Fitness Trackers: Are they for you?

exercise bikeBecause I write about exercise and fitness, I was invited to review the fitness website, SlimKicker (SK). SK is an online tool to track exercise and weight goals and get feedback from the online community.

Signing up was easy – I just had to create a user name, password, and enter my goals. I entered my perennial goal of 10 pound weight loss, and SK gave me a suggested daily calorie amount, broken down into grams of carbs, fats and protein, based on the data I entered for gender, height, age and activity level.  Later, I found how to calculate this number again, entered the same data, and got a slightly different number. Hmm.

Next, I started entering the food I had eaten that day –  a small bowl of Raisin Bran for starters. As soon as I recorded this, a pop-up message appeared: “Cereal does not have any protein. Maybe you should have eaten a three egg omelet with vegetables and feta cheese instead.” A three-egg omelet? Seemed like big breakfast for someone of my size, especially since SK told me I only get 1,266 calories for the day (or 1,279, depending on which day I calculated it.)  Protein is good, but I think I would start gaining weight if I ate this breakfast of champions every day. Discouraged, I didn’t bother to enter any other food that day, afraid that SK would start recommending a Big Mac or a large steak.

Next, I tried entering exercise. Since I had ridden my bike on the trainer for 30 minutes, I went to the cardio section. I searched on “bike.” None of the choices that came up were right – mountain bike, bike to work, etc. Next I tried “stationary bike,” and found one that fit. From there it was easy to enter the number of minutes from the drop down menu. Once you enter an activity, you can save it as a routine, so you can reuse the same entry on another day.

Then I tried entering “weight lifting” as an activity. I had hoped I could just enter “weight lifting, moderate, 40 minutes.” But SK wanted me to individually enter each weight lifting activity, such as bicep curls, how many reps and how many sets. This proved to be too cumbersome and I gave up on it in no time at all.

Finding my initial experience with SK less than stellar, I set is aside for a couple of months, then recently gave it another try. Best Husband has been participating in a similar program at his workplace wellness program, where participants log their exercise and steps, earn points, and can challenge each other in specific fitness goals. BH has been having a lot of fun with the challenges at work, so I decided to try the challenge section. I searched challenges that I could join, and found things like “give up soda for a week,” “no take out pizza for a week,” and “eat a salad a day.” I’m already doing those things, so I put out my own challenge to the members: Don’t eat cheese for 14 days.” So far, no joiners.

The part of SK that I liked the best is the “log your weight” section. Click the drop-down arrow for the date, then add your weight in digits in the box. SK then plots your weight on a large graph. The graph is big enough that a small change up or down looks huge. Of all the features of SK, this is the one I’m most likely to use, as I think it would be satisfying to see my weight progress down on that big graph. That is, if it ever does.

Who should use SlimKicker or other fitness tracking web sites? Anyone who enjoys participating in an online community with feedback and postings similar to Facebook. To get the best benefit from the online support, I suggest using the site with a buddy or group of friends with similar goals, and use the online challenges to help each other stay on track. Will I keep using SK? Probably not, although, I might keep using that big weight-tracker graph. Seeing that move down, down, down would be golden.

© Huffygirl 2013

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My doctor’s office thinks I’m fat

Huffygirl: the obesity epidemic starts right here

I visited a consultant at a new health care group recently, and it turns out, that they think I’m fat. And, they’re determined to do something about it. Every single stinkin’ time I go there. Yes, obesity is a huge problem in this country, and my doctor’s office is determined to nip it in the bud, starting with the biggest offender – me.

My first time there, as I left the office, the receptionist  handed me a packet of papers and said somewhat sheepishly, “Here’s some information on healthy eating.” My first thought was, “wow, how wonderful that they care about my health as a whole person,” until I got home and looked it over. Turned out these papers were all about obesity and weight loss, and what I must do to start taking care of my obesity problem, today. Really. To say I was insulted was putting it mildly. But I thought I’d be the bigger person. After all, they think I am. So I put it aside. I refused to let my self be annoyed.

Until the next time I went there. Nothing was different about my weight, so turns out, I’m still fat. When I went to leave, there they were again with the fat handout. Now granted, even if I was fat, and, spurned on by their wonderful diet information, had decided to do something about it, chances are, I’d still be fat when I came back four weeks later. And the next time. And the time after that.

