Beat Your Diet Devils

You eat ice-cream when you’re stressed. Or you munch on buttery popcorn when you’re bored. It’s not that you don’t know better, it’s just that the devil made you do it.

Or make that three diet devils that can turn your clean-as-a-whistle eating habits into instant dieter’s remorse, depending on which little devil is whispering sweet nothings into your ear, says Heather Bauer, a renowned US registered dietitian and author of Bread is the Devil: Win the Weight Loss Battle by Taking Control of Your Diet Demons (St Martin’s Press, $34).

“People are not clueless about what to eat,” she explains, “but most are vulnerable to one or more devils that prompt them to eat too much and too often.” Here are Bauer’s diet devils.

Freestyle Dieting

Need to lose 5kg? If you’re a freestyle dieter, you’ll cut out booze, carbs, sweets or just ‘eat right’ for a while. “Usually by the end of the first week, you’re right back where you started because ‘something came up’ a party, a dinner out, a trip,” she says. “Without a plan and a real commitment to lose, it’s very difficult to be successful at long-term weight loss.”

Tackle it

Keep a food journal to help you keep track of your kilojoule intake for the day. “Writing down what you eat helps you keep track of what you’re actually putting in your mouth,” says Bauer. Forget about extreme diets and embrace ‘phase eating’, suggests Bauer. “Simply eat the same healthy breakfast, lunch or dinner day after day for a stretch of time,” she explains. Find one or two healthy meals you like and rotate them for a week. The less you focus on food, the easier it is to lose weight.

The Late-Night Shuffle

Late-night snacking “is the epitome of mindless eating. You barely taste the food. You hardly look at it. It’s just bite, chew, bite, chew, bite, chew until bedtime,” says Bauer. “Fatigue plays a big role in prompting the ‘late-night shuffle’. You’ve been on the fast treadmill all day and now you’re exhausted. When you’re tired, your resistance is down and it’s hard to make good decisions.”

Tackle it

Have a light snack of vegies and dip or a few almonds at 5.30pm and eat at 8pm, she says, so “there’s less of a window for snacking later”. Chances are that you’ll improve your sleep as well and wake up hungry for breakfast.

If you just can’t make it through the night without a snack, have a few slices of turkey or a hard-boiled egg. “Both of these foods will satisfy your hunger without going off the scales and neither of them will set off a binge.”

Emotional Eating

Whether it’s weight gain from emotional highs or lows, using food to deal with feelings is “so common and destructive, I believe it’s the major, largely unrecognised cause of weight gain,” says Bauer. “You do not have to be victimised by emotional eating. The key words are recognition and control.”

Tackle it

Every time you use food to manage emotions, note what you ate and how you felt. If you can see a correlation, try meditation, yoga or stress management. In your journal, give yourself one or two small objectives daily, such as ‘I will eat a healthy snack at 4pm, then nothing till dinner’. Small triumphs can help boost your mood.

Spotlight on Men’s Health

To coincide with November, we’re encouraging women to help the men in their lives be more proactive about their health.

Men might make up 49 per cent of the Australian population, but they use the country’s health services 30 per cent less than women. So while just 10 per cent of us are unlikely to have seen our GPs in the past year, more than 30 per cent of men are in that boat. It means that males are less likely to see a doctor when they’re unwell, let alone for a preventative check-up.

Dr Karin du Plessis, men’s health and wellbeing research coordinator at Incolink, a joint enterprise of employer associations and unions in the male-dominated construction industry, says that for some men the ‘male identity’ is strongly tied to a reluctance to seek help, so that a common thought process is ‘I can cope on my own’. Her research shows that many men believe it’s not masculine to reach out for professional help. “There was a sentiment that some men are reluctant to seek help because it was potentially an admittance of weakness,” says du Plessis. “However, it’s encouraging to note that men do reach out to those closest to them, like partners and friends.”

To prepare for when the men in your life do just that, here are some facts and figures about prostate cancer and depression, two of Australia’s most prevalent men’s health issues.

Prostate cancer

The risk factors:

Ageing is a recognised risk factor, with 85 per cent of prostate cancers diagnosed in men over 65. A family history of the disease increases risk a first-degree relative diagnosed with prostate cancer doubles a man’s risk, and those with two or more affected relatives are almost four times as likely to develop the disease. The risk is even higher if family members were diagnosed before the age of 60.

The symptoms:

In its early stages, when cure rates are at least 90 per cent, prostate cancer produces few or no symptoms. For this reason, the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia recommends men without a family history of the disease start having an annual check, involving a prostate specific antigen (PSA) blood test and a digital rectal examination, at age 50, while men with a family history should start at 40.

