Weekly Column_120 / August 16, 2012

Life Changes that Bust Diets

By Charles Platkin, PhD

Moving is undeniably stressful, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed you may overeat or eat erratically. Whether it’s moving out of your parents’ house or into a new home after several years of being comfortable in an old residence, preparations for setting up a new abode can cut into breakfast, lunch and dinner time. You’re so preoccupied with packing or unpacking that you forget to eat. Or you may still be looking for the box with your dishes and pans. “And this is where an otherwise healthy meal plan gets derailed,” explains D. Milton Stokes, M.P.H., R.D., of One Source Nutrition in Southern Connecticut and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. If you’ve skipped a meal or two, when dinner comes around you may make up for it by breezing into the first fast-food joint you see and ordering a large size burger, fries and soda.

The Fix: Before you move in, make sure the fridge is stocked with low-calorie frozen foods — they’re fast, simple and portion controlled. Also, scout out restaurants and takeout places in the area weeks before you arrive; scour their menus for healthier options. Pick a few key dishes from each restaurant and verify their healthy preparation by calling ahead.

New Job
When you begin a new job, you need to adapt to new rules, a new boss, a new environment and new co-workers. All these drastic changes can lead dieters to familiar high-calorie foods as a source of comfort. Candy, cookies and other junk foods are quick, easy and readily accessible, but they’re also full of empty calories. And new a job may also bring you closer to new, unhealthy food sources. Maybe there weren’t any bakeries near your previous office to tempt you, and now there’s one right on the corner. Or maybe your new boss treats everyone to bagels and muffins every Friday. And you’d finally found a good salad bar near your old job, but now you have to start the search all over again. Well, you’ll have to establish new automatic behaviors to replace the ones that worked in the past.

The Fix: Again, as when you’re moving, you need to scout out your new area. Gather up all area takeout menus and take 10–15 minutes to contact a few about their healthy offerings. Highlight those and keep the menus in your desk drawer or locker. Don’t be shy about asking for healthful recommendations from your new co-workers — it’s a great way to break the ice. Also, look at this as an opportunity to make a fresh start at your new job by developing your reputation as a health-conscious person.

Set office limits. Just because the food is out there doesn’t mean you have to eat it. Stokes recognizes that some new employees may fear appearing rude if they decline office treats, especially those prepared by the boss. He suggests breaking the item in half for a smaller portion or simply taking it back to your office in a napkin for a stealthy discard. Before you know it, you’ll be able to set up a “no fattening food” zone around your work area.

Also, try to find new opportunities for physical activity. You can create new automatic habits, such as walking or biking to work (if it’s reasonably close), taking the stairs more and walking to see a co-worker instead of using the phone or e-mail.

Loss (job, loved one, relationship, etc.)
As devastating as a loss can be, it can also wreak havoc with your eating habits. If you lose a job and don’t find another one soon enough, depression and self-doubt can make the refrigerator your favorite friendly companion. You console yourself during all those extra hours at home by buying buckets of ice cream and bags of chips; plus, you might also lack the energy to be as active as you once were. Even worse, losing a family member or friend can completely overturn your life and diet. Once again, grief upends the order of daily activities, including what you eat. Many find comfort in what has not been lost, using platters of food to fill the void. People who are not accustomed to being alone may turn to food as a source of reassurance — and diets are tossed out the door.

The Fix: Following are the most popular comfort foods in North America, according to a study conducted by the Cornell Food and Brand Lab: potato chips (23 percent), ice cream (14 percent), cookies (12 percent), chocolate (11 percent), pizza or pasta (11 percent), steak or burgers (9 percent). Do any of them appeal to you?

Come up with comfort food alternatives and make sure to have them on hand (i.e., calorie bargains). A little preparation can keep both psychological triggers and biological responses to stress under control and stop “comfort food” binges from ruining your weight-loss efforts. And you never know, preparing low-cal comfort foods might just be a way of getting your mind off your loss. Make a big pot of healthy soup and freeze it in single-portion containers; bake some low-calorie muffins. For a few examples of healthier comfort foods, see: www.dietdetective.com/content/view/1123/158/

Illness and Injury
Maybe you have a back or neck strain or were just diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes — any issue that sets you back physically may create havoc with your normal activity level. If you stop your usual activities, it’s important to replace them with others. Any decline in your current fitness level can, in and of itself, be detrimental to your physical and mental health. (Of course, there are always situations where rest is best.)

The Fix: Even though you may have other things to discuss with your physician, it’s imperative to talk about your activity level. You may also want to seek the expert advice of a physical therapist. Explain your current activity level, and make sure to get advice on how to maintain mobility during the healing process.

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