Back to basics: Food and our cells

Fortune cookie that says "You are what you eat: choose wisely"

The other day, I met with my youngest client yet for a one-time check-in. My session with the eight-year-old was fun and more basic than the sessions I have with older teens and adults. During this session, we got back to basics and it made me realize that sometimes we get so caught up in all the minutiae that we forget the simple but powerful truth of the role of food in our body. So if you will indulge me, I want to take us back to basics, too, because I think that this sort of reframing will help you make your next meal choice so much easier.

We are constructed of a bunch — a BUNCH —  a bunch of tiny cells. 37.3 TRILLION in fact. That’s 37.2 trillion tiny cells working together to create everything inside us and everything on the outside of us. Our organs, skin, muscles, joints, bones (etc., etc.) are all built and repaired by these trillions of cells. This means our health is a reflection of how well our cells are being taken care of.  The only way to ensure our cells are getting what they need is to understand how the food we eat impacts them because food determines how well each cell will function.

Protein

Proteins are what build and repair our cells. Our cells, inside and out, are made up of protein. Some of the proteins needed for cell health are produced by our bodies, but some of these proteins must come from our food. This means it’s important to eat adequate amounts of good quality protein daily.

For meat eaters this part is pretty easy; meat contains all the essential amino acids you need for cell function. If you are a plant eater, getting complete proteins can be a challenge. Vegetarians and vegans need to make sure to do the hard work of getting complete proteins. Grains and lentils are a good source, and of course eggs (for vegetarians) work too.

Fat

Despite the bad rap it gets for sharing its name with the stuff we all try to get rid of, fat is an important nutrient for our cells. Fat protect our cells by creating a non-water soluble membrane which regulates what is allowed in the cells. Fat helps our cells communicate with one another to help regulate gene expression. And fat also makes it possible for us to absorb the essential vitamins A, D, E, and K from our foods (and supplements).  Good sources of fat include:

  1. Oily fish
  2. Avocados
  3. Walnuts
  4. Nuts and nut butter
  5. Olives
  6. Olive oil
  7. Ground flaxseeds
  8. Full-fat dairy (if tolerated)
  9. Eggs
  10. Chia seed
  11. Sunflower seeds

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates also get a bad rap, but let’s all remember two things. 1.) carbohydrates break down into glucose which our body uses for energy by storing them in our cells and 2.) vegetables are carbohydrates. Of course, not great, fast burning carbohydrates cause problems for the body, but nutrient dense, slow burning carbohydrates like vegetables provide an excellent source of energy while also delivering the vitamins and nutrients our cells need to thrive.

Vegetables make your cells thrive! Doesn’t that just make you want to eat them all the time? Me too!

I hope this back to basics look at food has been helpful to you. I would love to know what you think in the comments below.

Go play!

play

We bought our kids a trampoline for Christmas. This serves two purposes: 1.) to keep from adding more clutter to our tiny house and 2.) to have fun! (Because trampolines are just really, really fun.) They love it. My oldest races home from school every day to jump, and it has ended our arguments about screen time. My youngest has a blast and wears herself on the regular. Yay for longer naps, may they stay for a while. It’s such great play. We have a net and some rules, so I set my worries about ER visits aside.

But it’s also got me thinking about what I do for fun. Somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we stop having fun. Or maybe it’s just that fun turns into going on dates or out to bars with friends. Now I am not a teetotaller by any sense of the definition, but I find that really sad. Not only is drinking too much really bad for our gut health, but it’s also usually a sedentary event. And when we try to right all of our sedentary ways, we usually do it by going to the gym. Where is the fun!?! When did we stop having fun through moving our bodies?

Playing helps to reduce stress, makes us feel younger, and reconnects us to ourselves and our loved ones. What could be more important than that? Work you say? Bills? I get it, but wouldn’t work be easier if you were less stressed and felt more connected? Aren’t those bills always going to be there no matter what your health status is?

I’m issuing a challenge. Go play! Spend a minimum of 10 minutes a day doing something active that you find fun. Turn on the radio and make up a new dance. Have a race with your kids. Start a tickle fight with your partner. Just move your body and give into the joy of play. I’ll be jumping!

 

Deficiency du jour: Vitamin D

vitamin d

 

Everyone you know, including yourself, has probably been tested for and found lacking when it comes to vitamin D. So what gives? Turns out most of us — about 50% to 70% of children and adults — are deficient in this key nutrient. While we don’t really know why that is, it seems likely that it has something to do with sitting inside all day and not eating the right types of foods. Whatever the cause, vitamin D deficiency is a real problem as it can contribute to. . .

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Depression
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Asthma in kids
  • Osteoporosis in adults
  • Rickets in kids
  • Certain cancers, like colorectal, breast, prostate, and pancreatic cancers.
  • etc., etc., etc.

I don’t know about you, but that list and all those “et ceteras” are a bit scary. But there is good news! Most doctors are hip to the importance of having the correct levels of vitamin D and will work with you to ensure that you have them. Also, changing your diet to add vitamin D-rich foods like salmon and eggs yokes, working on your gut health to help your body absorb the nutrient, spending a little bit of time in the sun without sunscreen*, and taking a good vitamin D supplement will help set you right.

Of course, I am not a doctor, so pop over here or here to find out what doctors have to say about vitamin D deficiency and how to address it.

In the mean time go outside and start absorbing some D!

