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Health and Fitness Special Section Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 25, 2007

Intuitive eating

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

"Intuitive eating," says Sandra Varno, "is a way of learning to eat most of the time when you’re hungry and not eat most of the time when you’re not."

It’s not as simple as it sounds though, says the nutrition educator at Cornell University Cooperative Extension of Albany County.

"Our culture programs us to eat all the time or not to eat, even when we’re hungry," said Varno, a registered dietitian.

Today, she is teaching the third and final class of a course that covers the basics of intuitive eating, including the pitfalls of dieting, and helping participants to identify their eating styles, to make peace with their food, and to discover strategies to overcome emotional eating and practice the principles of intuitive eating.

Varno teaches her classes, mostly for free, to groups who request it — ranging from state workers on their lunch break to not-for-profit groups at evening meetings.

"I’ve always enjoyed food and thinking about it," said Varno. She majored in English at Colby College in Maine and describes food as "a metaphor for life and how we take care of ourselves, especially as women." Varno went to Russell Sage College in Troy to study nutrition and get a master’s degree in community health education. She’s been at the cooperative extension for three years and loves it, she said.

Beyond guilt

"This is an introduction to a process where food becomes a friend and is no longer an enemy," said Varno.

In some of her classes, for example, she has an exercise where participants eat a little chocolate and realize how it makes them feel.

"Studies show the majority of people feel guilty when they eat something they love," said Varno.

"Look at the commercials," she went on. "Chocolate is described as a sinful dessert."

Varno asserts forcefully, "You’re not good or bad for what you eat unless you eat someone’s pet or a person."

Some people taking her classes have been "chronic dieters," she said; their weight yo-yos as they go from one fad to the next.

Varno has had her class members keep journals. Rather than counting calories, they rate their hunger before and after eating on a scale of 1 to 10. Some people, at first, snack all the time and come to realize they never feel hungry. It is good to know the feeling of hunger so you know when to eat, said Varno.

"But don’t wait till you get down to a 0 or 1 to decide to eat," she warned. "Your brain isn’t engaged. Eat at a 2, stop at a 6. Avoid the roller coaster."

Varno also helps her students discover when they are doing "emotional eating," she said. "They use food for comfort or punishment."

She described one woman who wanted to change her approach to eating so she wouldn’t pass it on to her child.

"Sometimes I’ll bring in a stuffed animal to share that concept...Treat your body like a child or a pet you love," said Varno.

"You are the expert on your own body"

"I’ve done a lot of reading," said Varno. One of her favorite books, on which she has based much of her teaching is Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.

Both Resch and Tribole are Californians. Resch has had a private practice in Beverly Hills as a nutrition therapist for 24 years, specializing in eating disorders and preventative nutrition.

Tribole, a dietitian, has a counseling practice in Irvine and was a nutrition expert for Good Morning America. She qualified for the 1984 Olympic trials in women’s marathon.

Resch and Tribole write, "Intuitive eating is an approach that teaches you how to create a healthy relationship with your food, mind, and body — where you ultimately become the expert on your own body."

They describe intuitive eating principles, including:

— Reject the diet mentality: Throw out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently. Get angry at the lies that have led you to feel as if you were a failure;

— Honor your hunger: Keep your body biologically fed with adequate energy and carbohydrates. Otherwise you can trigger a primal drive to overeat;

— Make peace with food: Call a truce, stop the food fight! Give yourself unconditional permission to eat to avoid overeating when you finally give in to forbidden food;

— Challenge the food police: Scream "no" to thoughts in your head that declare you’re good for eating under 1,000 calories or bad because you ate a piece of chocolate cake;

— Respect your fullness: Listen for the body signals that tell you are no longer hungry;

— Discover the satisfaction factor: In our fury to be thin and healthy, we often overlook one of the most basic gifts of existence — the pleasure and satisfaction that can be found in eating. When you eat what you really want in an inviting environment, you will feel content and find it takes less food to feel you’ve had enough;

— Honor your feelings without using food: Find ways to comfort, nurture, distract, and resolve your issues without using food;

— Respect your body: Accept your genetic blueprint to feel better about who you are. Just as a person with a shoe size of eight would not expect to realistically squeeze into a size six, it is equally futile and uncomfortable to have the same expectation with body size;

— Exercise and feel the difference: Forget militant exercise; just get active and feel the difference. Shift your focus to how it feels to move your body, rather than the calorie-burning effect of exercise; and

— Honor your health: You don’t have to eat a perfect diet to be healthy...It’s what you eat consistently over time that matters; progress, not perfection, is what counts.

