weight loss

April’s Hot Nutrition Topic: Ch-Ch-Chia Seeds

Chia seeds boast numerous health claims – weight loss and a good source of antioxidants and protein are just a few of them. But seriously! What the heck is the deal with these little black and white seeds? A few years back, chia seeds started coming into the forefront of healthy eating. Why? What’s their deal? Sure, ‘healthy people’ are throwing them into their oatmeals, smoothies and yogurt, but we as informed individuals should know why. Surely these seeds must offer some nutritional punch, which bring us to April’s Hot Nutrition Topic. Oh yeah, these posts (much like Shameless Product Placements) are freaking back. And I got news for you my few but avid readers, I love these posts because there’s nothing better than exercising your brain, learning more and getting to the facts on all things nutrition.

Image from Google

Image from Google

As a kid, Chia Pets were all the rage for my generation. Just add water and watch these terra-cotta pots sprout! It was my first introduction to chia seeds.  Now in 2014, these little babies are back, but instead of watering them to grow grass, we’re ingesting them to better our health.

Chia is an edible seed cultivated in Mexico dating back to the Myan and Aztec cultures. Little known fact, these seeds are also a member of the mint family. Chia seeds are an excellent source of fiber, protein, omega-3s and antioxidants. And unlike flaxseed, chia seeds are able to be processed and absorbed by the body. In theory, chia seeds are thought to expand in the stomach and increase satiety, thus promoting weight loss. However, in terms of the chia research out there right now, this weight loss theory continues to go unproven. But you know what curbs over eating and promotes satiety? Protein and fiber – oh yeah, chia seeds have both those features! One ounce (about 2 tablespoons) of chia seeds contains 139 calories, 4 grams of protein, 9 grams fat, and 11 grams of fiber.

“Over a 12-week period, we did not see a change in appetite or weight loss” in study participants who consumed chia seeds, says researcher David Nieman, DrPH, a professor at Appalachian State University in North Carolina. “Our study showed no reduction in body weight, body fat and no improvement in traditional cardiovascular markers from 50 grams of chia per day.”

As a dietitian, I say food before supplements. While chia seeds may not help you shed the added winter weight for beach season, they are still a good good source of protein and fiber to help keep you feeling full. Their mixture of fatty acids and antioxidants also provide an excellent anti-inflammatory mixture. For weight loss, I advise sticking with a healthy, calorie-reduced diet and exercise. Sorry kiddos.

Add chia seeds to smoothies, yogurt, oatmeal, salad dressings and baked goods for added nutritional punch. Below is HR’s Overnight Oats recipe for a simple way to start incorporating chia seeds into your diet. Make this recipe the night before and store in a sealed plastic container overnight in the fridge. Voilà! The next morning you have delicious oaty goodness at your fingertips ready to be devoured come breakfast time.

For the full post, click here.

Image by Kimberly Sabada

Overnight Oats

One Serving
1/2 cup dry rolled oats
1 cup milk (skim, soy, or almond)
1 ripe banana, mashed
1 Tablespoon of chia seeds
A dash or two of cinnamon

In your plastic container, mix together oats, cinnamon, and chia seeds.  In a small separate bowl mix together milk and the mashed up banana. Add the milk and banana mixture to your dry ingredients.  Stir well. Cover and place in fridge overnight. Stir up in the morning and enjoy! I enjoy it as is, but feel free to top with nuts, dried coconut, peanut butter, dried fruit or pure maple syrup.


Nieman, D. Nutrition Research, May 2009; vol 29: pp 414-418.

A Mother’s Mistake & Vogue’s Publishing Misstep

I admire those in the world of journalism, especially those who call upon their own life for the sake of artistic expression.  It takes an immense amount of talent to string together simple words and convey a powerful message that can be meaningful to the reader.  I applaud those who have achieved success in this profession and encourage those who may not be at the apex of their careers to never let rejection detour from passion.  Having said this, one widely read publication recently spit in the eye of professional writing and ethical publishing and I am here to pick some bones.  I promise, I don’t view this blog as an opinion box from my innermost disgust, but the world of nutrition is becoming a complex place and there’s a lot of people out there doing the wrong things.  It’s my job to point out these errors. Okay, it’s actually not, but I cannot ignore this one. 