*Skin cancer is still a thing so we need to balance the need for vitamin D via sun exposure with protecting our biggest organ, our skin. You can do this with taking into account your age, skin tone, and health, and using your knowledge and intuition to determine how much time you should spend in the sun without sunscreen. For  example, as a light-skinned woman in my late thirties with autoimmune disease, I get out roughly 10 to 15 minutes every day in the morning sun without sunscreen. 

Self-care, dang it!

self-care

I’m taking a break from my gut health series to write about something that has been on my mind: self-care.  Self-care is vital to our health and, in many ways, is the linchpin of creating and sustaining a healthy lifestyle. And while it’s one of those things that is talked about ad nauseam in health blogs and in health-focused magazines, it’s really hard to get people to actually do it.

In fact, self-care might be the most challenging aspect of health for my clients.  I preach it because I know how important it is, but even I can have a hard time incorporating it into my life. In fact, over the last month I’ve not tended to myself at all. And I have excuses. There’s my business and volunteer commitments, unexpected travel, illness, and now a toddler that can scale just about anything.  In the face of all that, I just let self-care fall off the list. And you know what? It did not serve me. Here I was trying to serve everyone else, but I had nothing to give.  I did it; I took care of those diverse needs, but I wasn’t eating as well as I should or exercising enough. I felt overwhelmed; I had very little patience for those around me and  started to seriously feel resentful. I don’t know about you, but this is not how I want to live my life.

Part of the challenge of incorporating self-care into our lives is that we don’t really know how to do it.  When pushed to say what we think it is, we tend to think about eating right and exercising. While there is truth in that, it goes a little deeper.  It’s really about the why and how. Self-care requires a shift in our thinking. We prepare good food or exercise not because we are beating ourselves into submission but because we know that when we eat well and move our bodies we feel better and we can handle our lives with more grace. It’s about turning off the T.V. and the phone at the end of a long day and curling up with a good book so that we can get deeper, more restful sleep. It’s meditating, spending time with friends that lift us up, and paying attention to and managing our stress.  It’s about making those things that build us up and nourish our body and mind a priority.

Here are a few tips for incorporating self-care into your life.

  1. Pick your self-care. Decide on one or two self-care practices you want to work into your life. Maybe it’s just using all that fancy face washing things you got for Christmas or maybe it’s practicing yoga daily. Pick something that will nourish you.
  2. Schedule it. Once you have an idea of what you want to do, put it on your calendar each day and treat it like you would a meeting with your boss.
  3. DO IT! Seriously, you will always have too many things on your list and not enough time. What does it hurt to take half and hour or less to focus on your health? Nothing. It hurts nothing.

If you need help figuring out how to get self-care into your life or are ready to transform your health, contact me for a free consultation. 

The calorie counting problem

calories

Calories have been the focus of our obsession with weight and, by proxy, health, leaving us all feeling like big fat failures for not being able to lose weight.  The message from our doctors and the society at large is that weight is a simple mathematical equation (calories in – calories out = the size of our rear). Based on that, anyone with a large rear is just not very good at math. This message does a great disservice because a) it replaces the markers of health — a body that feels good and is full of energy — with a superficial marker of having a thin frame and b) it oversimplifies the notion so much that it actually causes people to retain more weight.

In the US right now, well over half (68%) of people are overweight. If you don’t think that at least some of those people have tracked their calories and increased their exercise, you would be fooling yourself.  The problem is that the well-crafted message of calories in versus calories out doesn’t touch on the importance of nutrients or the type of calories you are putting in. This means that the message is ripe for exploitation. Take the low-cal, no-fat foods that were so in vogue in the nineties. “Foods” like Snackwell cookies, Slimfast shakes, and even low-fat yogurt managed to stay really low in calories but were all extremely high in sugar and simple carbohydrates and almost completely devoid of nutrients.

Calories from low-cal but high sugar or carbohydrate foods cause our body to retain more fat. Sugar (from sugary treats or simple carbohydrates) spikes our blood sugar causing insulin to be produced which store that energy in our fat cells. Sugar also harms our liver and causes inflammation throughout the body. On the other hand, a fatty, delicious avocado is pretty high in calories but it reduces inflammation, delivers lots of great nutrients, and lowers our blood fat levels.

While many of us have been on calorie restrictive diets and have found that we did, in fact, drop weight, that weight loss wasn’t sustainable and the process was pretty unpleasant. Hoping to lose weight, people will often choose a chemical-ladened diet soda  and a salad topped with sugar-ladened dressing. Just a few hours later, they discover they are starving and find themselves unable to stick to the 1200 calories the calorie app allotted them. Personally, after years of trying this approach, I found that the only change was that both my metabolism and self-esteem were in the toilet. Our focus should be on how we feel and our energy level. We don’t get healthy on a calorie-restrictive diet. In fact, the evidence is showing that we actually get fatter and more prone to disease on such a diet.  We get healthy when we start to focus on eating foods that nourish our bodies and our brains and tending to those non-food-related activities that keep us healthy.

For further information, I recommend Dr. David Ludwig’s new book Always Hungry.

Health on the Cheap: Clean cheap and healthy

cleaners

When we think about being healthy, we spend a lot of time focusing on what we put in our bodies. We think about what we eat or don’t eat, what we drink or don’t drink. But we don’t often think about the things that get into our bodies through the air we breathe and the things we touch.

