Whether eating to lose, gain or maintain weight, we’ve all heard about—or tried—our fair share of diets. Johns Hopkins research dietitians Diane Vizthum, Melissa Moser, Bobbie Henry and Nga Hong Brereton have answered some commonly asked questions about eating styles, recent trends and other diet-associated habits. Read what they have to say and submit your own questions to be answered in today’s Ask the Expert on nutrition and diet.

What are some recommendations for eating to lose weight?

This is a great question! While there are many ways to lose weight, the key to maintaining weight loss is developing a healthy way of eating you can stick to. Follow these steps to get started.

  1. Keep a food log. Record not only what you eat, but when you ate, where you were, if you were doing other things, how you were feeling, how hungry you were before eating and how full you were after. This can be done with an app, website, or paper and pencil.
  2. Use the information you gathered from your food log to make some changes. Are you snacking in front of the TV at night? Eating large portions and feeling stuffed? Eating emotionally? Pick one thing you can change and get started!
  3. Follow the plate method: Make one-half of your plate vegetables, one-quarter lean protein and one-quarter whole grains. Use a small portion of healthy fat, such as a spoonful of olive oil. Eat slowly, listen to your body and stop eating when satisfied but not stuffed. This may take practice!
  4. Limit the junk food. There’s always room for favorite treats, but these can be saved for occasional indulgences, not made part of a daily diet.
  5. Eat mindfully. Eat slowly and without distractions like your phone or TV to get the most satisfaction from your meals.

Some consider eating styles like Paleo, gluten-free and the Whole30 Program to be fads or trends. Is there a benefit to eliminating certain foods or food groups from your diet?

Elimination diets are definitely trendy right now. These diets advocate eliminating foods or food groups from your diet. Common foods that may be eliminated include grains (wheat, rice, oats, quinoa, barley, rye and corn are some examples), gluten (this is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley), dairy, beans, peanuts, sugar, food additives, artificial sweeteners, alcohol or caffeine.

Although each of these diets is slightly different, if you follow an elimination diet, you will likely wind up cutting out highly processed foods that have excess sugar, fat, salt and calories. This is good for almost everyone!

Additionally, many of the foods commonly eliminated, such as dairy, beans or whole wheat, can cause digestive discomfort and may be poorly tolerated. If you suspect a certain food is giving you trouble, see your doctor to rule out a more serious medical condition, and visit a dietitian to make sure your diet is balanced after eliminating the poorly tolerated food.

Of course, for those with celiac disease or food allergies, eliminating the trigger food is essential. But for otherwise healthy adults, there is no need to eliminate whole foods from the diet.

How do pre- or post-exercise powders, tablets and gels enhance performance or benefit the body?

Good nutrition is essential for both the performance athlete and the casual gymgoer to get the most out of their workouts and reach their fitness goals. In most cases, a well-rounded and carefully planned diet is exactly what’s needed. Beyond following a healthy diet, some nutritional supplements can be useful because of their convenience or to give competitive athletes an edge in their training regimen.

Although most people meet their protein needs through their regular diet, protein shakes and powders can be a good tool for those who don’t get enough or want a convenient, portable protein source. Most recreational athletes need 0.5 to 0.7 grams of protein for every pound of body weight. It’s not necessary to take protein shakes during or immediately before a workout, because the body is primarily utilizing carbohydrates as an energy source during that time. Your body can use about 20 to 25 grams of protein after exercise to help rebuild muscles, but this should be paired with carbs for refueling.

Endurance athletes, such as long-distance runners or cyclists, may benefit from nutritional products that help maintain electrolyte levels and blood sugar during prolonged exercise. To maximize performance in cardio exercise lasting more than an hour, athletes may use sports gels, chews, drinks or tablets that contain easily digestible carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. These can prevent athletes from “hitting the wall” and help avoid electrolyte imbalances that can occur with very strenuous and prolonged activity.

