Archive for Staying Healthy

Wanna change your Life? Sit Up Straight!

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“Sit up straight, young lady.”  The stern voice was quickly followed by a loud thwack on my desk by Mrs. Stinson’s indestructible ruler.  Seriously, I don’t know how that thing never broke.  She smacked it on someone’s desk at least 50 times a day.  “You can’t learn if you’re slumped over in your desk.”  She shot me her best, actually I think it was her only, Stepford Wives smile and continued on down the aisle to torture her next victim.

I don't know about you, but I grew up hearing "stand up straight" from everyone I knew who happened to be over the age of 35.  Maybe it was a product of private school and a military family. Maybe they wanted to harass me.  Or maybe I really did need to stand up straight.  Regardless of why, good posture wasn’t always the easiest thing to maintain.  Looking back now, it seems that maybe they were on to something.

I recently had a conversation regarding posture with a close friend, Sue, who happens to be a licensed physical and massage therapist.  We discussed some information I had come across in an article about the connection between your brain and your posture.  I admit, I pulled it up on my tablet and let her read it to get her opinion.

Her response spoke volumes about the importance of posture on so many aspects of our body.  She pointed out that good posture is essential for functional mobility (i.e. the ability to lift our arms to improving our balance as we stand).  She also said it was helpful in oxygenating and lubricating the body, or at least improving blood flow to our organs.

I can’t speak from a medical point of view, but from an everyday observational standpoint, adjusting a slumped posture can shave years from a person's appearance, miraculously changing someone from looking like the scary old biddy children may be thinking they are into the healthy person they are intended to be.

And it turns out, science has something to support the idea of maintaining good posture with some not so expected conclusions about how it influences the way we think and feel.  Dutch behavioral scientist and Professor of Holistic Health at San Francisco State University, Erik Peper, has researched the correlation between our posture, body language and our energy levels and he discusses how posture influences our moods, opinions, and levels of happiness.

 According to his research, modifying your posture is a self-awareness technique.  Body posture helps you remember positive or negative memories significantly.  His studies have shown that sitting in a “collapsed position” and looking downward, it’s easier to recall “hopeless, helpless, powerless, and negative memories, than empowering, positive memories.”  However, sitting upright and looking upward, makes it difficult and “for many almost impossible” to recall those negative memories and easier to recall empowering, positive ones.

This “collapsed position” Dr. Peper mentions is one we are all prone to.  Many of us, without being aware of it, walk in slouched pattern, sit for hours “collapsed” in front of our computer or TV, and “collapse” forward while texting or on our smart phones.  We’ve become ‘‘culturally conditioned’’ to these positions.  And because of this, we could be inducing negative, hopeless thought patterns and memories.  Dr. Peper recommends being more aware of your body posture throughout the day.

Sitting still for long periods of time is the arch nemesis of good posture, but sitting up straight doesn’t have to be painful or difficult.  Sue recommends simply lifting your chest toward the ceiling.  You can do this sitting or standing. Either way, it stimulates the muscles in your lower thoracic spine (the muscles on both sides of the backbone on your lower rib cage) which draw the shoulders back and align your head over your spine. 

I tried it.  I’m actually trying it right now.  It makes it easier to breathe, feels like it helps me stretch out, and Sue says it should improve blood flow into your head.  (She also said my head could use all the help it could get, but that’s a different topic.)  One stretch that she recommends to many of her patients is a move called the Thoracic Bridge.

The move, in essence, opens up your body and can aid with pain and tightness in your shoulders, back, and hips.  It looks a little odd, but once you get the hang of it it’s a breeze (yes, I tried it too). You will definitely be able to feel it working and Sue says you’ll start to feel the difference in your body's alignment and posture as well.

So if you want to benefit from improved posture and live a healthier and happier life, where should you start?

Start simple.  The simplest moves are usually the most effective.  Try the Thoracic Bridge.  Take breaks throughout your day to get up from your desk and stretch.  Try lifting your chest toward the ceiling to align your back.  Just don’t hunch over your keyboard until you’re able to type emails with your nose.  I’m fairly certain Mrs. Stinson is still lurking around somewhere with her ruler.

 

You vs. Soda—The Ultimate Battle for Health

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I am not a soda drinker.

I only drink it when I’m sick of coffee and jonesing for an afternoon caffeine kick …

Or when I’m at family functions or with friends at restaurants …

Or when it’s readily available in my fridge, or better yet in a cup the size of my head from a drive through.

