Monthly Archives: December 2014

Tips for Successful Health Behavior Change

The start of each year marks a new beginning, and is a popular time to make health resolutions. The crowded gyms in January are a sign that many people are setting health goals; but by March it’s typically “just the regulars” at the gym, leaving many to wonder if New Year’s resolutions are waste of time. . .

The answer is no.  Any time is a good time for people to resolve to improve their health, and a growing body of research suggests a “fresh start effect”  (nicely summarized in this article) showing that setting health goals after significant landmark dates can improve chances for success.

Changing health behaviors is difficult, but certainly not impossible:  it helps if you view the change as a process, and not a one-time effort.  You should expect some ups and downs as you try to achieve new goals. Remember to celebrate small successes, and don’t blame yourself if you fail. Instead, try to figure out what barriers stood in your way to help you devise a better plan to succeed.

7 Strategies for Successful Health Change

Be realistic.  Setting realistic goals will help you achieve better results.

Setting "SMART" goals will help your chances of success
Setting “SMART” goals will help your chances of success

Make a plan. Think about the changes you need to make to achieve your goal and make a plan. Most experts recommend setting achievable short-term goals that will help you meet your ultimate goal.

Be confident & committed.  Individuals who believe that they can change their behavior have a much better chance at succeeding.

Be positive. Think of adding new healthful behaviors instead of focusing on what you’re giving up. For example, if you’re trying to reduce your intake of a favourite junk food (for example, potato chips or soda), focus on healthful foods you can add to your diet, instead of thinking about foods you need to consume less often.

Plan for lapses. Consider situations that have prevented you from achieving your goals, and figure out what you will do when these circumstances arise.

Review your surroundings. Remove cues that may lead to unhealthy behaviors, and surround yourself with things that will help you achieve your goals: for example, healthful snacks are more likely if you remove the cookies from your pantry but keep bright fruits and vegetables visible. You’ll find some good tricks here.

Keep track of your progress. Regular monitoring and feedback is very helpful for changing a behavior. Keep track of your progress with diaries, charts, notes on a calendar, or regular weight checks.

Here’s a great video on evidence and strategies for New Year’s resolutions by Dr. Mike Evans.


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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

Happy Holidays!

This week, read about the importance of overall nutrition quality vs isolated nutrients, how mental fatigue affects sports performance,  12 risks for Christmas, using the talk test to regulate exercise intensity, and more.

Focus on Overall Nutrition Quality

Mediterranean Diet FoodsThe recently published Omnicarb Trial suggested that the glycemic index may not influence cholesterol and other heart disease risk factors for people who are already following a healthful diet (the glycemic index is a way of measuring the effect of a food on blood sugar). Dr David Katz puts the findings of this research in perspective, urging people to focus on the overall nutrition quality of their diet, and offers these five guidelines for those wanting to improve their diet or lose weight (detailed further in his article – worth reading!).

“1. Know that overall nutritional quality trumps any isolated nutrient manipulation.”

“2. Resolve to get ready and set before resolving to go.”

“3. Trade up your choices, rather than giving up what you love”

“4. Rehabilitate your taste buds.”

“5. Take your family with you.”

How Does Mental Fatigue Affect Your Sports Performance?

Another great sports infographic by Yann LeMeur, explaining this study, showing that mental fatigue can impair running performance. This highlights that it’s important to find ways to reduce mental fatigue before competitions or high quality training sessions. Future areas of research may include using mental fatigue as training stimulus. (Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Dec 9)


Twelve Risks for Christmas

Fun video putting risk in perspective and supporting science-informed decision making.  (University of Michican’s Risk Science Center)

 More Links of Interest This Week

Wishing everyone a happy and health holiday season!

See More Issues of This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness



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Racing at Rikert

This weekend I traveled to Middlebury, Vermont, with some of my XC Ottawa teammates to race at the NENSA Eastern Cup Opener.

