New Year's & Nutrition

December 29, 2002 11:00 pm
Starting young to begin a fitness routine that might carry on through adulthood is something Cindy Denne would like to see happen. She mixes gymnastics and fitness training to get youngsters involved in good-health programs. Alexander Schott enrolled in sessions for three- to four-year-olds at the Baker YMCA.   (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).
Starting young to begin a fitness routine that might carry on through adulthood is something Cindy Denne would like to see happen. She mixes gymnastics and fitness training to get youngsters involved in good-health programs. Alexander Schott enrolled in sessions for three- to four-year-olds at the Baker YMCA. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins).

By MIKE FERGUSON

Of the Baker City Herald

It's way worse than just carrying around a few extra pounds. Our excess weight, health officials say, has reached epidemic proportions.

Nearly two-thirds of us are either overweight or downright obese, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association. One in four of our children is overweight or at risk for becoming obese. Each year obesity kills about 300,000 Americans.

A big part of our weight problem is our diet, according to the Status of Oregon's Children 2002 report, and it starts early in life. Seventy-one percent of Baker County eighth graders don't eat the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, and 72 percent don't consume the dairy servings they're supposed to.

We Americans are good at making New Year's resolutions. What we're not so good at is the follow-through part — the part where we join the gym or the Y and we stick with it, at least into February, and especially the part where we change our eating habits — for good.

"It's just as simple as eating a little bit of everything — in moderation," said Edith Thompson, a Pendleton-based registered and licensed dietitian under contract with St. Elizabeth Health Services. "If you're going to make a resolution, choose to follow a balanced diet so that you can stick with it. You can have a teaspoon of margarine on your morning toast. Just take your time and chew it slowly. A little fat in your diet keeps the hunger pangs away."

Linda Spangle, author of the upcoming book "Life is Hard, Food is Easy," suggests setting a timer for 20 minutes and making your meal last that long — even if that meal is just a cookie.

"Savor every single bite," she says. "Appreciate food to the fullest."

But what's even more important, Spangle says, is to separate hunger eating from non-hunger, or emotional eating.

"Once you learn how to separate eating and food from how you cope with life, losing weight on any sensible diet is easy," she says.

Blame it on the caveman

Another nutrition expert, Dr. David Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine, says that one reason for our obesity may be linked to our ancient ancestors — cavemen and cavewomen.

Those people hunted and gathered their own food. They'd store their food for the winter to make sure they had enough to make it through alive.

Our modern-day problem, Katz says, is that we still have this mentality, but we're not burning the thousands of calories they did trying to track down food.

Baker City's Cindy Denne has a program to help the area's youngsters expend huge amounts of their pent-up energy. Twice a week at Main Street Gym, Denne leads a gymnastics and tumbling class for pre-schoolers and kindergartners. Besides the obvious calorie burn, Denne says there are other benefits for children who can execute a cartwheel or a backward roll: they're more attentive in school. They learn by doing. And, along the way, come lessons in everything from taking turns to cheering on classmates.

Now that she's made inroads with younger students this fall, Denne wants to get older elementary school students involved working some of the fitness machines at the gym.

"You'd be surprised how many junior high and high school kids aren't fitness-oriented," she said. "I like to encourage them to come in early in their lives. It helps them with their fitness, but it also points them toward a lifetime of well-being."

Denne says there's room for more in her classes. Call the gym at 523-4050 for more information.

Strength in numbers

Just as many people are more faithful to work out if a friend is involved, dieters often do better as part of a group.

Weight Watchers, the international weight-loss organization, marks its 40th anniversary with the New Year.

When founder Jean Nidetch had six overweight friends over to her apartment in the early 1960s, the friends simply talked about their common struggles with overeating. They felt so much better after that initial meeting, Nidetch says, that they decided to meet regularly, and all lost weight.

Fast-forward four decades later. Today Weight Watchers has 39,000 weekly meetings, including one in La Grande.

When all else fails, eat your breakfast

One survey showed that almost two-thirds of us will give up our New Year's dieting resolution by the end of March. If we do that, we should at least stick with one tried and true healthy choice — eating breakfast, says Albertsons Northwest dietitian Cheryl Dolven.

The American Dietetic Association reports that almost half of children age eight to 13 skip breakfast. Were they to take time for that meal, it would help them maintain a healthy weight, keep colds and flu at bay, and improve memory, helping them to score almost a letter grade higher on math and reading tests, Dolven said.

"Children who see their parents eat breakfast are more likely to eat breakfast," she said. "When kids are hungry or undernourished, they can be apathetic, disinterested and irritable. Their physical growth, mental development and social skills can also suffer."

Breakfast should include something from each of the food groups: dairy, fruit, carbohydrate (bread and cereal) and protein (peanut butter or eggs, for example).

Thompson, the St. Elizabeth nutritionist, suggests a light lunch with samples from all four of the food groups as well.

Dinner ideally is a smaller meal than many of us are used to. The meat serving should be just four ounces — "just the size of a deck of cards," Thompson advises.

"We really don't need any more than that," she said. "It's the most expensive part of the meal, so cutting that back is a good way to save some money, too."

But the best thing we can do for ourselves as we resolve to do better is more mental than masticating, Thompson says.

"Don't be too hard on yourself," she suggests. "You should be making lifetime changes, not crash changes. The small changes are the realistic ones.

"Don't try something you can't do for the rest of your life."