are missing some important nutrient. Iron, calcium, zinc, and vitamins C & D deficiencies have been found in people with pica.
  • Culture and family influences. There is some suggestion that certain cultures and social groups accept eating non-food substances. Also, if your parents encouraged this as a child, you may still have the urge to eat these substances.
  • Stress. The desire to eat non-food substances may be a coping strategy for stress.
  • Underlying biochemical disorder. In some cases, pica may result from chemical imbalances in your brain.

You mentioned that eating soap makes you feel good when you're stressed. This could be a sign that your stress level is too high and your body is reacting by craving soap. You could consider finding alternative ways to deal with your stress. See Stress, anxiety and learning to cope and Number one cause of stress for some tips on other ways to combat stress.

Pica is rare in adolescents and adults, and can be the sign of other medical issues including nutrition deficiencies so you should consider contacting a health care professional to help figure out what might be causing this behavior. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can call 212-854-2284 to make an appointment or log on to Open Communicator. Students on the Medical Center campus can contact Student Health at 212-304-3400. You may also want to consider talking with a counselor about healthier strategies for coping. Columbia students can make an appointment with Counseling and Psychological Services (Morningside) or the Mental Health Service (Medical Center).

You took an important first step in asking about your behavior, but it's also important that you take the next step and talk to a health care professional who can help you figure out if there is some underlying cause. Taking care of your health is not silly — it's smart.

All the best,

Alice

February 26, 2014

553088
Believe it or not I have been eating soap for approximately 20yrs and here is some advise. If you can stop start doing so gradually and try not to go back. For me it has caused some skin irritations...
Believe it or not I have been eating soap for approximately 20yrs and here is some advise. If you can stop start doing so gradually and try not to go back. For me it has caused some skin irritations and recently some digestive problems. Although my mouth still waters at the thought, it is not worth it.

February 19, 2014

552436
I too crave soap. I like the taste of Irish Spring, Coast, Silk, Ivory, Jergens and others. I have discovered that it ruins your teeth and gums causing sensitivity and caries. It also creates long-...
I too crave soap. I like the taste of Irish Spring, Coast, Silk, Ivory, Jergens and others. I have discovered that it ruins your teeth and gums causing sensitivity and caries. It also creates long-term digestive issues such that my body is no longer absorbing nutrients as it should because ingesting soap changes the environment necessary for proper digestion. My guess is that the hydrochloric acid gets neutralized so it takes longer for the food to be broken down and pass through the system. Recently, I stopped eating soap because my teeth became so painful that I couldn't chew and was forced to really do something about it. Now, I try to buy brands of soap that I don't like and because iron supplements are too harsh for my stomach, I'm trying to boost my intake by using nettle and oat straw teas as well as spirulina and chlorella. My tooth sensitivity went away within a week of ending my soap eating habit and with intensive action to remineralize using the herbs mentioned along with black walnut tincture. I have stopped before for long periods, but went right back after a while. I can't afford to allow that this time, so I'm investigating tooth soaps to see if they have similar textures and nice tastes. Since these can be ingested, I'll try them if I fall off the bandwagon again and hope for the best. Best wishes everyone and I hope this really helps someone. Kindred Spirit

April 19, 2013

527515
Okay. I don't know what to say. I also thought I was alone. I'm also a soap-eater, and nobody knows this. At first, I thought I was just curious with it's taste, especially when it smells really good...
Okay. I don't know what to say. I also thought I was alone. I'm also a soap-eater, and nobody knows this. At first, I thought I was just curious with it's taste, especially when it smells really good...so it tried licking it, then it became a habit. Everytime I take my bath, I can't keep myself from tasting my bar soap, I became obsess with its taste and smell. I started craving for more. It seems like I can't stop myself from dong it. I'm really worried about this and I want to thank whoever is behind this website because I feel kinda relief knowing I'm not alone.

January 4, 2013

521132
I eat Irish Spring not proud of this behavior but I can't seem to stop :( It relaxes me as well for some reason.
I eat Irish Spring not proud of this behavior but I can't seem to stop :( It relaxes me as well for some reason.