Sometime around puberty, I started having a horrible reaction to the cleaning product aisle in the grocery store. Luckily, I had a sweet and understanding mom that didn’t make me go down there. But as I got older and started having to buy my own cleaning products, I had to venture in. It was horrible. I tried to hold my breath, but it was difficult, and my lungs just felt like they were trying to jump out of my body in the hopes of getting some fresh air.

And honestly, it’s no wonder. From the Environmental Working Group (EWG):

Our research has turned up products loaded with extremely toxic compounds banned in some countries. Some of their ingredients are known to cause cancer, blindness, asthma and other serious conditions. Others are greenwashed, meaning that they are not, as their ad hype claims, environmentally benign. Still more hide the facts about their formulations behind vague terms like “fragrance.”

The EWG has found chemicals in household cleaners that damage red blood cells, bones, eyes, and lungs and are known carcinogens. Do we really want this stuff around us? Around our kids…pets…friends we like? I say no. Now, you could go replace the cleaners you have with ones that are safer. If that’s your jam, I recommend checking out the EWG amazing database to see which cleaners score the best grades. If, however, you are like me and need/want to save some money, then I have some tips for you. The only main ingredients you will need are spray bottles, sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) and white vinegar. I buy the biggest containers of vinegar and baking soda for under $5 every six weeks or so.

  • Mirrors and kitchen and bathroom surfaces — Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and spray down your surface or mirrors and wipe away. I tend to do an initial spray on all my surfaces, set up my podcast, and then start wiping away.
  •  Toilets and stains — If the vinegar spray isn’t strong enough to get the job done, then I add in some baking soda. A little baking soda with a bit of elbow grease gets most stains on your counter out (at least in my experiences), and adding baking soda to the bowl of your toilet is an excellent and safe replacement for toilet cleaner. The only drawback is that it doesn’t have the clever little spout to get the goods under the bowls rim. If one of you smart people figure this one out, shoot me a line. Until then, I just use my toilet brush to scrub the baking soda around and clean my toilet.
  • Ring around the tub or sink — For ring o’ kid around your tub and other surfaces that have a build-up of film, I fill a bowl with baking soda, add a squirt of dish soap, and just enough water to create a nice paste. I’ve found that covering my tub in the paste before I clean my other surfaces significantly cuts down the time I need to scrub the tub.
  • Clothes — Dryer sheets are horrible for you. Almost all (even the organic ones) get a D or F by the EWG because of the potential damage they do to our skin and respiratory system. So instead of putting a sheet of “spring flowers” in your dryer, use vinegar. My ingenious husband has recently discovered this formula.
    • 4 rags (we cut up old washcloths)
    • a 1/4 cup of vinegar
    • a jar with a fitted lid.
    • (Optional) a few drops of essential oils. Make sure that none of your people or pets are sensitive to EOs before you use them in this mix.

We throw a rag or two (depending on the size) into the dryer with our wet clothes. When the clothes are              dry we put the rag back in the jar, shake it up, possibly add some more vinegar if it’s getting low, and like            that, we are ready for the next load.

These are just a few ways I keep my budget in check and work to create a safer and healthier environment for all the living beings in my life.  I hope this inspires you to investigate what you are exposing yourself to on a daily basis and take action if those things don’t serve you. For more tips on living healthy on the cheap check out Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! ,  Health on the Cheap: Eat all the produce! , and Health on the Cheap: Use every bit!.

Lettuce have some food!

lettuceLettuce is in season right now which means you can find some really great deals. I purchased this head of romain lettuce from Whole Foods for $1.99, and believe me it really stretched throughout the week. This is great news for those of us trying to get more vegetables into our diet.

Wait. What?

I know, we don’t really think of lettuce as vegetable. Rather we think of it as the  flavorless base-layer for bacon bits and croutons.  But certain types of lettuce can be very nutritious. The romain I bought my family is loaded with vitamin A, K, and folate and contains omega-3 fatty acids and iron along with many many more nutrients.

While romain is one of the healthiest types of lettuce there are several other varieties that are loaded with nutrients your body needs. When choosing a lettuce use color as your guide. The richer and darker the color the more packed with nutrients it will be. Pick lettuces that are dark green or red and avoid the paler lettuces like iceberg.

As the workhorse of the veggie world,  you can make delicious (and seasonal) salads, you can use it as a wrap for a variety of ingredients, you can add it to soups, or even blend it in your smoothies. Below are a few ways my family has used this gorgeous head of lettuce this past week.

pear, walnut and argula
Pear and walnut salad

 

grapefruit and fennel salad
Grapefruit, fennel, and avocado salad

 

Lettuce wraps
Mushroom and walnut lettuce wraps with miso soup

As always, I hope these ideas and recipes inspire you to get into the kitchen and experiment with your own seasonal goodies. I’d love to hear all about your creations in the comments!

 

 

 

Health on the cheap: Use every bit!

throwing-money

We throw away a lot of food every year. Literally tons.  One third of all the food worldwide gets thrown in the trash. That’s crazy! Not only are visions of starving people flashing through my mind as I type this, but it’s like taking money, crumpling it up, and tossing it into the trash. In the US alone, we crumple up those dollars to the tune of $48.3 billion every year. Every year!

My goal with this particular series is to help you save money while getting the nutrients you need. There’s an easy way for you to save on your grocery money every month: Stop throwing away food!  Done!

Kidding!

I know it’s harder said than done. We throw away food mostly because we never got around to cooking it or we don’t eat the leftovers. I have been guilty of both of those things. But we can fix this problem if we are more intentional about what we do with food.   These ideas and tips will help you save money and keep delicious food out of the garbage.