Is a full-body cleanse ever necessary? How does it work?

A full-body cleanse may sound perfect now that bathing suit season has started. Well, did you know that your body has its own way of detoxifying or filtering the multitude of toxins we are exposed to every day? Instead of “cleansing” with over-the-counter products or high-sugar juices, aim to enhance your body's natural detox process by cleaning up your diet. Try this for seven to 14 days.

  • Focus on eating lots of fruits and vegetables. Follow the “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean 15” guides (found here: ewg.org/foodnews) to help in your organic produce selections.
  • Eat fish two to three times per week and choose lean meats the rest of the time.
  • Eliminate processed and fried foods. Minimize refined carbohydrates like bread, bagels and pancakes, and choose whole grains like quinoa, amaranth and teff instead. Avoid alcohol.
  • Get healthy fats from avocados, olives, nuts and coconut (oil or unsweetened flakes).
  • Flavor foods with herbs and spices like cilantro, basil, rosemary, turmeric and cumin.

Be sure to drink plenty of water and engage in a sweat-producing activity a few times a week. The most important part of the process is to evaluate how you feel at the end of the seven- to 14-day period and how you feel after going back to your old way of eating. This can help you find an eating style that makes you feel the best and makes your body work the best!

What are some health benefits to adopting a Mediterranean diet?

This popular diet is based on traditional foods from many of the Mediterranean countries. The diet is high in vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts and whole grains; moderate in beans, fish, poultry, unsweetened dairy and alcohol, especially red wine; and limited in red meat, butter, cream and sweets.

Studies show that following this diet pattern is associated with decreased risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers and cognitive decline. In one large study, people advised to follow a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil or nuts had a 30 percent reduction in risk for cardiovascular events compared to a control group advised to follow a low-fat diet. Researchers think the diet may work by improving blood pressure or reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. The diet is high in many beneficial nutrients, and it’s possible that the overall combination of nutrients provided by a variety of foods is the most important factor. Remember, the Mediterranean lifestyle also includes physical activity and less stress!

Need more help with your diet? The nutrition clinic at The Johns Hopkins Hospital offers outpatient appointments. Call 410-955-6716 for more information.



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Today’s food labels carry a lot more information than ever. Do you read the food labels before putting the item in your cart? Cast your vote in today’s Hopkins Happenings poll, and learn more about how to read food labels for a heart-healthy diet.

And what’s worth knowing about the first ingredient listed on a food label? How can you decode the words you see on labels? Learn more about food labels and how to benefit your heart at http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/healthy_heart/eat_smart/quick-qas-do-you-know-how-to-read-food-labels-for-a-heart-healthy-diet.

Do You Read Food Labels?

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Have you ever wanted to parlez-vous français, understand a traditional Latin Mass or be able to strike up a conversation in Mandarin? If you had unlimited resources and time, what new language would you like to learn? Share your thoughts in today’s Question of the Week.

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Have you ever laid awake at night due to a stressor in your life? We all experience stress in our lives, so hear from a few Johns Hopkins experts about what it’s really doing to your body and what you can do to help manage it.

Learn more about stress in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library.

How does stress affect the body?

Stress is a normal physiological response that can come in short-term or long-term form. Short-term reactions to stress can cause increased heart rate, decreased appetite and greater alertness, which can help deal with stress in the short term. Stress negatively affects the body when it is exposed to long-term or chronic stress. Serious health conditions that can be caused by long-term stress include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased susceptibility to substance abuse and illness
  • Less resistance to disease
  • Depression
  • Heart disease
  • Weight gain or los
  • Diabetes
  • Gastrointestinal problems

Won’t work-related stress go away after I retire?

A recent Hopkins Happenings poll surveyed employees about the top factor in their life that causes stress. The results: work, followed by finances and family.

But once someone retires and stops working, the stress may not automatically disappear. Michelle Carlstrom, senior director at the Office of Work, Life and Engagement, says that although many people consider retirement to just be a financial decision, “That alone won’t determine happiness. Even if you feel financially secure, there are other issues to consider.”