Varno, at the cooperative extension, shared a favorite thought on intuitive eating from one of her students: "It’s a lifetime process with ups and downs like any other human endeavor."

A reporter’s composition, by the numbers

By Rachel Dutil

When I walked into Spinal Health Center of Guilderland last Thursday, I wasn’t aware that, when I walked out, I would hold a piece of paper with a list of numbers representing my body composition.

Some of the numbers were good, but other numbers indicated that I am about 10 percent overweight.

Carolyn Jonientz, a certified First Line Therapy Lifestyle Educator for the center, conducted a bioelectrical impedance analysis on me.

With nervous trepidation, I lay down and Jonientz attached two electrodes to my left hand, and two to my left foot. She then attached clips to the electrodes that each had a cord leading to a small box – the ImpediMed machine.

She entered my height, weight, and age into the machine, and then asked me to relax, and to try and hold still.

She was jovial and talked as much as she could in the 15 seconds that it took to send a small electrical current through my body. It didn’t hurt; I barely felt anything, besides my nervous energy.

The current, Jonientz said, changes speed as it hits water, muscles, organs, or bone.

The analysis measures the impedance or opposition to the flow of the current through the body fluids contained mainly in the muscle and fat tissue.

The data the analysis provides, Jonientz explained, "is specific for you."

Water levels

She explained that water exists inside a cell – intracellular water – and outside the cell – extracellular water. Stressing the importance of hydration, Jonientz said that, when the percentage of extracellular water exceeds the percentage of intracellular water, toxins are able to travel into the cell.

This causes symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, aching joints, and lower back pain, she said.

Fortunately, my analysis showed that my intracellular water was greater than my extracellular water, meaning that the toxins in my body are being kept out of my cells. This is probably because I make a point of drinking water throughout the day, sipping frequently from my aqua-colored water bottle.

To get intracellular water levels up, Jonientz said, drinking more water is the best option. "I think we forget that we need to drink liquids," she said.

It is best, though, to gradually increase water intake, she said.

Many people argue that, when they drink a lot of water, they have to urinate more frequently, Jonientz said. If you were to gradually increase your water intake, she said, "You’ll reach a point where your body will actually use the water, instead of just getting rid of it."

The American Heart Association also recommends taking Omega-3 vitamin supplements, which help the cell’s water to transfer toxins back and forth better, she said.

Omega-3 can carry levels of mercury, though, because it is found in cold-water fish, she said, and so it is important to look into the history of the company supplying the vitamins. Metagenics, a health-sciences company, has an Omega-3 supplement that does not contain any levels of mercury, Jonientz said.

With vitamin supplements, she said, "Timing is important." Lots of people who take vitamins swallow the pills with a glass of orange juice or water when they wake up in the morning, she said.

"Most supplements will work better if you take it with food," she said. The food allows the vitamins to be absorbed by the body, as opposed to being flushed out of the body, she said.

I quietly listened, and didn’t acknowledge the fact that, I too, wake up in the morning and down my vitamin supplement with a glass of water before hopping in the shower. I guess it would be best to alter my routine.

An evolution

Jonientz, now 57, first became interested in nutrition when she was about 16, she said.

At that time, a member of her family had an eating disorder. As a 16-year-old girl living in the "pre-Karen Carpenter" mid-sixties, she said, "I couldn’t imagine why someone would choose not to eat."

In the era before the Internet, Jonientz said, there "was not really a way to find out about it," and not much that anybody really did about the disorder.

"I just wanted to know why this person wasn’t eating," she said.

Jonientz went on to teach middle- and high-school students for 32 years. She taught human ecology – formerly known as home economics.

She taught her students how to apply nutrition to daily living, she said.

She also worked as a consultant in health clubs, and has been working with the Spinal Health Center for about a year, she said.

Jonientz said that her current job is "really sort of an extension of what I started out doing" It’s an evolution."

Jonientz works closely with Dr. Sarah Westcott, she said. Westcott, whom her patients refer to as Dr. Sarah, is a chiropractor.

Westcott asked Jonientz to join the center’s staff because "she knew I have high standards and a desire to help people," Jonientz said.