  1. Plan for those leftovers. The first step really is to have a plan, as I discussed in the first post of this series.  I cannot stress how important it is to have a menu that reflects the time and energy you have to prepare food. Part of that plan should include what you are going to do with leftovers. I like to make more food than we will eat in one sitting so that I have food already prepared for lunch the next day. As we are cleaning up after dinner, my husband portions out the remaining food and puts it in to-go containers so that the next day we just grab and go. Done! No food waste.
  2. Don’t make more than you need. If you are someone who does not like to eat leftovers, then be conscientious about how much food your family will really eat. If you always have leftover food, reduce the amount you make or figure out a way to incorporate the excess into the next meal. If you always make too much quinoa, you can either reduce the amount or use it in another recipe. For example, you can make a quinoa porridge for breakfast by sautéing a chopped banana in some coconut oil and adding the leftover quinoa and a few splashes of coconut milk until you get the consistency you like.  It’s delicious with cinnamon and pecans, too!
  3. Rescue the produce! Even the best planning in the world can’t keep your produce safe. There may be times when things just come up and you weren’t able to roast that squash or use those herbs like you had planned. But before you let them compost in the crisper drawer, pull them out and toss them into a freezer bag. I freeze vegetables, herbs, and scraps to make vegetable broth. In addition, every time I juice, peel, chop off an end of a vegetable, herb, or fungus (mushrooms are the best), I put the leftover odds and ends in my freezer bag. Before you know it, you have a bag of rescued produce and scraps that will soon shine as broth. Check out my how-to here.

No one wants to throw away money, especially on nutrients that heal our body and give us the energy we need. I hope these tips inspire you to be more intentional about the food you buy and the food sitting in your fridge.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so let me know what your thinking in the comments.

For more in this series check out Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! and Health on the Cheap: Eat all the produce!

Health on the cheap: Eat all the produce!

chardWe all know that vegetables and fruits are so good for us and that we should be eating them every day, several times a day.  Vegetables and fruits are packed with nutrients and healing properties that our bodies need, but many of us shy away from loading up our shopping carts with a rainbow of colors because produce seems really expensive. And I get that. You can buy an entire box of pasta that will feed a whole family for the same cost as one avocado. But the nutrient density of that avocado out weights the pasta a million fold. (That’s hyperbole, so don’t go quoting me on that.)  When we think about spending money on food (i.e. our health), we should spend it in a way that gives us the biggest bang for our buck nutrient-wise, as opposed to filler-wise. Having said that, it can still be really expensive to buy all the vegetables and fruits we should be eating, but it doesn’t have to break the bank. Here are some tips for saving money while satisfying our nutrient needs.

  1. Have a produce plan. Have a plan for all your produce so that none goes to waste. The most expensive vegetables are the ones we throw out. Check out last week’s post on meal planning for  some tips.
  2. Buy in season. One reason fresh produce is so expensive is that we buy them out of season. A tomato or strawberries are going to cost a whole lot more in January than it will in the summer, and they will be missing a lot of flavor. The ideal time to buy a vegetable or fruit for both your taste buds and your pocket is when they are in season. You can check out your state agricultural agency or your local CSA for information on what vegetables are in season near you.
    1. Know the organic rules. Organic fruits and vegetables tend to be more flavorful and more expensive. While organic foods are better for the environment and our health by reducing our exposure to pesticides, it might not always be feasible to buy all organic produce. For those of you concerned about your families exposure to pesticides, I will point you to the Environmental Working Group’s lists of produce that you can get away with buying conventionally and those you should pay a little extra for.                                                            If you have access to a farmers market, speak to the farmers to learn about their farming methods. I’ve found that though not all farms can pay to be certified as an organic farm, but many do practice organic farming. You may get a better price at these stands if they are trying to compete with larger farms with organic certification. Also, buying organic vegetables frozen (see tip #5) is a great way to save some moolah.
  3.  Buy in bulk and preserve. If you really like tomatoes, berries, basil, peppers, or whatever and need them all year round, then you can buy them in bulk when in season and preserve them. Some farms will have special deals on seasonal produce if you buy it canningin bulk. For several years my good friend and I have made it a point to buy several pounds of tomatoes in June and make salsa, pasta sauce, ketchup, and crushed tomatoes to use at a later date. You can tell from this picture (it was late!) that it’s a lot of hard work. But it’s well worth it when you can reach into your pantry in January and grab some crushed tomatoes for dinner.  If canning doesn’t float your boat, you can always freeze berries, peppers, and herbs for later use.   I have a friend that makes big batches of pasta sauce when tomatoes are cheap and freezes servings for later use. It may take a little work, but you really do reap the rewards (pun intended).   Check out the National Center for Home Food Preservation for instructions and information on food preservation.
  4. Don’t forget the freezer section. I prefer buying fresh vegetables and fruits, but if I can’t, then I’ll buy them frozen. Frozen vegetables and fruits are typically cheaper than buying fresh and because they are picked at the height of freshness , and they are pretty taste, too.  Throw frozen vegetables into a chili, a soup, or other one pot meals helps you to get more vegetables in without all that pesky cutting. You can even roast frozen vegetables, which is one of my all time favorite methods. 

I hope this helps you feel inspired to go out and buy those vegetables. Look for recipes in the coming weeks that use seasonal vegetables in typical meals.

For more in this series, check out the post Health on the Cheap: Have a plan! and watch this space for more.