See? I’m totally not a soda drinker … and totally not addicted to it. And you’re probably not, either.

And even if I was addicted to soda, it’s not that bad because I always drink diet. No extra liquid calories here.

Yeah, right. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time—or paying a lick of attention to the news—you know that we’re fooling ourselves.

It’s time to go to battle against soda. Especially in this season of resolutions and fresh starts, it’s time to confront our willful ignorance, really absorb the dangers of soda, and find a way to kick the habit once and for all!

The Battle of the Bulge

Even though Mexico recently surpassed America as the fattest country in the world, we still have a massive problem with massive people. 33% of children and 66% of American adults are now overweight or obese.

Though soda isn’t the sole culprit consider this: carbonated beverages are reportedly teens’ first choice in beverages at school, and just over 5% of the American public consumes more than 500 calories a day in soft drinks. (That’s more than four, 12-ounce cans of soda daily.)

So, it’s definitely a villain. But it turns out its supposedly innocuous cousin, diet soda, is equally as dangerous. 

According to a Harvard Public School of Health report, there is an increased incidence of obesity in everyday soda drinkers, including those who drink diet.

Researchers have also found that just like with regular soda, the consumption of artificially sweetened beverages is also associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease. Drinking just one can of diet soda per day is "enough to significantly increase the risk for health problems," according to the media release.

Diet soda in particular affects cardiovascular health (61% increased risk of a critical vascular event in regular drinkers, especially women). A cardiovascular event can be anything from a heart murmur to full tilt heart attack.

Just Two Servings Per Day is Too Much 

And, these effects aren’t just being seen in chronic “chain drinkers”.

Kidney problems begin with diet soda drinkers who consume two or more serving per day, especially women. Researchers saw a threefold decrease in kidney function with 20-year veteran diet drinkers.

Plus, most diet beverages are sweetened with aspartame, which has its own list of side effects including headaches, dizziness, and GI symptoms.

How to Fight Back

So what can you do to kick the cola habit—and fight back for your health?

Substitutions! There are tons of drinks available today that both satisfy the sweet tooth and actually have beneficial nutrients. Swap out just one soda per day for a healthy substitute, and you’ll start to feel the difference.

Here’s a quick list of fabulous substitutions to help you kick the habit today.

  • Choose drinks with actual nutritional value. The big problem with soda is that it often replaces healthier choices in a diet. Natural fruit juices and vegetable juices are a great way to slip in some needed vitamins and minerals while enjoying a sweet drink. (If you still need something bubbly, invest in a Soda Stream carbonator, or something like it.)
  • Get hydrated. Water and water-based drinks such as tea provide proper hydration and caffeine options for your 2:30 energy boost. Green tea is a superb choice as it has a light, natural sweetness, caffeine, and antioxidants (the exact opposite of a diet soda!)
  • Go back to basics. Remember milk? While dairy milk is still better than soda, non-dairy choices like coconut milk, enriched soy, and almond milk are highly nutritious, free of hormones, and often vegan friendly.

It’s time to bid adieu to our carbonated cravings. Choose one of these healthy substitutes and your kidneys, waistline, and long-term health will thank you!

References:

(1) Harvard School of Public Health. "Harvard School of Public Health » The Nutrition Source » Sugary Drinks and Obesity Fact Sheet." http://www.hsph.harvard.edu. Harvard School of Public Health, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. 

(2) Fung TT, Malik V, Rexrode KM, Manson JE, Willett WC, Hu FB. Sweetened beverage consumption and risk of coronary heart disease in women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;89:1037-42.

(3) Doheny, Kathleen. "Diet Sodas May Be Hard on the Kidneys." WebMD.com. WebMD, n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.

(4) Nill, Ashley G. "The History of Aspartame." The History of Aspartame. Harvard Law School, 2000. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. http://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/8846759

(5) "Subject: Docket # 02P-0317." Interview by Mark D. Gold. Http://www.fda.gov. Food and Drug Admistiration, 12 Jan. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2013. http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/dailys/03/jan03/012203/02p-0317_emc-000199.txt

(6) Tate DF, Turner-McGrievy G, Lyons E, et al. Replacing caloric beverages with water or diet beverages for weight loss in adults: main results of the Choose Healthy Options Consciously Everyday (CHOICE) randomized clinical trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95:555-63.

 

Three Benefits of Running You Probably Haven’t Thought Of

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Running is awesome.

