Monday, June 27, 2011

Friend Makin' Mondays: What's in your fridge?

FMM is a regular feature from the fantastic blog All the Weigh, which I heartily recommend!

  1. List a few common items that can always be found in your fridge. Milk, eggs, and shredded cheese are the only very consistent things. I often shop sales, so it changes regularly.
  2. What kind of milk do you drink? Skim. I'm so used to the taste that I'm not sure I could go back to whole milk.
  3. Do you prefer fresh or frozen vegetables? Fresh potatoes, but frozen everything else. Because I'm only feeding myself, most of my fresh veggies tend to spoil. I never can seem to eat them quickly enough. Frozen veggies, on the other hand, last ages without going bad, so that I don't lose money and food.
  4. What do you currently have to drink in the fridge? Water, milk, Lipton Diet Green Tea, a few Honest Teas, a few gatorades, SoBe Lifewater, and Fuze. What can I say? I like variety!
  5. How often do you clean out your refrigerator? Every week when I take out the trash. I always check the fridge before I close the bag.
  6. What’s the healthiest thing in it right now? Hm...probably the frozen broccoli in the freezer. Most of the foods are pretty healthy, but the broccoli is probably the best. The Greek yogurt might be healthier, but I don't eat it as often.
  7. What’s the most unhealthy thing in it right now? A couple boxes of Girl Scout cookies that I usually forget to eat but can't bring myself to throw away. I like to have two or three cookies after dinner on occasion.
  8. What do you wish you had in it that you don’t have now? Good question! I wish I had some Lean Cuisine individual pizzas. Those are delicious.
  9. How often do you shop for groceries? Once a week or less. My pantry is fairly stocked, so I only shop to refill things that run out, like milk or eggs.
  10. What’s the weirdest thing in your fridge right now? I'm not sure I have anything that would qualify as "weird" right now. I do have a few Earth Balance "vegan buttery sticks" leftover from making vegan stuffing balls a few months ago. At Whole Foods, the "vegan buttery sticks" (which I swear is the name on the package) were cheaper than the regular butter, so I gave it a shot. They tasted fine in the stuffing balls, but I haven't been brave enough to try them on just toast or a roll.

Your turn!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

PSA: Correlation is not causation

Today I'm going to do a public service announcement: correlation is not causation. How does this relate to healthy habits and weight loss? Stick around!

Journalistic standards tend to fall when authors are reporting on medical findings. I believe that the reason for this is two-fold: 1) journalists aren't necessarily well-versed in science, and 2) saying something is associated to another factor is far less interesting than saying that it causes another factor. The most common problem I see, aside from misinterpreting some results, is that reporters write as though correlation is the same as causation. I saw a headline today that really threw me--potatoes can add plenty to waistline--so I had to investigate!

Anyone who has taken a basic statistics or research methods course can tell you that there are three rules for determining causation:
  1. Establish correlation.
  2. Define time relationship.
  3. Eliminate intervening variables.

I'll briefly cover what those mean. The first one is pretty simple; you have to show that two things are related reliably (meaning that your test can be replicated and return the same results) and validly (meaning that your test measures that which you intend to measure). The second one is also fairly simple; you have to demonstrate that item A (the causal factor) precedes item B (the caused result).

The third is slightly more difficult, and it's the one that journalists skip most frequently. Intervening variables include anything that could have an effect on item B, even though item A may appear to cause the change. My statistics professor gave the best example I know. Let's say you're at a football game. It starts to rain. Everyone opens umbrellas, and the game continues. However, suddenly the rate of fumbles increases. After a number of games where you observe this, you notice that people always open umbrellas before the fumbling increase. Therefore, you conclude that umbrellas cause fumbles.

Nonsensical, right? We've established 1 and 2, but we haven't eliminated an important intervening variable: the rain! For such a simple example, anyone would confidently say "Wait! You've got it wrong! The two are correlated, but they aren't causal." A recent study from Harvard University scientists (Mozaffarian, Hao, Rimm, Willett, and Hu) published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that "4-year weight change was most strongly associated with the intake of potato chips (1.69 lb), potatoes (1.28 lb), sugar-sweetened beverages (1.00 lb), unprocessed red meats (0.95 lb), and processed meats (0.93 lb) ) and was inversely associated with the intake of vegetables (−0.22 lb), whole grains (−0.37 lb), fruits (−0.49 lb), nuts (−0.57 lb), and yogurt (−0.82 lb) (P≤0.005 for each comparison)" [emphasis mine]. Several dozen newspapers and blog sites around the country picked this important finding and completely distorted it.

