How to Avoid Permanent Weight Gain During and After the Holidays

by Shelley Cannioto

I have been lucky enough to travel and live overseas for a number of years. I loved almost everything about it and was fascinated to compare attitudes, lifestyles, and habits of other cultures to what I had always experienced in America. I met my husband while I was living in England. He is Italian so I moved to Italy shortly before we were married. Italians have a knack for always looking beautiful and slim despite having a passionate love of food!

My first holiday season was one of wonder, to say the least. In Italy, Christmas is not actually the largest ‘feast’. They have seven (SEVEN!) food-centered holidays in total which begin on December 8, then you have Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Santo Stefano (Dec. 26). You rest a few days before celebrating New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The last feast is on January 7. I felt like I was suffering a delicious but uncomfortable death! All the mamas and nonnas spent days preparing their most delicious dishes and fully expected you to enjoy every morsel. We spent several hours around the table talking, eating and laughing. It was amazing. But I started to wonder if any of my clothes would fit after all of these multiple course meals. Each meal typically consisted of a charcuterie plate, pasta, risotto, meat, vegetables, bread, fruit, nuts, desserts, and alcohol!

Sadly, I was not blessed with a fast metabolism and have to watch everything I eat. I was curious as to how these slim people could eat like this and not really gain weight. Italians not only pay very close attention to how much they eat but also to the quality of their food. They opt for fresh food almost 100% of the time, which is important to note.

However, I would say the trick to ward off weight gain is how they eat after the holidays. Six days a week you will find live cooking shows on TV, which usually last a few hours. This was not a surprise since Italians love to cook and love to eat! After the holidays on January 8th, I turned on the TV not really looking forward to watching two hours of cooking. I was tired of eating, I was tired of food, and I was well overfed. But there was nothing else to watch so on the TV went. That day a dietician was introduced to the audience. I would learn over the next few years that she is a regular on the program every January. She gave advice daily for one week. What she taught changed how I approached the holidays. She said that it is important to give your body and digestive system a break. The break is temporary, lasting only a few days and you can decide how long you need. During those days, focus on eating basic foods. For instance, eat simple things like toast or plain yogurt for breakfast, minestrone or other broth soup for lunch, fruit for dessert, herbal teas, and a lot of green vegetables. The meals should be light and easy to digest. Also, you are less likely to be tempted to overeat.

I love the simplicity of the approach and typically use this in my life. This attitude helped me to change my habits during and after the holidays. Rather than eating food I may not want, I focus on what I do want and try to choose things that were fresh. I do not beat myself up over what I did eat or how much I ate; instead, I chose to start afresh with lighter foods that I enjoy just for a little while. Celebrations are important! But so is balance. We may not be able to avoid gaining a little weight in the holidays, but I see no reason to let that weight stay with me and think there is a pain-free, healthy way to avoid it.

Shelley Cannioto Contact

Shelley Cannioto is originally from Memphis but suffers from a bad case of wanderlust. Soon after graduating from college, she had the job offer of a lifetime that took her to the United Kingdom for six years. While there she met her husband Stefano who convinced her to move to Italy. They have a four-year-old son, Matteo, who keeps her active and alert. Shelley has worked in Pharmaceutical Sciences at UTHSC in Memphis for three years.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

A Smoking Gun State of Mind

by Jean Perdicaris

My significant other quit smoking five years ago – November 16, 2012 – precisely one week after we reconnected. He’d been a smoker for 40 years – the same number of years we’d not seen each other. (Yeah, we’re one of those couples that found each other on social media.) He was a recent Floridian transplant to the Mid-South. I was living in Texas. Anyways, if you ask him, he says the key to his quitting was jolly ranchers – the watermelon, grape, & sour apple variety by the bagful. Our first year of courtship was a commuting one, and jolly ranchers served as a chaperone on our dates. They were a habitual presence. Every two, three, or four weeks, we’d meet up in east Texas – the geographical mid-point for us. I’d bring jolly ranchers. He’d bring jolly ranchers. We’d shop for jolly ranchers. On occasion, we’d have to “hunt” for jolly ranchers. It was those times that salvation was often found in a still wrapped, albeit sticky hot flavorful mess, underneath a car floorboard. I don’t know how he determined that jolly ranchers were his ticket to success. He’s an unconventional guy, and he had an unconventional method. It had to have been so difficult, but he quit. In hindsight, I wonder how he managed during those interim weeks we were apart. He was alone. He had no tangible support. It’s still hard for me to discern because he never talks about it. Ever. I was living alone in another geographical state, and he was living alone in a bit of a mental state. I do know he quit smoking around smokers. At that time, it was part of his occupational culture. Other than jolly ranchers, his other prime ploy was going to the designated smoking areas, and, pardon the pun, blowing smoke at his peers. He’d sit in their mist, literally, and taunt them to puff their exhaust in his face. That had to have been intense, but he says it was a way of continuing to belong within his coworkers’ inner circle.

