News Roundup: How to Have a Healthier Mardi Gras


It’s that time of year again. Yes, Mardi Gras time! The time of year that is associated with parades, carnival masks, purple, green, and gold. 


For some, it’s all about the food. From frosted king cakes to deep fried beignets, Mardi Gras is not known for its abundance of healthy food.


This week’s News Roundup brings you a collection of articles and blog posts discussing tips for eating healthier while celebrating Mardi Gras. 


Healthy(er) fare along the Mardi Gras parade route? Yes, it's true.   “Craving Middle Eastern flavors? Their Grilled Chicken Gyro is a leaner alternative to the traditional gyro - again, for those looking to cut carbs or just shave a few calories in general, you can forgo the bread and opt for just the tzatziki sauce.”


Recipe Wednesday: Holly Clegg's King Cake! The Redstick Blog.  “One of my favorite Louisiana traditions is Mardi Gras – more specifically the king cake! Now, you can make this quick king cake recipe in your own home, without worrying about a complicated yeast dough - using crescent rolls. When I shared this recipe, the kids absolutely loved helping make the cake. The only thing easier is ordering it from your bakery and this version is so much better for you!” 


Healthy Mardi Gras Recipes and Menus. Eating Well. "Our perfect-for-a-dinner-party recipes are low in calories and celebrate the colors of Mardi Gras: purple, green and gold. These hues traditionally symbolize justice, faith and power, respectively. To us, they also reflect nutrients galore. Gold-tinged produce provides beta carotene. Those green vegetables deliver folate and lutein, a phytochemical linked with healthy vision. “Red” (or purple!) fruits and vegetables can be rich in anthocyanins, antioxidants that may prevent age-related cognitive decline, and flavonoids, antioxidants that help keep blood vessels healthy."


Guilt-free king cake and king cake swap-outs. “Be aware when it comes to advertising and marketing claims, even by our local bake shops. Some of the allergen-friendly bakeries and restaurants that we checked out have king cakes that — on first impression from the "clean" ingredient list — looked like fabulous options, but turned out to be crammed with more calories and added sugar than a "regular" king cake.”

News Roundup: Updated Sleep Recommendations


The National Sleep Foundation has released an updated set of recommendations for sleep at all ages. The non-profit, scientific organization met with a panel of sleep experts and experts from other fields, such as pediatrics and psychology. The recommendations are based off of a comprehensive review of studies on sleep and health. Most age groups saw an increase in the recommended amount of sleep per night. Notably, the expert panel deciphered between amounts of sleep that may be appropriate and those that are strongly recommended. 


This week’s News Roundup brings you a collection of articles discussing the National Sleep Foundation’s updated sleep recommendations.   


How Much Sleep Should You Get? New Recommendations Released. LiveScience. “Too little sleep has been linked with health problems, including obesity and high blood pressure, as well as decreased productivity and drowsy driving, the NSF says. Too much sleep has been linked with health conditions as well, including heart disease and premature death.”


How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?  National Sleep Foundation.  “What’s Changed?...A new range, “may be appropriate,” has been added to acknowledge the individual variability in appropriate sleep durations. The recommendations now define times as either (a) recommended; (b) may be appropriate for some individuals; or (c) not recommended.”


National Sleep Foundation changes recommended snooze timeUSA Today. “"This is the first time that any professional organization has developed age-specific recommended sleep durations based on a rigorous, systematic review of the world scientific literature relating sleep duration to health, performance and safety," Charles Czeisler, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation, said in a statement.”


Are You Getting Enough Sleep?  U.S. News.  “Health factors, including obesity or caffeine use, can impact whether a person sleeps well. A lack of sleep also can be linked to weight gain, because sleep deprivation causes an increase in appetite, according to the foundation.”


The Mediterranean Diet: Good for Health, Good for Life.

The Mediterranean diet is consistently promoted by health professionals as one of the healthiest and most balanced diets available.  You may have wondered, what makes the Mediterranean diet so great? For starters, it’s a well balanced style of eating that is rich in fresh, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and seafood.  Other foods like dairy, red meats, and sweets are not entirely eliminated, but consumed less often.  The Mediterranean style of eating differs from many other diets because no single food group is deemed the token villainous “bad” food group. Foods from all food groups are included.  As illustrated in the Mediterranean diet pyramid, some foods are encouraged to be eaten more frequently, while others less often.  Most people find this particular style of eating relatively reasonable to follow and adhere to (versus more restrictive, less balanced diets).