December 10, 2012

519919
I'm also a soap eater,and I've been eating soap for over 5 years now and I just can't stop the cravings!
I'm also a soap eater,and I've been eating soap for over 5 years now and I just can't stop the cravings!

August 27, 2012

515527
I also am a soap eater and I thought I was alone. It's relieving to find out there are others out there that also have this problem. I am very health conscious and it disturbs me that I enjoy the...
I also am a soap eater and I thought I was alone. It's relieving to find out there are others out there that also have this problem. I am very health conscious and it disturbs me that I enjoy the taste of soap when the purpose is to wash your body or hands and not to eat. I guess you could say it started when I was a kid when my parents would punish me by making me stick a bar of soap in my mouth for an extended period of time. I just started washing my body with a bar of Irish Spring soap this past year and I would occasionally lick the moist bottom of the bar. It tasted funny at first but now it tastes delicious. I can't help but feel bad that I'm eating it because I know the bar is not meant to be eaten. I'm also stressed and find myself eating it more often then usual. I'm just glad it's not harmful to the body with small amounts and that I'm also not alone. Thanks soap eater!

March 6, 2012

508112
ime so glad i looked this up.....i eat dove soap everyday now,i used 2 nibble imperial leather and knights castile as a child then again in my teens now started again at 41 !!!!!!!!,the cravings are...
ime so glad i looked this up.....i eat dove soap everyday now,i used 2 nibble imperial leather and knights castile as a child then again in my teens now started again at 41 !!!!!!!!,the cravings are so bad that i even brush my teeth with it aswell as bath in it and litterally bite chunks and chew it, i litterally crave it so much my mouth waters,all my friends etc think its disgusting but its like a drug addict needing their fix or an alcholic needing their drink! hopefully now ive looked into it i can get the right treatment and leave the dove alone :)

June 19, 2009

21546
To the reader:

Thank you, I thought that I was the only one and I searched high and low. I feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I opened up and told two relatives and I got scared when...

To the reader:

Thank you, I thought that I was the only one and I searched high and low. I feel better knowing that there is a name for it. I opened up and told two relatives and I got scared when they hinted that it may cause sterility. I also only eat bar soap and it relaxes me. I will take a chunk out of it and it's kinda like woosaa.

Thank you for this post and thank you for opening up soap eater.

Soap eater2

Will probiotic-enriched yogurt aid digestion?

Dear Reader,

It's wise to keep a healthy skepticism about the marketing efforts of some of these huge food corporations. Dannon's probiotic-fortified yogurt, Activia, is certainly an example of a highly promoted product. In recent years, the global market for "functional foods," has grown to billions of dollars annually, and since these supplement-food hybrids are appearing on the shelves ever more rapidly, the FDA doesn't have a chance to evaluate all of their claims. While there is evidence that probiotics do help to improve digestion and gastronomic health, it is hard to say that one brand over another is more effective at doing so.

Probiotics, beneficial bacteria that live in the small intestine, are believed to improve digestion. These gut-friendly bacteria actually help you to digest and eliminate your food, while crowding out the unhealthy gut-dwelling bacteria that cause gas, constipation, and bloating. Studies have shown that certain probiotics can help relieve irritable bowel syndrome, diarrhea, constipation, atopic eczema, and may also help protect against various infections and colon cancer. Researchers have found that stressed-out rats have benefited from a serving of water containing certain probiotics. Not a flattering comparison for us people, who might feel like stressed-out rats from time to time, but the findings of the study may be helpful. Probiotics are found in many types of fermented foods, like yogurt, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso.

Regular yogurt is made using these live cultures, and serves up a healthy serving of them with each spoonful. But your question, is Dannon's Activia more effective in providing these results than regular good old-fashioned yogurt, is one that begs a good answer. Dannon (of course) says yes. Their Activia yogurt contains Bifidus regularis, a probiotic strain trademarked by Dannon that is not in other yogurts, and they claim that this particular strain speeds wastes through the digestive system and improves immunity in the intestines more effectively than other strains.

Dannon says that their Bifidus regularis, "survives passage through the digestive tract, arriving in the colon as a living culture," whereas other cultures can be destroyed by stomach acids and the natural process of digestion. The consumer reports lab has confirmed Dannon's claim, reporting that about three million of the original three billion probiotic organisms in a four-ounce serving of Activia made it through the stomach to the colon.