Jonientz discusses lifestyle changes with her patients, and helps them "to reach personal goals for health," she said.

"Having a healthy body composition is a lifelong thing," said Jonientz.

She said that, while she was teaching nutrition, she topped out at 200 pounds. She realized that her students weren’t listening, and that maybe she should practice the ideas she was teaching.

Now that she is at a healthy weight for her body size, she feels "1000 percent better," she said.

She stays active with kayaking and hiking. She also leads teen groups in Clifton Park as a Project Adventure coordinator, and said she has a lot of fun doing it.


An important part of her job, Jonientz said, is being able "to honor different people’s opinions of what they do."

I asked her what she thought about fasting – abstaining from some or all food and drink.

It has been practiced in religious contexts for thousands of years, and is practiced by many doctors as a form of "holistic healing."

Fasting reduces the body’s toxicity, and gives the organs a rest.

A close friend of mine did a 10-day detoxifying fast, and I was curious to know what Jonientz thought the health benefits or drawbacks were.

Jonientz explained that fasting slows down the body’s metabolism, and many people experience feelings of euphoria, she said. She added that 10 days is a long time for a body to be without food.

"When you are going into starvation mode, your body is trying to keep you calm, and not waste energy," she said. "The body will do anything to make itself work."

Fasting should be done under supervision, Jonientz advised.

Diets should also be approached with caution, Jonientz said; she prefers to say "lifestyle change."

The problem with fad diets, Jonientz said, is that they tend to be very fast weight loss, and it doesn’t take into consideration if the weight being lost is muscle mass or body fat. You want to lose the body fat, and not the muscle, she said.

"You will lose weight, but you’ll gain it back, and you’ll gain back more fat mass than muscle mass," she said.

Fad diets generally don’t put any emphasis on exercise, Jonientz said.

Many people are under the impression that, once you lose weight, it’s all over, and you can then go back to old eating habits, she said.

Jonientz likened that mentality to taking a shower, and then proclaiming, "That’s it for another year."

"As Americans, we live in a very fast-paced world," she said. The Spinal Health Center looks at "health habits" and asks patients what their health concerns are, Jonientz said.

Eating frequently is key to losing weight, she said. Eating smaller meals, and eating foods that will make you feel full, along with planning ahead is crucial to weight loss, she said.

Jonientz likes to help her patients to balance nutrients with their "feelings about food," she said.

She explained that complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables are much healthier than simple sugars.

Simple sugars, she said, increase blood-sugar levels, causing the pancreas to increase its production of insulin. The body stores the insulin, which causes the level to drop rapidly, making the sugar-eater feel hungry, she explained.

Lifestyle change is about finding a system that works for you, Jonientz said. "You have to work with your body all the time."

Since my nutrition lesson with Jonientz, I have consciously tried to make healthier choices. Her encouraging, friendly voice in the back of my head reminds me to "lively-up" myself, stay hydrated, and enjoy life.

An athlete’s eating habits, by the book

By Tim Matteson

GUILDERLAND — Brian Rhodes-Devey has a journal.

The journal is different than what most people his age keep. His journal is full of what he eats every day.

Rhodes-Devey, a nationally-recognized runner, is so meticulous about what he eats, he writes it down to keep track of what he puts into his body.

The Guilderland High School senior is different than most of his classmates. Instead of succumbing to the usual teenage eating habits which include pizza, burgers, and soda, Rhodes-Devey knows what he needs to fuel his tank and allow him to become one of the best distance runners in the state.

That attention to detail has allowed Rhodes-Devey to earn his way to the University of Texas to run for the Division I power Longhorns.

"I pretty much have my diet down pat," he said. "I stick to a routine. I eat a lot of whole grain pasta and chicken. I haven’t eaten white bread in years. I don’t eat fast food and I rarely eat pizza. I watch what I put into my body. I can’t be putting crap into the engine."

Rhodes-Devey has had a lot of help along the way in learning about nutrition and eating healthy foods. He does research as do his parents. He also has the advice of Guilderland coach, Bob Oates, who knows a lot about the subject and teaches his runners about properly fueling the body.

"The idea is that, with a balanced diet, you are going to get good benefits," Oates said. "There are specific diets like carbo-loading or protein-loading in the strength world. People who want to build explosive strength are building muscle with things like creatine instead of building blocks with good solid eating."

