Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation Program

Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation Program

Inspire Healthy Kids is not only about focusing on what we feed our kids.  There is so much more to it.  And a lot of that “more to it” lies in how we treat ourselves.  As parents, and particularly as mommies, we are primary role models.  How we eat, our lifestyle, and our attitudes all affect kids’ health and diets.  In Australia, as elsewhere in the developed world, obesity is rapidly on the rise among adults and children alike.  To respond to this trend, diet and exercise regime gimmicks have flooded the market.  One of those is Michelle Bridges’ 12 Week Body Transformation (12WBT) program.  But if we as parents are following this are we presenting healthy models to our kids?

My good friend Kylie Ryan recently referred me to a blog post by a friend of hers reviewing the 12WBT program.  (And any friend of Kylie’s is a friend of mine! Kylie is a huge positive force for good so please check out her site.)

So, what is Michelle Bridges’ 12WBT?  It’s a diet and exercise program based on the principle that if you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.  Programs like this one take this to the extreme, by encouraging extreme dieting and lots of exercise.  Participants are told to restrict caloric intake to 1200 calories a day.  Anything less than this is considered starvation – 1200 is the minimum you need to survive.  The problem with consuming this kind of restricted diet for a long period of time is that your body goes into “starvation mode.”  If your body ideally requires, say, 2000 calories a day to maintain body weight, and you only consume 1200, plus you begin exercising and therefore burning more calories, you are in essence starving yourself!

When your body goes into starvation mode the instant you start consuming extra calories, your body immediately stores them away for future use, in case the starvation scenario recurs or gets worse.  This is a natural biological survival mechanism.  This mechanism is how humans survived throughout our long history of “feast and famine” cycles and seasons.  Unfortunately, dieters actually stimulate this survival mechanism in themselves, which leads to them ultimately gaining more weight after the diet finishes.


In her post on this subject, Bianca Aiono lists numerous reasons women might be suffering from carrying too much weight:

  • Polycistic ovaries,
  • Insulin & Leptin resistance,
  • Adrenal fatigue
  • Underactive Thyroid
  • High stress & Cortisol levels
  • Disordered eating
  • Low self esteem
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Food Intolerances
  • Chronic Inflammation

And none of those are addressed by dieting, certainly not by a crash diet program like Michelle Bridges advocates.

The worst part is that when we as role models for our kids engage in unhealthy dieting behaviors, we are teaching our kids to do the same.  The best way to get our kids to eat a healthy, balanced diet is to eat a healthy, balanced diet ourselves.  And the Michelle Bridges 12WBT is not a healthy, balanced diet.

Other criticisms of a program like this is that it takes over your life.  As mothers, we need to dedicate time to our kids and our families.  Of course it is important to focus on ourselves and our health!  But it shouldn’t be so all-consuming that it takes away from our kids.  We want to inspire healthy kids, not ignore them!

To make matters worse, programs like Michelle Bridges’ 12WBT can lead to development of eating disorders or can at least really screw up women’s relationships with food.  As a woman myself, I know how looking at yourself in the mirror loads an extra 10kg of weight on you that nobody else actually sees.  The long term impacts of something like this can be drastic.  For instance, what happens if a woman falls pregnant?  If she diets like this during the pregnancy in an effort not to gain too much weight, the baby will suffer as well.  And what about if she does this program for the very long term – say, 5 sessions in a row?  Long-term exposure to a famine-like state can have long term impacts on the baby.  Babies whose mothers had previously been exposed to famine are more likely to not only have a decreased birth weight, but also to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.  (See, e.g., David Barker, The Malnourished Baby and Infant Relationship with Type 2 DiabetesBr Med Bull (2001) 60 (1): 69-88.doi: 10.1093/bmb/60.1.69)

Of course, a program like the Michelle Bridges 12WBT does have its benefits.  It gives women a community, group support, and a financial impetus to do something about the extra weight they’re carrying.  But women can easily find those same supports via healthier regimens.

Studies show that a healthy vegan diet does wonders for both adults and children in terms of all diabetes and heart disease risk factors, including weight loss.  And the vegan community is strong, passionate, and supportive.  If women are looking for other women to connect with as a support on a weight loss quest, this is a great way to go.  Eating a healthy vegan diet may be a much slower way to lose weight, but it is a sustainable lifestyle change that can be carried on indefinitely.  It also has a lot of other health benefits due to the higher intake of fiber and other nutrients.

Another positive option is to hire a mind coach and a nutritionist to help you learn how to eat a healthier diet.  A mind coach like my friend Kylie Ryan can help you to view yourself more positively and determine root causes of unhealthy dietary habits, like binge eating, searching out junk foods, and emotional eating.  A nutritionist can teach you what foods are healthy for your body, given your lifestyle, budget, and sensitivities.

And of course there is the exercise aspect of the 12WBT.  Exercise is really important!  Hire a personal trainer to learn how to use equipment and get exercises personalized to you.  Or join a gym with group classes.  My gym, Goodlife Health Clubs, is amazing – they offer shorter term fitness challenges, small group training, large group classes, and even exercise classes for kids!  I love the classes because I’ve made lots of friends there, which leads to accountability: If I skip a class, my friends will inquire as to why not.

In order to inspire healthy kids, we first have to inspire a health us.  As parents we need to model good behaviors and choose holistic ways to improve our health.  The Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation program is not a healthy model of good dietary and weight loss behavior.


Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

Diabetes: How Kids Can Eat Healthy

My brother has diabetes.  He developed it when he was just 7 years old, so it dominated his childhood and my teenage years.  It had major impacts on our family.  For families with a diabetic child, it can cause major changes in the family diet.  Here are some ways to eat healthy with diabetes:

Types of Diabetes

There are two types of diabetes.  Type 1 diabetes (which used to be known as juvenile onset diabetes) is when the pancreas simply stops producing insulin.  There is no cure for Type 1 diabetes and diabetics with this form of the disease have to take insulin injections for the rest of their lives (or until a cure is found).  Diet and insulin injections are the best way to manage Type 1 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes used to be known as adult onset diabetes because it is strongly associated with obesity and used to occur predominantly in older adults.  Not so today.  With so many children today overweight and so many children consuming high sugar foods and refined carbohydrates that spike blood sugars, Type 2 diabetes is now increasingly common among children and can no longer be called “adult onset diabetes.”  With Type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but the body doesn’t regulate it well.  Type 2 diabetes is not as stark as Type 1 diabetes.  Indeed, it is more of a continuum.  Some people have Type 2 diabetes so mildly that it can be managed entirely by dietary modifications.  People who have a more severe form can take medication and people who have a very severe form need insulin injections like Type 1 diabetics do.

No matter how severe the diabetes or what Type, diet is a crucial part of any management program.  Of course you should consult you’re doctor before embarking on a particular dietary program, as I am not a doctor, nor have I even played one on TV (although I was once on an episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which is fitting because I am actually a lawyer haha!).  My advice regarding diet for diabetics is meant to be practical and helpful, not the be all and end all of diabetes dietary requirements!!

Impact of diet on diabetes

Diet can have an enormous impact on diabetes.  Insulin is a hormone our bodies produce that regulates blood sugar levels.  Blood sugar levels that are too high or too low can cause serious illness, coma, and even death, so managing diabetes effectively is really important.  Unfortunately, much of the food kids eat today is processed and full of sugar (it is hidden in all sorts of things you wouldn’t expect).  Kids also eat a lot of refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white flour, and white potatoes – I like to say, “White flour, white potatoes, and white rice: If it’s white, it isn’t nice!”  Carbohydrates are converted into sugars by the body so it can use them as fuel, but refined carbohydrates are converted into sugars very quickly and simply, so they flood the system.  Think about it: eat one serving of white bread and compare how long you feel full to when you eat one serving of whole grain steel cut oatmeal.

In fact, in cases of Type 2 diabetes diet can even reverse diabetes entirely, just as diet can reverse obesity.  This has been tested in animals and also shown in scientific peer-reviewed studies to work in humans (especially effective if exercise is included).  This works because a healthy diet reduces obesity and heart disease risk factors – even in children.

Diets for Diabetic Kids

The Internet is full of different diets to help reduce or reverse diabetes.  As an adult, you can afford to buy into the starvation diet, but even if it is endorsed by a reputable university’s biomedical department, a starvation diet can be dangerous for children, whose bodies are still developing.  Do not starve your children!

However, the concept still works for kids.  Other studies (see above) show that reducing calorie intake can slow, stop, or even reverse diabetes development.  This is because reducing caloric intake has a twofold benefit for diabetics.  Firstly, if done in a healthy and balanced way, it normalizes blood sugar, avoiding blood sugar spikes and making blood sugar regulation easier on the body.  Secondly, it reduces weight and reducing obesity reduces the incidence of diabetes.

Another demonstrated dietary fact is that diabetics should reduce fat intake.  In more than one of the studies I cited above, fat and especially fatty liver played a stark role in the development and reversal of diabetes.  This is why the healthy vegan diet kids in the recent heart disease study was so effective in reducing heart disease risk factors in children: It was very low fat.

That said, there are three commonly endorsed diets for diabetics, all of which can be healthfully used by children:

The Plate Method

The Plate Method Diet for DiabeticsThe Plate Method is the diet for diabetics that is currently recommended.  It calls for 50% of the plate to be covered with non-starchy vegetables, 25% with starchy vegetables, and 25% with protein, as well as a serving of fruit and a serving of milk on the side for each lunch and dinner meal.  Of course, the efficacy of any diet like this relies on making good food choices. Non-starchy vegetables such as asparagus or broccoli should be cooked in a healthy way, like steaming, roasting, or stir fry, not doused in sauces and oils.  Not all starchy foods are created equal.  Whole grains like brown or wild rice and quinoa are preferable to refined grains like white rice or white bread.  Starchy vegetables like zucchini, peas, and parsnips are more nutritious than white potatoes (and also have more flavor, reducing the need for additives like butter and oil).  Non-fat protein choices like tofu or seitan will always be better than an animal product even if it is low in fat, due to the way in which the body metabolizes animal fats, and also due to the benefit of fat reduction in diabetic diets.  For children, consider serving the fruit during snack times rather than during meal times, thus eliminating the need for kids to have yet more calories in their diets during the day.  For the milk, I recommend making your own brown rice milk or buying oat or almond milk.  If done properly, this kind of diet is incredibly healthy.

A sample lunch would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Sandwich of whole grain bread, lots of hummus (for protein), and roasted spring vegetables or salad vegetables
  • Side of raw non-starchy vegetables (such as cucumbers, mushrooms, and capsicum) with some more hummus to dip them in.
  • 1/2 cup strawberries for morning snack
  • 1 small banana for afternoon snack

A sample dinner would be:

  • 1 cup brown rice milk
  • Stir fry of non-starchy vegetables like asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, and spinach with tofu over brown and wild rice mix

Diabetic Exchange Diets

There was a time when this method was very popular, but compared to the Plate Method, it seems like a bit of a pain to me.  Foods are divided into six categories: starch, meat (there are no vegan meat substitutes), non-starchy vegetables, fruit, milk, and fats.  Together with a dietician each individual will be given a number of servings to have from each category each day.  This method is easier in a way because it is easier to measure out servings, but it also basically forces adherents to eat a lot of animal protein.  This eliminates the potential benefits of following diets now shown to be effective for weight loss.