The more time has passed, the more I appreciate the significance of his quitting. Recent google stats say seventy percent of smokers want to quit, but only six percent succeed. He’s shared he could pick up a cigarette every day. He’s shared he has to quit every day. I appreciate more and more the wider world’s smokers’ struggles in quitting, and shame on me for taking a sanctimonious stance on our second date. (I had issued him a “quit me or quit them” proclamation.)

My significant other & I are pushing sixty. We’re older. We’re wiser. We’re darn cute together, but I don’t think either one of us realized that this one single step – his compelling decision to quit smoking was, decidedly, the most important undertaking to a better life for the both of us. We’re living a happy little life in northern Mississippi, and I give him most of the credit. While he’s had a wildly successful five-year run, I’m pledging to do a better job at empathizing with those who, every day, are trying to quit.

I work at a health science center – one that includes several trauma hospitals. Ironically, there are designated outdoor smoke areas. I have a newfound compassion for most of those smokers. They deal mightily with many psychological & physiological dynamics – addiction & withdrawal. I imagine these smokers I see are also coping with a loved one’s physical suffering and pain. Why else would they openly smoke in this multi-hospital environment? I used to identify people as smokers versus nonsmokers. I used to reel from second-hand smoke. Now, because of my beloved, I just viscerally sense the second-hand struggle. For them, every day is a smoking gun. For me, every day is a frame of mind.

Jean Perdicaris Contact

Jean is the senior administrative services assistant in Student Affairs & Enrollment Services at UTHSC. She has a Bachelor’s in Music Education from Southwestern Oklahoma State University and spent years as a choir director of multiple youth and adult programs. She believes her teaching background, along with decades as an active community, church, & school leader as well as a dedicated power walker, is well suited to meet the many demands of a multi-functional department. Jean grew up in Europe, Oklahoma, and Texas. She joined UTHSC in 2016 and is delighted to now call northern Mississippi home.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Favorite Summer Reads

by Lydia Ruth

For many of us, summer is the time to kick back, relax, and immerse ourselves in a new book!  I’m a pretty eclectic reader. If the writing is good, I’m not too particular about the genre.  I thought I would share some of my favorites that cover the spectrum – from non-fiction to horror and everything in between.  Whether you are looking for a good beach read or something to help you relax during your staycation, I certainly hope this list puts you on the trail of a new favorite summer read!


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

I read this book last summer on a cruise, and I immediately fell in love with the main character, Flavia de Luce. She is a precocious, 11-year-old chemist who solves murders in the surrounding area of her family’s crumbling estate. I love the setting of the book – 1950s British countryside. The writing was excellent, the characters were quirky and unique, and the story was told in a compelling manner that made me want to keep reading!


Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

I read this book a couple of years ago when Jurassic World was released in theaters. It was the perfect book to read by the pool. If you’ve seen the movie, don’t discount reading the book. There are some startling differences that still allow for it to be a new experience. The characters and the story itself are fascinating, and the non-stop action kept me reading long into a sunburn!

Young Adult:

Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud

I listened to this while driving to the beach on a recent vacation. Audiobooks are a great way to keep kids (and adults) occupied on long drives. The story is based on the premise that ghosts are walking the earth and some of them are very dangerous. However, only children and teenagers can see them, which means that children are basically the ghost law enforcement protecting everyone else. The story focuses around one organization and its efforts to remove a ghost from a home. The dialogue is witty, and the plot is awesome! I’m not always a big fan of Young Adult novels (they can feel like “same story, different setting” at times), but I really felt like this was a unique story that was well crafted.


‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

First, let me say. I am a total ‘fraidy cat. The movie Halloween still terrifies me if I think about it too long. However, Stephen King is one of my all-time favorite authors. I can put up with the fact that his books scare me because I love almost everything about his writing style. If you’ve ever read Dracula, then you will love this book. Stephen King loved Dracula so this is sort of like a modernized version of the classic. The story is definitely creepy, but the plot is so intriguing that you’ll want to keep reading.


Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

I stumbled onto this book by chance while visiting a friend in Philadelphia.  I had heard about the Mutter Museum located there, but I had no idea who “Mutter” was. I wasn’t able to visit the museum, so I decided to Google him, and I stumbled across this book. It turns out he was an incredible man who was an advocate for compassionate medicine in a time where a lot of medical practices were just a few steps away from barbaric. The book follows the life of Dr. Mutter, and it reveals his impact on the world of modern medicine. Whether or not you typically gravitate towards non-fiction, this is a compelling read that shows how one man’s hard work paved the way for changes in how doctors treat patients.

LydiaLydia Ruth Contact

Lydia is a recent UT Grad working as a Business Analyst in the IRIS Department. She did an internship with Disney (no, she wasn’t Mickey, and no, she can’t get you in for free) where she gained a love for helping people, along with an inordinate number of Mickey Ears. She’s always happy to receive a book suggestion (or make one)…just don’t offer her Brussel sprouts.  She thinks they’re baby cabbages.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Eating Well While Traveling

by Melissa Powell

In a few weeks, I will be traveling out of state with another family for one week. There will be seven children, ages 6 months to 7 years old, and 4 adults. Today we found out our hotel does not have a refrigerator. Now the other mom and I are on a mission to feed our kids without compromising good nutrition and wise spending habits. I have been a registered dietitian nutritionist for over 15 years and real life scenarios like this one still test me. The fact is, the Standard American Diet, or SAD for short, makes this task difficult. Challenge accepted!

Like any good American mom, my first step was to Google “unrefrigerated healthy meals” and found out I had a lot of options if I wanted to feed my kids in space, on a boat, or in the wilderness. There are actually some really great ready to eat meals that don’t compromise good nutrition. Go Picnic was one brand that caught my attention. However, this may not be an option for picky eaters or families on a tight budget.

Step two: consider foods within each group that doesn’t require refrigeration. Fruits, like apples, oranges, and bananas; grains, like whole wheat bread and crackers; and, proteins, like seeds, nuts, and nut butters all came to mind quite easily. Vegetables were more of a challenge. The food pouches that have become popular may be a good option for this food group, and worth the extra dollars for the sake of ease of travel and some extra vitamins. Another option is to load up on the veggies during the first few days when we have coolers. Peppers, celery, cucumbers, and snap peas all make for great snacking options.

Step three: consider foods for each meal and snack. Breakfast will likely consist of an oatmeal bar or cookie and fresh fruit. There are some wonderful recipes for hearty, healthy oatmeal or granola bars online. Lunch may include a veggie pouch with either a peanut butter sandwich or crackers and jerky. A seed, nut, dried fruit mix will make great snacks. Again, online recipes abound for snack mixes. And children make great chefs when it comes to these types of recipes. So, this will be their job, while I pack the car.

The reminder for us all with this challenge is that planning will make all the difference, in keeping within a budget and filling up on healthy, great-tasting foods. Taking a few extra minutes to plan a menu and a shopping list will save us time, money, and energy (literally, we will have more energy from the real foods chosen, rather than processed or fast foods that often leave us tired and rundown). So, wherever you travel this summer, I hope you will accept the challenge to plan and choose nutritious foods.

Melissa Powell Contact

Melissa is a registered dietitian and lecturer in the Health and Human Performance Department’s Dietetics Program at UT Chattanooga.  She and her husband, Chris, are the proud parents of their 7-year-old son, Craig. She enjoys time with her church family, taming her lab mutts–Mabel and Moses—wine with neighbors and traveling south for a beach vacation or visit with her nieces. Her favorite subjects are faith, food, farming, family, friends and football. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Samford University, a master’s degree in health education from UTC, and is working on her doctorate in UTC’s LEAD Program.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Book Lovers’ Favorite Books About Love

We asked the staff members of the UT Chattanooga Library to suggest their favorite books about love and romance. Ask your campus librarians if they have these titles and check them out today!


380994A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments, Roland Barthes (1977)

A structuralist meditation on love, in the
form of short entries, alphabetically arranged by topic. Dense with allusion and the trappings of theory, yet somehow still recognizable.

