Best Diets For 2012

It is a new year, so naturally we are thinking about a new, healthier body. For many of us, that means taking on a diet to lose some of those pounds that found us over the holidays. Happily, the folks at U.S. News and World Reports have issued an updated list of the 25 top diets.

Why are there so many diets? How can we decide which diet is right for us? The review board at U.S. News was made up by 22 respected nutrition experts. They examined the diets and weighed (sorry) each diet's impact on weight loss, heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes and overall nutrition. You can read the entire report here.

For the second year, the DASH diet won top honors. Ironically, the DASH diet was not created with weight loss in mind. The letters DASH stand for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. That hints at its true focus, reducing high blood pressure. Only later was it recognized for its value as an overall weight management and health improvement diet.  The meal guidelines are broken up into six categories.  Whole grains, like whole wheat bread, oatmeal and some cereals, contribute 6-8 servings a day.  Vegetables are 4-5 servings a day and fruits are another 4-5 servings, so this is a real change for the fast-food fans among us.  Dairy (low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt) weigh in at 2-3 servings a day for your calcium, vitamin D and protein.  That’s important because your lean meat (and they mean LEAN) is 6 or fewer servings a day.  A serving of lean meat is one ounce of skinless chicken or one egg, for example, so that’s not a lot of meat.  Total meat intake comes out to about six ounces per day.  The diet also recommends 4-5 servings of nuts or seeds per week.  Sweets (one tablespoon of sugar or a cup of lemonade) get only 5 appearances a week.  For the over-21 crowd, the diet allows two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.

Runner-up honors went to the TLC diet. Like the DASH diet, the TLC diet was not initially created for weight control. TLC stands for Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes, and refers to an eating plan that can lower cholesterol by 10% to 20% without medication. The TLC diet restricts your consumption of diary (unless it is non-fat or low-fat), most meats, and pretty much anything that contains saturated fats.  By using liquid vegetable oils (think canola, olive, peanut, and safflower oils) instead of saturated fats (lard, Crisco, butter) you can stay below the 200 milligram daily cholesterol target. With the TLC diet, your carbs should come from complex carbohydrates, like vegetables, pasta and whole-wheat bread. Simple carbs, like foods made with processed sugar, are to be minimized.  Protein, from very lean meat and low-fat dairy, should only be about 15% of your daily calorie budget. To further reduce your cholesterol, soluble fiber is recommended.  Good sources of soluble fiber include oatmeal, pectin and bran.  Maybe have a muffin with that egg white omelet?   Be sure to use heart-healthy margarine to top off that muffin, though.

The third place ribbon goes to the Mayo Clinic diet. The Mayo Clinic Plan is a diet that focuses on fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy. Based on the Mayo Clinic Healthy Weight Pyramid, menu planning is easy because of the breadth of foods available. Fruits and vegetables are the foundation. Complex carbohydrates and proteins are also well represented. The only area where you may feel some constraint is with fats and sweets. The diet emphasizes heart-friendly fats, from nuts, avocados, and the like. The diet even has a daily provision for sweets, with 75 calories every day set aside for those splurges that keep life worth living.

Coming in fourth place is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet focuses on a lot of fruits, vegetables, grains (typically whole), beans, nuts and olive oil; even a glass of red wine with dinner if you're so disposed. You won't see a lot of red meat, mostly seafood and the odd piece of chicken once in a while. Most of your fat comes from olive oil, so expect that your dairy intake will be mostly from the Fat Free section of the grocery shelf. With little red meat and restricted dairy, many people take a multivitamin to be sure that they get enough iron and calcium. You will get plenty of omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants, though, so don't look for a vitamin that features these nutrients.

Which one is perfect for you? There is a lot to consider. You might glance at our blog post on shopping for a diet as well as our in-depth recap of diets. And remember, dieting alone is unlikely to be successful. Get a diet buddy and keep each other encouraged and accountable. If you don't have a friend who is ready to join you, just click over to and find a new diet buddy near you!

Zen And The Art Of Macrobiotic Living

Most of us have heard of the macrobiotic diet. Few of us actually know what that means. Here are some details on the blend of diet, spiritualism and sustainability that makes up the modern macrobiotic diet.