Carbohydrate Counting

This method counts each major carbohydrate source as one serving (15 g) of carbohydrate.  The list of carbohydrate sources includes starches, fruits, milk, and sweets.  Of course this does not necessarily lend itself to be the most healthy diet, although it does allow a lot more leniency for kids who won’t take well to being told they cannot have dessert.  That’s because if, say, a cookie counts as one carbohydrate, kids can choose to fill up their carbohydrate quota with unhealthy sources of carbs.  This type of diet requires a lot of parent monitoring because its permissiveness creates a sort of temptation for kids.  It also does not limit sources of other things affecting kids’ diet and weight.  For instance, fat and meat intake are not measured, so a child could eat lots of steak and then carbohydrate count for dessert, which would not be a healthy diet at all.  Of course, a parent who is conscious of their child’s choices and is committed to making good food choices and to dedicating extra time to their child’s diet can make it work.  But carbohydrate counting is definitely the most time consuming of the three methods.

Tips and Advice

  • Feed the whole family the same meals as the diabetic child is eating.  Diabetic children should be eating very healthfully, which will be good for the whole family.  Also, if a child is overweight, it is likely that other family members are also not at their ideal weights and can benefit from a healthy weight loss diet.
  • Don’t starve your kids, but do do portion control.  Don’t allow kids to eat as much as they want.  Overeating is often a contributor to obesity, which can lead to the onset of diabetes.
  • Reduce the amount of packaged and processed foods in your child’s diet.  Even so-called diabetic foods are not necessarily healthy.  Feeding your diabetic child sweets made with artificial sweeteners can cause other health problems.
  • Read nutrition labels.  You may be surprised to see how many carbohydrates are in your favorite foods and snacks.  Be aware that the serving size on a package may not match the serving size of one serving if you are doing an exchange diet.
  • Reduce the amount of fat – fat consumption increases risk of heart disease and diabetics are much more at risk of developing heart disease.
  • Spread meals out during the day.  For instance, breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, and dinner.  This will help keep your child from feeling too hungry and will also help the body metabolize sugars and nutrients more evenly.
  • Get your child active!  Diet can go a long way to reducing obesity and diabetes management, but exercise and burning up of some of that energy is also really important.  This is a good time to get your child involved in an activity that gets them moving, whether that is an organized team sport or just neighborhood games.  My gym even offers classes for kids!  You can also make exercise a family activity – going for walks, family bike rides, or hikes in local nature areas are great ways to bond as a family while increasing the health of everyone in the family!

I hope these tips make it easier to find a healthy diet for your diabetic or pre-diabetic child!  Together, we can manage diabetes and maybe even reverse it!

For More Information:

American Diabetes Association: www.diabetes.org

Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: www.eatright.org

National Diabetes Education Program: http://ndep.nih.gov

Patience: The Key to Achieving Results of a Healthy Diet

Patience: The Key to Achieving Results of a Healthy Diet

Today’s society places far too much emphasis on immediate results.  We just do not seem to have any patience anymore.  Instead, immediate gratification is the name of the game.  To make matters worse, most people today prefer even more if there is minimal effort involved in achieving results.  Living a healthy lifestyle doesn’t work like that.

Fad diets and quick fixes might yield pretty quick results, but they don’t last.  Indeed, lots of things can cause rapid weight loss, but that doesn’t mean they’re good for you.  Just like ebola would be a dangerous but effective way to get your child to lose weight, fad diets are also unhealthy and should be avoided, especially for children, who are still growing and developing.

If we want healthy kids, we need to inspire them to lead healthy lifestyles.  Weight loss and positive changes to their health profile will follow.  We have to have patience.

My family and I try to lead a healthy lifestyle all around.  We eat a healthy diet with an emphasis on fresh fruits and vegetables, very little processed food, very little dairy, very little fish, and no meat.  Both my husband and I exercise regularly in the gym (I do about 6 hours per week) and our kids watch shows (on the computer – we don’t watch TV) only a couple days per week, and even then, only for a half hour or so at a time.  The rest of the time our kids are out running around.

Yes, this kind of lifestyle is a challenge.  If there are excuses, I’ve made them all, in the past.  Junk food and meat taste good, when you’re tired you want to just zone out in front of the TV, and gym memberships cost money and take time.  But in the end, these are just that: excuses.  I have a million excuses I could make why I can’t find time to blog, but I push through and I do it.

I’m not trying to pass judgment in a holier-than-thou kind of way.  I’m a stay-at-home-mom, which has both benefits and challenges that working moms don’t face.  Sure, I have more freedom to take my kids to the park almost every day and I’m home more, making things from scratch.  But then again, I spend my whole day refereeing two rambunctious boys, who seem to have taken making a mess on as their goal in life.  Parents who don’t have their kids home all day don’t face the constant cleaning struggle that three meals a day (plus snacks) being prepared in the kitchen presents.  Kids who aren’t home aren’t dumping dirt all over the floors you just mopped and aren’t spreading the entire contents of their toy chests all over the house all day long.  I’m not complaining – but it doesn’t present its own set of challenges.