But Dr Stephen Ruthven, president of the Urological Society of Australia and New Zealand, says it might pay to start earlier. “The evidence appears overwhelming that men in their 40s have to consult with their GPs regarding the merits of carrying out an early PSA test. With cancer, early detection and treatment often mean the difference between life and death.”

Secret Men’s Business

Some health issues fly under the radar for men and others simply hit the male sex significantly harder:

Osteoporosis: is typically thought of as a female disease, but one in three Australian men over the age of 60 suffer an osteoporotic fracture, compared to one in two women. Despite that, only a quarter of affected Australian men are currently being treated for osteoporosis. To learn about prevention and male-specific risk factors, visit www.osteoporosis.org.au or download the osteoporosis fact sheet from www.andrologyaustralia.org.

Suicide: accounts for 1.6 per cent of deaths in Australia, but is responsible for more than 20 per cent of deaths in men aged 20 to 39, and with men being four times more likely than women to take their own lives, nearly 80 per cent of suicide deaths in Australia are males.

Doctors tell: ‘How I prevent cancer’

Make simple lifestyle tweaks to minimise your cancer risk, prescribe four doctors.

Most of us know that the major anti-cancer messages include not smoking, getting regular checks and being vigilant about sun protection. However, there are many other ways to minimise your risk of developing almost all forms of cancer.

Here we look at simple, yet effective, ways that Australia’s top doctors protect themselves and their families.

1. Eat colour

Dr Cate Lombard, director of the Healthy Lifestyle Program, The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health

“I have five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day because they provide phytochemicals and fibre to protect the bowel. The brighter colours in fruit and vegetables contain more anti-cancer chemicals, such as antioxidants like vitamin C, and anthocyanins often associated with the colours in foods like blueberries, carrots and broccoli.

“I also exercise regular moderate activity helps prevent bowel cancer.”

2. Wind down without alcohol

Professor Helena Teede, director of research, The Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health

“I limit myself to one or less standard drinks a day and personally find that less caffeine during the day means less craving for alcohol at night. Alcohol is one of the most well-established causes of cancers of the upper digestive tract, breast, colorectum, liver and stomach. The more you drink the higher your risk.

“For cancer prevention, the Cancer Institute NSW recommends alcohol be drunk in moderation, if at all. For me, better ways to wind down after work include exercise, walks with the family or cooking something non-taxing involving getting your hands dirty!”

3. Mind your lip

Dr Peter Alldritt

“Most people know to apply sunscreen to their faces but forget to protect their lips from UV exposure. I live in South Australia, which has the highest incidence of lip cancers in the world, so I never leave my front door during daylight hours without using a SPF 15 or 30+ lip balm.”


4. Switch to text

Associate Professor Richard Bittar, brain surgeon, director of Precision Neurosurgery

“I use a landline where possible and if that’s not an option I prefer text messaging or speaking on hands-free. I would also advise against keeping a mobile phone under your pillow for the alarm function.

“There’s evidence linking the long-term, frequent use of mobile phones to an increased risk of both malignant and non-malignant brain tumours. The latest studies have suggested that people who used their mobiles less than 30 minutes a day and who had been using them for less than 10 years were less likely to develop brain tumours than more frequent long-term users.

“I’m more concerned about young people who constantly hold mobile phone handsets against their heads. They should be encouraged to only speak on a mobile in an emergency and to choose text messages or other forms of communication instead.”

Secrets of Health Experts

Tired of the usual advice on overcoming tiredness and having enough resolve to not cave in to cravings? Here, leading experts talk to Meggie Lunars about their can’t-live-without tactics.

The Nutritionist

Secret: Drink coconut water

“I sip unsweetened coconut water,” says Charlotte Watts, nutritionist and founder of www.positivelyslim.com. “It’s a natural isotonic drink, so it contains the same mineral profile as human blood, making it a quick rehydrator if you’re feeling drained or exhausted. It’s delicious, low in kilojoules and great if you’re active or breastfeeding. Coconut water also contains medium-chain triglycerides, or MCTs, which help raise metabolism.”

Steal it: Try Cocobella 100% Coconut Water, $1.99, from Coles.

The Celebrity Trainer

Secret: Find a moving meditation

“I have been exercising for years doing everything from jogging to boxing to surfing, but never found anything that could take my mind off my everyday stressors,” says James Duigan, trainer to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Elle Macpherson and author of Clean and Lean: Flat Tummy Fast (Simon & Schuster, $25).