Aside from dietary recommendations, the Mediterranean style of eating also encourages physical activity and enjoying meals. Focusing on diet, physical activity, and the mind/body (social) aspect of living, contributes to the well-roundedness of the Mediterranean diet. 

What does the research tell us?

Many large scale clinical and population health studies have tested the efficacy of the Mediterranean style of eating.  The results indicate that a diet similar to that of the Mediterranean region is linked with many physical health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease; reduced risk of death from heart disease, cancer and Parkinson’s; reduced blood pressure and cholesterol; reduced risk of obesity in children andadults; and reduced risk of Type II Diabetes

Research has also demonstrated the positive effects of a Mediterranean diet on mental health, particularly Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.  Adherence to a Mediterranean style diet is linked with reduced risk and progression of Alzheimer’s disease and Dementia.

What makes the Mediterranean Diet so healthy?

There are a few staples of the Mediterranean diet that make it such a health style of eating.  Overall, it is a diet that is high in healthy (unsaturated) fats and low in highly processed, sugary foods-which have been linked with many adverse health outcomes such as heart disease and type II diabetes.  Consisting of many fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, olive oil, and fish, Mediterranean foods are generally lower in calories and higher in vitamins, minerals, fiber, heart healthy fats, and protein, than the typical Western diet.

How can I start eating the Mediterranean way?

Familiarize yourself with the Mediterranean diet pyramid and try to stick to the core principles of this style of eating.  Base every meal off fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, and/or legumes. Consume poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt once or twice per week. Try to eat meats and sweets once per week or once every other week at most.

Here are a few tips that highlight the difference between the Mediterranean vs. Western style diet:

·         Stick with whole, fresh foods rather than prepackaged or precooked meals.

·         Grill, broil, and bake instead of frying.  

·         Use fresh herbs and spices instead of salt or sugar to flavor food. 

·         Use olive oil instead of butter.

·         Drink red wine in moderation (optional).

·         Be physically active.

·         Enjoy sit-down meals with others instead of eating alone or on the go.

Remember, the Mediterranean style is ideally fresh, flavorful, and abundant in variety; it’s far from boring, tasteless, and rigid (like many other “diets”). Note the word “style” versus “diet”. Diet implies restriction and something that cannot be maintained long-term. The Mediterranean “style” of eating is healthy and flavorful and can most definitely be maintained long-term for well beyond weight management benefits – as aforementioned.

So- experiment in the kitchen, be active, and share meals with others. These are the foundations of the Mediterranean way! 

News Roundup: One Month In- How Are Your New Year's Resolutions Holding Up? (Hint: Try SMART Goals If You Need Some Help)



Only about 8% of Americans that set New Year’s resolutions are truly able to keep them. Unrealistic expectations and lack of social support are two of the most common reasons for failing to meet goals. The good news is, there are things you can do to re-frame your goals and increase your chances of success.


This week’s News Roundup brings you a collection of articles and blog posts discussing the reasons why New Year’s Resolutions fail and what to do instead.  


Harvard Psychologist Explains The Major Reason New Year's Resolutions Fail.  Huffington Post. "People are making absolute statements about what they're going to do, and that's setting them up for failure immediately,…because they're not always going to go to the gym three times a week."


Why People Can't Keep Their New Year's ResolutionsPsychology Today. “Researchers have looked at success rates of peoples' resolutions: The first two weeks usually go along beautifully, but by February people are backsliding. And by the following December most people are back where they started—often even further behind. Why do so many people not keep their resolutions? Are people just weak-willed or lazy?”


How to make your New Year's resolution last one year, not one month. Science Daily. "If you start with lofty goals, it's easy to become discouraged if you don't meet those goals right away," said Emily Mailey, assistant professor of kinesiology in the College of Human Ecology. "Start by trying to do something once or twice a week for short durations of about 10 to 15 minutes. Then you can build up from there. This way you can set yourself up to be successful."


12 More Tips to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolutions. Psych Central.  “Be specific. Don’t resolve to “Make more friends” or “Strengthen friendships” because that’s too vague…I have several very concrete resolutions like: “Start a group,” “Remember birthdays,” “Say hello,” “Make plans,” “Show up,” and “No gossip.””



To Self-Monitor or Not to Self-Monitor

What is self-monitoring?            

Self-monitoring includes observing and recording behaviors such as calorie intake, physical activity, and sleep.  If you have ever used apps like MyFitnessPal, Fitbit, or Lose It!, or mobile sites like Army H.E.A.L.T.H. or Weight Watchers, then you have self-monitored. Thanks to advancements in technology, mobile apps and wearable devices make it easier than ever to record and understand our daily activities. Once we have a better understanding of our habits, we are then able to make better decisions regarding aspects of our health, such as weight loss.  