Eating a healthy diet is a lifestyle choice that hopefully also includes an active lifestyle.  It’s not easy, I know that, but it is important.  If we care about our kids, we need to feed both them and us healthy, nutritious diets, even if it is a challenge, even if it requires some sacrifice.  What are your excuses?

One of the biggest excuses I hear is that results are just not forthcoming.  Think about all those people you know who resolve on January 1 to go to the gym this year, but come June regular exercise is a thing of the past.  They didn’t see results fast enough.  The gym can yield results quickly, if you throw yourself into it in a way most of us do not have the time and motivation for.  But if you make the gym a lifestyle, you will see results, even if you only go a couple times a week.  You will see results, but they will take a while.

Changes to diet present the same exact challenge.  Fad diets are popular because the results are immediate.  But the change doesn’t last.  If we want healthy kids, we need to change their lifestyles.  They should eat a healthy, balanced diet as a whole life change, not just as a weight loss method.  The change will be gradual, but stick with it.  Have patience.

For severely obese kids on a very strict vegan diet, results can be seen in as few as four weeks.  But you don’t have to go to such an extreme to see results, nor do you have to have a child whose health profile is so dire.  Instead, make changes, even baby steps, to feed your family a healthier diet.  Don’t reassess to see if there has been progress after just a month or two.  Reassess for progress in the long term – six months to a year.  And if you really want to know how much progress is being made, don’t rely solely on checking your child’s waistline to see if they need slimmer pants.  Have their blood tested by a health professional before and after to see how their body is doing inside, not just the visible outside.

Dietitians agree that patience is a key to good health.  If we can get past our excuses and start taking steps toward eating a healthier diet, eventually we can get there.  I didn’t start doing six hours a week in the gym – I started with two and worked my way up from there.  Similarly, start with one or two homemade family meals every week and begin cutting out one unhealthy food item each shopping trip.

But most of all, have patience.

New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in Kids

New Study Shows Vegan Diet Reduces Heart Disease Risk in Kids

We think of our children as immune to certain diseases we associate with old age.  We don’t expect them to get arthritis or to have a stroke.  Yet, sadly, with childhood obesity on the rise, more and more of our children are at risk for heart disease.  Just as type 2 (once called “adult onset”) diabetes has become commonplace among the youth of today, risk factors for heart disease are on the rise in younger and younger children.  The good news is, you can turn it around, and it’s easier than you think.

Earlier this month a study came out in The Journal of Pediatrics showing just how powerful switching to a healthy diet is.  Researchers wanted to evaluate how effective different diets were at reducing risk factors for heart disease in children.  Many studies of this nature have been done on adults, but this one is specifically targeting precursors of heart disease in children, which I have mentioned before is an increasing concern, with 70% of obese 5-7 year old kids exhibiting at least one risk factor for heart disease.

The current mainstream guidelines for reducing heart disease risk are those put forth by the American Heart Association (AHA).  While many doctors and individuals have long criticized their standards as being far from sufficiently rigorous, the AHA has been loathe to further restrict their recommended diet.  Perhaps they are concerned that being too strict will frighten people away from keeping to the recommendations.  But in the meantime, their diet is far from ideal.  So, what exactly are the AHA recommendations?

Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars and sweeteners.  As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish — at least twice per week), nuts, legumes and seeds.  Also try eating some meals without meat.  Select fat-free and low-fat dairy products and lean meats and poultry (skinless).  Limit sugar-sweetened beverages.


On the AHA diet, which is definitely healthier than the average diet, kids did see their diets improve and become healthier.  But how much healthier?  1/3 – 30% – of their calories were still coming from fats, although less than 7% of those calories came from harmful saturated fats.  Because they reduced meat intake, daily cholesterol intake dropped to less than 300 mg/day.  Sodium intake also dropped to 1,500 mg/day.

To determine if this diet is truly the ideal in reducing risk factors for cardiovascular disease in children, researchers, led by Dr. Michael Macknin, tested both the AHA diet and an alternate vegan diet.  He and his team of researchers selected 28 obese children between the ages of 9 and 18 to participate in the study, which ran for 4 weeks.  They then randomly selected children to participate in one of the two diets.  At least one parent of each child in the study was also required to stick to the diet.  This makes it much easier for kids to stick to the diet, follow through with the study, and maintain a positive attitude.  The addition of this provision is actually a good example of what I repeatedly have said: Lead your kids by example.  If you want to inspire healthy kids, you need to also be eating a healthy diet!  Participants in the study also attended two-hour educational nutrition information sessions once per week, which affirms again what I have repeatedly said: Kids need to be educated about how food affects their health so they will be motivated to make healthy decisions.

What was the vegan diet like?  Children on the vegan diet were given plants and whole grains, although they limited their intake of fatty plant foods, like nuts and avocados.  They were given no animal products and no added fat was used in food preparation.

As a result, and no doubt in spite of a bit of cheating and leniency, consumption of animal proteins dropped from an average 42 grams per day to just 2.24 grams per day.  The percentage of calories from fat was just 18% (compared to 30% for the AHA diet), with only 3.6% coming from saturate fats (compared to 7% on the AHA diet).  Clearly, the vegan diet is a dramatically healthier diet than the AHA guidelines, if we look just at nutritional intakes.  (Of course not all nutritional values for foods were tested, but we can easily make an educated guess that those children on the vegan diet were consuming more vitamins and minerals, as their diets included more nutrient dense vegetable and whole grain ingredients.)

What were the results of the study?