Here are a few ways to think about managing stress after retirement.

  • Plan activities with purpose. You may find yourself lacking in social interactions or a sense of purpose once you leave the workplace environment.
  • Consider continued work as a volunteer, part-time employee or small-business owner. Plan ahead and look for opportunities rather than waiting until retirement to figure it out.
  • Ground yourself in reality by taking a hard look at the things that cause you stress. Are they real, imagined, or anticipatory stressors? Determine whether you are worrying about the unknown future, or if your stressor currently exists, and develop a stress management plan to instill a sense of control over the situation.
  • Adjust your stress management style and focus on healthier options to manage your stress.

What are quick, easy ways to handle a stressful situation?

Managing stress does not have to costly, time-consuming or difficult. Here are a few simple, effective ways to handle stress, according to Hugh Calkins, director of the Cardiac Arrhythmia Service at Johns Hopkins.

Opt for a long walk over a long nap. Exercise is a great way to elevate your mood, plus it has the added benefit of burning calories and keeping you healthy. Stash a pair of comfortable walking shoes in your car or office to get outside for a quick 20-minute walk.

If you don’t have somewhere to walk, find a place where you can take a short break and escape into your surroundings. Spend a few quiet minutes alone, read a short story or article, or listen to music. Make a list of what you’re grateful for to help maintain a positive mindset.

Grab a healthy snack, like nuts, which contain tryptophan, an amino acid found in protein that improves depression and promotes relaxation.

Think positive thoughts. Talking to yourself in a negative light won’t help address stressors. Try reframing negative thoughts into positive ones to turn your stress reaction around. For example, instead of thinking “This is awful” or “This is such a mess,” think “This is rough, but I can get help” or “Things could be worse.”

Try relaxation strategies proven to help reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation and deep breathing. You can practice these techniques on your own at home. Yoga is proven to have many health benefits in addition to reducing stress, including back pain relief, more energy and brighter moods, heart help and better joint health.

What are other ways to reduce or manage stress?

  • Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly. A nutritious and well-balanced diet, combined with regular exercise, helps keep your body fit and able to resist disease.
  • Talk about stressful situations with someone you trust. Talking through your problems and concerns can put them into perspective and give you insight about how to deal with them effectively.
  • Stay organized, which will help manage your time more effectively.
  • Nobody can do it alone! Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
  • Practice relaxation techniques to calm your mind and your body. You can enroll in mind relaxation, meditation or yoga classes to get started.
  • Get professional help if you need it.


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Congratulations to the school of medicine’s class of 2015, others who graduated this year and those who earned other accolades. Post your achievements in today’s Hopkins Happenings.

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As the school year draws to a close, students don caps and gowns and prepare to cross the stage at graduation. What’s your favorite graduation memory? Did you represent your graduating class as a speaker, play a trick on your friends, or turn red from embarrassment as your family whooped and hollered from their seats? Share your graduation memories in today’s Throwback Thursday.

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The inaugural Dancing with the Hopkins Stars event on Tuesday, May 26, features 20 Johns Hopkins stars and dancers who have been rehearsing for months in preparation for their big night on stage in support of United Way. Learn more about each of the dancers and check out a few photos at hopkinsmedicine.org/unitedway/dwths. Here’s what a few of them had to say about the whole experience.

What were your initial thoughts when you were asked to participate?