There is one other difference you mentioned between this yogurt and the others: the price. Activia costs about four cents more per ounce than regular Dannon yogurt. If you're willing to spoon out the extra cash, and have noticed a decrease in stomach grumblings as a result of eating Activia, it seems like that special strain is working for you, and might be worth it. However, now that you know that all yogurts contain healthy amounts of probiotics, it might be interesting to see if those regular yogurts feel just as good as the one with all the advertising. Eat up!
Alice

Food coma

Dear Reader,

The symptoms you describe sound like what many people call the "food coma." Often times, after eating a holiday meal, a big dinner or lunch, or even sometimes after meals that didn't seem that big, you may feel a bit drowsy. Some medical conditions can cause this feeling, including anemia, kidney dysfunction, sleep disorders, infections, or an electrolyte imbalance just to name a few. But even people who don't have any of these medical conditions may still feel tired after eating, because this symptom is also a consequence of normal digestion!

Why? Because our bodies spend a lot of energy digesting food. The stomach mechanically churns the food, produces acid to break the food into tiny pieces, and then controls the rate this broken down food can enter the intestines. In the intestines, enzymes use energy to further break down and absorb food particles into the body. For humans, it is normal for the rate of energy use to increase by 25 to 50 percent after a meal. This increased bodily activity could contribute to your feeling flushed after eating.

One explanation for your drowsiness lies in one of the hormones released during digestion — cholecystokinin. Commonly referred to as CCK, this hormone helps make you feel full, but also activates the areas in the brain associated with sleep. So after eating, when CCK levels rise to tell you you're full, you may also start to feel sleepy. Additionally, meals high in carbohydrates can increase the levels of tryptophan (an amino acid) in the blood. In the brain, tryptophan is converted into serotonin (a neurotransmitter that makes people feel both happy and sleepy). This boost in serotonin could also cause someone to feel tired.  

Since you don't feel tired after every meal, you may want to keep a food journal to see what types of food have you craving a post-lunch nap. If carbohydrate-rich or heavy foods like pizza, pasta, or panini slow you down, you could opt for a salad, soup, or sushi on days when you have a lot of work to do in the afternoon. You could also try eating several smaller meals throughout the day, rather than a big lunch, to avoid overwhelming your digestive system.  

Feeling tired after eating is a common experience, and not necessarily linked to a medical condition. However, if you feel your symptoms may be related to a medical problem, it's always a good idea to visit your health care provider, especially if your fatigue begins to seriously impair your ability to get your work done. Students at Columbia can contact Medical Services (Morningside campus) or the Student Health Services (CUMC).

Best of luck in staying alert during your post-meal endeavors,

Alice

I'm worried about my friend who may have bulimia

Dear Reader,

Your friend is lucky to have a friend like you, who observed a change that concerned you enough to ask for help and learn more about what could be going on. A twenty-five pound weight loss in one month is definitely cause for concern. Losing that much weight in such a short period of time could indicate a medical problem. Has your friend seen a health care provider recently? If not, you may consider urging her to schedule an appointment with a medical provider for a physical exam to make sure she is okay. This may or may not be an easy thing for you to do. Strategies to consider when encouraging a friend to see a health care provider include:

Validating your friendship
Convey that you care for her and that your concern is genuine. You can say, "I value our friendship, and I hope you know that I care about you."
 
Thinking about your approach
Plan what you will say. Be direct with your concern, and focus on your friend's health rather than on her weight. Sometimes it's easier to identify an aspect of someone's health or behavior. For example, "I've noticed that you seem tired all the time"; or, "I've noticed that you seem kind of blue lately." If she's an athlete, you might be able to comment on her decreased performance. Whatever you choose to say, keep the emphasis away from weight, appearance, and food, because sometimes the most seemingly innocent statement can be misinterpreted and unwittingly close a door you had planned to open.
 
Offering a plan with options
Sometimes it's not enough to express concern. Follow up your observation with action-oriented ideas. For instance, "Is there a health care provider you feel comfortable scheduling an appointment with? If not, I'd be happy to help you find one." Or, "I can go with you to your appointment with the health care provider, if you like, or perhaps there is someone closer to you whom you might like to go with instead."
 