Children on PB had 9 and children on AHA had 4 statistically significant (P < .05) beneficial changes from baseline (mean decreases): body mass index z-scorePB (−0.14), systolic blood pressurePB (−6.43 mm Hg), total cholesterolPB(−22.5 mg/dL), low-density lipoproteinPB (−13.14 mg/dL), high-sensitivity C-reactive proteinPB (−2.09 mg/L), insulinPB(−5.42 uU/mL), myeloperoxidasePB/AHA (−75.34/69.23 pmol/L), mid-arm circumferencePB/AHA (−2.02/−1.55 cm), weightPB/AHA (−3.05/−1.14 kg), and waist circumferenceAHA (−2.96 cm). Adults on PB and AHA had 7 and 2, respectively, statistically significant (P < .05) beneficial changes. The significant change favoring AHA was a 1% difference in children’s waist circumference. Difficulty shopping for food for the PB was the only statistically significant acceptability barrier.

In layman’s terms, this means that kids on the plant-based diet showed significant improvement in nine different categories: body mass index (BMI), systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol, low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (“bad” cholesterol), high-sensitivity C-reactive protein, insulin, myeloperoxidase, mid-arm circumference, weight, and waist circumference.  High sensitivity C-reactive protein is one measure of inflammation in the body and is a major indicator of heart disease risk.  Myeloperoxidase is an enzyme necessary for healthy body function, but in elevated levels is associated with risk for coronary artery disease,* to the point that high levels over a 13-year period was shown to have more than doubled the risk of death from cardiovascular disease.**

In contrast, children on the AHA diet showed statistically significant improvement in only four areas: mid-arm circumference, weight, waist circumference, and myeloperoxidase.  Clearly, the vegan diet was more effective in reducing risk factors for heart disease.  However, the AHA diet did show a 1% change in waist circumference, which shows it was good for losing weight in the right places.  On the other hand, the vegan diet resulted in greater health benefits even if those benefits were more internal than external.

(If you are an adult reading this and want to reap the benefits, you can.  Children’s bodies are more reactive to changes in their diet than adults, so they show more significant results more quickly, but adults also showed major benefits.  On the plant based diet, adults benefits in seven of the risk factor areas, while on the AHA diet they benefited in two of the risk factor areas.  If you put your child on one of these diets and you join him/her, you will also stand to gain – or, in this case, to lose! Haha!)

Dr. Macknin’s conclusion was:

As the number of obese children with high cholesterol continues to grow, we need to have effective lifestyle modifications to help them reverse their risk factors for heart disease.


We’ve known that plant-based diets are beneficial in adults in preventing and possibly reversing heart disease. This study shows that the same may be true in children too, though more studies are needed.

Of course this study was limited in scope, as not many children were tested.  Also, the study ran only for four weeks.  But just think about that!  Statistically significant benefits in nine areas were found in children on a plant based diet in just four weeks!  That’s such a short time.  It is really amazing.

The one complaint participants on the low-fat vegan diet had was that food was expensive and difficult to find.  It does not need to be this way.  Of course if you are buying convenience foods, it will be more of a challenge and more expensive.  Processed foods in the vegan market are niche, and fat-free vegan foods even more so.  I would suggest that more foods be made at home and less processed foods consumed, to take a page out of the paleo diet book.

We shop in bulk at farmer’s markets, often going once a week to stock up on fruits and vegetables.  I then use these to make healthy meals for my family.  Perhaps tomorrow I will post a recipe for an easy fat-free vegan tomato soup.  I often make big batches of this comfort food when tomatoes are in season and freeze containers for use later in the year. I find prices in farmer’s markets are 30%-50% lower than in supermarkets, I can support local farmers directly, and the food is more fresh.  On my last trip to the farmer’s market, I got 10 kg (22 lb) organic grapes for $10!  In the US, some farmer’s markets are even offering to double food stamps, so even people on food stamps can take advantage of the findings in this fantastic study.

With childhood obesity on the rise, we as parents have the power to combat it.  It’s not as hard as it might seem – even if you cut back and begin to follow the AHA guidelines, your child will benefit.  Go gradually and slowly transition to a more plant-based diet.  Even I cannot claim to be vegan (we eat a small amount of dairy and a tiny amount of fish once a week, but lots and lots of eggs), but take the steps you can in the right direction and it will only benefit you and your kids.  I know if my kids showed one of these risk factors for heart disease, or showed signs of obesity, I would not hesitate for a moment to switch to an even healthier diet than the one we are currently on.  We all have to start somewhere! Go ahead, take the plunge – or at least the first step – in the vegan direction!

*Zhang R, Brennan ML, Fu X, Aviles RJ, Pearce GL, Penn MS, Topol EJ, Sprecher DL, Hazen SL (November 2001). “Association between myeloperoxidase levels and risk of coronary artery disease”. JAMA 286 (17): 2136–42.doi:10.1001/jama.286.17.2136

**Heslop CL, Frohlich JJ, Hill JS (March 2010). “Myeloperoxidase and C-reactive protein have combined utility for long-term prediction of cardiovascular mortality after coronary angiography”. J. Am. Coll. Cardiol. 55 (11): 1102–9.doi:10.1016/j.jacc.2009.11.050

Does “Healthy Obese” Really Exist? Why Not to Let Your Kids Become Overweight.

Does “Healthy Obese” Really Exist? Why Not to Let Your Kids Become Overweight.

