Why Does the Scale Say That?

Have you ever stepped on the scale in the morning and smiled because you’d dropped a pound or two? Or, upon seeing higher-than-usual numbers, blamed your unexpected weight gain on heavy shoes or the lunch you just had?

Most women play some version of the scale game whenever they weigh themselves, but the truth is there are at least eight reasons why the numbers can fluctuate so much. Remember these, and the next time the scale doesn’t cooperate, you’ll know why:

You’re wearing clothes. On average, clothes add up to 2 pounds to your actual weight. “Summer clothing tends to be relatively light, and winter jeans and sweaters could add more than 2 pounds,” says Katie Heddleston, a registered dietitian based in Cleveland. At home, weigh yourself in the nude first thing in the morning. At the doctor’s office, take off your shoes and jacket for a more accurate reading.

You just finished working out. When you exercise at a high intensity, you burn glycogen calories (carbs), which hold water weight. You might see a 5-pound dip on the scale after a high-energy spinning or Zumba class, but don’t do a happy dance just yet. The drop isn’t a true weight loss; it’s a loss of water weight, which will quickly go back on once you rehydrate. In fact, “you need to drink 16 ounces of water for every pound down after a workout to replenish your water stores appropriately,” says Heddleston.

You just had a big salad or vegetable soup. Eating fiber-filled foods like veggies can make the scale numbers go up temporarily, but don’t despair. Fiber is not digested or absorbed by the body. It’s considered a non-nutrient, which helps to move food through the body and aid digestion by attracting water to the small and large intestines. Later, once the fiber has done its job, you should see the scale go down again.

You attended happy hour last night. A night of drinking can add a lot of unexpected calories -- and weight. “A 12-ounce can of beer has about 150 calories, a 5-ounce glass of wine has approximately 125 calories, and a 1.5-ounce shot of hard alcohol has about 100 calories -- and that doesn’t even include the calories contained in the mixer,” says Rachel Begun, a registered dietitian based in New York City. Keep that in mind before you order another cosmo or dirty martini. Plus, alcohol impairs judgment and stimulates appetite, which may tempt you to reach for those diet-busting sliders and nachos.

You had Chinese takeout for dinner last night. Consuming high-sodium foods like canned soup and frozen meals can push the scale upward, and so can the consumption of soy sauce and MSG in Chinese food. Water helps the body absorb excess sodium so that it can eventually be flushed out. As a result, high-sodium intake can equal temporary water-weight gain.                                                                                              

It’s that time of the month. Water weight adds extra pounds right before you start your period. Researchers think hormones are the culprit: A shift in estrogen and progesterone right before menstruation can cause water retention and swelling. But don’t worry, says Heddleston; it’s temporary. After those few days, your weight will return to normal.

You haven’t, um, gone in a while. The numbers on the scale may rise if you’re constipated. Begun recommends lots of fiber -- about 30 grams a day from fruits, veggies, whole grains, beans and nuts -- plus plenty of water and exercise to move things along. Once you’re regular again, the added weight will fall away. 

You’re under the weather. If you have a cold or the flu, you may not eat as much as usual, which can slow down your metabolism and add a pound or two. On the other hand, if you can’t keep any food down because of a stomach bug, you may see a drop in the scale numbers. In either case, your weight will stabilize once you’re healthy.

Your Stay Healthy Guide for Kids

Your kids may come home from school this winter with something more worrisome than homework: sniffles, tummy bugs and even (ick!) lice. Now that students are cooped up in overheated classrooms all day, schools can be breeding grounds for any number of ailments.

You probably can’t avoid sick days entirely; according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average schoolchild gets 8-12 colds and 1-2 cases of diarrhea in a year, and the Centers for Disease Control reports an estimated 6-12 million head-lice infestations per year among 3-11 year-olds. But there are steps you can take to minimize the risks and keep your whole family healthier, such as washing your hands often, eating right and staying up-to-date on vaccinations. And don’t give in when the kids beg to stay up a little longer: “Getting enough sleep helps your immune system fight off whatever might be coming your way,” advises Rebecca Jaffe, MD, of Wilmington, Delaware, a fellow of the American Academy of Family Physicians.