Today's macrobiotic diet has its roots in ancient Japan, hence the attention to balancing the yin and yang of foods. Cold and sweet foods are considered yin or passive foods. Hot and salty foods are considered yang or aggressive foods. Most foods are eaten raw or only slightly prepared, through baking, boiling or steaming. Locally grown foods are encouraged.

Processed foods are discouraged. Other prohibited foods include fatty meats and poultry, dairy, processed sugar, caffeinated beverages, alcohol, chocolate, potatoes and squash. Some fruits and vegetables are permitted in limited quantities, like tomatoes and peppers.

Enjoying and celebrating food and the eating experience is encouraged. Followers of the macrobiotic diet eat their meal slowly and chew each bite of food extensively. This promotes enjoyment of the subtle flavors of the featured foods while it allows your body to feel full before you over eat.

A typical macrobiotic diet consists of about half grains (mostly brown rice), one quarter vegetables, ten percent legumes and beans and the balance coming from locally sourced fish, seeds, nuts and fruits. Miso soup is suggested at least once a day. It is important to balance the vegetables for proper nutrition or take a vitamin supplement. Otherwise nutritional deficiencies could result, especially iron and calcium.

The word "macrobiotic" is a combination of Greek roots that mean "long life." That was certainly the foundation of the diet and philosophy. The diet came to the U.S.from Japan in the 1960s and gained prominence in the late 1970s when Michio Kushi opened his institute in Boston that promoted the macrobiotic lifestyle. In the 1980s a prominent physician and head of a hospital in Philadelphia published a book that claimed that his macrobiotic diet cured his prostate cancer. There is no scientific basis for this claim, but it certainly catapulted the macrobiotic diet to fame.

Is the macrobiotic diet right for you? This is a diet low in saturated fats, so high cholesterol sufferers can rejoice. It is also high in complex carbohydrates and fiber and contains few simple carbs, so people dealing with type II diabetes can jump in, too. Eating slowly and savoring each bite helps us to control our intake, which is a good thing regardless of what's on your plate. On net, this diet (especially with a vitamin supplement) can be part of a positive lifestyle change, so why not?

Have you tried the macrobiotic diet? How has it worked out? Click on the Comment button and share your experiences.

What's Hot in Fitness for 2012

We all begin each new year full of enthusiasm and optimism. This is definitely the year that I get back in shape! Yes! I'm going to eat better, exercise more and get a physical. Probably in that order. Some of this enthusiasm struck the people at the American College of Sports Medicine, who predicted some hot topics in fitness for the coming year.

The results of this crystal ball exercise were published in the Health & Fitness Journal and summarized in a recent Huffington Post article. Some of the results are obvious, like having these fitness professionals rank "fitness professionals" as the number one hot trend for the year. Other predictions are more surprising, like sport-specific training making the list.

Now, taking a page from David Letterman, here is the Top 20:

20. Patient referrals. Using trainers to offload doctors and help patients deal with chronic issues.

19. Wellness coach. Helping people change their lifestyle to improve their long-term health.

18. Worker incentive programs. Employers paying (sometimes indirectly) for healthy habits.

17. Sport-specific training. Workouts tailored specifically for the demands of a particular sport.

16. Spinning. Riding a bike that never leaves the room. At least you never get a flat!

15. New markets for fitness. As health awareness grows, new segments of the population join the fitness movement.

14. Outdoor activities. Working out at the gym doesn't mean that you're actually inside the gym.

13. Boot camp. You can't miss the barrage of ads for military-inspired butt-kicking exercise programs.

12. Health promotion at the office. Exercise isn't limited to your off hours any more. Work out at work!

11. Yoga. This ancient exercise for mind and body is experiencing an explosion of popularity. Quietly.

10. Functional fitness. A new buzzword for taking everyday movements and turning them into exercises.

9. Zumba. This latin music dance/workout craze continues to gain fans.

8. Group personal training. Stretching the term "personal" to mean "me and some friends" for fitness.

7. Core training. This focus on the stomach, back and related areas can avoid injuries and really improve your look in a swim suit.