“I’m not fat, I’m just big boned!” goes the classic joke.  But it’s not such a joke anymore.  For years, the trend of “healthy but obese” has been booming.  This comes as no surprise, in a day and age when more and more people are overweight.  Nobody wants to admit they are fat and even if they are willing to accept their obesity, they do not want to accept that this extra weight on their bodies could be putting their health at risk.  This is even more true when it comes to our children.  As parents, we want to feel that we are doing what is best for our children, not that we are making them sick or shortening their lifespans!  The concept of “healthy obese” has become a trendy copout.

What is “healthy obese?”  Healthy obese is when an individual is classed as “obese,” with a BMI (body mass index) over over 30, yet who has normal cholesterol levels, good blood pressure, and no diabetes or other metabolic risk factors.  These people claim it is okay to be obese because they are also presenting as healthy in blood tests.  People claim there is nothing wrong with having this extra weight because it poses no additional health risks.  However, until recently there were no long-term studies done to prove this.

The problem is that people who are “healthy obese” do not tend to stay healthy in the long term.  The mere fact of being obese, even “healthy obese,” dramatically increases your chances of becoming “unhealthy obese” in the future.  In a study published a few days ago in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, scientists followed over 2,000 people for 20 years to assess their long-term health outcomes.  Over the course of the study, researchers periodically tested the subjects on five indicators of metabolic health: cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, fasting glucose levels, and insulin resistance.

By the time the twenty years had elapsed, more than half of the “healthy obese” had becoming “unhealthy obese,” at a rate nearly eight times that of control subjects who were not obese at the outset of the study.  In most cases, “healthy obesity” leads over time to “unhealthy obesity,” with the risk of becoming unhealthy increasing as more time passes.

While this study focused on adults, its message for children is clear: obesity is not healthy.  Even if your child appears healthy, obesity is setting them up for an unhealthy future.  This could be due to the obesity itself as a risk factor, or it could be due to the unhealthy habits that led to the obesity in the first place adding up over time.  Either way, obesity puts your child at risk of an unhealthy future.

This is why it is essential to emphasize a healthy diet for your kids.  Ensure they eat well and maintain a healthy weight – and by “healthy weight” I mean not an “obese healthy” weight! – so they can live longer and thrive.

Combating Childhood Obesity (Part 3)

Combating Childhood Obesity (Part 3)

The third set of reasons for why children become obese are down to social pressures.  Of the three reasons I’ve addressed, this may be the most difficult one to deal with.  Within your own home, you have control over what your kids eat, but once they are out in the world, they are more likely to be influenced by friends.

Of course, it is good to encourage your kids to make friends with other kids who have similar values surrounding health and diet, but there is no way to guarantee they will do so.  However, being friendly with other parents who hold similar values to yours and have children the same ages as your children is a good first step to take.  I remember that when I was a child, my parents would regularly have dinner guests who had kids we could play with.  As a child, I was always happy to see these friends, although I would probably not have been friends with them had I been in school.  Nevertheless, they did become my friends and did succeed in influencing me (as perhaps I did to them as well).  Thus, you can take steps to find friends for your kids who have the kinds of values you want your kids to have, too.

But what about those friends who are not a good influence on your children?  (And there always seems to be at least one!)  Telling your child to stay away from that friend will only backfire and make them want to be closer to that friend.  The best thing you can do is to encourage your child to stand up to pressure from their friend.  If that friend eats a very unhealthy diet, you need to make sure your child is confident in their healthy choices.  This is why you need to really inspire your kids to be healthy.  They need to want it as much as you do.  Talk to them about it and see how they feel.  Then emphasize the good parts and focus on them, ignoring the bad.  Make sure they understand that it is good to stand up for what they believe in.  If their friend is trying to encourage them to toss their healthy lunch and go for a meal of French fries instead, make sure your child has the tools to stand up to the peer pressure. Kidshealth.org advises:

If you continue to face peer pressure and you’re finding it difficult to handle, talk to someone you trust. Don’t feel guilty if you’ve made a mistake or two. Talking to a parent, teacher, or school counselor can help you feel much better and prepare you for the next time you face peer pressure.

Make sure your kids understand this.  You need to create an environment where they feel comfortable speaking to you, which is why it is important to inspire them to want to lead healthy lives and eat healthy food.  They are more likely to stand up to peer pressure when it is something they believe in, too.

If your socio-economic situation makes it harder for you to provide your family with healthy food, there are certain steps you can take.  Take a half an hour a week or 5 minutes a day to read blogs like this one to inform yourself about health and nutrition.  You can share what you read with your family, perhaps reading aloud for 5 minutes after dinner and discussing for a couple minutes what you read.  You can also take baby steps toward a healthier lifestyle for you and your kids.  Instead of buying oily fast food French fries, get pre-cut fries from the grocery store freezer aisle and bake them in the oven.  With a tiny bit of olive oil spray and some good seasonings, they will be much healthier and won’t take any more time or effort than it would to sit in line at a drive-thru.  You can start replacing unhealthy snacks like chips and cookies with healthier ones like plain yogurt, fresh fruit, or snacking vegetables like baby carrots.  Buy frozen vegetables rather than tinned ones (which usually have sugar and/or salt as an ingredient, plus preservatives).  Little steps like this won’t cost you more time or money but, when added up, will make a big impact on your kids’ health.

I hope these tips on how to fight or prevent obesity in children have proven helpful.  Please share in the comments section the strategies you have employed!

Combating Childhood Obesity: Part 2

Combating Childhood Obesity: Part 2

The second reason for the childhood obesity epidemic that I addressed was habituation. Habituation is how we humans get used to consuming unhealthy foods and then need greater quantities of them to get the same results.  This is because certain foods act like drugs.  The more we consume of them, the more we need to consume to get the same flavors and feelings.  Corporations capitalize on this to get us used to eating unhealthy foods so we no longer prefer healthier, higher quality alternatives.