If you want to know about staying healthy, steering clear of the typical list of school yard sicknesses and the best way to treat them, here are the health facts about five common contagions:

Colds and flu  

Cause: Viruses.

Symptoms: Stuffy nose, sneezing, mild sore throat and cough for colds; fever, aches, severe cough for flu.

Spread by: Droplets on hands or released into air by coughs or sneezes.

Prevention: Use a tissue to sneeze, cough or blow your nose; discard immediately and wash hands. Teach kids to sneeze into their elbow if there’s no tissue handy. Don’t share cups, water bottles or utensils.

Treatment: Rest and fluids. Give antihistamines and non-aspirin pain medications for colds; antiviral meds for flu if prescribed by your pediatrician. (Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections such as strep throat.)

Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

Causes: Virus, bacteria or parasites.

Symptoms: Diarrhea, vomiting; may include fever, headache, chills.

Spread by: Contact with infected person or contaminated food or beverages.

Prevention: Frequent hand-washing. Disinfect surfaces your family touches often -- doorknobs, keyboards, etc. -- as well as the kitchen counter and other areas used for food preparation.

Treatment: Bed rest and an oral rehydration solution to prevent dehydration; gradually give bland foods such as toast, bananas and applesauce. See your pediatrician if your child runs a high fever or if vomiting and diarrhea continues for more than a day. Keep your child home until she’s been symptom-free for 24 hours.

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye)

Causes: Virus, bacteria, allergies.

Symptoms: Reddish eye and lower lid, itching, discharge and painful inflammation.

Spread by: Contact.

Prevention: Wash your child’s hands frequently and warn him not to rub or touch his eyes. Don’t share towels or washcloths.

Treatment: See your pediatrician for a prescription eye ointment.

Infectious skin rashes

Causes: Rashes can be caused by bacteria (impetigo), a virus (fifth disease) or mites (scabies).

Symptoms: Itchy, oozing blisters (impetigo); reddish rash on face and body (fifth); intensely itchy pimple-like rash (scabies).

Spread by: Impetigo and scabies can be spread by touching the infected area or handling the affected child’s towels or clothes; fifth disease is transmitted by saliva and mucus.

Prevention: Frequent hand-washing and use of tissues; avoid sharing towels.

Treatment: Varies by type. For impetigo, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics, antiseptic soap and bandages; for scabies, prescription creams; for fifth disease, acetaminophen or ibuprofen as needed.

Head lice

Cause: Red-brown insects about the size of a sesame seed that live and lay whitish eggs (nits) in human hair. Unpleasant as they are, lice don’t spread disease, and having them doesn’t indicate poor hygiene.

Symptoms: Itchy scalp, especially around the ears or nape of the neck.

Spread: Head-to-head contact.

Prevention: Discourage children from sharing hats, combs and other hair gear. Tie back long hair in braids or ponytails.

Treatment: Ask your doctor to recommend an anti-lice shampoo and follow instructions carefully. Use a fine-tooth louse comb daily for a week to remove any remaining bugs and nits. Wash clothes, hats, bedding and stuffed animals in hot water and dry on a high setting. Ask your school nurse when your child can return; some schools have a “no-nit” policy, but the AAP says there’s no need to keep children home if they have no active lice in

Easy Calorie-Cutting Tricks

Counting calories can be about as much fun as figuring out your income tax return - and you can’t even look forward to a refund! Still, you probably know by now that watching what you eat is essential if you want to reach a healthy weight and stay there. Because our brains and metabolisms adjust as we slim down, recent research at Columbia University suggests that even dieters who hit their target need to cut 300-400 calories more a day to keep the pounds at bay.

But cutting calories doesn’t have to be torturous. Whether you’re trying to pare away poundage or maintain your svelte new self, try these no-gain, no-pain tips:

Snooze to lose

Researchers at Columbia University’s Institute of Nutrition found that sleep-deprived men and women gobbled 300 more calories per day than when they were well-rested. (Their binge of choice: ice cream!) “People eat their way through fatigue,” says Marjorie Nolan Cohn, a registered dietician in New York City and a national spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  If you can’t get the recommended 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, Cohn suggests taking a brisk 15-minute walk and drinking ice water when you start to fade, and eating a smart snack.