Each of those three articles uses terminology to indicate that potatoes "cause," "contributed to," or "led to" weight gain. That's not what the scientists say. It's a subtle difference, but the studies found that daily servings potatoes, particularly fried in some way, were associated with higher weight gain. Everyone in the study gained weight on average, so it's not as though the potato lovers were the only ones packing on the pounds. Journalists are overlooking key intervening variables! Do people who regularly eat some form of potato have other lifestyles that might contribute to higher weight gain? The scientists even point out that you can't say that one food or drink can be shown to consistently affect weight gain across the board: "Eating more or less of any one food or beverage may change the total amount of energy consumed, but the magnitude of associated weight gain varied for specific foods and beverages. Differences in weight gain seen for specific foods and beverages could relate to varying portion sizes, patterns of eating, effects on satiety, or displacement of other foods or beverages" [emphasis mine].

Furthermore, I'm guessing that the journalists didn't actually look at the results graph. The category of potatoes--that they all like to point out adds 1.28 pounds over four years--includes two subcategories: 1) French fried (3.35 pounds over four years), and 2) Boiled, baked, or mashed (0.57 pounds over four years). If you view it that way, French fries were the highest weight gain correlation with 3.35 pounds, far higher than the 1.69 pound gain from eating potato chips. While boiled, baked, or mashed potatoes still weren't a negative correlation, indicating weight loss, that subcategory ranked 8th of the 23 variables in terms of weight gain, landing it between trans fat (0.65 pounds over four years) and refined grains (0.39 pounds over four years).

I know this has been a long blog post, but it's important to keep the correlation versus causation distinction in mind when we read these stories that could influence us to change our lifestyles. Is it easy to learn to interpret statistics to find meaningful results? No, it's certainly not. Is it worth the effort not to mislead the American public? Yes, I absolutely think it is.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Frustrations with Money and Health

I'm going to write about something that's been weighing heavy on my life lately: money. I promise that I'll eventually bring it all back to my weight loss journey, but please bear with me.

Money has been at the forefront of my mind since the start of this summer. I decided that I would continue at my current job at a slightly higher rate of pay for 30 hours a week. My calculations showed that this would be fine as long as I stuck to a very, very strict budget. Things have been pretty tight. Really tight. I had to stop going to belly dance, which I love, and I've had to postpone my violin lessons. Still, I was on top of things.

Until my rent went up. Until I got sick. Last Wednesday I woke up with a dizziness I had never experienced. Long story short, I was diagnosed with an inner ear infection and spent over $120 on the doctor's vist (because I was listed as being out of network because I'm away for school) and three medications. I'm fine, but when you're on a super tight budget, that's huge! That's basically my food budget for the month. I am a crazy, crazy coupon lady, but I've been slacking. I spent Saturday night watching romantic movies--I can't help but love The Notebook--and organizing my coupons. Then, I went to Southern Savers and printed a shopping list for CVS.

I shop at CVS more than other stores for a variety of reasons, but I have two major ones right now: 1) my mom puts a bit of money on my Plus Account once a month, and my local CVS accepts Plus Account; and 2) CVS is currently doing a gas card promotion. Spend $30 on qualifying purchases, and get a $10 gas card every week! It's fantastic. It costs about $50 or $60 to drive to WV and back, so that is a huge help.

Here's where the healthy eating part takes a role. CVS doesn't have very many fresh foods; if they do, they're normally overpriced. I bought several boxes of Easy Mac (as part of the gas card promotion) yesterday. I'll brag for a minute to say that my shopping trip's retail value was $116.40, and I paid $42.69. That's a savings of over $70, or 63%! Anyway, I have to find ways to make these seemingly unhealthy foods work for me, for my new lifestyle. Tonight I had a bowl of Easy Mac. To make it at least nominally healthy, I mixed steamed broccoli into it. (If you haven't tried mac and cheese with broccoli, you really should.) Is it the most healthy choice in the world? No. Was it filling and delicious and full of a very yummy vegetable? Yes!