6. Personal training. Working out under the supervision of a professional can keep you safe and motivated.

5. Fighting youth obesity. Children and teens are increasing overweight. New programs fight the bulge.

4. Exercise with diet for weight loss. Surprise! Exercise while on a diet helps you lose faster. Who knew? Oh, yeah, everyone.

3. Fitness programs for older adults. Staying fit means staying sharp. Retirement communities now include fitness centers. Who you calling "grandpa"?

2. Strength training. Not just for Venice Beach any more. Strength training can jump-start your metabolism and pay health dividends for everybody.

1. Certified fitness professionals. In the eyes of certified fitness professionals, certified fitness professionals are the key ingredient to a healthy life. Go figure.

So, how many of these hot trends are you participating in? What are you waiting for? Get yourself a workout buddy and get healthy!

Can Bacteria Cause Obesity and Diabetes?

We have all heard that we are what we eat. New research hints that we become what (or how) we digest. Scientists have identified particular bacteria that seem to trigger obesity and diabetes.

Researchers in Brazil have studied the medical foundations for diabetes and obesity (generally called metabolic disease) in mice. The scientists use mice because it turns out that it is possible to breed genetically modified mice that are resistant to diabetes. By "knocking out" a particular gene sequence in the mouse chromosome, mice were born with a biological protection from developing diabetes. This genetic change meant that mice that would have otherwise developed diabetes because of their diet and activity level would remain healthy.

To the surprise of the scientists however, these genetically protected mice developed diabetes when their digestive bacteria included one particular strain. By treating these mice with powerful antibiotics, which killed all of the digestive bacteria, the mice returned to health. To further validate their theory, the scientists then transplanted the suspect bacteria from diabetic mice to healthy mice. The recipient mice promptly developed diabetes. It seemed clear to the researchers that these microbes played some role in the development of metabolic disease or diabetes.

Now a lot of things work when experimenting with mice that don't work when applied to humans. Nobody suggests using this genetic knock out technique on people or trying to nuke our stomach bacteria to eliminate obesity and diabetes. On the other hand, this is pretty compelling evidence that our stomach bacteria do play an important role in our health and the onset of metabolic disease.

Not too long ago, researchers developed an antibiotic treatment for ulcers. This cured a disease that previously could only be treated with diet and antacids. The improvement in quality of life for people suffering from ulcers was incredible. More research may lead to a similar type of antibiotic treatment for metabolic diseases of obesity and diabetes.

Diet Rehab

Many diets seem to be a long list of "don'ts" as in don't eat carbs, don't eat meat, don't eat after 8PM. Diet Rehab is a fresh approach to losing weight that targets the underlying reasons for our food cravings and treating overeating like an addiction.

Dr. Mike Dow (the star of TLC's "Freaky Eaters") and Antonia Blyth have written a book called Diet Rehab. The diet is based on several scientific studies on the brain's reaction to consuming junk food. The Scripps Research Institute compared overeating to cocaine addiction in lab rats. Their results showed that, at least for rats, eliminating binging on high-fat food was as difficult as eliminating cocaine

Diet Rehab is a four week program that targets the junk food in your life. A gradual tapering off is suggested, rather than going "cold turkey" and eliminating junk food on day one.  The book talks about the release of dopamine and serotonin that comes with eating junk food. This pleasurable sensation is the driving factor behind junk food addiction. A gradual transition from junk food to healthier options needs to be accompanied by other activities that will trigger dopamine and serotonin releases.

The four week program takes your junk food addiction down gradually, with weekly activities and milestones. During week one you add what Dr. Dow calls a "boosting activity" each day. This activity (think yoga, meditation, napping or early bedtime, walking or other moderate exercise) will release dopamine and serotonin, just like eating junk food. During the first week you also replace one meal a day (or a snack, even) that would otherwise be junk food with healthier alternatives that also release dopamine and serotonin. This could be scrambled eggs for breakfast or a tuna salad lunch.

Week two has you bumping up the "good food" budget to twice a day. That means that two of your meals are now junk food free. Maybe you've added a grilled chicken breast for dinner or a nice piece of salmon instead of that Big Mac. You also have two boosting activities in every day. At this point your serotonin and dopamine releases are at least 50% from healthy triggers.