If your kids are not yet accustomed to eating extremely high levels of sugar, salt, or fat, good work! Keep up the good work and avoid the development of these addictions by purchasing foods with little or no added sugar, low added salt, and only healthy fats, if any added at all.

There are two ways to tackle addictions our kids have already developed: gradually wean them off, or go cold turkey.

Wean Them Off

One trick to weaning kids off sugar, salt, and other unhealthy foods is to do so slowly, one item at a time, or bit by bit.  Add a little bit less sugar to the pancake batter each week until you add none at all (yes, they do still taste good!).  Buy less sugary cereals.  Buy healthier options one item at a time.

This is the most gentle option, but also the most tricky.  That’s because there is always a chance of backsliding.  It also means your kids might feel the “pain” of unsatisfied cravings for longer.  On the other hand, if you do it right, your kids also might not even notice and will gradually come to accept less sugar.

Going Cold Turkey

I have tried this on myself so I can speak to my own experience as an adult.  I cut sugar out of my diet completely for three months.  Now, I have never been a sugar addict so my “withdrawal” was not as bad as many peoples’ would be, but I still noticed it.  But by the end of three months, I could see a demonstrable change.  I no longer had any interest in consuming sugary foods.  In fact, I could not even eat a whole banana because it was too sweet.

This will also work on kids.  Of course, there is no telling how they might react!  If they are really addicted to sugar they might actually have some withdrawal cravings that might make for a few weeks of cranky behavior.  But if you do go this route, it will pay off, big time.  This is the fastest way to break bad habits, and the most lasting.

Let me know how these methods work for you!

Combating Childhood Obesity: Part 1

Combating Childhood Obesity: Part 1

Over the part three days, we’ve been looking at the reasons for the obesity epidemic our children are facing.  For the next three days we will consider the best way to confront and conquer these reasons.

The first reason I propose for the childhood obesity epidemic is that we as humans have a genetic predisposition toward consuming high calorie, high carbohydrate, high fat foods, while simultaneously avoiding activity in an attempt to conserve energy.

How could it be possible to change something that is a result of our own human biology? It is possible to overcome this urge in ourselves and our children.  This is why simply saying “it’s genetics” is, for the vast majority of people, not a good excuse.  There is a way to overcome it.

The first, most important step, is to take charge.  As the adult doing the shopping in your household, you decide what to let in and what not to let in.  The less unhealthy food you bring in, and the more healthy food you bring in, the more healthfully your family, and in particular your kids, will eat.

This doesn’t have to be any more time consuming or expensive than your current shopping, either.  Replace chips with baby carrots and mini cucumbers.  Replace cookies and sweets with fresh fruit.   Choose healthier options to replace your current purchases. If right now you buy white bread, switch to whole wheat. If you buy white rice, switch to brown.  Replace butter with olive oil.  Replace fatty meats with fresh vegetables and replace sugary, salty canned vegetables with frozen veggies.

As the primary provider for your household, you have to take charge of what is available in your home.  This is the first step to overcoming our natural inclinations for unhealthy food: A child cannot eat unhealthy food that is not readily available.

The second step to overcoming this natural biology is to encourage kids to use up as much energy as possible.  Keep your kids active!  Turn off the TV, the computer, the phone, the iPad.  Send them outside to run around in the park or the yard. Sign them up for after-school sports.  The more time kids spend actively running around, the less likely they are to become obese.

Of course, as kids get older, they have more autonomy.  As kids get older, the best weapon you have is to keep the lines of communication open.  Explain to them how their bodies work and why they want to eat certain foods.  Allow them to ask questions (if you don’t know the answers, don’t make them up – just admit you don’t know but tell them you’ll find out – and then do it! You’re welcome to post them here and I’ll get back to you).  Ask them how this information makes them feel and listen to their answers.

Kids are more open to listening to their parents when they feel listened to themselves.  Having an open discussion about how these kinds of preferences, cravings, and desires are not really their own can help them feel more empowered when they decide what to eat by using their heads rather than their stomachs.

Hopefully these tips will help you deal with the threat or existence of weight concerns in your own child(ren).

Why Are so many Kids today Obese? (Part 3)

Why Are so many Kids today Obese? (Part 3)

Genetic predisposition provides a significant challenge to those of us who are trying to raise healthy kids and to feed our kids a healthy diet.  Some of it is our kids’ natural human predisposition to prefer high carbohydrate and high fat foods.  Some of it is our kids’ habituation to excess sugars, fats, and salts in all our processed foods today.  And some of it comes down to societal pressure.

At the core, we are social animals.  Children are fully aware of social pecking orders from a young age.  When a child sees their friends eating unhealthy foods, they want them as well.  At least 90% of teenagers admit to being strongly influenced by peer pressure and the vast majority of kids say that doing something their friends do improves their social standing.

Peer pressure has a huge influence on children, particularly from the time they start school.  If your child consistently has healthy food and knows unhealthy food is discouraged by you, the parents, your efforts to educate your child on good nutrition habits could be drastically undermined if their friends disapprove.  Whether it’s through showing off their own unhealthy choices and your child’s desire to fit in with them, or if friends are making fun of your child, peer pressure can significantly influence your child’s food choices.  This is why obesity has reached epidemic proportions in youthful populations.