Recognizing your own limitations
Perhaps going to a health care provider with your friend is outside of your comfort zone. That's okay. It's important to know what you feel comfortable with so you avoid overextending yourself. Maintain whatever boundaries you need to so as not to get stressed out. Choosing to stay within your limits doesn't mean you're not supporting your friend.

It is not clear whether or not your friend has bulimia; however, you have noticed that she is in a serious situation and needs to be seen medically, since her health may be at risk. If you think your friend has an eating disorder, consider the following:

  • Individuals with bulimia nervosa tend to be of normal to slightly overweight range. Bulimia typically involves regular and repeated, often secretive binge eating bouts followed by purging, or other compensatory behaviors, to prevent weight gain. In general, purging is accomplished by self-induced vomiting and/or misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas (purging type). People with bulimia may resort to other extreme behaviors, such as excessive physical activity or self-induced starvation (non-purging type) to avoid weight gain. Bulimia is highly correlated with substance abuse. People with bulimia often have a history of misusing alcohol and/or other substances.
     
  • Anorexia nervosa is characterized by an unwillingness and inability to maintain a healthy body weight. Typically, someone with anorexia is at 85 percent or less of her/his healthy body weight. S/he has a severe fear of fat and weight gain, and has a distorted body image. The seriousness of the significant weight loss is often denied by someone with anorexia.
     
  • Binge eating disorder is similar to bulimia nervosa in that it is typically characterized by regular and repeated binge eating episodes. An episode of binge eating involves rapidly and uncontrollably eating a large amount of food in a single time period at one sitting until uncomfortably full. Unlike bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder does not include purging or other compensatory behaviors. Affected individuals are usually obese and have had problems with fluctuations in their body weight. For a majority of these individuals, binge eating begins during a diet.
     
  • Eating Disorders Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) describes individuals who show signs of anorexia and/or bulimia, but do not fully exhibit the behaviors necessary to be clinically diagnosed with anorexia or bulimia. Someone with EDNOS may purge but not binge eat, or binge eat less than twice per week. So someone with disordered eating may not fit into the category of anorexia or bulimia, but still have an eating disorder that requires treatment.

A medical problem can trigger such significant weight loss in a short period of time, and so can depriving and/or ridding one's body of calories. Body weight remains stable when people eat just enough food to give their bodies the energy (calories) that they need for daily activity — calories taken in or ingested need to equal calories out or expended for weight maintenance. People gain weight if they consume more calories than their bodies need and use. If people eat fewer calories than they need and use, their bodies will take the energy from their storage, body fat, and will lose weight. Significant weight loss indicates that there may be multiple factors involved.

Based on your observations, the sooner you take action, the better. If you're comfortable, consider your approach if/when you talk with your friend. Timing is important, so choose when you two can sit in a relaxed environment that allows enough time to talk. Think about what you will say without coming across in a threatening or accusatory manner. Use "I" statements to express your feelings about what you've noticed that seems to be happening with her: "I'm worried that something is going on with your health." Try not to let the discussion turn into an argument or power struggle. If the conversation becomes hostile, back off and resume after you both have had time to calm down and think. Be prepared for rejection the first, fifth, or tenth time you express your concern with her. Persistence could pay off at some point, as the road to recovery is a process. If your friend denies she has a problem, a common reaction, don't take it personally; at least your friend now knows that she can come to you if/when she's ready to ask for or to get help.

If you're a college student, you can get help and support for your friend and even for you in dealing with your friend, from your resident adviser (RA) or residence hall director (RD), dean, advisor, or from someone in the Counseling Department. If you are at Columbia, you can reach out to the Health Services' Eating Disorders Team, Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) at x4-2878, or a nutritionist or medical provider at Medical Services at x4-2284. As you can see, there are many opportunities to begin to get the help you need to be able to help your friend. It is important to remember that she needs medical care, and that you alone cannot fix her. She's lucky to have someone like you who cares enough to reach out.