Shards_of_honor_coverShards of Honour, Lois McMaster Bujold (1986)

I read this book at least once a year. Military science fiction and romance, can’t get any better than that!


51bd4bLv6lL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ZOO or Letters Not about Love, Victor Shklovsky (1923)

An epistolary novel. Exiled in Berlin, Shklovsky falls madly in love with a woman who allows him to send her letters on the sole condition that they not be about love. His constant correspondence covers topics ranging from art to philosophy to history, though his unrequited feelings are constantly bubbling under the surface.

IOAWNAT-coverIf on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, Italo Calvino (1979)

A ground-breaking, self-referential, postmodern narrative. You are one of two book lovers who develop a relationship while on a quest to find the end of a book named If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler…, which is the story of you, one of two lovers who develop a relationship while on a quest…

Madame Bovary - Gustave FlaubertMadame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert (1856)

Really more a satire of the bourgeoisie Romantic-era conception of love. Also in the running for the greatest novel ever written.


1412044991781Nightwood, Djuna Barnes (1936)

A modernist classic about the messy complexities of love and sexuality.


Nadja_livre_de_pocheNadja, Andre Breton (1928)

A foundational surrealist work that explores the tension we feel between our lover and the idea of our lover.


fante3.jpgAsk the Dust, John Fante (1939)

A struggling writer in Depression-era Los Angeles falls for a waitress who is in love with someone else.


Pride_and_PrejudicePride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (1813)

The classic love story, need I say more.


51G-WHFUg+L._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_Eros the Bittersweet, Anne Carson (1998)

A look at love through the eyes of the ancient Greeks.


41gJqsjBINL._SX338_BO1,204,203,200_On Love: A Novel, Alain de Botton (2006)

A modern take on the highs, and lows, of love.


51+aSQlBnYL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Love Is a Dog from Hell, Charles Bukowski (1977)

Probably not to everyone’s taste, why because it’s poems and Bukowski, but a favorite of mine.


Trysting_B_Format_LoRes_RGB_120DPI-300x461Trysting, Emmanuelle Pagano (2016)

Scenes from hundreds of relationships, all genders, races, sexualities, first dates, divorces, and more.


For more information about these books and more, please contact Theresa Liedtka at the UTC Library.


Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Anxiety and Imposter Syndrome: Perspective is Everything

by Lauren Moret

It’s not easy making a transition in your work life. All of us do it at various times in our career: take on new job responsibilities or job roles; change departments or work schedules; get behind in our work tasks and need to play catch up; or, face the well-known monster of imposter syndrome. I’ve experienced all of these concepts of change, discomfort, and insecurity over the last three years since completing a graduate program and moving to Tennessee to begin a new job in a new profession here at UT (I teach research methods on the Knoxville campus).

Since my arrival, I’ve lost countless hours of sleep worrying about if my lesson plan for the next day’s class was “good enough” or if my annual review paperwork would be formatted and provided to the tenured faculty in a way that made me look like a commodity worth keeping around in the department (Notice the language I use when talking about myself in this context. I am such a hard-working human being, so of course, I’m worth keeping around! But, the academic work environment can be tough…we are compared to colleagues, peer institutions, and regardless of the work we do with students, the pubs have to hit!). I’d like to report that these lost hours of sleep have led to greater productivity overall, but I can’t. My hours spent awake between 2-5am have led to nothing further than my binging on Netflix and Hulu. (I’m caught up on several shows now.)

Everyone should understand it is normal to feel imposter syndrome or anxious about your work. It’s a sign that you are a cut above the rest; you hold yourself to a high standard; you have expectations for yourself, and that’s ok. Many of my thoughts that make me anxious can be turned into a positive. For example, I sometimes worry about a lesson being “smart enough” for my advanced level, doctoral seminars. Now, I am eight semesters into my work at UT, and I have never had a single student complain that the content wasn’t challenging enough for them. If anything, the students show excitement by the exposure to new materials. Though I typically over plan, and we don’t cover everything assigned in the lesson, I end up leaving the students at a comfortable stopping place while giving them ideas of how they can continue their thinking and writing as they move forward.

I recently checked in with a former UT Chancellor’s Teaching Award in Excellence winner and learned that what I was doing was succession planning, which means setting students up for success in their next steps as independent scholars. Without realizing it, a concept that had made me so anxious it caused me to lose sleep turned out to be something that works in my favor, a method that supports my goal of becoming an excellent college professor. I needed a new perspective on my skills and abilities. I needed to fall back on trusting myself because I know how to do this work. I say to myself in my head, “you know this, you got this.”