Health on the cheap: Have a plan!

Compass_rose_CantinoChanging the way you eat to include more vegetables, whole grains, good fats, and pasture-raised meat and meat products can be expensive. This is especially noticeable if you compare whole foods diets to diets based mainly on processed food or fast food. As I discussed last week, making the dietary shift may require you to change your perspective on food and money. However, while you may find you have to shift more of your funds to food, a diet with more whole foods does not mean you have to break the bank. In fact, there are several small, basic things you can do to keep the cost down, such as having a plan before you go to the store.

Meal planning (for all your meals) is an important part of keeping cost down and reducing waste. I bet I’m not the only person that has bought a bunch of greens with good intentions and no plan only to pull the almost liquid remains out of the crisper a few weeks later. Luckily, adopting a practice of meal planning has pretty much stopped all that, which makes cleaning out the fridge a much more pleasant experience. Here are some habits I’ve picked up along the way that make meal planning work for me.

  1. Take the time to create a menu. I’ve been meal planning for a while now, so I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Last Saturday I timed myself and found that it took me 30 minutes from start to finish. That includes creating a menu and turning that menu into a grocery list, with a few stops to google things here and there. While half an hour might seem like a long time, it saves me time later in the week; and, of course, it saves me money. When I know what I’m going to make, I won’t just throw in the towel and order takeout.
  2. Find inspiration. Vegetables inspire me! I build my menu around vegetables since vegetables change from season to season while most proteins and grains stay the same throughout the year.  I do this by either going to the farmer’s market (I set a budget for myself and only buy a vegetable if I can think of several ways to use it) or by looking online to see what vegetables are in season. In Texas we have this really cool chart from the Texas Depart of Agriculture to help with that. I bet you have something like this in your area. In the US you can also visit the website of your local Community-Supported Agriculture to get a sense of what’s available. If veggies don’t inspire you, find a different source of inspiration. For example, you might choose a theme for each night, like taco night, soup night, and breakfast-at-dinner night.
  3. Make a menu that reflects your week. When creating my menu, I think about our schedule and what nights are busy, like those nights I see a client or my husband has an event or I just know I’ll be tired from a long day. These busy night are the ones I start with.  I pick quick and easy meals for those nights, like a crockpot chili or make-your-own stuffed sweet potato. Once I get those nights sorted, I can add meals that will take a little more time, such as meals that require a sauce or that just have a little more going on.
  4. Don’t recreate the wheel. I like to cook and create new recipes, but I temper that with the amount of time and energy I have during the week. I have several meals that I come back to over and over that use the same grains or proteins but allow me to use whatever vegetable is in season, like stir fries and curries. I also save copies of my menu each week so I can go back and get ideas when I find myself with “menu block.”  I have about 10 meals that I cycle through every few weeks with a new recipe thrown in here and there to satisfy my creativity.

Meal planning is the foundation of a diet made up of nutritious food. Without a plan we spend more money and time than we want; we eat less of what we should and more of what we shouldn’t; and we stress about food far too much. I hope you find these tips helpful and that they make your next excursion to the store a bit less strained.  Share your tips for menu planning in the comments!

Next week: how to eat more vegetables without going into debt.

You are what you prioritize

bacon-sundae-sign

 

The biggest complaint I hear about eating a whole foods diet (foods that look as much like themselves as possible) is that it’s expensive. My answer is yes…no…sorta…it’s more complicated than that. There are cost and savings. You have to consider the direct cost of the foods you buy and the indirect health-care savings in order to have a full appreciation for what eating a whole foods diet means to your financial health.

First there are the direct costs associated with upgrading your food. If you compare the cost of fresh meats, vegetables, grains, etc. to the  dollar deals from McDonald’s, then, yes, the whole foods diet is going to lose every time, money-wise. However, if you compare a healthy meal prepared at home to take out, you will find that you spend much less per meal on the healthy, home-cooked meal. Of course, for those of us that eat at home, the switch to a more whole foods diet is more expensive most of the time. But never fear! I will be dedicating the next few posts to tips and tricks that will help you reduce the cost of eating healthier. Although, even with tools to reduce the cost of a healthier diet, a whole foods diet may make a larger dent in your wallet than your current diet does. But this is where it’s important to remember that you are what you prioritize. When we prioritize cheap food or convenience over our health, we pay the indirect cost of those choices.

A diet high in processed foods that are loaded up with sugar and chemicals plays a major role in obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and other lifestyle-related diseases. The statistics on how many of us are affected by lifestyle diseases are fairly staggering. I won’t try to recreate the wheel; so go on over to the Center for Science in the Public Interest to learn more.  I will say that the impact that these diseases have on your finances are enormous when you account for the lifetime cost of monthly prescriptions, doctors visits, lab test, hospital stays, surgeries, long-term care, etc. In 2013 the US alone spent almost $3 TRILLION dollars on healthcare (or, more appropriately, sick care) where as the US (its people, its businesses, and its government) spent just over half of that on food, $1.8 Trillion.

Food should be our medicine. We should be eating to nourish our bodies, but instead we end up filling our bodies with cheap, synthetic food to satisfy a warped version of hunger. So the next time you are enticed by the dollar menu, try to think about the real cost associated with that meal and then go grab a $2 avocado and get to work on your health. Because you are what your prioritize!

Welcome to the new year!