In an emergency situation, however, you need to involve your friend's RA, RD, and/or dean to make sure she gets appropriate help immediately. Signs that indicate an urgent situation include sleeping all day, blacking out, suicidal thoughts or attempts, or significant weight loss, such as in this case. You may feel reluctant to blow the whistle on your friend, but you will be a better friend by helping her get the assistance she needs than by respecting her privacy in this specific situation.

Alice

I need an effective, short-term weight loss and toning plan

Dear Annie,

Bravo for incorporating physical activity into your schedule! Regular exercise increases energy levels, improves quality of sleep, and boosts self-esteem. In terms of the effectiveness of your routine, it's difficult to say. Losing weight and toning up is influenced by multiple factors, including height, weight, bone density, genetics, and previous exercise regimen. By "a few pounds," do you mean two or ten or more? When setting out to change your body, it's important to ask yourself if the change you are striving for is realistic. In terms of your desired outcome, first ask yourself, "is this a realistic goal for me?" If you are unsure, it is wise to consult a personal trainer, exercise physiologist, registered dietitian, or your health care provider.

Part of effectively setting and reaching a goal means establishing one, or several, measurement criteria. Are you using a scale to measure body weight? Are you measuring body/fat composition? Strength? Clothes size? Body image? It's important to keep consistent with your indicators to know if you are making progress. If you are using a scale to measure body weight (in pounds), keep a few things in mind:

  • Muscle weighs more than fat.
  • Women especially can be prone to minor weight fluctuations due to menstruation and other types of hormonal activity.
  • Water, an essential nutrient for all sorts of body functions, can tip the scale one way or another.

You can also incorporate some basic guidelines into your plan that will help you maintain an active lifestyle:

  • Start slowly and build over time. It is smart to start off with a goal of running one mile as a workout, with the intention of increasing distance over time. Many people drop out of their exercise program because they go too hard, too fast, too soon. Pacing yourself, especially at the beginning, will help you establish confidence, self-awareness, and a strong fitness base.
  • Incorporate variety into your exercise and eating routine. Including different types of food and activity into your schedule will help to maintain enjoyment and motivation. You mention running and abdominal exercises — are there other types of activities you enjoy? Decreasing body fat and increasing toning or strengthening of muscle requires a balance of cardiovascular and strength training activities. Also, a wide variety of foods will help to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and think about decorating your plate as though it were a box of Crayola crayons; that is, aim for foods that are rich in color, such as blueberries, spinach, salmon, and tomatoes.
  • Find a friend. Studies have shown social support plays an important role in exercise motivation and sticking to an activity plan. Recruit friends and/or family to join you on a run, accompany you to lunch, or offer support.
  • Get plenty of rest. Sleep deprivation often makes everything more challenging, and it is especially easy to skip exercise when you feel tired. Sleeping well may help you avoid that trap. Plus, the more you exercise, the more rest your muscles will need to repair and recover.
  • Make it fun. Listening to music, running in the sunshine, or playing a rousing game with friends are all examples of ways to maximize fun and make physical activity something you look forward to and enjoy.

Maintaining a healthy and nutritious diet is an integral part of living a healthy lifestyle and achieving your weight loss goals. Here are a few great tips that may help you achieve your nutrition goals:

  • Keep a food diary.
  • Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in sugars.
  • Eat smaller meals more often — this can help ward off hunger so that you won't overeat at your next meal. Healthy snack options include low fat yogurt, fruit, nuts, vegetables, and whole-grain crackers.
  • Prepare smaller portion sizes.
  • Eat your favorite foods in moderation to help stifle cravings and help you to stick to your diet.
  • Avoid unhealthy fad diets.
  • Eat slowly — this can help you feel more full and avoid overeating.

Above all, the most important thing to remember is that every individual is different. If you feel good about what you are doing and are making progress, keep going until you reach your realistic, healthy goal. You can do it!

Alice

Allergic to peanuts = allergic to pecans?

Dear Reader,

Being allergic to peanuts doesn't necessarily mean being allergic to tree nuts (and vice- versa). Being allergic to peanuts also doesn't automatically mean being allergic to other members of the legume family, such as lentils and soybeans. Similarly, being allergic to one kind of tree nut doesn't automatically result in being allergic to other tree nuts. However, most health experts recommend that people with peanut and/or tree nut allergies avoid all peanuts and tree nuts, just in case. A little introduction to peanuts and tree nuts might clarify this.