I know the talking I do with myself in my own head needs to be positive and supportive, even though this is easy to forget. And while the imposter syndrome and anxiety visit from time to time, I’m getting better about acknowledging the thoughts as no more than that…just thoughts and not true descriptors about me. So now when I wake up at 2:40 am, I roll over and just go back to sleep. (Turns out, I’m a better teacher when I have a healthy night’s sleep, but that’s a conversation for another time.) You can overcome imposter syndrome and anxious feelings about the job too by believing in yourself, talking positively in your own head about the work you do, and by giving yourself the “Okay” to just be.

Header photo by Synthia Clark

MoretLauren_091014_S.Clark_125Lauren Moret Contact

Lauren Moret is an Assistant Professor in the Evaluation, Statistics, and Measurement Program with a focus on Qualitative Research Methodology. Moret is a trained conflict mediator with current research interests that include the teaching and learning practices of leaders across diversities, oppression awareness and reduction processes used in organizations, and supports for the growth of author reflexivity and transparency of the qualitative research process. She loves to cook, eat foods from many cultures, and spend time outside.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Get Inspired with Natural Environments

By Andrew Bailey

Despite working in the department of Health and Human Performance, I’m not a devoted exerciser. That feels like a dark confession in a time where physical activity is at its lowest, with the Southeastern United States reporting the least leisure time physical activity of any region in the country (c.f. I feel bad about it. I wish I liked to run more, or that I could get excited about an aerobics class the way my wife does. Each time I begin a workout with the expressed intent of exercising, I find myself counting down the minutes until I can be done. Yes, I feel good afterward, but that doesn’t take away the memory of the pain I endured to get there. That memory typically prevents me from returning, at least for a while.

I suspect that I’m not alone in my distaste for working out. There is very little in a packaged workout experience that inspires me, and the goal of extending my life a few years is pretty vague and abstract to serve as a motivator. I’m the guy that personal trainers hope they never encounter.

There are, however, active things I do enjoy. I love playing outdoors. I love taking my 5-year-old daughter on hikes and looking for treasures in the form of rocks, leaves, and twigs that will inevitably end up in my pockets and in the laundry. I love taking a new way to the coffee shop and seeing a new street, and I love exploring trails, rivers, mountains, and anything else I can wander into. Because of the joy I derive from these things, I rarely notice the physical activity required to do them. When the mountains call and serious effort is required to explore a more demanding project, the inspiration typically overpowers the dread of a grueling approach. I’ve come to realize that I’m not just lazy and out of shape. I’m overworked and under-inspired.

Positive psychologists tell us that focusing on a negative behavior only induces more negative behaviors (Seligman, 2011). Asking yourself why you are so unhappy only makes you more unhappy. I believe the same is true with physical and mental health. We need to quit asking why we don’t work out more as if more time on a treadmill will solve our problems. Instead, we need to consider how to put ourselves in the path of inspiration. What sounds fun and exciting to you? What would you enjoy doing even if you weren’t counting the calories or mandated minutes of moderate exercise?

It’s true that our bodies weren’t designed to be sedentary, nor are they built to remain in climate-controlled, concrete block spaces for 95% of our day (Mayer & Frantz, 2004). Our minds function at a higher state when our bodies are active (Medina, 2014). Our bodies are most alive when the senses are engaged. Most of our built environments (classrooms and office spaces) are designed for efficiency, not for optimal human performance. Natural environments have consistently been shown to be more conducive to physical activity, to restore mental capacities depleted by work, and to reduce anxiety (Taylor & Kuo, 2009). There is something inherently inspiring, restorative, and activating about the natural world.

I will submit the idea that I’m more outdoorsy than some. The research cited, though, was not conducted on outdoorsy people. It would appear that humans have an inherent connection to the natural environment, either through having evolved in it or through a preference for living things (e.g. Biophilia).

The next time you dread the idea of trudging through another forced march, consider a change of mentality. Instead of dutifully enduring 30 minutes of vigorous activity, explore a new trail, try out paddleboarding or choose from a host of other activities that you may enjoy enough to forget about your heart rate. Walk a new, maybe longer route to the coffee shop at work, and be sure to extend it through that park a few blocks down. If your work environment isn’t conducive to short jaunts, you might get the same benefits as a weekend warrior (c.f. Let your body do what it was designed for, and put your mind in a place that nurtures it. You may find that the recommendation of 150 minutes of physical activity each week is not nearly enough of what you enjoy.