During week three you are low restricted to 900 calories a day from junk food. You also include three booster activities to your daily routine. Now you are really making a positive difference in your life between healthy foods and real exercise!

The final week your junk food budget is down to 600 calories a day. Check out the Burger King menu and you will discover that you don't get a lot for 600 calories. Booster activities take place four times a day. Now junk food is a very small part of your life and many people discover that they can just walk away.

Will this work for you? The Diet Rehab approach is not your typical diet, in fact it claims not to be a diet at all. Instead, it focuses on underlying drivers for binge eating and those junk food cravings that sabotage most diets. There are chapters in the book on changing your mind set about food, exercise and what really makes you happy. And isn't that what it is all about, anyway?

The Chris Powell Diet

It is hard to miss Chris Powell these days. The star of "Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition" on ABC is a powerhouse in the diet, fitness and inspiration business. Between his personal appearances, new book and a guest slot on "Good Morning America", the Chris Powell diet is the hottest thing to grace this chilly new year.

The Chris Powell diet consists of five meals a day, three traditional meals and two mandatory snacks. His twist on common dieting is to alternate high carb days and low carb days. His goal is to boost your metabolism and avoid the body's natural reaction to deprivation that creates the dreaded plateau. By alternating high and low carbohydrate eating, your body doesn't shut down and cherish every calorie it receives. Through this "now you see it, now you don't" approach, your weight loss is steady and dramatic.

The diet allows women to have 1,200 calories a day on low carb days and 1,500 a day for high carb days. Men are allowed 1,500 and 2,00 calories a day respectively. The Chris Powell diet even provides guidance for "cheat days" where women get 2,400 calories and men get 3,000. Wow!

Chris also suggests carrying fiber pills when you leave the house. Then, if you need to eat out, just take a pill (psyllium fiber isn't too awful) and let it fill up your stomach a bit before your entrée arrives. He also recommends using sugarless gum and zero calorie flavored water to fight those hunger pangs that seem to lurk around every corner.

In addition to these eating rules, Powell also recommends an exercise routine that mimics his high/low approach to carbs. This is called the 3*2*1 exercise program. You start with three minutes of light exercise, something that doesn't get you breathing hard. Then you kick it up a bit into medium intensity cardio. At this point you are starting to puff, but it doesn't keep you from talking easily. Finally you finish up with one minute of intense exercise. You should be putting it all out, sweating and panting for all you're worth.

Chris Powell is also a motivational speaker of great skill. If you look past all of the inspirational talking about setting and achieving goals, though, the Chris Powell diet is sound and safe. The daily calorie intake is well within governmental guidelines and the exercise routine isn't beyond most people's capabilities. The variety aspect is attractive and keeps you looking forward to tomorrow.

Have you tried the Chris Powell diet? Click on the Comment button and let us know if you reached your goal!

The Slim-Fast Diet

If you need to lose some weight quickly and you enjoy milk shakes, the Slim-Fast diet may be just right for you. Since 1977, Slim-Fast has been available as a meal substitute, helping dieters reduce their caloric intake without giving up nutrition.

In addition to their original milk shakes, the Slim-Fast people have a line of snack bars and a wealth of recipes for healthy meals. You also get a very supportive and easy to use web site for tracking your progress and finding answers to common questions.

The basic Slim-Fast diet is straight forward. You have a Slim-Fast shake or "meal bar" in place of breakfast and lunch. You also get to augment these meal replacements with nuts and fruit. For dinner you are allowed a balance meal with about 500 calories. Your daily intake is about 1,200 calories, right on target with the government guidelines. All in all, it's a pretty easy plan.

The Slim-Fast people say that you should be able to 1 or 2 pounds a week. This is a reasonable goal and well within the government's recommendations for safe dieting.  Most people can stick with the plan for 2 months or so, giving you a total weight loss of 15-20 pounds. It is quick and easy, but rarely do people stay with the Slim-Fast products long term.

The Slim-Fast shakes and meal bars are designed with good nutrition in mind. They contain the right amount of protein, carbs, fat, sodium and fiber, per the FDA minimum daily requirements. If you have a sensible dinner, your nutrition should be just fine without a multivitamin.