So the next time I complained to the doctor, who I must say, had a good 30 pounds on me. “Your people think I’m fat,” I said, “and I’m getting a little offended by it.” Well, she looked at me, looked at my chart, tut-tutted and said “well yes, your numbers don’t quite meet our guidelines, blah, blah” and then she went on to blame the government. Yes, according to her, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requires health care providers to provide, among other things, weight loss information to patients who, according to whatever mystery standards they are using, are fat. Then she went on to a well-rehearsed speech about how they are only doing this because of the government, and if I didn’t want to get a fat handout every time I came there, I needed to contact my congressperson, instead of complaining to her. So there. Instead of the lecture, it might have been nice to hear which obesity guidelines they were using that labeled me as fat, as according to BMI (body mass index) I’m still under the wire. But no. Just you’re fat, the government makes us say so, so there.

And so it’s continued. Every time I go there, or to any other office within that health care group, I get the fat handout. The last time I was there, I balked. “Don’t give me those fat papers again, I already have them,” I said to the receptionist on my way out. She started in with the usual diatribe about the government makes us, we have to give them to you, blah, blah, and handed me the fat papers again. In anger, I ripped them off of the stack of papers she gave me, and flung them down on the check-out desk, it turns out, on top of a huge stack of the same fat handout, left by other angry patients.

I have to confess that I am unfamiliar with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and even after reading about it, still do not see where it says in there that I’m fat. I’d be interested to hear from others if any of you have  had similar experiences. In the meantime, I’ve either got to look for a whole new bunch of doctors, or resign myself to being called fat every time I darken their door.

Huffygirl aka Fatgirl

More from Huffygirl on exercise and weight:


It's the Janucisers! (Image courtesy of Google)

I’m looking out over the cardio room at my gym. Evey treadmill is in use. Some folks are lurking behind the users, trying to see how much time they have left on their workout, like exercise vultures moving in for the kill. Over in the weight room, folks are huffing and puffing away, lifting way more weight than their paunchy frames can bear. Every bench in free weights is taken. Towels are draped over the bars and water bottles line the aisles. Back down in the locker room, all the good lockers are in use. Towels spill out of the used towel bin. The showers are running non-stop and folks pose before their locker, hurriedly  stripping off sweaty clothes.

So what’s going on here – is it the eve of the exercise apocalypse? Exergedeon? No. It’s just the season of the Janucisers. They show up every year around this time. Like beavers late to the dam party, they appear in droves beginning January first. They work feverishly throughout the month. They’re still in pretty good force in February. But by mid month you can get a treadmill without lurking behind its user. By the end of the month there’s no trouble getting a locker. And by mid to late March –  the Janucisers are gone. No strangers monopolizing your favorite bench.  No more having to use the broken lockers. The gym has been turned back to – the regulars.

Committment to regular exercise seems to be a regular new year’s resolution for many. Why is this one so hard to keep? I don’t always enjoy exercise, but when I started biking the spring of 2008 and

Huffygirl after 30 miles along Lake Shore Drive.

discovered how out of shape I was (even though I had been an avid walker and lifter for years) I never, ever wanted to go back to that point. It’s much easier to maintain fitness than to start anew every January 1.

What do you do for exercise? What helps you keep your committment so you don’t have to be a Januciser?

Why America is Overweight, Part V: Larger Portions

Just in time to catch the end of the holiday eating season and the beginning of the new year’s resolution  season, one more comment on why America is overweight. (If you want to see the whole series on “Why America is overweight.” click here to go back to part I

Doesn't this look healthy? (Photo courtesy of

Along with cheese, liquid calories, and diet soda, add portion size to the obesity puzzle. Why are food portions larger than they were 30 or even 20 years ago? Restaurants and fast food places over time have made their portions larger, either by just plain giving a larger serving, or making “meal deals” that make it less expensive to buy more food.  ( And  if we buy it of course we’re going to eat it.   What drives this change? Some theorize that restaurants began serving larger potions because they believe that is what their customers want. In part, it may be due to people wanting to “get their money’s worth.” In addition, as younger chefs and cooks take over for their older counterparts, they serve larger portions because they grew up eating larger portions. Another contributor is “all you can eat” buffets  – Old Country Buffet, and the like. Buffet restaurants prepare food in such bulk that they can afford to allow customers to eat large quantities, and still make money. 

So what’s a person to do with food so plentiful for most of us, and restaurants dishing up more food than we need to eat for a typical meal?  Restaurants aren’t going to help us any time soon by giving us smaller portions. You’ll have to take control of your own portion size if you want to lose or maintain your weight. Here’s a few tips to try.