“Two years ago I started practising jujitsu and have become calmer mentally and stronger physically. It forces me to be in the moment because like all martial arts, it requires you to focus on your opponent and on the moment. Finding that mindfulness has turned my workouts into moving meditations and made me more focused in everyday life.”

Steal it: It doesn’t have to be martial arts, but could be tennis or running or yoga. If it absorbs you, forces you to focus and takes your mind off any pressures in your life, you’re not only more likely to stick with it, you’ll also get mental benefits such as increased calmness.

The Cardiologist

Secret: Get a pedometer

“I wear a pedometer every day as it keeps me honest,” says Dr Lyn Roberts, chief executive of the National Heart Foundation of Australia. “If I check it at the end of the day and I have only done a couple of thousand steps then it is an incentive to go home and go for a walk after work or to walk home from the office rather than catch the tram.

“If I am travelling, it encourages me to have a walk before settling into my hotel. I try and aim for at least 6000 steps each day, and several times a week I try and clock up over 10,000.”

Steal it: Try the Omron Pedometer with a seven-day memory, $29.95, from pedometersaustralia.com.

The Scientist

Secret: Practise ‘mindfulness’

“I lie or sit still and focus on breathing into my diaphragm for 15 minutes each day,” says Dr Jane Plant, Professor of Geochemistry at Imperial College London and author of new book Eating for Better Health (from Amazon). “Each time a thought comes into my mind, I gently bring my focus back to my breath. Known as mindfulness training, this practice soothes my nerves, however anxious or stressed I’m feeling. Studies at the University of Pittsburgh have used functional brain imaging to prove mindfulness calms the mind.”

Are You Drinking Too Much?

What do women need to know about alcohol and its impact on our health? In response to your questions, the experts tell it like it is.

‘I’m not sure if I drink too much or not. How can I tell?’

A: “If you drink above the recommended guidelines more than two standard drinks a day regularly you’re drinking too much,” says Sarah Jaggard, community mobilisation policy officer with the Australian Drug Foundation. “And when drinking affects other areas of your life you’re living pay to pay because you drink during the weekends, or you’re regularly taking time off work because you’re hung-over, or your partner is worried about your drinking you need to cut down.”

Government guidelines suggest that up to two standard drinks a day are generally safe for women. Aim to have at least two alcohol-free days a week. A standard drink is 100ml of wine, 60ml of port/sherry, 30ml of spirits, 285ml of ordinary beer or 425ml of light beer.

‘Men seem to be able to drink more than women. Why is that?’

A: Your husband or partner can drink more simply because he’s bigger. The average man’s body mass is about 12 percent more than a woman’s body, so alcohol is concentrated in a smaller space in women. Your body also contains more fat and less water, and alcohol is diluted in water, and so the same amount of alcohol will be more highly concentrated in you and will have more impact more quickly.

“Your ability to break down alcohol is limited by the size of your liver, too. Women tend to have smaller livers than men,” says Jaggard. “So even at lower levels of drinking, women experience a higher degree of intoxication.”

If you’re on a weight-loss diet you will also experience the effects of alcohol faster. When a woman diets she loses more body fluid than usual, so there’s even less water to dilute that alcohol.

“Red wine is supposed to be good for you. How much can I drink?”

A: Red wine contains polyphenols that are believed to have a number of benefits, such as lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Some studies suggest that drinking a moderate amount can reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems by 25 to 40 percent, particularly in middle-aged and older men and women.

A moderate amount of alcohol also raises levels of good cholesterol and reduces the risk of blood clots that can block arteries and lead to heart attack or stroke, reveals Harvard University research. Another US study found that people who drank moderately were also less likely to develop gallstones and type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers.

Research also suggests that if you drink more than a moderate amount, it starts doing you harm. Doctors also do not advise taking up drinking to reap the benefits if you don’t already drink.

Professor Geoff Skurray from the University of Western Sydney found a $300 bottle of red wine had twice as many polyphenols as a $10 bottle of wine, and four times as many as cask wine. This doesn’t mean you need to spend $300 just buy the best your budget allows.

“I think my friend might be struggling with an alcohol problem. What are the signs?”

A: Does your friend seem preoccupied with when she is going to be able to have her next drink? If that seems to take up a lot of her thoughts and conversation, she may be drinking too much.

If you also notice her becoming anxious or sweating and shaking when she has a drink or is waiting to have a drink, these are also warning signs, and so are vomiting and hallucinations. If your friend experiences these kinds of symptoms, encourage her to see a GP who can help her find support to manage her drinking problem.

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