This is a good diet for people who don't want to count calories or worry about points or preparing a lot of exotic meals in advance. If you like the taste of the shakes and bars, life is pretty good! You are responsible for cooking one meal a day, but that's not asking too much, is it? Using the Slim-Fast products will be more expensive than cooking low-calorie meals in their place, but much more likely to work for your busy schedule.

Have you tried Slim-Fast? Are you ready to join celebrity endorsers Tommy Lasorda, Shari Belafonte and Kathie Lee Gifford? Click on the Comment button and give us your best take!

6 Tricks To Make Your New Year's Resolutions Stick!

It happens every year, right at the stroke of midnight. As the ball is dropping we all vow to live a better life in the coming year. These New Year's resolutions are easy to make and, sadly, easy to break. There are some strategies that can help to make these resolutions outlast the bubbles in the champagne.

Most of us make the same resolutions each year: lose weight, get in shape, drink less alcohol, eat better, save money, help the disadvantaged, maybe visit someplace new. Study after study shows that we all pretty much have the same resolutions year after year. If you're a smoker, you can add quitting to that list. Health clubs love the boost in membership sales that occur every January. Especially because they know from experience that most of their new members won't use their facilities beyond January.

Given the clear personal benefit of most New Year's resolutions, what can be done to make them come true? Just wishing for better discipline won't make it happen. Psychologists have a few suggestions that can help your resolutions become reality.

1. First, be sure that your resolution really matters to you. If you aren't excited about it, you won't be disappointed when it drops away. Focus on the "why" rather than the" how" of your resolution. The benefit of achieving your resolution must be substantial and desirable so that your efforts toward its realization can be justified.

2. Your resolution must be small enough to be achievable. I would love to drop 30 pounds, but that's probably never going to happen. If a resolution is clearly outrageous in the cold light of day following the New Year's Eve bash, there is no chance that you will make any real progress toward it.

3. To keep yourself motivated, you should make your resolution divisible into "success chunks". Celebrate each intermediate achievement. If resolving to lose weight, set a goal of losing 2 pounds a month. That builds success and momentum that will increase your motivation as the journey gets more difficult.

4. Regardless of your goal, it should be measurable. That way inevitable backsliding can be countered with data. It is easy to get discouraged. To counter that, having some facts like, "I lost 3 pounds last month, so this 1 pound gain isn't so bad" can really help. No resolution of any magnitude can be accomplished without a few setbacks. The important thing is to shrug off the setback and continue forward toward your goal. Having some measurable proof of success can be a real resolution saver.

5. Change your environment to change your behavior. Studies have shown that many of our habits and behaviors are triggered by our surroundings. If we have always smoked in that breezeway between the office buildings, maybe avoiding that breezeway can help us stop smoking. If we typically eat a bag of potato chips in that recliner after works, perhaps we should stay away from that recliner a while. Anything that we can do to break the cycle of bad habits is a good thing, so think about the environment where you exhibit your bad behavior and come up with a new environment for your new, improved behavior. You may be surprised how effective this simple strategy can be.

6. Make peer pressure work for you. No matter what personal change we're trying to effect, it is hard to keep going on our own. Bring in your family and friends to support you. Their encouragement can make the difference when the going gets tough. Find a workout buddy to meet you at the gym, for example. You may become one of the few January members that actually use the gym in February. Don't have a workout buddy? Wow, that's easy to correct now that is around. Don't struggle alone. Bring in some positive peer pressure so that you can celebrate your milestone victories with others and lean on them during the rough spots.

So review your New Year's eve resolutions. Pick the one that gets you really excited, break it down into achievable chunks, measure your progress, celebrate with a buddy and make 2012 your best year yet!

The Daniel Diet

The Daniel Diet, sometimes called the Daniel Fast, is a three week diet program that takes its guide from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament of the Bible.  This is a modified fast, where you do get to eat, but your intake is limited and strictly vegetarian.

In the book of Daniel, the scripture talks about Daniel's two fasts. In the first fast, he ate only vegetables and drank water for 10 days. In his second fast, he avoided bread, meat and wine for three weeks. In both cases his health and outlook improved.

Because of the theological basis for this diet, many practitioners incorporate prayer and Bible reading into the process. This can't hurt, but non-believers can also benefit from the diet. If you do additional research on the Daniel Diet, be prepared for a very Christian point of view from most of the web sites.