I can sense your scoffing all the way across the internet. “Running is awful,” you might be saying. “No one really likes to run except oddballs and people with disorders.”

I was once like you. I used to think running was too much suffering for some mysterious payoff, that it would hurt my joints and that I couldn’t ever become as good as the hardcore runners I knew, so why try anyway?

As I’ve documented before, the Couch to 5K program was my answer, and within a matter of months I was running ten minute miles with ease.

Yes, it was pretty easy, and took just 30 minutes or so, three times a week. I’ve dropped a bunch of weight and can finally outlast my kids.

And I’m an addict. One of those people I previously scoffed at. I know now what they know: running isn’t just an effective workout, it’s an escape, a challenge, and a way of life. Every time my feet hit the ground I’m stretching my boundaries and becoming a healthier person.

And you can do it, too.

I don’t want to sound like your mother or that one overbearing athletic friend. You know running has myriad health benefits, from improved cardiovascular condition to improved metabolism and yadda yadda yadda.

For whatever reason, those benefits haven’t convinced you to give it a shot. Allow me to offer up a few more. Running has myriad other positives outside of what happens in your heart. These are five secrets commonly known to frequent runners that I didn’t know until I became one:

1. Running is personal time - Whether on a treadmill or going in circles across a local park, running is your time. No kids, bosses, or family bugging you. It’s a great time to enjoy the silence, or some of your favorite music. I prefer podcasts, sometimes on sports topics, sometimes on things I need to learn more about, like science. NPR has a bunch of great ones to listen to.

2. You can inspire people - As long as you’re not an overbearing douchebag about your newfound running abilities, people will be inspired by how you’re able to transform yourself. It’s a great way to make friends, and always serves as interesting conversation starter at parties. Your grandma will think it’s awesome too. Remember: everyone seems to think running is some sort of superhero exercise. Let ‘em think it.

3. Disease Prevention - Running reduces your risk for a variety of cancers: colon, breast, lung, and endometrial. It can even help your vision.

What do you have to lose? The C25K program will ease you into a running habit; your body will do the rest. You may not become like me and find it to be an almost addictive habit, but even just a little bit of pushing yourself can have a wealth of benefits - more than you can even imagine!

The 5-Minute Morning Stretch

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I rolled over and slammed my hand around on the table, intent on silencing the culprit that interrupted my romantic rendezvous with Robert Downey, Jr.  Once the air was no longer filled with incessant buzzing, I rubbed my eyes and rolled toward the edge of the bed.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that I had to leave Robert in dreamland, but to add to it, when my feet hit the floor every muscle in my back felt like it was suddenly on strike.  I immediately began my morning stretch.

I’ve always been a “stretcher.”  In fact, a former boyfriend once told me I stretch more often than his cat.  I tried to take it as a compliment.  Still not so sure he meant it that way, but I saw him a few weeks ago – I’m in much better shape, so I’m keeping it as a win for me.   

The point is, stretching is beneficial for more reasons than just to get the kinks out first thing in the morning.  It does much more than just loosen you up; it helps you recover from the toil of the day before and gets your body ready for the day ahead.  A morning stretch is kind of like stretching after your workout.  It will oxygenate not only your muscles but your brain, which can only add a positive kick-start to your day.  And if that isn’t reason enough, here are a few other benefits:

  • Better Circulation - Stretching may not necessarily prevent injury from overdoing it, but it does increase the blood flow to muscles and cartilage. What does this mean for you?  It means less muscle soreness after workouts. The less sore your muscles are, the more likely you are to actually workout again.  Oh, yeah, and it’s less painful in general if you aren’t sore.
  • Flexibility - The best and most effective way to increase your flexibility is by stretching.  As we age, our muscles gradually shorten and tighten, reducing our overall flexibility.  (This also explains why I think I’m getting more vertically challenged.)  Why is flexibility important?  When your muscles are tight and restricted, you’re prone to muscle, tendon and joint injuries. Stretching reduces these risks by increasing your flexibility.  Plus, there’s that satisfying moment at family gatherings when you can prove you can touch your toes and your younger sister can’t.
  • Reduce Stress – We all stress!! And we are all looking for ways to make it go away.  I like to call stretching the “stress buster” exercise.  Stress tenses your muscles – literally.  And tension can have negative effects on just about every part of your body.  Gentle stretching exercises relax tense muscles, hence busting the stress.  Not to mention, since stretching is indeed exercise, you get the bonus of the endorphin-boosting effects (and saying you exercised).  So your mood, and the way you feel in general, is going to see a definite upturn.
  • Lessen Lower Back Pain – Face it, you’re not the spring chicken you used to be.  You’re not alone.  Millions suffer with lower back pain. I, for one, feel it when I roll out of bed in the morning.  Stretching actually helps strengthen lower back muscles and eases soreness and pain. Bonus:  it helps improve your posture too since so many muscles (quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back muscles and hip flexors) are involved.  Bonus: you’re mom won’t tell you to sit up straight as often.