Peanuts are not actually nuts, but legumes, which are beans and peas. Peanuts, peanut products, and peanut by-products are found in many foods and in many variations, such as peanut flour, peanut oil, and peanut butter. The presence of peanuts in foods is tricky to identify; they can even be a hidden, unlabelled ingredient, such as hydrolyzed plant or vegetable protein. Also, cross contamination during manufacture of food products is another source of exposure to peanuts that can elicit allergic reactions, so some non-nut items are labeled as "may contain nuts."

Unlike peanuts, pecans are part of the tree nut family, which also includes almonds, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pistachios, macadamia, chestnuts, and brazil nuts. Tree nuts are also present in a variety of foods and even in some bath and beauty products.

Allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, usually life-long, are two of the most common food allergies. Fortunately, many people with these allergies experience mild responses to the proteins found in peanuts and tree nuts, such as sneezing and/or itching. However, what is worrisome about these allergies is that some people experience severe enough reactions from miniscule amounts that can be life-threatening (e.g., difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness). In fact, about 100 people in the United States die each year from their peanut allergy. The most intense responses tend to be from ingesting food containing peanuts, tree nuts, or their derivatives, but inhaling air contaminated with peanut or tree nut dust, having skin or eye contact with something containing these items, and even kissing someone who recently consumed peanuts or tree nuts also can produce allergic responses. In particular, the sensitivity of peanut allergies and the prevalence of peanuts in our food supply and elsewhere have made peanuts a source of heated controversy for schools, camps, airlines, and restaurants concerning whether or not to ban them in these places.

What is in your control to prevent peanut and tree nut allergies is avoiding all peanuts and tree nuts (though accidental exposure could still happen no matter how vigilantly you avoid nuts). Educating oneself about the allergy (i.e., always asking about ingredients and reading food labels carefully) and preparing oneself for accidental exposure (i.e., always keeping epinephrine nearby) are other keys to managing a peanut or tree nut allergy. If you are uncertain about whether or not you can eat pecans safely, your health care provider may be able to refer you to an allergist. S/he can administer a skin prick, blood, and/or medically supervised food challenge test.

For more information about peanut, tree nut, and other food allergies, check out the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network web site.

Alice

Is canola oil dangerous or is this another urban legend?

Dear Confused,

Canola oil comes from a hybrid plant developed in Canada during the late 1960s to early 1970s using traditional pedigree hybrid propagation techniques (not genetically modified) involving black mustard, leaf mustard, and turnip rapeseed. The original rapeseed plant was high in erucic acid, which is an unpalatable fatty acid having negative health effects in high concentrations. Canola oil contains less than 1 percent erucic acid. In fact, another name for canola oil is LEAR (Low Erucic Acid Rapeseed) oil.

Your confusion about canola oil's safety is understandable. While the Internet can be a great source of information, many rumors and urban legends have circulated on web sites and been passed along in e-mails. Urban legends usually warn of dire consequences from something perfectly innocent; they often relate a story about someone who had such a terrible experience with something, yet that person almost always remains anonymous. These often frightening stories or accusations usually lack enough detail to make scientific, logical evaluation of the claim. The scare tactics of canola oil fit into this scenario.

Some of the information circulating on the Internet states that canola oil causes endless maladies: joint pain, swelling, gum disease, constipation, hearing loss, heart disease, hair loss... the list goes on and on. Canola oil has undergone years of extensive testing to assure its safety. In truth, canola oil contains essential fatty acids that our bodies need and cannot make on their own. Over 90 percent of the fatty acids present is the long chain unsaturated variety that has been proven beneficial to health.

It has also been claimed that canola oil is used in making mustard gas, a poison. This is totally untrue. Actually, mustard gas doesn't even come from the mustard plant; it was so named because it smells similar to mustard. Canola oil has allegedly been used as an industrial lubricant and ingredient in fuels, soaps, paints, etc. The truth is that many vegetable oils, such as corn, soybean, and flax, are also used in these applications. That doesn't make those oils unhealthy or dangerous. Canola oil has also been accused of killing insects, such as aphids. Again, all other oils can do the same, not by poisoning insects, but by suffocating them.