Not sure how to get started? Check out these resources for places to play outside in your community:



Faber Taylor, A., & Kuo, F. E. (2009). Children With Attention Deficits Concentrate Better After Walk in the Park. Journal of Attention Disorders, 12(5), 402–409.

Mayer, F. S., & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: A measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503–515.

Medina, J. (2014). Brain Rules (Updated and Expanded): 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Pear Press.

Seligman, M. E. . (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Free Press.


Andrew Bailey Contact

Andrew Bailey is an assistant professor of Health and Human Performance at UT Chattanooga. His teaching and research focus on tourism, outdoor education, and the human/nature relationship. A firm believer in the need for play, and for places to play in, he advocates for parks, green space, vacation time, and other assets that promote a high quality of life. When he manages to get out of the office, you might find him biking, hiking, paddling, climbing or traveling with his wife and 5-year-old girl.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Back Pain and Weight Lifting

By Marisa A. Colston, Ph.D., ATC

The benefits of weight lifting are numerous and range from burning fat to the improvement of mental health, heart health and bone health.  Weight lifting can also minimize back pain, especially the pain and stiffness resulting from sitting at a desk all day. However, protecting your back while lifting weights is important, particularly if you have a history of back pain.  Previous low back injury presents a 3-6 times greater risk of future injury. Guidelines for the management of back pain consistently recommend staying physically active and avoiding bed rest. But how do you do so, without further aggravating the back pain?

Many back problems are worsened by poor training programs, where the cause of injury is unknowingly incorporated into the lifting technique.  The most frequent contributing factors to back injury in lifting weights include extreme flexion (hyperflexion), extreme extension (hyperextension), and rotation (torsion).  Hyperflexion occurs when the low back is allowed to round, and then the weight is jerked up; e.g., rows, dead-lifts, and bent barbell rows.  Hyperextension places excessive compression on the posterior aspects of the vertebrae. Thus, exercises such as the bench press, unsupported overhead press, power clean, ballistic back extensions, prone leg curls, and squats must be used with caution and supervised closely.  Rotational or twisting-type activities frequently occur in combination with flexion or extension, which places the spine in an extremely vulnerable position.

Numerous exercise programs emphasize training the core. The core is comprised of the low back, pelvis, and hips. Muscles around the core function differently than arm and leg muscles, and therefore should be trained differently.  Core muscles function to brace the trunk during motion, acting more as stabilizers, than movement generators.  Initial exercise can be done with just your body weight and then resistance can be added to increase the challenge.  Planking exercises are an excellent way to work multiple muscle groups without high loads to the spine. A forward plank requires weight bearing through the forearms and toes, with the body maintained in a horizontal position elevated above the ground. A side plank is performed with legs extended and feet and hips resting on the ground and stacked on top of each other. The elbow is placed under the shoulder to prop up the torso. Then the core is contracted and the hips and knees are lifted off the floor (perform on both sides).  Plank exercises can be held for 10-30 seconds, gradually working up to a minute.

For dynamic (movement) exercise, power should be generated through the hips which is transmitted through a contracted core. This is quite different from challenging the core muscles, such as the abdominal muscles, through repeated spine flexion or rotation, which is not a good way to train the core.  Activities that emphasize a push, pull, lift or carry enhance hip power generation through a stiffened core. Programs should incorporate exercises that fulfill these tasks, rather than isolating specific muscles of the abdomen or back which create ‘energy leaks’ through bending. More motion in the back may increase injury risk.  Strength without control increases the risk for injury, as well as a lack of endurance to repeatedly execute movements with perfect form.

An important point to remember is that the intervertebral disc, and the spine in general, has only a limited number of bends before damage occurs.  These bends should not be used up in exercise programs. This requires creative exercise design to challenge the trunk and core, without excessive flexion, extension, or rotation.  Unfortunately, there are currently no validated guidelines for lifting volume.  We simply do not know ‘how much weight is too heavy’ or’ how many lifts are too many’. What is known, however, is that the risk of lifting-related back injury increases as the demands (load and frequency) of the task increase. Increases in load elevates spine and intervertebral disc compression forces. In the work setting, the load is one of the strongest risk factors for low back injury. This risk increases substantially when movement mechanics are not optimal.

