Are You Sabotaging Your Health?

When it comes to personal health, a few surprises came up in the latest heap of studies on slimming waists and dropping weight. Could you (or others) be wrecking your diet without even knowing it? See what the latest research suggests


Eat in Good Company

Could your spouse be sabotaging your diet? A study published in the March 2008 issue of Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior notes that significant others described a range of emotional responses to their partner changing diets. While the change of diet sparked mostly cooperation and encouragement, others felt skepticism and anger. Most individuals in the study changed their diets in response to a disease diagnosis like diabetes or cancer, and some changed for personal reasons like weight loss or vegetarian or vegan conversion.

"Improving our health is nearly impossible when those closest to us aren't on board with the program," says Mary Brown, a registered dietician at Charlotte's Nutrition Specialists. "For example, without a supportive spouse, factoring in time to get to the gym on a regular basis is difficult with other demands. Trying to eat healthier dinners may result in two very different grocery lists, more time needed to prepare different dinners, more will power to avoid eating typical dinners, etc."

The results showed some spouses refused to alter their junk-food habits and even tempted partners with fatty treats, while others refused to eat the new menu. Why? Partners could feel rejected if spouses stop cooking for him/her or feel threatened by the idea of a slimmer mate. Some ideas for a more gradual (and successful) change: plan meals together, incorporate favorite ingredients into new menus, and beef up compliments and support—of any kind—toward each other.

"I always recommend a family approach when making lifestyle changes," says Stacey Vanderwel, a registered dietician at Charlotte Center for Balanced Living. "In the long run, to have a healthy relationship with food and your body they need to be slow and necessary changes over a lifetime." 

Community Central

A study in the August 2008 American Journal of Preventive Medicine suggests your ZIP code may be affecting your health. Researchers found that if you feel healthy—both physically and mentally—chances are you're also likely involved in your community and feel a sense of belonging to it. Better health could be attributed to things like community participation, volunteer work, and comfort within a neighborhood. In fact, 95 percent of participants thought there was an "absolute connection" between their good health and level of social trust.

So even if it's getting involved with your HOA or volunteering at your local library a few hours a week, the more you're invested socially and physically in your community, the better your health will be. According to the study, community participation and a sense of belonging were each "significantly associated" with health outcomes.

Regular or Diet?

Every day, most of us make a choice between regular or so-called "diet" food or drinks. For those thinking "diet" is always the more healthful choice, a recent study conducted by the Ingestive Behavior Research Center at Purdue University suggests maybe it isn't so. In the study, rats given yogurt sweetened with zero-calorie saccharin later gained more weight and put on more body fat than rats that ate yogurt sweetened with glucose (a simple sugar comparable to table sugar). According to study co-author Dr. Susan Swithers, an associate professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University, sticking to the good old standby, sugar, is your best bet.

"From a general health perspective I recommend everyone throw anything artificial out the window," says Brown. "The best choice all of us can make is to eat the most natural food sources out there, including sugar." While it seems counterintuitive, the study suggests that by breaking the connection between a sweet sensation and high-calorie food, the use of saccharin changes the body's ability to regulate intake. Problems with self-regulation might explain in part why obesity has risen in parallel with the use of artificial sweeteners. "I also suspect sometimes that people who consume a high amount of diet products may have the tendency to ingest more calories. Since they are being ‘good' by eating a low-calorie food, they may think they can eat more of it or they can have a high-calorie food with it," says Vanderwel. "Also, many of these foods do not provide satiety, which leads to overconsumption at meals and snack times."

The lesson learned: opt for nonprocessed, all-natural foods and skip artificial sweeteners. If it's between a Diet Coke and water, choose the latter.

Dear Diary

While the idea of logging your food decisions daily has been around awhile, this is the most comprehensive research yet into the theory that it helps dieters. According to the August 2008 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, which followed 1,700 overweight or obese men and women who were exercising and dieting, the more food records kept, the more pounds lost—to the tune of twice as much weight. The idea? Keeping track of what goes in your mouth isn't fun, but it sure is effective.

You often don't recall just how much you've eaten during a day. By writing it down, you feel more accountable for what you've eaten and can accurately estimate how much you've consumed. Thus, you'll likely eat less if you see that you've eaten five mini Snickers bars left over from Halloween.

Categories: Feature