Ask for a take out container when your food is served. When your food arrives, take one-quarter to one-half of it off your plate (depending on what you’re eating and how large the portion is) and set it aside in the take-out box. Then eat the remaining food. If you find you’re still hungry when you’re done, you can always dip into the take-out box, but many people will find that the partial serving was enough.

Avoid “meal deals” and coupons. Even though these save you money, if you have to buy more food than you need to eat, it’s not worth it, unless you really are going to take it home to eat for another meal. 

Try the ‘plate” method of portion control.   Take a 9-inch dinner plate and draw an imaginary

(Photo courtesy of

line across the middle, so it is divided in half. Add another imaginary line across one half.  Now your plate is divided into one half and two quarters. The half is for non-starchy vegetables. One quarter is for starch/carbs – bread, rice, potato, pasta or corn. The other quarter is for protein. A  3-ounce piece of meat, chicken, fish will typically fit in this spot. This is easy to do at home but you can even do it when eating out, by putting whatever does not fit into your imaginary sections into your take-out box. Click the link to get a full explanation with pictures of the plate method of portion control.

What works for you? What do you do to avoid over-eating and keep those weight-loss new year resolutions?

© The author and Huffygirl’s Blog, 2010 to 3010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and Huffygirl’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

American’s Love Affair With Food: How can we break the cycle?

Courtesy of Google

 Fact: For most people, food is plentiful in our country. It is not always the best food for us, but in general, it’s out there. Except in remote areas, Americans are bombarded with opportunities to buy food through fast food restaurants with drive-up windows, convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and vending machines.    

Fact: Obesity is a rising problem in America, which brings with it long-term health problems, the most prominent being type-two diabetes mellitus.    

Fact: David Kessler and many others have found that certain foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt, trigger an addictive food cycle, that makes it difficult for people to avoid eating those foods, or to eat them in moderate amounts.    

So what do we do about it? How do we break the cycle that frees us from overeating or eating the wrong kinds of food? We know it’s not easy. David Kessler wrote a whole book about it, after an arduous quest to find his answers. The plethora of other diet and weight loss solutions available through books, videos, weight loss centers and online programs tell us that many are trying but not all are succeeding. With obesity rising towards epidemic proportions in our country, it seems that Americans are losing the battle.   

Where to start? Here’s some tips that may work.   

Identify your food triggers. Kessler did this by diving into the dumpster behind a restaurant to find the ingredient list for the food served there that he found addictive. Hopefully most of us will not have to go to that extreme. Think about what foods you crave when you’re stressed, lonely and depressed, and what restaurants you frequent at those times, what foods you just can’t pass us adding to your grocery cart, and what foods you eat even when you’re not hungry.  This will give you a pretty good start. What’s next – never eat these foods again? Avoid driving by your favorite restaurant (and all the signs advertising it too?) Probably not practical solutions and likely will lead to a sense of deprivation. Try something moderate instead – keep your favorite can’t-resist-food out of sight on a high shelf, and allow yourself one day a week to indulge it. In a restaurant, share the favorite dessert with someone else, or ask the server to remove it after you’ve eaten half. (Seems wasteful I know, but these are desperate times.) Try chewing gum or brushing your teeth after you’ve allowed yourself an indulgent taste of your addictive food. Take one bite and throw the rest away. Only allow yourself to eat your addictive food in the presence of others, which makes it less likely that you’ll over-indulge. All of this takes planning, motivation and some self pep-talks. You may need to start a reward system for yourself, whether it be new shoes, a day off, etc. Find something to replace the pleasurable sensation that you get from your addictive food. The trick is to not replace it with something worse, like alcohol, tobacco, or online gambling.    

If you’re able to exercise and not already doing it, start. Many people find walking a good way to start. Start slow and increase gradually according to your own ability. If you can’t walk but have access to a gym, an alternative is a seated machine called a Nustep – the user sits in a comfortable chair with feet extended onto pedals, and hands on handles, sort of combination stair-climber and recumbent bike motion. Add weight lifting on alternate days, or use resistance bands at home if you can’t get to a gym. (More exercise tips in previous posts in the “exercise and fitness” category.) Exercise, in addition to helping with weight loss and maintaining bone mass, can provide a sense of well-being similar to what one gets from eating pleasurable foods. In fact, some excessive exercisers have found this to be so true that they become “addicted” to exercise. Something to discuss at another time.   

Find a buddy. If you partner with someone else who is working to avoid addictive foods and improve weight, having an ally can be a life-saver. You can encourage each other and hold each other accountable. Can’t find a buddy? Try an online program, attend a class, or meet with a dietician.   

