Tag Archive for weight

Veganism, Vegetarianism and Body Image

“Food does not make you fat; fat makes you fat.”Susan Powter.

I do not agree. Food, in fact, makes one fat, on top of no exercise, genetics, childbirth and a whole bunch of other factors. A fat-free diet is certainly not a healthy one, and probably is not going to provide long-lasting weight loss.


In that vein, it’s time to talk about vegetarian and vegan diets. A lot of people seem to adopt them because they can be potentially fat-free, because one can lose weight under them. Many people also think that vegetarians can eat the same things as meat-eaters, only without the meat. (Read: just skip the meat, eat spaghetti with tomato sauce and dessert.) A lot of skinny girls at my high school admitted that they just “didn’t eat meat” because it was fatty.

I am a vegetarian myself, and I enjoy it a lot. I am vegetarian mostly out of food preference, although there are some health and social/world economy benefits. Yet I also believe in the goodness of eating meat. Diets should be custom-made for one’s own health, economic and social needs, as well as food preferences.

Myth: vegetarian/vegan diets should and will help you lose weight.

Vegetarian/vegan can help you lose weight, but they should not be designed or adopted for that purpose. Most women, for one, get a lot of fat from cheeses and salad dressings as opposed to meat–and cheese and salad dressings are usually vegetarian. Even so, ovo-lacto vegetarians (not vegans) should be sure to eat plenty of calories and fats from good sources–that means plenty of dairy and eggs, as well as more “fatty” healthy vegetable foods, like peanut butter and other nuts, for protein, calcium and iron. Vegans should be careful to maintain the same caloric intake they’ve had previously, but to get it from a variety of fruit and vegetable sources. Again, vegans should not shy away from fat, from avocados, olive oil, peanut butter, nuts and the like.

(Note: the health benefits of cow’s milk are in debate. I’d air on the side of drinking organic or non-bGH milk for its health benefits until a substantial report emerges, but many contenders argue that soy or non-animal milk is better.

Myth: one should adopt a vegetarian/vegan diet to lose weight.

See above. If you ask me, losing weight isn’t a good reason. There are plenty of other benefits to a meatless or low-meat diet (of course, keeping the individual in mind): medical benefits, when the diet is used healthfully; social benefits, including eating lower on the food chain; economic, what with the lowered cost of cooking many meals or not buying meat (although prepared vegetarian/vegan food can be quite expensive); and simple food preferences.

If you are vegetarian or vegan or are considering becoming one, please keep this all in mind. One should consult a dietitian or a trustworthy published resource on vegetarian health and nutrition before planning the diet. Remember: fat and calories are good, when from good sources; variety is good. Weight loss should hardly matter.


Fit And Fifty

Starting around age 50, women face a whole new range of health issues, including menopause. The aging process speeds up around age 50, especially since women’s bodies are producing less estrogen. Some people believe that exercise can’t help you once you reach a certain age, but that’s not true. A consistent walking program can help menopausal women in many ways, according to Alice Lesch Kelly, a writer for Walking magazine. Here are a few:

  • A loss of heart-protecting estrogen causes cardiovascular risk to rise, but walking – which raises HDL (good cholesterol) and lowers LDL (bad cholesterol) as well as blood pressure – offsets some of that risk.
  • The beta-endorphins that our brain releases during exercise can lessen mood swings.
  • Loss of estrogen can bring on insomnia, but exercise can improve both quality and quantity of sleep.

Menopausal women are also at risk for osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. About 20 million Americans suffer from osteoarthritis, a painful disease that causes joint cartilage to degenerate. It mainly affects the hands, feet, knees and hips. A 1997 study funded by the National Institute on Aging found that people with moderately severe osteoarthritis of the knee who exercise in moderation have less pain than those who lead sedentary lifestyles.

About 28 million Americans (80% of them women) have osteoporosis, a loss of bone that can lead to fractures. Estrogen (the glue that keeps calcium and other minerals in the bones) protects our bones before menopause, but after menopause those minerals leak out, leaving bones brittle and porous. According to Dr. Warren A. Katz, chief of rheumatology at the University of Pennsylvania Health System Presbyterian Medicine Center, brisk walking is an ideal exercise. It can be done anywhere, requires no special equipment (except for a good pair of walking shoes), and carries minimal risk of injury. If walking is too difficult or painful, workouts on a stationary exercise cycle are a good alternative. The full benefits come from a regular schedule – at least 15 to 20 minutes of walking or cycling three to four days per week. If you haven’t been active for years, start at whatever level is comfortable for you. Five-minute walks are fine at first, but try to increase the length by one minute every other time you exercise, until you reach the optimal level.