Vogue.  It’s a fashion devotee’s bible to the world of style. The April issue was focused on all things bodily.  How to beat your migraines, ways to raise your metabolism, and age proofing your skin were all features of the 328-page magazine.  Because let’s be honest – I get the majority of my health advice from the Vogue editorial staff, most of whom have degrees in either fashion merchandising or medicine.  I started to hear buzz about an article which ran in this very issue on the world-wide web.  Within minutes of skimming the news feed on my Google search, I threw on a coat and headed for the door. Ten minutes and three dollars and ninety-nine cents later I was practically crying in my apartment.  And here’s why.

The title reads, “Weight Watchers: When she put her seven-year-old daughter on a strict diet, Dara-Lynn Weiss overcame skepticism, scorn-and the fear that she was doing more harm than good.”  Sounds triumphant right?  It’s Vogue’s feel good story of the year. It’s not.  After that title, the article turns into what I would classify as a “Stage Three Horror Story” about what the weight of a child can mean to a parent and how as adults, our words and actions can protect and harm simultaneously. Most importantly, we should never underestimate the absorbency of children.

The article surrounds the author’s, Dara-Lynn Weiss, experience managing her daughter’s weight over the course of one year. After taking her daughter, Bea, to her six-year check-up, the pediatrician informed Weiss that her daughter fit the criteria for being obese and suggested she do something about it. FYI – a child with a body mass index in the 95th percentile or higher for their age and height is classified as obese.  At 4’4″ and 93 pounds, Weiss cites her concerns over her daughter’s weight at the time being predisposed risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type II diabetes.

It is not the diagnosis people are having trouble swallowing or the recommendation made by the girl’s doctor. Rather, it’s Weiss’ methods and approaches she used during the year-long battle between she, her daughter and the scale and the earnest conviction she writes with regarding the choices she made for the betterment of her daughter’s health.  Weiss writes,

I was woefully inconsistent. Sometimes Bea’s after school snack was a slice of pizza or a chicken gyro from a street vendor. Other days I forced her to choose a low-fat vegetable soup or a single hard-boiled egg. Occasionally I’d give in to her pleas for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. When she was given access to cupcakes at a party, I alternated between saying, ‘Let’s not eat that, it’s not good for you’; ‘Okay, fine, go ahead, but just one’; and ‘Bea, you have to stop eating crap like that, you’re getting too heavy,’ depending on my mood. Then I’d secretly eat two when she wasn’t looking.”

Lesson One: Be Consistent 

She goes on to write about how they called the diet a “nutritional regimen” because the word “diet” and “fat” seemed too painful.  I too hate the word diet.  I am often asked which diet is the best for weight loss.  After my internal eye roll and heaving sigh, I simply reply that diets will only get you so far.  Yes, you will see results, but those results will not be maintained when it comes time to start eating like a normal human being and not a rabbit.  Although “diet” and “fat” are two painful words, I think there is one thing a bit more painful and that’s denying your daughter dinner:

I once reproachfully deprived Bea of her dinner after learning that her observation of French Heritage Day at school involved nearly 800 calories of Brie, filet mignon, baguette, and chocolate.

Lesson Two: Forgive and Forget Setbacks 

She ended up consulting a child-obesity specialist, Joanna Dolgoff, M.D., for how to appropriately manage her daughter’s weight.  Dolgoff uses a “Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right” program and while that sounds healthy enough, I think Dolgoff forgot to emphasize one thing with Weiss. Moderation.  This skill doesn’t just apply to managing other people’s weight.  It also applies to ourselves. Self-deprivation is not your friend.  It talks real smooth and makes things seem manageable in the beginning, but it will soon rear its ugly head and you will find yourself foaming at the mouth when a five-year old drops his/her ice cream cone on the ground and you have to physically hold your wrist to stop you from reaching for it because it’s been 24 days since you ate processed sugar.  Another gem:

I stopped letting her enjoy Pizza Fridays when she admitted to adding a corn salad as a side dish one week. I dressed down a Starbucks barista when he professed ignorance of the nutrition content of the kids’ hot chocolate whose calories are listed as “120-210” on the menu board: Well, which is it? When he couldn’t provide an answer, I dramatically grabbed the drink out of my daughter’s hands, poured it into the garbage, and stormed out.