That's my lesson. I'm going to have to scrimp and save for now. I won't always be able to buy fresh produce, but I can find great deals and coupons for frozen veggies, which are nutritionally similar to fresh veggies or arguably even better. I've learned to make small adjustments to make a meal healthier, like adding broccoli to mac and cheese or baked potatoes. It doesn't take anything away from what I want to eat, it's still inexpensive, and I'm upping my intake of good food. Overall, it's not a bad deal.

Friend Makin' Mondays: Yes or No?

FMM is a regular feature from the fantastic blog All the Weigh, which I heartily recommend!

  1. Do you use coupons? Yes! I use Southern Savers and Maven of Savin' to find the best deals and coupon matchups. I prefer Southern Savers because you can create a printable list for a variety of stores with coupon matchups right from the site, but Maven of Savin' normally posts more freebies and random deals.
  2. Do you like football? American or other? I love soccer, and I'm sort of a fan of American football. I have many fond memories of football because I was in band for so many years.
  3. Are you in a relationship? Sort of? That's a fairly complicated question for me right now.
  4. Is your phone always within arm’s reach? No. I don't "always" have my phone right beside me, but it's usually nearby.
  5. Do you like thunderstorms? Not the severe ones that we've been having.
  6. Can you cook? Yes, but I'm still learning.
  7. Are you – or have you – lost weight? Yes. I have lost a few pounds and am working on losing even more.
  8. Do you know how to read a map? Yes. This seemed like a silly question at first, but maps can be frustrating to read if you aren't used to it.
  9. Do you wear makeup? Yes, but not normally. I only wear makeup on special occasions.
  10. Do you read regularly? Yes. Given that I'm in grad school for library science, I read quite a lot!
  11. Are you publicly affectionate? Yes. I enjoy holding hands or a brief kiss, but I'm not going to make up in the middle of the street.
  12. Do you like picnics? Yes, very much!
  13. Do you have a/c? Yes, thankfully. I spent four years without central A/C, and I'm glad to have it again.
  14. Have you ever been out of the country? Yes, once. We went to Canada for a band trip in 8th grade.
  15. Do you know how to ride a bicycle? Yes. I need a new seat because mine is awful! I can't ride as much as I'd like.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Fat Girl Yoga

I know this seems like an odd sort of topic, but one thing that bothers me with exercises is that I literally can't get my body to move in certain ways. It's not that I'm not flexible enough; it's that I have too much meat to do certain things. No, I cannot clasp my hands behind my back and pull my arms up without pinching fat between my shoulder blades. No, I can't touch my nose to my knees because--guess what?--my stomach won't let me bend over in that way.

I'm not saying that every yoga instructor or every yoga DVD needs to include specialized lessons for overweight participants, but it would be nice if more of them would. A quick Google search for "yoga for overweight people" provided a few promising results. has a page for Plus-Size Yoga, and it lists a few places that offer yoga catering to overweight people. Unfortunately, most of those links are to regional or single-city studios. Some of them offer DVDs, but there's nothing like having an instructor to let you know if you're doing the exercises appropriately. You can seriously injure yourself if you hold a position improperly. Another website, Fat People Can Do Yoga in Class or at Home, lists some DVDs that modify positions for overweight people. Three DVDs? That's it? Not very promising.

Aside from the physical limitations of doing yoga while overweight, I have to deal with the mental and emotional aspect of being the biggest person in the class on most days. The university gym offers yoga classes, most of which are unfortunately during my work hours. While I enjoy them, I was mortified to run into someone from my program at one class. You need to have somewhat clingy clothes to practice yoga without flashing everyone or needing to pull your pant legs down. When your acquaintance has a streamline body (great for yoga clothes) and you're dragging extra pounds, you don't want to face off. Of course, she never made any rude remarks and probably thought nothing of it soon after class, I felt awkward. I can't imagine running into a professor!

I started this entry with hopes of finding a decent listing of yoga for overweight people DVDs or classes. I found a few, definitely! But, in a society that provides online access to pre-recorded yoga sessions (YogaDownload) that offer courses specialized for children, pregnant women, people with back pain, runners, and cyclists, you would think that they could squeeze in one class for overweight people!

Good luck, fellow yogis!