Measure up

A study published in the British Medical Journal shows that consumers routinely underestimate what they’re eating and drinking by as much as 500 calories.  Cohn suggests you start any diet by keeping a food journal for at least 1-2 days (use a free app like LoseIt  for iPhone or Myfitnesspal for Android). Then take your usual servings and measure them to see how much you’re really eating; , check out their calories, and memorize what smaller portions should look like.  “It’s hard to cut back when you don’t know where you’re starting,” says Cohn, herself a successful dieter, weight-loss coach and author of The Belly Fat Fix.

Fill up on fiber

Faster than you can say “Mediterranean diet,” evidence keeps mounting that a lower-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can tame your appetite, boost your health and even trim belly fat. And we’re not just talking greens; delicious fruits like pears, blackberries and raspberries pack even more fiber than broccoli!

Get a smart start

Your mom was right: Nearly 80 percent of successful dieters report eating breakfast every day, according to The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.  That’s a sensible strategy, says Cohn, since our hunger hormones surge at 8 A.M, noon and 6 P.M., with a mini-surge around 3 in the afternoon. Try to eat about an hour after you rise, she advises, preferably a breakfast with some protein combined with carbs or healthy fats like yogurt or nuts.

Snack smarter

When the candy machine calls around mid-afternoon, keep temptation at bay by keeping healthy snacks at hand. Your best bet, says Cohn, is a combination of protein and fat, such as a dollop of peanut butter on a whole grain cracker or a low-fat cheese stick wrapped in a small wheat tortilla. (Adding a splash of hot salsa will boost your calorie-burning metabolism briefly, thanks to the capsaicin in the peppers.)

Make easy swaps

Your supermarket is full of healthier versions of your favorite treats. For instance, instead of your usual bagel with cream cheese – which can pack 400 calories or more – you can easily substitute a whole-wheat light English muffin with 2 tablespoons of cream cheese whipped with Greek yogurt. Saved: 165 calories or more.

Read the menu

By law, big restaurant chains are now required to post calorie counts on their menus, and some smaller competitors are following suit. You might be surprised at just how many calories are packed into your favorite dishes. But that doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself; just eat a small portion and take the rest to go.

Move it

Let’s face it: Exercise is still important not only for weight loss, but also for your overall health. The good news is that it’s not hard to burn an extra 100 calories per day. Just do something you enjoy for 30 minutes:  skipping home with the kids, raking leaves or planting veggies in your yard, or cranking up the GaGa or Gershwin on your iPod and dancing around the house!

Stay Healthy the Easy Way

Sure, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly are two of the best ways to stay healthy. But doing them isn’t always easy. Stop beating yourself up if that fast food drive-through was just too tempting or you fell off the workout wagon. There are plenty of other ways to help protect and maintain your health -- and they’re a lot easier than you may think. Adopt these habits today and start feeling your healthy best tomorrow.

1. Floss daily to save your heart.

With this one simple daily ritual, you can keep both your smile and your ticker in tip-top shape. Bacteria from gum disease can trigger an overproduction of C-reactive protein, a substance that leads to inflammation and is tightly linked to heart disease, according to the Journal of Periodontology. Flossing helps remove the plaque that breeds the bacteria, so no plaque means no bacteria -- and no disease-causing compounds.

2. Kiss more to control cholesterol and stress.

Couples who smooched more often over a six-week period lowered their cholesterol and reported feeling less stressed, according to a study from Arizona State University. Because stress is tied to higher cholesterol, the relaxing effect of affection can thwart heart-clogging molecules, researchers say.

And that’s not the only antistress benefit to kissing. A Rutgers University study found that when couples kissed, levels of the stress hormone cortisol instantly dropped. That’s good news since less cortisol has been associated with better sleep, improved immune function and other markers of good health, says Claire Kruppe, a pathologist and wellness coach in Palm Desert, Calif.

3. Laugh it up to lower blood pressure and boost immunity.

When people say laughter is the best medicine, they aren’t far off. Watching a funny video can actually lower your blood pressure, reveals a study from Loma Linda University in California. But that’s not all: Simply anticipating a funny experience increases hormones that aid your immune system and reduces those associated with stress, research from the same university shows.