Lesson Three: Perpetual Denial Is Not The Answer/Everything In Moderation 

Maybe it’s more than just watching the eating behaviors of others.  I think if we ever have any hope of helping loved ones manage their weight, it’s essential that we first look at our own eating behaviors.  We must, at the very least, identify our own personal struggles and either accept them for what they are or figure out how to change them. Ultimately, we must find a way to ensure that those around us don’t adopt our behavior quirks. I once knew someone who constantly complained about her weight, but each time she set herself up for failure.  She asked for advice, I told her what I could and she would simply reply that she knew all that already.  At one point, I’d had enough – mostly because she was not overweight. She was an adult and she needed to hear the truth. “So-and-so, you either need to accept the way things are or go get help to try to change them. Either way is okay, just choose.”  Tough love yes. But we can either be our greatest champion or our own worst enemy.  On that note -Weiss writes,

I have not ingested any food, looked at a restaurant menu, or been sick to the point of vomiting without silently launching a complicated mental algorithm about how it will affect my weight

Lesson Four:  Our Own Personal Battles Can Affect Other People

Probably the most heart breaking point of the article is at the very end.  After meeting her mom’s 16-pound weight-loss goal before the Vogue photoshoot–Weiss wrote about her daughter’s reaction:

“That’s still me,” she says of her former self. “I’m not a different person just because I lost sixteen pounds.” I protest that indeed she is different. At this moment, that fat girl is a thing of the past. A tear rolls down her beautiful cheek, past the glued-in feather. “Just because it’s in the past,” she says, “doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”

(Life) Lesson Five: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  – Maya Angelou

I recently sat in on a seminar in which Dr. Sherry Pagoto, a licensed clinical psychologist and an Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, discussed weight loss strategies for individuals with depression.  It was very interesting but perhaps the greatest take home there was (outside of the clinical implications) was that many of us think that if we lose weight, we will be happier.  But what does one do when they lose the weight but are not happy?  Where do we go when/if we discover what we once thought was the problem, was actually just a distraction?

I’m not sure how to tackle childhood obesity. Part of me worries that intervening in a child’s diet while they are still growing can have detrimental results. What about growth, bone health, organ development, and teeth integrity?!  At the same time, if we ignore addressing the issue, then are we simply delaying weight management strategies for later on in their life? There is a line somewhere in there, but I am not sure how to locate it.  If only my TomTom could.

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves what realistic ideal health looks like and readjust our vision accordingly.  I am never one to discredit health recommendations, but at some point we need to pick our battles; especially when it comes to children.  I will say this – the all or nothing approach rarely works and I agree with a blogger for New York magazine who last week wrote, “I’m pretty sure Weiss just handed her daughter the road map to all her future eating disorders.”

I am a firm believer in empathy as a tool for weight loss.  The internal dialogue we have with ourselves can be the greatest determiner of success.  You beat yourself down day after day, you will lose the will to continue to try.  You speak that internal dialogue to another human being, much less a child, and you have lost the right be a public participant in my opinion.

There is a time and a place for professional, honest journalism.  This was a serious error in judgment if you ask me because while most of us can acknowledge the level of disgust we feel towards the piece, there are parents out there who will view this as an invitation to meticulously control the calories they put into their child.  Much like the title to the article encourages, they will see Weiss as beacon of hope when in reality, there are other healthy ways to approach weight management than the public shaming of a child.

August’s Nutrition Hot Topic: Weighing In On Food Scales

First off, allow me to apologize for the lack of posts. This month has been a crazy one. Wrapping up my receptionist gig, moving back in with my parents, getting sick, and preparing to move to Boston are all things taking place during the turbulent month of August.

Now then, if I may say so myself, you are in good hands with me. I think I have been doing an all right job at this whole blogging thing, but on August fifth my suspicions were confirmed. The opening page on MSN.com was…

Booya. In the words of SportCenter’s Kenny Mayne, “It must be a homer Simpson because the pitcher just went D’oh!”

I just want to say to my few, but dedicated readers, you are well informed…at least for now. The gluten conundrum was discussed right here on this very blog back on Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo people! Olay indeed. Let’s not even address the decline in the stock market. That man’s face says more than any of my Neanderthal rambling could ever convey. As for JWoww, Mr. Bean, and polar bear violence – more on that later.