Image courtesy of Karen Watson at thegraphicsfairy.com
Image courtesy of Karen Watson at thegraphicsfairy.com

It’s that time of the year to get  caught up in the “self improvement through resolutions” fever.  Unfortunately, statistics show us that most of these best laid plans fizzle out by the time February comes around. If or when that happens, we tend to feel like failures and wait until next year to do it all again. Well, I have some thoughts that might help you avoid the plan-big/fail-hard trap.

1. Don’t get carried away. It’s so great to feel motivated to make positive changes, but 365 days are a lot of days. If you resolve on January 1st to wake up at 5 am and work out for an hour every day, you’re probably going to have a hard time making that happen all the way to December 31st.  First, your body probably isn’t fit enough to keep that schedule because it’s going to need some extra rest. Secondly, where is the joy in waking up early to try to beat your body into submission?

When setting resolutions (i.e. goals) think big. What physical activities do you want to do when you are 60? Figure out the actions you need to take to get there, looking at little actions that build on themselves. Before you start a new activity, figure out what your motivation is and ask yourself some questions, like does this activity help achieve my long-term goal. Which leads me to my next point.

2.  Reevaluate!  I encourage you to set a date with yourself, maybe once a month or once every week, and look at your actions over that time. See if the changes you are making really work with your life and if they are really moving you toward your goal. For example, if you want to cook at home every night, are you preparing the menu you need ahead of time and does that menu reflect the actual time and energy you have each evening to cook? If not, how can you make it easier on yourself to meet your goal?  Maybe plan for an easy three ingredient stir fry instead of a three course meal on those hectic nights.

3. Be nice! No matter how motivated you are to feel better and meet your goals, you are probably going to have some setbacks. Don’t let this topple you. You are human, and you will make mistakes. Its not a big deal. If you fall off that horse by going a week without doing those actions you planned, show yourself some love and resolve to get back on that horse the next day. Your health is determined by what you prioritize and what you do most of the time; it’s not determined by the slip ups.

4. Tell everybody. Accountability is one of the most important components of making changes, so tell a friend, or a few friends, what you are up to. And if this is your year to make those big, life-altering changes, then shoot me an email and we can set up a free initial health consultation.

Its been a few days since we celebrated the earth making its trip around the sun, but  I can already tell I’m going to have a good year. And I know it’s going to be a good year for you, if you let it.

P.S. I’m currently working on posts to help you meet your health goals without breaking the bank. So tell me in the comments what you would like to read about.

 

Stress Part 5: And sometimes its out of your hands….

ozatlasUntil now I’ve dedicated this series to managing the stress we can control, but the reality is that sometimes there is stress that is outside of our control. Maybe it’s the heartache of ending a relationship or the everyday strain of caring for a dying loved one.  Just living in this world and being somewhat aware of current events is enough to send us all hiding under the covers. Just the other day, my sweet little girl told me that she prefers lockdown drills (the drills they do at schools in case of a mass shooter) in her art class because the floor is more comfortable. I wanted to grab her and run home and hide for the rest of our lives. But I didn’t, and, no matter how heavy these external stressors are, we don’t. We all have to go about our lives with significant weights tied around our neck.

Our bodies are designed to react to stress so that we can survive things like wild animals attacking us. When our ancestors were being hunted by a saber-tooth tiger, their bodies would release stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol that shut down processes like digestion and the immune system and switched the body’s energy source to glucose (sugar). All of this was a way to divert the body’s energy to the task of getting away alive. But we aren’t dealing with a saber-tooth tiger that we can get away from and then allow our body to go back to normal. We are dealing with stressors that don’t let up, and so we experience chronic stress, meaning these hormones are being constantly released.

For those of us with chronic stress, we experience difficulty sleeping (your body won’t let you sleep if you need to be on guard against danger), inability to lose weight (our bodies burn sugar under chronic stress, which puts us in a cycle of burning and eating foods that can be easily converted into glucose while our fat stores stay untouched), and we have digestion problems (our body prioritize getting away over digesting when we are in danger).  With our bodies in a state of constant vigilance, it’s no surprise that so many of us are sick, overweight, and drained.

We can’t magically make someone love us or heal their broken body, and we can’t stop all the horrible things happening in the world. But we can do things to mitigate the impact of those things on our lives and on our bodies.

  1. Manage what you can. In part 1 through 4 of this series, I’ve provided several tips on how to reduce manageable stress. By adjusting those things you can control, you reduce your overall stress burden.
  2. Connect with others. Healthy friendships allow us to process things we are going through because we have someone to listen to us. Hanging out with a best friend has shown to actually reduce the stress hormone cortisol.
  3. Tap into your spirituality. For some of us, this might just mean getting more involved in our church, synagogue, or mosque. For others this might mean going for a hike, meditating, or some other practice that reminds us that our problems and the state of the world are just temporary.
  4. Breathe deeplyBy practicing deep breathing several times throughout your day, you give your body a break from the stress response and clear your head.  Find time to take a breath through your nose for a count of four, hold it for a count of seven, and then release it through your nose for count of eight, and then repeat for 5 to 10 cycles. 

Stress is a part of our lives no matter how privileged we are, but we don’t have to allow it to run our lives and ruin our health. I hope this series has motivated you to take control over your stress and has helped you create a more healthy life.

For more post in this series, check out  Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joyStress Part 2:What if it is your circus and those are your monkeysStress Part 3:Sometimes you have to rethink the whole thing.  Stress Part 4: Don’t feed the stress. 