In China, rapeseed oil cooked at very high temperatures was found to give off toxic emissions. In the U.S., the combination of refined oils, added antioxidants, and lower cooking temperatures prevents this from occurring. In China, the oil contains contaminants, is not refined, and has no antioxidants. Some people have blamed the Canadians for paying the United States government to have canola oil added to its GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) list. There is absolutely no evidence of this.

As you can see, misinformation can be used to scare people. Good thing you knew where to turn! For more information on canola oil, you can check out the Canola Council of Canada web site.

Alice

December 17, 2012

520285
Why ingest erucic acid when you don't have to? I'll stick with my organic macadamia/olive oil.
Why ingest erucic acid when you don't have to? I'll stick with my organic macadamia/olive oil.

December 11, 2012

519994
I wouldn't eat it.
I wouldn't eat it.

Track versus treadmill

Dear Reader,

First off, it's not clear if you are running on an indoor or outdoor track. For the sake of this answer, let's assume you run outdoors when you do your track runs. There may be some slight physical differences between how your body expends energy running on a track versus a treadmill.

  • The treadmill belt offers some help by pulling your feet back underneath your body, so you are potentially exerting less energy to move your feet and legs than if you were not on a treadmill. However, running stride may change depending on jogging geography. Studies have shown that many runners shift their stride when running on a treadmill. There is a chance that these changes may contribute to your slumping stamina. Subconscious attempts to correct balance on the revolving surface of the treadmill may also cause a runner to increase the amount of time his or her support leg is in contact with the belt, which, in turn, may decrease his or her forward lean. This may result in a runner spending more energy on moving up and down rather than forward, potentially leading to a quicker sap on energy.
  • When you run indoors on a treadmill, you do not have to overcome wind resistance. The lack of wind means you'll spend less energy running four miles on a treadmill than you will when you run four miles outdoors. However, it may depend on how fast you are running. For the average person, running five to nine miles per hour (mph) will result in little difference. Some studies say outdoor running expends up to five percent more calories; if you run faster than nine mph, running outdoors could utilize up to ten percent more calories because you are working harder against wind resistance. Other studies say there's no difference. One study demonstrated the way to balance energy use between indoor and outdoor running is to set the treadmill at an incline (or grade) of one percent.
  • Running indoors maintains or offers stable elements. Runners not only avoid wind, but also other potential natural elements, such as cold air, rain, or sand (if you run on a beach), which demand extra energy. The stability offered by a treadmill, however, does not necessarily mimic reality. On a treadmill you consistently run at the same pace. When outside, you may subconsciously slow down as your body tires, allowing you to run farther since you're exerting less energy. If you haven't already done so, use a stopwatch to measure your outdoor running speed to see if this is the case.
  • Running on a treadmill versus pavement (the composition of the track surface you run on is unclear) provides a softer surface, making it a little easier for your joints. People with knee pain or soreness might opt for a treadmill versus the road outside for this reason.
  • Though running on a treadmill may offer these benefits plus others, the psychological benefits of running au naturel may be contributing to your feelings of fatigue. Psychological cues from running outdoors, such as feeling wind against your face or gaining motivation from running with or around other people may make runners feel like they're making progress. On a treadmill, there is also the option to track the distance, speed, and other characteristics of your workout which may subconsciously cause you to feel tired ("wow, I'm running really fast/far!").

Your boredom theory may certainly be contributing to feeling like you're running on empty. Without the need to worry about navigating different paths, terrains, or natural elements, treadmill runners may have more of an opportunity to think about how tired they are. Some people find that being distracted may help them fight this and run for a longer duration. Sports and exercise psychologists often refer to the "distraction hypothesis" as an explanation for the stress/anxiety reducing effects of exercise. Running, in this case, gives someone a time-out from daily stressors or worries by diverting attention. Some people enjoy running on a treadmill because they can watch television, listen to music, or just zone out and run. Others prefer running outdoors because they are distracted by the scenery, other people, the weather, varying terrain, and/or avoiding traffic.