While August gets on with itself, I am currently in the midst of my first week of summer vacation.  It is a lot of lounging and Food Network watching. I hope it’s not just me, but watching the Food Network actually makes me hungry. Either that or it makes me think I am hungry. I think it’s more of the later if you want to know the truth. Much like Cheech and Chong, watching television while (over) eating are two things that go very well together. So as a reminder to all of us that portion control is important, it’s time to discuss food scales.

Most of us are relatively familiar with volume measurement – maybe not visually, but rather conceptually. Weight is more of a black box area. During college I decided to purchase a food scale more out of curiosity than necessity. What does two ounces of pasta really look like? What about four ounces of chicken? Generally speaking, there are two kinds of people out there. People either over- or underestimate what a serving size actually is.

I’ve mentioned it here before perfection is overrated.  For a while I obsessively measured every gosh-blessed thing I ate. Looking back, it was annoying. However, I did gain one skill from that brief period of lunacy. I am now much more comfortable measuring out foods and ball parking their quantities.

Health professionals try to come up with all kinds of tricks to help the average Joe deduce serving sizes.
  • Three ounces of meat = size of a deck of cards
  • 1 medium apple or orange = size of a tennis ball
  • 1/4 cup dried fruit = one small handful
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter = size of a golf ball
What the what?! These guess-timations are not applicable for someone like me. I instantly start to perspire as I work to recall what a tennis ball even looks like. Here is where the food scale comes in. I never weighed my fruit or peanut butter, but dry pasta, natural cheese (goat or feta) and meat were all fair game. After so many times of weighing a given piece of food, you’ll eventually come to realize you already know about how much is there. In the beginning, however, you may not be so confident or knowledgeable.

Food scales can be found just about anywhere these days. Your local grocery store, Target, Wal-Mart, and most kitchen supply stores such as William Sonoma carry food scales. They start around  $4 and go up for there. The one I own was around $20 at the time of purchase. I’d go for a digital model if you can. The four-dollar variety is more of a manual scale. It involves zeroing the scale out and rotating the dial for each use. That’s just too much physical labor for me. The digital models bring two buttons and that’s it: On/Off and Tare/Mode. The answer is instantly given, no squinting-at-eye-level-to-read-the-dial required.

Most scales can read in ounces, grams or pounds and the average digital scale reads up to 11 pounds. Handy when you bring your newborn home from the hospital and want to track its growth. That right there just gave me away – its growth. They’re not human. Oh brother. Reason number 743 why I should not look to conceive in the next five years.

Portion control, that’s the whole reason to dive into the world of food scales. Should you start measuring everything you eat?  No. Is it good to learn and become more familiar with portion sizes? Absolutely. Over-sized portions are an all-too-common culprit for weight gain.

Being more cognizant of the foods we put into our mouths is an important part of a healthy mind and body. It is not always fun, but it does help one become more aware of where their calories are coming from. Mindless eating is the devil’s playground when it comes to your waistline. In 2004, a study done by Cornell University’s Department of Nutrition and Psychology was published in the Journal of Nutrition. The study found that the more food young adults were served, the more they overrate. The bottom line of weight gain is this: if you eat more calories than your body needs in a given day, you gain weight.  It’s just that cruel.

When people learn I am a nutrition major, the conversations take either one of two directions. Option A: they tell me about someone they know in the field. Option B (my favorite): they want to discuss the weight loss diet they are currently trying to follow. More times than not, B trumps A. So this means one thing to me – most of us want to lose some amount of weight. I will say this though – count your calories, measure out your food, eat your fruits and vegetables, work out – it is important to always have realistic expectations of yourself.  More on tips for Mindful Eating to come…

In the meantime, I encourage you to venture into the painfully accurate world of food scales. Some days you’ll love it; other days you’ll hate it. Mark my words. But food is fuel and knowledge is power and if I could think of one more cliché here, I’d be really happy. None the less, as a true realist I’ll give you one final alternative use for your beloved food scale should you purchase one, hate it, and not be able to refund your precious dinero. My mother also doubles hers as a scale for mail. Never again will the question, does it need more than one stamp, trip you up.