Stress Part 4: Don’t feed the stress.

Pie_eating_contest_1923So far this series has dealt with stress in a very traditional way, but today we are going to switch gears and talk about something we don’t immediately associate with stress: the stress we put our body under when we overindulge.

Overindulging on food is part of our celebration culture. Our traditions mostly mean gathering with people we love and an abundance of delicious food. So we eat . . . and eat. We pile our plates with all sorts of celebratory delectables two or even two and a half times, and we eat way past the point of being full. Or as  Louis C. K. put it, “I don’t stop eating when I’m full. The meal isn’t over when I’m full. It’s over when I hate myself.”

We overindulge as a form of celebration, but the problem is, my friends, we can always find a reason to celebrate. And all this overindulging stresses our bodies out.

Overeating means the body has to work extra hard to digest all that food. Your blood supply is diverted to help your digestive system move the extra food leaving less blood for things like your brain. Your brain! And your pancreas has to produce loads of insulin to deal with all that extra sugar flooding in from things like rolls, sweet potato casserole,  and pie. Insulin produced under the stress of too much food means the pancreas does a fast and dirty job.  And it doesn’t stop until it clears the body of all sugar, which means we now have low blood sugar.

Low blood sugar can leave us confused, tired, and even depressed. Our body directs us to fix these problems by eat more sugar. Thus a horrible cycle that taxes our endocrine system and has us reaching for all the wrong foods is born. This cycle will not be done when the celebrating is over. In fact this is the cycle many of us struggle with on a daily basis. Our bodies are trying to find homeostasis, or balance and stability, but we haven’t given it the right fuel to do that. So we pack on the pounds and feel guilty that we can’t drop weight (causing even more stress), not realizing that a very real chemical battle is being waged which no low-calorie snack food is going to win.

So on this eve of Christmas Eve, I’m making a plea with you. Let’s stop that celebration = overindulgence madness and find some balance. Here are some tips I think will help.

  1. Set intentions- Before you even get to the table, set the intention to enjoy your food, to make the best choices you can, and to eat only until you are full (or just before).
  2. Breath– The first few minutes of a big meal can be chaos. We are rushing to get all the food on the table or to get the kids and elderly relatives situated. Once that’s all done, we just jump in and start grabbing and eating food in that same hurried state. So before you sit down to your own meal, calm yourself by take some good, deep breaths to bring yourself into the present.
  3. Slow down– Chewing is something we don’t do enough, which means we aren’t actually tasting much of all the food we are pushing down our throats. Chew slowly. Allow all the digestive enzymes in your mouth to do their job thereby taking pressure off the stomach and the intestines.
  4. Listen to your body– The truth is that we will hear our body at some point after the meal when we realize our pants are uncomfortable or we are so tired we can’t keep our eyes open. Why not try listening to your body before you get to that point? The first three steps will help you to do this, but getting good at hearing what your body says before it screams at you takes some practice.

The stress we put our body through when overindulging isn’t all that physiologically different from the stress we experience from taking on too many activities or being ruled by our phone. Overindulging releases the same stress hormones as all those outside stressors. The key is to eating in a way that will make you feel good after the meal by making the best choices available on the table, eat consciously, and eat only as much as you need.

Happy celebrating!

For more post in this series check out  Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joyStress Part 2:What if it is your circus and those are your monkeysStress Part 3:Sometimes you have to rethink the whole thing. 

Stress Part 3: Sometimes you just have to rethink the whole thing.

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Stress is often caused by the clash between our expectations and our reality. This is especially true at this time of the year.  Sometime around Thanksgiving, I start to imagine all the Christmas magic I’m going to have with the kids. I’m going to read one of our Christmas books every night. We are going to listen to Christmas music, decorate, bake cookies, and do all that stuff that you see in Christmas montages on those Hallmark movies.

But bedtime is still kind of crazy, and the older one would rather read Star Wars while the younger one would rather just eat the Christmas book. The tree did get up and decorated, but I can’t really remember doing that, so it must not have been very picturesque. There has been no baking. And I’m stressed! I’m trying to cram the Christmas magic into an already full schedule, and those attempts are falling short of giving my kids the perfect Christmas. What’s going to happen when Mommy ruins Christmas!?!?!

Breathe!

Am I going to ruin Christmas, or am I just not getting my way? I’m afraid it is the latter. The reality is that my kids are happy. My oldest is totally excited about Christmas, and my youngest is enjoying eating her Christmas books. Everyone is happy. When I just stop and realize that and let go of those crazy expectations, I let go of that stress, too. For me, the key to this comes down to living in the moment.

Tips for living in the moment

  • Take a social media fast. Logout of all your social media networks for a few days or at least step away for a while. Social media tends to fuel our feeling of failure. We see our friends’ posts of perfect homemade Christmas magic, and we just see our own failings.
  • Do less. You heard me! In this crazy hustle and bustle season, I’m telling you to do less.  If you can’t get everything done on your to-do list, then it’s too long. Cut it down to the essentials and make peace with the things that fall off the list. The earth will not be thrown into chaos if the beds aren’t all made, those Christmas cards don’t go out, or those cookies never get baked.
  • Evaluate your expectations. This isn’t the first Christmas that I’ve had visions of a perfect Christmas season, and it’s certainly not the first time I’ve been sadly off.  Examining why we tend to follow the same cycle over and over again only to be disappointed gives us the power to stop the cycle. Are these really things I want or is it what I think I want?
  • Be present for that magic that does happens. I really do believe in Christmas magic, even if it’s just that the whole city has gotten together to string up lights and step outside the everyday world to celebrate for a few weeks. Things — good things — and opportunities do happen when we aren’t trying to make them. Be relaxed and present enough to enjoy these times.