The next time you run on a treadmill, if possible, position yourself in front of a television or listen to your favorite music to test this "distraction hypothesis." See if you can run for a longer period of time. Other factors that contribute to how a person feels when s/he runs include the food(s) s/he has eaten, how well s/he has slept, and/or whether or not s/he is properly hydrated. Every day is a different day for our bodies, but if someone is a consistent runner and has fairly consistent lifestyle behaviors, it may be that their enjoyment of the outdoors is what fuels their running. Though track and treadmill running both offer many of the same benefits, finding out what works best in your workout routine will lead to a more satisfying experience.

Alice

What's a healthy weight?

Dear Confused,

It is courageous of you to write in about your situation, an important first step in getting to a healthy weight (and body image, for that matter). For most women, a healthy weight is one that allows regular menstruation and is sustainable when following a healthy, balanced eating plan. If the only way to attain a certain weight is by severely restricting your eating, that weight is not the healthiest, most natural weight for your body.

As far as a healthy weight for you is concerned, pinpointing a number, or even a range, without having a thorough medical assessment would be difficult, because different people can be healthy even if they have vastly different body weights. Unfortunately, media images and celebrities often aren't great role models when it comes to having a healthy weight. Some celebrities may be thinner than you, as you note, however they may achieve their weight through unhealthy means, such as over exercising, using drugs or diet supplements, or severely restricting their diets. In reality, they may owe their good looks more to teams of stylists and make-up artists than to good health.

It sounds as though you still have concerns about your health, even though the purging has stopped. You're right to realize that not getting your period is a huge red flag indicating something is not right with your body. Amenorrhea (loss of your period) can happen if your weight is very low, especially if your body fat is too low, or if your diet is too low in fat. Other factors, such as excessive exercise, may also play a role in amenorrhea. Your reluctance to see a health care provider is natural and understandable, many people who have disordered eating feel the same way, however amenorrhea is a condition that needs medical attention. If you are a student at Columbia, you can meet with a member of the Eating Disorders Team (Morningside) or with any provider at Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC).

As for your diet, based on the plan you describe, your body is probably lacking many nutrients, including calcium, vitamins D, K, B-6, and B-12. In addition, you may be getting too little zinc, magnesium, iron, essential fatty acids, and protein. Some vitamin and mineral deficiencies take time to develop, but you are starting to see the effects of inadequate nutrition by not getting your period. Many people make the mistake of severely limit their dietary fat; however, our bodies must have some fat to absorb vitamins A, D, E and K, assimilate calcium into our bones, and manufacture sex hormones such as estrogen. Women need estrogen to keep their bones strong and get their period. The amenorrhea is a clue that your body isn't making sufficient estrogen, which, if continued, can put you at risk for developing osteoporosis — even as a young person.

When you're thinking about improving your diet, remember that your body needs healthy forms of carbohydrates, fats, and protein to function well and stay healthy. Balancing these "macronutrients" may sound like a daunting process, but if you break it down to small, manageable goals, even small bites, you could have a better chance for success. You can check out ChooseMyPlate.gov to find more information about balanced eating. Here are some tips to get started:

  • Try adding one new food at a time to your daily regimen.
  • You might start with a good source of protein: tofu, fish, poultry, meat, or eggs.
  • Next, you can add milk (soy or dairy) or yogurt to your cereal. It will help to satisfy your hunger, and provide much needed calcium in your eating plan.
  • Add in some vegetables, one at a time.
  • Finally, try switching to some whole grains; for example, whole wheat bread or brown rice (instead of the white varieties of each).
  • If you feel more comfortable snacking or having several small meals during the day instead of having full meals, that's fine, as long as you have well-balanced food choices.

Although you don't want to tell anyone about your situation, it might just help you feel better about your situation. Perhaps there is a parent, religious leader, guidance counselor, teacher, doctor, nurse, friend, or relative with whom you could speak to help put your body image in perspective. Maybe starting the conversation seems like the most difficult part. If you are nervous about how to start, you can simply write down your symptoms and show someone, like you have here. You may find that talking to someone is less difficult than you expect, and also worthwhile.

Alice

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