“I was initially very excited and then I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?’” – Julie McArthur

“I was like, ‘are you sure?’ But I was excited. I thought about Jacoby Jones, Emmitt Smith and other professional athletes who were on the show. I thought if they can do it, I can do it.” – Darren Brownlee

“Terrified, absolutely terrified. I’m still terrified. I’m more nervous about this than anything I’ve ever done. Even more nervous than giving my one kidney away – they was nobody watching then and I was asleep. And I couldn’t fall off the table.” – Pamela Paulk

“I was excited. I thought it was an opportunity to do something different and fun. I’ve only done ‘party dancing,’ but not professional dancing.” – Corey Rhames

“I thought they must have made a mistake.” – Pablo Celnik

“I was really excited. I’ve participated in these events in the South for really unique causes, and all the ballrooms in Savannah participated, so I thought it was really cool that Johns Hopkins was doing this sort of fundraiser.” – Katherine Marks

What have rehearsals been like?

“The first one was probably the best one we’ve had [laughing]. It was the basics; we were doing boxes. The Viennese Waltz is all about boxes, so we’ve done boxes and boxes and boxes.” – Alan Partin

“At the first rehearsal Elliot moved really well to one song in particular, so we’ve just been building on that one song. I want him to have the opportunity for his personality to shine. We had rehearsal yesterday…and it is shining!” – Allison Agwu

“We get to this point where we’re like, ‘don’t tell me to do something new’ and then the choreographers get together and you can see their wheels turning, and we look at each other and we’re like ‘oh no!’” – Elizabeth Tracey

“Our first training session was fantastic – Joann and I clicked like old friends. I was fascinated by her energy and happiness!” – Lucio Gama

“All I knew about Pablo was that he was from Argentina, where I had learned to tango. When I told him how much I loved dancing in Argentina and that men were great dancers, he quickly apologized for not being one of those good dancers. It’s such a lie, he's great!” – Arielle Medford

What are you most excited for?

“Personally, I’m just hoping I’m still employed.” – Landon King

“Channeling our inner John Travoltas!” – Kathryn Ries

“Dancing is fun and great exercise. It reminds me of my youth when I was care-free.” – JoAnn Ioannou

“I’m doing something I love, we’re doing something for the greater good, and I’m having fun for the greater good. There’s nothing better than that.” – Monica Compel

“I like learning something new. You get to have a learning curve, and that’s fun.” – Joseph Califano

Who is your biggest competitor?

“It’s going to be interesting to see this group of Johns Hopkins leaders participate in the competition. You know that every single person is going to work very hard, so I’m actually pretty nervous. I think everyone is going look great.” – Erika Benson

“For me, as a male, my biggest competitor is Landon King. He’s been so into this, practicing daily, and is really excited about doing this. I think he’s going to destroy the competition.” – Dorry Segev

“From a dancing perspective and a fundraising perspective, they’re all threatening. Oncology is a big department so we’re going to have a big turnout. I’m looking forward to competing against Alan Partin for the urology/prostate part of this. Landon King, that’s just formidable. Pamela Paulk came in during one of our sessions and I know she has been practicing all the time.” – Michael Carducci


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Jeffrey Ellenbogen, a neurologist and researcher at the Johns Hopkins Sleep Disorder Center, recently spoke on a morning radio show about the benefits and drawbacks of being an early riser or a night owl.

Everyone works to develop a biorhythm to support overall health and wellbeing, which causes people to wake up early or go to bed late. Developing this biorhythm includes finding the right balance between sleep and the circadian rhythm, our internal clock. People have a predisposition to being a late night or an early morning person, or somewhere in between.

Some studies have shown that there are health benefits to being an early person and drawbacks to being a night owl. Ellenbogen says that to some degree, night owls are at a slight disadvantage because there is a mismatch between their biology and their desire to stay up late. A night owl can get things done in the evening but the alarm will still go off early in the morning, right in the middle of their biological sleep time.

Being a late night or an early morning person is not a disease. It is only a problem when social pressures make it challenging to work around one's predisposition to a particular sleep pattern.

So, do you consider yourself to be an early bird or a night owl? Cast your vote below.

Are you a night owl or early bird?

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Do you believe the early bird catches the worm? Do you live every day to the fullest, because it may be your last? Share your personal motto, mantra or inspirational quote that you live by in today’s Question of the Week.

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