Rikert Nordic Center, which borders the Green Mountain National Forest, hosted the event on the fairly new Tormondsen 5km racing course certified to FIS standards. One loop around the course and I recognized many similarities to a course I’d raced in Stowe (fun, winding, plenty of S turns, little rest on downhills) and figured out it was another course designed by legendary trail designer John Morton, a Middlebury College alumni.  A large stadium area and two 2.5 km loops  make it a great course for spectators.  The trails also benefit from man made snow, which seems to be more and more important for these early season events.

The end of the first 2.5 km loop winds back towards stadium area
The end of the first 2.5 km loop winds back towards stadium area

This New England race series is something special. The fields are enormous (almost 200 women racing in Saturday’s 5k), and the atmosphere is very friendly and festive. Competitors include current/former Olympians, many club skiers, and countless College teams.  Despite the numbers, these events seem to have a more relaxed feel than Canadian races  (e.g., at this race skiers and wax techs were allowed to ski on the course during races – showing respect for athlete know-how, and resulting in better wax testing, fewer strict marshalls, and more spectators). We had amazing weather, fairly good snow (augmented by man made snow), and the races went pretty well!

Saturday featured an individual start 5 km classic race – the course was in fairly good shape, despite a few icy S-turn downhills. I had a pretty good race and finished 18th.  One goal for Sunday’s 10 km mass start event was to stay on my feet and keep my equipment intact (I anticipated pile-ups with the large field and mostly downhill start).  I succeeded, and finished in 25th.  I was right about the pile-ups (I saw the first one happening in front of me about 200m in . . . ).  I managed to ski around the downed skiers and saw only one more fall for the remainder of the race – the S-turn downhills were especially icy and entertaining!

My XC Ottawa teammates also had great races, enjoyed the weekend, and we benefited tremendously from the waxing help of Chelsea Nordiq – another local club that attended the event.

The results are linked below, and NENSA has posted some photos of the event here:



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This Week in Food, Health, and Fitness

This week, read about simplifying fitness, gluten sensitivity, salt and headaches, bogus health claims, women lifting weights, and more.

Simplifying Fitness 

Julia Beluz ( wrote an excellent piece this week about how we tend to overcomplicate exercise (We make exercise way too complicated.  Here’s how to get it right). She summarizes and simplifies what we know into the following five points:

  1. “If you’re not exercising regularly, doing any activity will help”;
  2. “Cardiovascular exercise will keep you on the earth for longer”;
  3. “If you are exercising regularly, mix it up”;
  4. “Exercise probably wont help you lose a lot of weight — but you need it to keep weight off and stay healthy”;
  5. “You shouldn’t do extreme workouts all the time”

jumpropeThe article highlights pertinent research and draws on the expertise of leaders in the field – I highly recommend reading it!

Along those lines, Dr. Micheal Joyner wrote a blog post on a simple and underrated piece of exercise equipment that is inexpensive, transportable, works on agility, footwork, cardiovascular fitness. . . a skipping rope!  It’s nice to see such a simple message from one of the world’s leading experts on human performance and exercise physiology, who has been involved in complex studies of physical activity and performance.

Gluten sensitivity: New Epidemic or New Myth?

Researchers from Upstate Medical Center in Syracuse, New York, join a growing number of scientists raising concern about the the best-selling books spreading misinformation and pseudoscience about the “evils” of gluten and grains. Their article focuses on David Perlmutter’s book “Grain Brain,” which promotes a low-carb/high-fat/high cholesterol diet. Dr. Perlmutter includes a list of 38 different diseases or symptoms, including autism, infertility, and schizophrenia that he believes can be prevented or cured by a gluten-free diet. The book claims that a high-grain/low-fat diet is responsible for obesity (I talked about the lack of evidence for this last week) and many other chronic illnesses.

In their paper, the researchers present  evidence-based findings that dispell Perlmutter’s gluten myth. Like most fad diet books, Grain Brain follows the popular formula of promising the reader great health, telling them their health problems are not their fault, that most of the standard nutrition advice is wrong, citing only studies that support their ideas while ignoring those that don’t, and blaming all illnesses on one thing (in this case, grains). (Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). Oct 2014; 27(4): 377–378.)

You can read about gluten-free diets for athletes here.

Other Links of Interest This Week: 


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