Lifting weights or using strength-training machines every three days also strengthen bone. Strength-training is a slow process, so start at a low level and build up gradually over several months. As muscles strengthen, gradually add more weight. It is important to follow a program designed by your doctor or physical therapist. If you join a fitness facility, be sure you ask a certified trainer to show you proper techniques and form. Stiffness the morning after exercise is normal, but if you’re in pain, your joints are swollen, or you’re limping, stop the program until you are recovered, and cut your weights and repetitions by 25-50%. If bone, joint or muscle pain is severe, call your doctor.

Some benefits of muscular strength and endurance are not only being able to lift objects, but your own body weight as well. With lower body training, you will have improved ability to rise from chairs and the bed; be able to walk without a cane or less reliance on a cane; have increased ability to perform daily tasks; have improved walking speed, and better posture. Also, improved leg strength is an important part of maintaining balance and preventing falls. Balance is found to decrease with age and is one of the reasons elderly people have so many falls. Exercise and activity have been found to improve balance.

You can’t stop menopause, but you can lessen the risks that come with it by staying active.

Exercise will improve the quality of your life, as well as lengthen it.

Diet Drugs – A Miracle Cure?

Obesity is one of the most difficult and frustrating disorders to successfully manage, and is one of the most common disorders in clinical practice. Defined as a body weight 20% or more above “desirable” weight, over one-third of adult Americans are overweight, with approximately 50% of women dieting at any one time. Americans also spent over $30 billion last year on diet books, diet meals, weight-loss classes, diet drugs, exercise tapes, and other weight-loss aids.

Some women, in the search for a “miracle cure,” have turned to over-the-counter diet drugs such as Acutrim and Dexatrim (phenylpropranolamine), which is a stimulant. Stimulants are substances which get the body ready for the “fight or flight” response; as diet aids, they are thought to activate the central nervous system to reduce food intake.

Acutrim and Dexatrim are chemically related to amphetamine. If you remember, years ago amphetamine was prescribed for weight loss because it suppresses the appetite. When I was 16 years old, and maybe 10 pounds overweight, my mother took me to the doctor to “see what he could do.” He put me on amphetamines – “speed,” as we called it. I think I took it two days before stopping – I was so hyper, I couldn’t sleep at night. I’d be cleaning my bedroom at 2:00 a.m.! Don’t get me wrong – I’m not “blaming my mother” for this; back in the 1970’s, we weren’t as educated about safe, healthy weight-loss techniques as we are today. Amphetamines often led to drug abuse, so pharmacologists rearranged its molecular structure to develop comparable, but safer, compounds. One of those is phenylpropanolamine, the active ingredient in Acutrim and Dexatrim – the only FDA approved over-the-counter weight-loss drug. Others include the active ingredients in several prescription weight-loss medications: Tenuate, Mazanor, Sanorex, Fastin, Ionamin, Bontrilk Plegine, Clenbuterol and Didrex.

When used in a weight loss program that includes a low-fat diet and exercise, Acutrim and Dexatrim can increase weight loss by a small amount (about 5%). However, weight loss is usually not permanent after these drugs are discontinued.

Possible side effects of Acutrim and Dexatrim include nervousness, irritability, headaches, sweating, dry mouth, nausea, and constipation. You also should not take these drugs if you are also taking any antidepressant with an MAO (monoamine oxidase) inhibitor.

Diet aids such as Acutrim and Dexatrim should not be used for more than three months. Even small doses of phenylpropanolamine can cause increased blood pressure by constricting your blood vessels and increasing your heart rate.

It becomes obvious that choosing diet drugs is not the solution for long-term weight loss and a healthy body. The importance of exercise for successful weight loss and maintenance is more firmly incorporated. In addition to increased energy expenditure, exercise affects the composition of the body substance lost during weight loss. When exercise is directly compared to diet, or when exercise plus diet is compared to diet alone, exercise results in greater prevention of lean body mass. For example, for each pound of weight lost, less fat and more muscle is lost during weight loss programs without exercise. This is meaningful since the body’s resting metabolic expenditure is closely utilized with lean body mass.

Because of the interest in starting or preserving lean body mass, women are turning more and more to resistance training (weight lifting, circuit training, etc.). Couple this with regular aerobic exercise, and you will see results and benefits of improved cardiovascular health, decreased appetite, a general sense of well-being, decreased blood pressure (in hypertensives), improved glucose metabolism and insulin action (in diabetics), and improved blood lipids (in lipid disorders).

So why turn to drugs with potentially dangerous side effects to lose a little bit of weight, when you can choose to eat a healthy, low-fat diet and exercise for better health – and keep the weight off for good?