Avoid fast food restaurants – probably the biggest source of addictive foods. This takes planning. Pack a lunch to take to work. If you miss going out with your coworkers, limit yourself to one lunch out per week. Bring food along when you’re traveling. After my recent bad experience eating Subway food while traveling, (see “Do you want a gallon of soda with that?”) my husband and I planned ahead on our next road trip. We knew we’d be on the road at lunch time, so on the way out of town, stopped at a grocery store and picked up salads, snacks and water. No fast-food debacle and about half the cost of a fast-food meal.      

Avoid check-out impulse buys. The latte when you run into the gas station. The gallon of popcorn at a movie. The candy bar in the check out line. The pretzel at the mall. Make a rule for yourself – only buy what you originally went into the store to buy.   

Avoid diet soda. For many people, the artificial sweetener in diet soda triggers an addictive food cycle, that   

Courtesy of Google


leads to overeating other foods. If you’re a big consumer of diet soda, you’ll probably have to cut back gradually. The worst idea ever? The invention of Diet Coke. It seems to be the biggest culprit because it has the great Coke taste, few calories, addictive caffeine, and is the drink of choice of celebrities. If you’re old enough, think back to a time before diet soda was invented – aka the 1950’s and 60’s. Do you remember seeing so many overweight people back then?   

Get help. If you find yourself frequently treating feelings of sadness and loneliness by eating pleasurable foods, consult your health care provider.  You may have an underlying depression that would be better treated medically or cognitively (talk therapy).   

What else? Share what works for you.     

  © The author and Huffygirl’s Blog, 2010 to 3010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and Huffygirl’s Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

American’s Love Affair With Food: David Kessler

Potato chips

Image via Wikipedia

David Kessler, MD, former head of the FDA, had a nagging question: why do Americans continue to crave foods such as potato chips and candy bars, long after they feel full? This question had nagged at Kessler both personally and professionally. Despite being an accomplished professional, having attained both a medical and a law degree, Kessler was as helpless as many of us are when it came to controlling his weight. He admits to yo-yoing between 160 to 230 pounds repeatedly, and owning pants in a wide range of sizes. Kessler was ready to get to the bottom of what made himself, and millions of others seemingly powerless to control their eating and weight.

Through interviews with scientists, psychologists, food industry experts and his own scientific studies, Kessler finally found the answer. Kessler found a brain connection between eating foods high in salt, fat and sugar, with the release of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain.

As Kessler puts it: “Highly palatable” foods — those containing fat, sugar and salt — stimulate the brain to release dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with the pleasure center. In time, the brain gets wired so that dopamine pathways light up at the mere suggestion of the food, such as driving past a fast-food restaurant, and the urge to eat the food grows insistent. Once the food is eaten, the brain releases opioids, which bring emotional relief. Together, dopamine and opioids create a pathway that can activate every time a person is reminded about the particular food. This happens regardless of whether the person is hungry.”

In other words, Kessler has found that for many people, foods high in fat, sugar and salt are a virtual Pavlovian trigger that reinforces overeating, and eating the wrong kinds of food, to maintain the pleasurable emotional experience of exposing one’s brain to the addictive effects of dopamine and opioids (narcotic-like chemicals.) Kessler purports that while not all persons are affected by food in this way, a great number are.

Food industry experts apparently have been onto this for some time. In the same way that tobacco industry experts discovered that adding more nicotine to cigarettes make them more addictive and keeps more people smoking and buying their products, the food industry has made more and more foods high in fat, sugar and salt, to perpetuate this addictive cycle.

Kessler’s answer? Train the brain to rewire it to break the addictive response cycle. Kessler advocates rather than eliminating all foods with fat, salt and sugar, which leads to a sensation of deprivation, to controlling portions and eating those delectable foods in small amounts. Kessler advocates adding intense regular exercise as well, a notion familiar to regular readers of this blog. 

While Kessler does not give away all his secrets, as he’s hoping we’ll read his book The End of Overeating, he does share some personal tips on his weight loss and exercise journey that many will find inspiring. To read the full interview, go to

I confess that I have not read Kessler’s book yet, (which is due out in paperback soon) but was intrigued enough to put it in my Amazon wish list (I’m waiting for the paperback). I suspect that Kessler’s theory on what makes us overeat is spot on and will resonate with many. Americans in particular may find they need to go to extremes as Kessler did, to attain the success , even to the point of changing their morning commute to avoid passing certain restaurants or signs that trigger the addictive food cycle.