Finally, the presence of muscles imbalances should be addressed before jumping into a weight training program. For example, an individual who has tight hip flexor muscles will frequently have weak hip extensor (gluteal) muscles. This is a concern because if the gluteal muscles are weak and inhibited, the likelihood to overcompensate by using the hamstring muscles to extend the hip increase, thereby increasing the possibility of a hamstring injury. When muscle imbalances exist, it is important to first stretch the muscles that are tight before strengthening the muscles that are weak. Obtaining full motion of tight muscles ensures that the strength aspect of the program will not occur in a limited range of motion.

Weight lifting and strengthening exercises can help reduce back pain, but avoid focusing on just the muscles of the back. Resistance exercises that include the core, arm and leg muscles will lead to overall body strength which will help to reduce back pain and reduce the risk of back injury.


Almoallim H, Alwafi S, Albazli K, et al. A simple approach of low back pain. Intern J Clin Med. 2014;5:1087-1098.

Bouwmeester W, van Enst A, van Tulder M. 2009; Goertz M, Thorson D, Bonsell J, et al. 2012).

Dugan S. The role of exercise in the prevention and management of acute low back pain. Clin Occup Environ Med. 2006;5(3):615-32.

Goertz M, Thorson D, Bonsell J, et al. Adult acute and subacute low back pain. Bloomington, MN: Institute for Clinical Systems Improvement. 2012:1-91.

McGill S. Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention. Strength Cond J. 2010. 32(3): 33-46


Colston_HeadshotMarisa Colston Contact

Marisa Colston is the interim Department Head and Athletic Training faculty in the Department of Health and Human Performance and Athletic Training Faculty at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Marisa’s research focuses on low back biomechanics, injury prevention and management, as well as legal, ethical, and regulatory issues in sports medicine. Marisa enjoys outdoor activities such as running, hiking and biking with her husband and son.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Re-Writing Your Resolutions

by Karissa Peyer

Did you make a New Year’s Resolution this month?  Even if you did not formally announce it or frame it as a resolution, perhaps you still had thoughts of exercising more, eating better, quitting smoking or getting more sleep.  According to, over half of Americans make New Year’s Resolutions and the most popular resolution is to lose weight or eat healthier.  Despite all these resolutions, nearly 50% of people fail to carry out these behavior changes beyond the end of January! So how do you stop yourself from joining this statistic?

There are a number of theories (Bandura, 1989; Deci & Ryan, 1985; Prochaska & Velicer, 1997) discussing what it is that makes people stick with health behavior changes, but they have many common threads. Among these is to identify WHY you are making the change, what barriers or supports are in your environment, and tracking your progress.  Below are some tips for sticking with your goals this year:

  1. Know your “Why.” If you know your “Why” you will find your “How.” Spend some time to really think about why you are trying to make this change. What benefits do you expect to see if you are successful?  What will happen if you fail?  How does this change affect those around you? The answer to this question is different for everyone.  While it sounds good to say that you are going to eat healthier because you want to lower your cholesterol, if the truth is that you just want your spouse to stop nagging you, own it!
  2. Adjust if needed. Maybe your original goal was to go to the gym five days a week but you’ve been struggling to make it just two nights a week. Cut yourself a break and acknowledge that two is more than zero! It is better to back off a bit than to quit completely.
  3. Identify barriers. This goes along with #2. What are the things that made it hard to hit your 5 day/week goal? Maybe you’re more likely to make it to the gym if you go in the morning because work or family commitments tend to eat up more time than expected in the evening. Perhaps you struggle with your healthy eating or smoking cessation goal in certain social situations. Identifying these triggers will help you to plan for them.
  4. Find your support. There’s a wealth of research (and personal experience!) showing that people are more likely to stick with behavior changes, especially exercise if they are receiving social support. This be a friend who meets you at the gym, a group exercise class where you make friends and people will notice if you miss, or just sharing regular updates with a friend or on social media to hold yourself accountable.
  5. Track, track, track. Keep track of your progress, including notes about what worked and what didn’t. This can be a reward in itself when you look back at the end of the week and see how much time you spent at the gym or how many vegetables you ate! Adding notes about what you enjoyed or tricks and tips that helped you stick to your goal each day will be good reminders when you struggle in the future.
  6. Reward yourself! While better health is certainly a reward on its own, sometimes we want something more immediate and more tangible. It is ok to reward yourself sometimes for your hard work! Make a contract with yourself to treat yourself to a new workout outfit or a new pair of shoes after 15 trips to the gym. Buy yourself that awesome new dinner set to eat all your healthy food off of when you stick to your meal plan.  Just be sure your reward doesn’t negate all your hard work! A scoop of ice cream for hitting your target at the gym is great – an entire gallon just spoils all that effort!
  7. Most importantly, find what works for you! Your initial goal may not be going as planned, but that’s no reason to quit.  Evaluate your plan, make changes as necessary and keep working at it!