Creatine is an organic acid found in muscle tissue that supplies energy for muscle contraction. It is also sold as a muscle-building supplement. "

I chalk that up a lot to the fact that we are a want-it-now type of society," Oates added.

Oates will be talking about athletes and nutrition at the Altamont Free Library on Jan. 29 at 7 p.m.

"All shapes and sizes"

In his talk, Oates will focus on how athletes of all ages can use a proper diet to become good athletes. He’ll debunk myths about nutrition and explain how diets for athletes have changed in the last 10 years.

Nutritionist Jean Bigaoette will join Oates in the presentation.

"Before, football players would pound down steak and eggs before a game," Oates said. "I don’t know if that was part of the football mentality, but they would do that not knowing it takes five hours before that food would even move through the blood stream."

Oates will also discuss different things that athletes need to eat, depending on their sport. He will also discuss how supplements can’t replace a good diet. Injury prevention and fighting cramps will also be discussed.

Oates started learning about nutrition as a physical-education major in college, though there wasn’t a lot of literature about the subject at the time.

"Magazines were few and far between," Oates said. "There were journals and stuff, but it wasn’t until Runner’s World and magazines like that came out in the 1980s and 1990s and they started writing about nutrition for runners that brought it out to the forefront. But there is still a lot more research to be done on the subject."

More than just nutrition that aids athletic performance, Oates said. Rest and conditioning also factor in.

"There’s a triangle to peak performance," Oates said. "It’s an intensive work load, and rest around that. Sleep is mostly good for the brain, but muscles also need it."

Oates deals with different kids and sees potential for growth, even though young athletes want to grow quickly.

"I see high school kids of all shapes and sizes," he said. "If you are a kid that is 5 foot, four and wear a size 12 shoe, you’re going to probably be over six feet tall. But you can’t rush growth. You have to fuel the growth properly"You have to make sure that you are getting the minerals you need.

"But families and kids eat on the run and hopefully they can get those minerals in a vitamin pill, which are supplements. You’re not supplanting what you need with a pill. It’s not as good as the real thing."

Water instead of soda

Rhodes-Devey learned about nutrition while attending a running camp.

"I learned a lot about nutrition there," he said. "I became dedicated to it and did more research on-line and my mother did some research on-line. I talked to different people and Coach Oates helped me and got me on a regimented schedule.

"I think I made the commiment the summer before my junior year," Rhodes-Devey added. "At the time, if I really wanted to be something in the sport, I had to be truly dedicated. It’s not something I could do 50 percent."

Rhodes-Devey said it is difficult to maintain his eating habits, but he is very dedicated and does a good job of fighting temptation.

"It’s hard at times, like when I’m with other people and they are drinking soda and I have to have water," he said. "Or when they have fast food and I have to have a salad. I have to pay attention to what happens in the long run.

"If I have a cheeseburger, will it kill me" Probably not. But to feel stronger as a runner, I know I have to turn those things down."

Rhodes-Devey doesn’t change his eating patterns during the off-season. First of all, he doesn’t have much of an off-season between cross-country, indoor track, and outdoor track. And, even though he isn’t on the indoor team at Guilderland this winter, he has two meets he is getting ready for, including the mile at the Boston Indoor Games this weekend.

"There’s not really an off-season," Rhodes-Devey said. "It’s more relaxed. At the end of the cross-country season, I had two weeks off and I drank soda once or twice, but I’m not too fond of it. I usually eat the same the whole year."

And what does Rhodes-Devey keep in his journal"

"It’s not so much calorie intake," he said. "I log the food I eat, and how much sleep I get. For the whole day, I put down what I ate and how much water I drank and the snacks I had."

And he does this every day. It started because he used to log his workouts and the mileage he would run. The journal helps him keep track and prepare for races.

He has put together a strong regimen. that has made him an elite high-school athlete, and it’s mostly due to eating right and working out hard.

"You can’t have one without the other," he said. "This winter, I’ve been eating great and working out a lot. Overall, I feel awesome. Overall, it’s a better feeling."

Team commitment

Proper diet and working out is something Rhodes-Devey and his teammates on the cross-country teams talk about.

"It’s a big thing for us," he said. "The whole varsity team committed to watching what they eat."

There hasn’t been as much research done on nutrition for team-sport athletes as there has been for runners, Oates said. He said that sports like football, field hockey, and others with games that are split into quarters or periods are different than running.