 Next: Would you like a gallon of soda with that?

Target Heart Rate Diaries: Part 3

My THR challenge has begun.  It’s  still winter, so I have my bike set up on the trainer in the basement. It’s much harder to get a good work out indoors on the trainer vis-a-vis out there on  the road. Unlike being on the road, you’re already home, so you don’t have to bike hard to get there. There’s no hills, no speed or mile goals to meet. You have to just do it. I’m trying to bike between 30-60 minutes and keep my heart rate between 130-146 for most of that time. At first it’s hard. I discover that I have to work much harder than what I have been doing. I thought I was getting a good work out before, but compared to what I’m doing now, that was nothing. After a few tries, I manage to get my heart rate in the zone for most of the workout. It’s hard to keep it there. This is serious business. When I’m done I’m very sweaty and feel like I’ve had a very hard work-out. This feels much harder than the 70-80% that it’s supposed to be.

Fast-forward three weeks. I’ve been working out in my THR zone 4-6 days per week. I’ve been having hard-working, heart-pumping work outs, harder than I’ve ever done before. I’ve even lost a couple of pounds, something that had been eluding me for months. And I’m exhilarated? Rejuvenated? Revitalized? No, I’m exhausted. By the fourth week, I can’t do it any more. I can  no longer maintain my heart rate in the zone. My weight loss sizzled, no further improvement. What happened? This is supposed to me making me more fit.

I decide to dial down the work out. I drop down to an easier pace, keeping my heart rate in the 50-60% zone. But this is no good – it’s not much better than what I was doing before: I’m not getting more fit, not losing weight, and not making progress. Apparently this THR stuff requires some knowledge and expertise that I lack, and have not been able to find despite reading extensively on the subject. Everything I’ve found gives the same guidelines for training in the THR zone. I need to find some answers.

Why America is Overweight, Part II: Inactivity

Inactivity beckons. As more and more manufacturing jobs leave our country, our workplace has become more sedentary. We sit at computers for hours; we don’t even have to leave our seats to hand out a memo or send a file. We telecommute – don’t even need to walk to our cars or work. We never have to run to catch a ringing phone – our phones are attached to our bodies, always with us. We can shop from the comfort of our laptops – no more slogging through the mall unless we really want to. Our children sit for much of the school day. In many places recess and gym have been eliminated, to accommodate decreasing funds and more didactics. Once at home, over 100 TV channels beckon. We sit at our computers again, surfing the web, catching up on Facebook and email (yes, I’m guilty too).  Americans are becoming more and more a sedentary people. It is estimated that over half of American adults do not engage in any regular physical activity.

Statistically we are becoming heavier, with this inactivity creep contributing to our collective overweight. In recent years experts have recommended ways to combat inactivity. You’ve all read these pithy articles in the magazines and the health section of the paper. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the far side of the parking lot, take 10 minute breaks at your desk to stretch, do Yoga or Pilates. Instead of sitting in front of the TV, play active games like Wi Fit or Dance, Dance Revolution. These short bursts of activity are thought to help compensate for some of our inactivity. They also help relieve fatiguing postures, vary our routines, keep us mentally alert, improve circulation and muscle tone. Some say that accumulated bursts of short activity contribute to aerobic fitness and prevent weight gain.  This varies greatly for individuals and is influenced by factors such as baseline fitness level, lean muscle mass, caloric intake and other activity levels. Most experts agree that adding short bursts of activity throughout the day at worst does not hurt, and at best, helps offset instances of inactivity. 

If you do an online search on exercise recommendations, you’ll find most are recommending 30 minutes of aerobic, aka heart-pumping activity 5-7 days of the week.  Guidelines vary with age and ability; you can find more information by clicking on this link: The 30 minutes per day recommendation is for maintaining fitness. For weight loss, the recommendation is 45-60 minutes of exercise, at a level intense enough to burn 400-500 calories per session 5-7 days of the week. To maintain weight, you again need 45-60 minutes of exercise 5-7 days a week, but not quite as intense as for weight loss. More info here: 

In reality, this level of exercise is difficult to maintain.  For those not currently exercising at this level, it will require a change in lifestyle to fit this into our schedules. This may take some time and gradual adjustments to our routines, and require giving up something else we’re doing to make it all fit.

Take the exercise quiz: Do an online search of exercise and activity recommendations. Tailor your plan to fit your age, ability and any physical limitations you have. Figure out what you need to do to get moving.  Post your comments to share what is working for you.