Bandura, A. (1989). Human agency in social cognitive theory. American psychologist44(9), 1175.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York ; Plenum.

Prochaska, J. O., & Velicer, W. F. (1997). The transtheoretical model of health behavior change. American journal of health promotion12(1), 38-48.

file-phpKarissa Peyer Contact

Karissa L. Peyer, Ph.D. is an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Performance at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She received her Ph.D. from Iowa State University in Physical Activity and Health Promotion. Karissa’s research focuses on physical activity, childhood obesity and behavior change in both children and adults. Karissa enjoys running, biking, swimming and hanging out with her dog, Mika


Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

MIND-ful Superfoods

by Joel Anderson

These days, we’ve all probably heard of superfoods. Numerous lists online and in magazines describe the superfoods you should know and eat. But what makes a food a superfood? And is this sound nutrition or just hype? Will you really benefit from including these superfoods in your diet?

Foods are often given the “super” moniker based on nutrition density, whether that be vitamin and mineral content, levels of antioxidants, or amounts of healthy fats or other macronutrients. The antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties of these foods often lands them into this category. Most often, these foods are plant-based. While more exotic foods such açai, mangosteen, and goji berries are often on these superfood lists by virtue of their antioxidant profile, more common foods such as kale, blueberries, and salmon are considered to be superfoods, too. But will incorporating these superfoods improve your health or provide you with a nutritional edge?

As much as we might sometimes like the idea of a magic nutritional bullet, one food or nutrient alone will not solve all nutritional ills or halt a chronic disease in its tracks. More current human nutrition research focuses on overall dietary patterns rather than on specific foods or nutrients. Our dietary patterns have more to do with our overall eating habits and the variety of foods that we consume, as well as the form in which we consume these.

Many have heard or read about the benefits of the Mediterranean diet. First examined by Ancel Keys following World War II, the Mediterranean diet has an abundance of vegetables and fruits. The style of eating has received a lot of attention over the past several decades given the relationship between the Mediterranean diet and reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease. In fact, this is what led Keys to study the dietary pattern in the 1950s. The benefits of the Mediterranean diet are supported by nutrition research over several decades. As a graduate student, I co-taught a course on the Mediterranean diet.

A similar dietary pattern that’s getting more buzz lately has been termed the MIND diet. In this case, MIND stands for the Mediterranean-DASH diet intervention for neurodegenerative delay (MIND). The DASH diet refers to the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension dietary plan supported by research funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Older adults who follow the DASH and Mediterranean diets most closely have higher levels of cognitive function. However, the MIND diet score is more positively associated with slower decline in cognitive function than either the DASH and Mediterranean diets alone. In the case of the MIND diet, there is an emphasis on a few key superfoods for which there is a solid body of research. Specifically, the MIND diet focuses on the inclusion of dark leafy greens (think kale, collards, and spinach) and berries, like blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries. Why these?

A number of research studies reported a slower decline in cognitive function with higher consumption of vegetables, with the greatest protection coming from green leafy vegetables. And while all of these studies found no association between overall fruit consumption and cognitive decline, one study did find evidence that berries may have a protective effect on the brain related to cognitive function. While the MIND diet needs further research, this dietary pattern, which includes some key superfoods, may be a great way of maintaining or improving brain health that might have beneficial effects overall given the emphasis on vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.

file-php Joel Anderson Contact

Joel G. Anderson, Ph.D., CHTP, is an Associate Professor at the University of Tennessee College of Nursing. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Nutrition from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, and a certificate in Advanced Clinical Dementia Practice from the University of Michigan. Dr. Anderson completed a postdoctoral research fellowship at the Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies at the University of Virginia. Dr. Anderson’s research interests involve the use of non-pharmacological strategies to enhance symptom management and caregiver support in dementia.

Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.