As always, I hope these ideas inspire you to take control of your stress so that you can enjoy your life and take care of your body.

For more post in this series check out Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joy and Stress Part 2:What if it is your circus and those are your monkeys.  Stress Part 4: Don’t feed the stress.

Stress Part 2: What if it is your circus and those are your monkeys?

performing-monkeys-vintage-poster

 

Our first strategy for dealing with stress was to reduce unnecessary distractions. Step two in reducing stress is reining in an out of control schedule.

A significant source of stress comes from those things that we want to do but have gotten out of hand and started to take over our life. Many of us raise our hands whenever a call goes out for an extra project at work or volunteer organization. We do it because we want to help out or serve or just show our boss that we are invested in our job. But all too often, we get into the habit of raising our hand automatically. Eventually others start to rely on us as the one that will always bake the cookies or do the social media research or whatever is needed, and a horrible cycle of stress is born. So what do we do when we want to be involved and serve without it taking over our lives? Here are a few tricks that I try to employ.

Keep your calendar up-to-date: When it comes to committing to projects, I can be a gunslinger, a say-yes-now-ask-questions-later kind of gal. This means I can say yes to several things at once without realizing it.  A simple way to prevent this is to keep your calendar updated and on your person. When the call goes out for someone to lead/do/orchestrate something, you pause, look at your calendar, and, if you are legitimately unengaged, then you can consider it. If you are otherwise engage, the question of volunteering is already answered: No.

Schedule self-care: Now that you have your calendar all up-to-date, you need to start scheduling self-care. This could be your workouts, time to take a bath, or just time to sit in your room and stare at the wall. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s time for restoration. Make these appointments, and then keep them as diligently as you would a doctor’s appointment.

Say yes strategically: Say yes to those things that you have always wanted to do, things that are passion projects, or things that just really excite you. Do not say yes just because no one else has. If you are the only one saying yes in your group/job/family then either the group/job/family doesn’t actually prioritize that task or someone else needs to step up. Either way, you aren’t overloading yourself with things you’d rather not be doing.

As always, I hope these ideas inspire you to take control of your stress so that you can enjoy your life and take care of your body.

For more post in this series check out Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joy and Stress Part 3:Sometimes you have to rethink the whole thing. Stress Part 4: Don’t feed the stress.

 

Stress Part 1: Stop letting stress steal your joy

texting tooStress is a part of everyone’s life, but the high levels of stress we experience are extremely dangerous.  Chronic stress can lead to all kinds of diseases, negatively impacts our relationships, and taints even our best experiences. For example, many of us even dread the holidays because this season adds extra heartburn rather than being a time to relax and renew with family and friends and take joy in familiar rituals.

Stress is a killer of joy. So why do we make the choice every day to let joy be killed? Yes, there are times when stress is outside our control, but chronic stress is an accumulation of those things that we can control and those things that we can’t. When we work on reducing the things we can control, managing our overall stress is much easier. One easy way to do this is to stop letting your phone and email be your master.

Stress Reducer Tip #1: Turn off your notifications! Text and emails come in all day long, and, like Pavlov’s dog, we jump to respond.  Research shows that this type of multitasking makes us less productive, but more importantly it adds stress to our day. Go into your phone or email settings and turn those notifications off!  If you can’t figure out your setting find the nearest young person and set them to the task. Then start to manage expectations for yourself and others by letting it be known that you only check your messages at a set time each day, but if they have something urgent to tell you than they can call you or swing by your office.  By doing this we take control over our day and the stress we allow in our lives.

Let me know if this is something that resonates with you and, if you give it a whirl, how it worked for you. Good luck!

For more post in this series check out  Stress Part 2:What if it is your circus and those are your monkeysStress Part 3:Sometimes you have to rethink the whole thing.  Stress Part 4: Don’t feed the stress. 

photo credit: Texting on a Tractor via photopin (license)

Tis the season of stress!

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Tis the season to travel, to purchase, to make food, eat food, and to feel the full impact of bad food choices. Tis the season of time with family or to miss family.  Tis the season for expectations that can and do often go south. Basically, we are entering the season of (even more) stress. Caveat: not all stress is bad, and sometimes stress can even be good for us, but most of us aren’t plagued by good stress.

Stress management is vital to our health, but we don’t often take it as seriously as our diet and exercise. This is because diet and exercise are concrete things, while managing our stress can feel very abstract — like it might involve leaving our jobs or growing a beard. When I look back over my years spent in various doctors offices, I can see the same scene play out. “Doctor I’m always exhausted and I can’t lose weight despite cutting calories and obsessively exercising.”  What would follow would be instructions to reduce my calories further and exercise more and to reduce my stress. To that last point (in my mind’s montage) we would look at each other and start laughing. Because stress isn’t a thing like diet that we can control, right? Wrong!

Yes, there are things that happen to us that we can’t control, like having a loved one get very ill or the world losing its ever-loving mind. But we can do things to mitigate the effects of those stressors on our health. There are also a lot of stressors that we unintentionally add to our life that aren’t necessary. Over the next month, I’ll be writing about how stress affects our health and ways we can gain control over it so that we can stop it from harming us further.  Stay tuned!