"You want to fuel your muscles for a three-mile period," Oates said of running. "It’s not the same as football, where you want short explosions. And then you can get off the field and re-fuel. The key is by game day to have the glycogen that you need in cells so it can be possible to play hard all game.

"Soccer is different. You have to play at a longer pace and you have different movements. You sprint, then jog, then rest."

Rhodes-Devey shares his eating habits with others.

"I definitely try and influence some of the younger kids," he said. "It’s something to do long in life. It’s necessary to have good eating habits now and do it to stay healthy and fit as your metabolism catches up with you."

Healthy food produced by the area

By Jarrett Carroll

HILLTOWNS — Why does local produce taste better"

Because it is better, and healthier, says the head of a community-supported agriculture project.

Raymond and Sara Luhrman run Fox Creek Farm in Gallupville. Consumers pay to be part of the farm cooperative, and can participate in the process. Mr. Luhrman says that local produce, especially organic, not only tastes better, but is better for you because it is fresher and far less-traveled than its supermarket counterpart.

But don’t let looks deceive you.

Just because that clove of garlic or that ripened tomato has a few blemishes on it, Luhrman says, doesn’t mean it tastes bad, and it usually means it is chemical free.

"We just have to educate people a little bit that those perfect tomatoes in the store aren’t really so perfect," said Luhrman, referring to commonly-used pesticides and chemical fertilizers.

As for where the produce comes from when it’s out of season; if the vegetables at the grocery store could talk, they would probably speak a foreign language.

"If you buy a commercially-grown tomato"it traveled quite a way to get here," said Luhrman. "The average grocery store vegetable travels over 1,200 miles before it reaches your dinner plate."

People have to let their taste buds guide their diet, says Luhrman.

"I think if people get into locally grown, just the taste alone will get them eating more vegetables," he said.

A big part of the taste with vegetables come from their ripeness, Luhrman said. Much of the grocery store produce is picked before it is ripe, to accommodate travel time, he said.

"You can’t harvest it when it’s really right," Luhrman said. "It tastes much better ripe rather than after a few weeks later."

For Luhrman, organic farming is not only a technique, but a philosophy.

"If you grow organic, you more or less approach the growing problem differently," Luhrman said. "You’re actually fighting nature when you try to control it."

Organic farmers use preventative measures instead of treating growing problems reactively with chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Organic farming starts from the ground up, with the soil.

Luhrman says you have to improve soil fertility and structure and have healthy nutrient-rich soil, to "create an environment which prevents disease" before it starts.

"It’s just like if you eat healthier, you won’t get sick as much, you won’t see the doctors as much," Luhrman said.

The same goes with farming and crop health, he added.

For certain pests, such as flea beetles, a material called remay is used. It is a very thin material, similar to polyester, which can be used to cover juvenile plants and protect them from insects that damage crops.

Remay is perforated for water and sunlight, Luhrman said, but the holes are too small for the bugs to get in. Once the plants grow larger, they are less likely to die from pest damage.


Organic farming is about prevention and variety.

"A variety of beans can be specifically resilient," Luhrman said. "You select a variety that has inherited resistance to diseases that you are afraid of or scared of."

Also, he adds, growing many kinds of vegetables eliminates wide-spread crop failure if one particular vegetable doesn’t do well one year.

The first crop the Luhrmans grew was garlic, and it was an instant success.

"The garlic goes good," he said. "People really like it."

Having recently attended his first garlic-fest this past summer, Luhrman said he plans on continuing the tradition each year.

"It’s amazing how many varieties of garlic there are out there," he said.

The health benefits of garlic are widely known, and Luhrman said that you can’t go wrong with a good thing.

The Luhrmans originally started their farm by renting land from Bittersweet Organics four years ago, where Sara Luhrman had worked, and their operation has doubled in size every year since. This year, Luhrman said, they could triple in size.

They started with 10 members originally and had 40 members last season, and now are projecting to have between 100 and 120 members.

Each member pays a share — last year each paid $375 — and in return is provided with fresh vegetables from June to October. Community-supported agriculture provides a safety net for members, sharing in the harvest in good years, and spreading out the cost on bad ones.

"They commit themselves to the farm," Luhrman said, "and they commit themselves to eating fresh vegetables for the year.

"We’ve reached a point where it’s our main source of revenue," Luhrman said.

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