When thinking of self-monitoring, it is important to understand that it is often a two-step process. The first step is simply observing and recording your habits. This can be something as simple as wearing a wrist band that automatically tracks the amount of steps you take and the amount of sleep you get each night, or it can be something more laborious such as recording all the foods you eat into a food diary.

The second step in self-monitoring consists of viewing and understanding your data. For example, let’s say that you recorded all your foods into a diet tracker for four weeks. The act of solely recording your foods will increase your awareness and you will start to notice exactly how much and what types of foods you are realistically eating. However, if you want to get the most out of self-monitoring, you will want to examine your data more closely. Do most of your calories consist of carbs, protein, or fat? Do you find that you are often eating healthy during the week, but less so on the weekends? These are the types of questions that self-monitoring can help you answer. The more you know and understand about your habits, the more likely you will be able to overcome barriers that may be interfering with your health and weight management goals.

Can self-monitoring help me lose weight? Science says yes.

Self-monitoring does a couple of things: it brings to light habits that you may not be fully aware of (e.g. mindless eating), it provides accountability, and it sheds light on undesirable habits (e.g. not exercising on weekends). Have you ever sat down in front of the TV with a bag of chips and the next thing you know the bag’s empty? Most of us have. That’s called mindless eating (eating without being present in the moment and paying attention to your body’s cues). Chances are that once you start logging your foods, you will automatically think twice before sitting down with the whole bag. By the same token, if you are trying to lose weight and you see that whole bag of chips on your food log, chances are you will hold yourself accountable and make a plan to prevent this from happening again (e.g. measure 1 cup of chips to eat).

Research shows that self-monitoring can also increase awareness of unwanted behaviors and the circumstances that surround the behavior. For example, while tracking your daily steps, you notice that you’re meeting your step goal during the week, but not on the weekends. You also notice that you eat waffles every Saturday and Sunday for breakfast, but not during the week.  You start to realize that after eating waffles, you feel sluggish and that prevents you from exercising on the weekends. Equipped with this information, you can think of healthier options to add to your weekend breakfast. You can also think of ways to incorporate more activity into your weekend.  Taking a family hike, walking to the store instead of driving, and signing up for a family 5k are just a few ideas.

How can I make self-monitoring work for me?

Anyone can wear an activity tracker, log foods, and look at their data. However, those who are ready to make lifestyle changes will likely have the most promising results. Self-monitoring is not a magical “fix-all” solution to weight management, but it is a good awareness building tool for those who are ready for change.  Whether using programs that require you to input your information, such as daily diet and physical activity logs, or using a device that helps you automatically track your habits (wearable activity trackers), self-monitoring tools are more user-friendly and affordable than ever. 

Many apps and mobile tracking websites, like MyFitnessPal and Army H.E.A.L.T.H. are free. These types of programs require the user to manually input their information (e.g. dietary intake).  For those who want to track their activities more effortlessly, there are some free fitness tracking apps, like RunKeeper, which use the GPS in your smart phone to help you easily log walks and runs. Many apps are also incorporating bar code scanners to make logging foods easier. Other tracking programs that gather data from a wearable device (e.g. Fitbit, Basis, Garmin, Jawbone, Misfit), are not free, but they are becoming more affordable.

One, not as prominent, but equally as important (in our opinion), feature that more and more wearable tracking devices are starting to include, is the ability to track sleep.  Research has shown a strong relationship between the amount of sleep you get each night and your weight. Therefore, part of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight should include examining and improving your sleep habits. Self-monitoring devices can help provide some insight into this area of your lifestyle.

Note*:  As you may have started to recognize, most of the benefits of self-monitoring come from raising personal awareness of habits you may not be mindful of, and helping you change these habits. It is important to note that although many wearable fitness and sleep tracking devices on the market today have been scrutinized for lacking accuracy, self-monitoring has been shown to be a motivational tool that can help people reach their health and fitness goals.  This is because regardless of accuracy, the simple action of tracking daily habits can help evoke behavioral change. 

Self-monitoring is a great tool that can help you reach your weight, fitness, and sleep goals. Research has demonstrated a consistent relationship between self-monitoring and success in losing weight and weight maintenance. Between free apps and affordable fitness trackers, tracking your habits is easier than ever. Why not get started today?