Peer pressure is not the only social influence on our kids’ diets.  Children also face obesity problems because of the world they are born into.  Unfortunately, our socio-economic backgrounds influence the likelihood of obesity. There is a reason why obesity is higher in poorer areas and lower in wealthier ones. In the US especially, it is hard to find fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables in poor or rural areas, and those that are found are rarely available as cheaply as unhealthy pre-made processed foods are.* Additionally, poorer people are unlikely to have the leisure time and money to pay for expensive gym memberships, or even to have the social supports or education to exercise on their own.

Furthermore, the relationship between diet and disease may not be as well-known to those in lower income areas, or to people with less access to education on health and diet. People living in poorer socioeconomic areas generally just do not realize that spending a little more on healthy food today will save them a lot of money on health care tomorrow.

Family circumstances also have a significant impact in lower income families where both parents work, or where the single mom is working.  A lot of mothers shopping for food for their children also say that even when they know the food they are buying is unhealthy, they just don’t have the time to prepare healthy meals from scratch.  Even if they have the availability of healthy prepared foods, many of them report they do not have the money to purchase them.**

These, then, are the three significant issues we face when confronting the epidemic of childhood obesity: natural biological inclination, habituation to unhealthy habits, and social pressures.  Now that we know what we are facing we can formulate a plan to deal with them.

* Sarah Treuhaft & Allison Karpyn, “The Grocery Gap: Who Has Access to Healthy Food and Why It Matters.” PolicyLink. Available at http://www.policylink.org/atf/cf/%7B97C6D565-BB43-406D-A6D5-ECA3BBF35AF0%7D/FINALGroceryGap.pdf

** Shelley L. Koch, A Theory of Grocery Shopping: Food, Choice and Conflict Berg Publishers, London 2012.

Why Are so many Kids today Obese? (Part 2)

Why Are so many Kids today Obese? (Part 2)

Yesterday, I explained one way our genetics predispose us toward behaviors that encourage obesity.  But that’s not all.

We all have taste buds.  Those little bumps on your tongue, those different sections that taste different flavors.  We all have them and they are all unique.  Of course, smell is also a big part of taste, so our individual senses of smell affect our senses of taste.

However, in general, we humans all possess the same basic mechanism for taste.  We may perceive foods slightly differently (a particular gene, for instance, predisposes some people to taste bitter flavors more strongly, in dark leafy greens for example, than other people, who will perceive more of the sweetness present in those vegetables*), but we are all generally drawn toward the same basic elements, as discussed yesterday.

However, there is another factor at play here: habituation.  It is said that a person can get used to anything.  In my experience, I think that saying is mostly true, at least in regards to flavors.  When we eat the same sort of food over and over, we can come to like and even prefer it, even if initially we did not like it much.  A lot of this can be seen culturally, as different cultures across the world have come to really enjoy foods that actually induce vomit in visitors from other cultures.  (Nattō being the one that springs to mind most readily.)

This habituation also applies to the potency of certain flavors in food.  If you consume a lot of salt in your diet, for instance, you need more salt to taste it.  Yes, some peoples’ taste receptors and individual, unique, biology do contribute to the starting point, but any person who starts eating very salty food will soon become accustomed to it and will need more salt in their food to taste the salt than someone who eats food with very little salt.  The same principle applies to any flavor.  Bitter? Think about people who enjoy drinking black coffee. Spicy? Just try eating Indian food the way the native Indians do! Sweet? Just look at most kids these days, who need sugar added to their fruit juice for it to taste sweet.

The companies who produce our foods know this principle well and capitalize on it.  They know their customers can become used to just about anything, and indeed, come to prefer it.  In fact, we were just discussing this with someone today!  As my husband pointed out, look at certain fast food establishments.  They cannot use the highest quality products because they cannot consistently provide them.  They can guarantee they can consistently provide lower quality products, on the other hand.  Therefore, if the potatoes they receive are of a superior quality, they cannot use them to make fries.  If the meat they receive is of the highest quality, they have to reject it.  Just think about it: Imagine going to McDonald’s one day and getting a burger made from kobe beef, then going back the next day and getting their usual cheap meat.  Would you be disappointed? I bet!  Consistency is the name of the game in fast food and “quality control” means controlling the quality so it is consistent, not so it is of the best quality possible.

My point is that the family we were speaking with was giving their son a burger he didn’t want to eat because it wasn’t a McDonald’s burger.  The parents were trying to explain to the son that this burger was handmade from high quality beef and tasted much, much better than a McDonald’s burger, but the kid wasn’t buying it.  He was so accustomed to the low quality McDonald’s burgers he was used to that he actually preferred it.

This helps explain a lot about the obesity epidemic today.  When paired with our preference for sweets and fats, a tendency to need more and more of a flavor in order to taste it contributes significantly to obesity, especially in children, who are highly susceptible to both of these things.

Remember that as adults we tend to exercise more control over our natural inclinations.  If we get a craving for sugar we can recognize it for what it is and choose to ignore it (or not).  But a child who gets a craving for sugar generally just pursues it.  It tastes good and feels good (at least in the short term) so that is what kids will want.

Our own natural biology is a huge contributor to obesity in children.  Understanding and being aware of those natural urges and those natural human inclinations is the first step in conquering childhood obesity or stopping it before it starts.

*Inoue H, Yamakawa-Kobayashi K, Suzuki Y, Nakano T, Hayashi H, Kuwano T. “A case study on the association of variation of bitter-taste receptor gene TAS2R38 with the height, weight and energy intake in Japanese female college students” J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo). 2013;59(1):16-21.