So look for and think about opportunities to have a chuckle, whether by filling your DVR queue with comedies or setting up a night out with a hilarious friend. You’ll have fun while blunting the dangerous effects of chronic stress.

4. Cook with garlic to protect against cancer.

The more garlic you eat, the lower your chances of developing cancer, say researchers from Pennsylvania State University. Scientists speculate that an element in the bulb inhibits the formation of toxic compounds that may lead to the disease.

Add your garlic to salad dressings, pasta and stir-fry for a tasty and beneficial meal. Just be sure to use fresh cloves; you’ll get a more potent health effect than from the dried version.

5. Have a drink and toast to overall health and longevity.
Sipping one alcoholic drink a day could help you live longer and healthier. Ladies who drink moderately have the lowest mortality rates of all women, reports the New England Journal of Medicine. They’re also less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Drinking moderate amounts of beer, wine or liquor is also associated with less weight gain when compared to excessive drinking and even abstaining, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. In turn, keeping the scale in check helps ward off diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, Kruppe says. Cheers to that!

Of course, don’t give up on healthy eating and exercise, not to mention regular doctor visits. But adopting these incredibly simple healthy habits will keep you feeling your best yet.

Which Medical Exams Do You Need Now?

Can’t remember the last time you went for a cholesterol test or mammogram? Don’t panic! The recommended guidelines for many medical tests have changed in the recent years, so you may need to be screened less often for certain diseases than you think. “The annual physical exam has gone by the wayside,” says Sapna Kripalani, M.D., an internist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “But women still need to be vigilant about having cancer prevention screenings and other tests that detect serious health problems.” Here’s a guide to what you need and when.


When you need them: It depends. “There has been some controversy about when to initiate mammography,” says Dr. Kripalani. The American Cancer Society recommends annual screening for women ages 40 and up, but there’s some question as to how much benefit there is in early screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women begin having mammograms at age 50 and every other year after that. If you’re under 50 with no risk factors, you may want to keep that in mind.

Talk to your doctor if: You have a family history of breast cancer, or if you notice any lumps or changes in the appearance or feel of your breasts.

Pap smears

When you need them: Starting at age 21, then every two years until age 65. “We also encourage women to have a pelvic exam annually, which can help detect signs of ovarian cancer,” says Dr. Kripalani.

Talk to your doctor if: You’re over 30, are at low risk for sexually transmitted diseases (such as the HPV virus) and your last few Pap smears have been negative. The doctor may give the okay to have the test every five years.

Blood pressure test

When you need it: Every two years throughout adulthood, so long as your blood pressure remains within normal limits. A reading of 120 to 139 systolic (the upper number) and 80 to 89 diastolic (the lower one) is considered prehypertension, which means you may need to make changes to your diet and activity level.

Talk to your doctor if: You’re younger than 45 and have one or more risk factors for high blood pressure, such as a high body mass index (BMI), smoking or a family history of hypertension.   

Cholesterol test

When you need it: Also known as a lipid profile, this blood test measures the level of total cholesterol, as well as HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and triglycerides. People aged 20 and over should get tested, followed by a screening every five years as long as the levels are normal. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes or medication if a test reveals abnormal results.

Talk to your doctor if:  You have a family history of heart disease or risk factors such as obesity.


When you need it: This test for colon cancer should be performed starting at age 50, then every 10 years afterward. Your doctor may recommend more frequent screenings if you have a family history of colon cancer.

Talk to your doctor if: You want to explore colonoscopy alternatives. Dr. Kripalani says that some doctors may okay a less-invasive scan along with a stool test to detect blood or polyps in the lower intestine.

Thyroid test

When you need it: The thyroid gland, located in your neck, helps regulate a number of body functions including your metabolism, mood and weight. Although there are no standard guidelines for thyroid testing, your doctor may advise it if you have symptoms that suggest the gland is over- or underactive. “Thyroid problems become more common as we age,” explains Dr. Kripalani.

Talk to your doctor if: You have symptoms such as unexplained weight gain or loss, sensitivity to cold, fatigue, hair thinning, heavy or irregular periods