The diet restrictions are pretty clear, and somewhat severe. You can eat no meat or processed foods. About 70% of your calories should be from raw or blanched vegetables, fruits and nuts. The balance can be from grains, beans, lentils and other starchy vegetables.

Your only source of liquids, beyond what you get from the fruits and vegetables, is from water. No other beverages are permitted. The Bible speaks specifically about avoiding wine, but this has been broadened to all beverages.

As with most drastic reduction diets, it is important to be in good health before you start. You should also be sure to take a multivitamin every day, because the allowed foods may not give you all of the nutrients that you need.

Some proponents suggest a "pre fast" stage to begin. That means a week or so of reduced eating before you begin the actual. No real food restrictions apply during this preparatory phase, but your body is getting used to eating less. This helps you tolerate the drop-off in calorie intake during the 10 or 21 day fast.

Is this the diet for you? Many people appreciate the theological background of this diet and find it easier to follow than a modern-day creation. Others find the restrictions, especially regarding beverages, too much to take. The Daniel Diet does not meet the government's 1,200 calorie per day recommendation, but only lasts three weeks. Eating fresh fruits and veggies can also be a welcome break from processed foods and sodas.

Have you tried the Daniel Diet? Click on the Comment button and let us know if it was a great experience!

Plyometrics – Leap To Fitness

Plyometrics is not a word that you expect to hear around the water cooler. Plyometrics is a category of exercise that involves quick, powerful movements to develop strength, endurance and agility.  Sometimes called "jump training" because of the many jumps used in plyometric exercises, many coaches and trainers are embracing plyometrics because of its noted success in developing top athletes and fitness enthusiasts alike.

Plyometrics uses the natural cycle of muscle lengthening and shortening to increase strength.  A muscle group is first stretched and then explosively contracted.  Jumping, lunging, bouncing and skipping are all moves common to plymetric exercises. The fast pace and intense movements build cardiovascular capacity, too. To top it off, recent research has shown that this type of exercise can actually strengthen your bones.

Plyometrics are typically done in a circuit training manner, with the athlete working at each station in the circuit intensely for a few repetitions and then moving quickly to the next station without pause. After the entire circuit is completed, a two minute rest break is taken. Then the circuit is repeated.

Here is a typical circuit training approach to plyometrics:

Station 1 – The Skater
This exercise simulates the rapid movements of a speed skater. Stand in a half-crouch, with your right leg behind you and your left leg forward and across your body. Your right hand should be just over your left hip with your left had extended behind you. Hop to your right as you reverse the positions of your arms and legs. You should be mimicking the movements of a skater, although not moving forward. Hop back and forth between the two positions rapidly 10 times.

Station 2 – Modified jumping jacks
Stand comfortably, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms fully extended out to your sides, shoulder high.  Jump slightly as you spread your feet apart (as far as comfortable) as your swing your straight arms in front of you and clap your hands.  Immediately jump back to your original position. Do this 20 times.

Station 3 – Hand plants
Assume a standard push-up position, with your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart and your knees straight. Quickly bring your left hand over to cover your right hand, and then return to your original position. Repeat this move with your right hand. Do this 10 times.

Station 4 – Squat and leap
Start out in a squat position, with your left leg in front, that thigh parallel with the ground and your right leg behind you, calf parallel with the ground. In one swift motion, leap into the air, reaching as high as you can with your hands. As you land, arrange yourself into your original position, but with your foot position reversed. Do this 5 times for each side.

Station 5 – Step hop
This exercise requires an exercise step (the low one that is about 10-12 inches high).  Start with your right foot on the box and your left foot out as far as is comfortable from the box. Hop to your right so that your left foot lands on the step, then let your right foot come down to the floor, again as far as comfortable from the box.  Repeat this 10 times each way.

Try to move from station to station without resting, then give yourself a break after completing the circuit. After a week or two, try to increase the number of circuits, with a 2-3 minute breather between each.  

Remember that exercise is hard enough without trying to go it alone. If you don't have a friend who is ready to join you in your quest for fitness, check out and find a local buddy who shares your interest in better health. Good luck!