You can begin this before you even get out of bed. Start by taking a few deep breaths, then raise your arms over your head, point your toes, and stretch out your body. Hold each position about 30 seconds. Alternately bring each arm over your head then drop your hand down to the opposite ear. Keep your movements slow and easy, don't over stretch, just move. Next, lying on your back, slide your feet up, raising your knees. Drop your knees to one side, and then the other. Then pull your knees to your chest and give yourself a hug. Put one leg out straight while holding on to the other and bring your head outside of the knee, then switch legs. Take a few relaxing breathes and get out of bed, and start your day.

You can add in other stretches that work the muscles you tend to feel the most tension in and customize your stretch routine for what feels best for your body.  Regardless of which stretches you choose, you will reap the benefits of a good morning stretch.  You might even find yourself stretching more often, but I wouldn’t recommend dropping to the office floor in front of the boss and co-workers and announcing you need a “stress buster.”  I can’t promise that would be beneficial.

 

” When are you due?”

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 “When are you due?”  The red-haired lady looked at me with kind eyes and smiled as I placed the box of cookies in my grocery cart.  She’d caught me off guard.

“Excuse me?”  I replied.

“The baby.”  She nodded toward my stomach.  “When are you due?”

I responded as quickly as my mind could calculate the months.  “February.”

“Awww, well, congratulations.”  She smiled again and pushed her cart off down the aisle.  I stood there for a moment.  Processing.  Mortified.  It was all I could do to hold back the tears.  I wasn’t pregnant.  But, I was too embarrassed to admit that to a complete stranger.

I stared at the items in my cart – cookies, chips, soda, and more carbs than any one person should be consuming in a week.  I know I must have looked like a lunatic as I removed item after item from my cart, placing them back on the shelves as I reversed my trek through the store.  For the next 20 minutes, I fought the urge to cry while speeding through the produce section, grabbing anything and everything there that I knew I didn’t hate.

When I finally made it to my car, I practically threw the bags into the trunk, collapsed into the driver’s seat, cranked the car, turned the radio up...and lost it.  I sat there and just cried.  I don’t remember how many songs had played before one got my attention.   "Shine" by Anna Nalick.  Three particular lines were loud enough to pierce through my sobbing. 

"I think you need to stop following misery’s lead...Isn't it time you got over how fragile you are?  Everyone is waiting on your supernova."  I suddenly realized I couldn’t keep on thinking I wasn’t strong enough to change.  I needed to take the lead.  There were people in my life who needed me to be strong enough, who were waiting for my supernova.  They were just waiting for me to become the best version of me.  They deserved the best version  – a healthy me. 

But at the very core, I knew I had to do it for myself as much as for my children and my family.  It was time for my transformation...mentally and physically.

I drove home that day, grabbed a trash bag and emptied my cabinets and refrigerator of any junk food or foods that I knew would be a weakness for me.  I replaced it with fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grain foods.  I sat down that night and wrote my goals on a piece of printer paper and stuck it on my refrigerator door.   I put post-it notes with encouraging quotes written on them all over my house in places I knew I’d see them: my closet door, the bathroom mirror, my computer screen.  I knew I would have to find ways to keep myself on point and motivated.  The one quote that I knew would hit home every time was the one I wrote on the bottom of every sticky note. “When are you due?”

I found other ways to stay on track too. 

I write it out.  I discuss my weight loss struggles and victories on my blog and Facebook page.  It helps me to stay accountable and maybe in the process I’ll encourage someone else who might be struggling alone the way.

I load up on liquids.  I don’t mean the sugary ones, either.  Water.  Lots of water.  But I know water can get boring.  Believe me, I know.  So I like to shake it up by adding a squeeze of lemon or MIO drops (blueberry lemonade is my favorite).

I keep track.  I write down what I’m eating and how I’m feeling.  Not just to keep up with calories, but in order to see if there are certain foods that make me feel like crap.  I also don’t weigh myself daily.  Once a week is the limit, twice a month would be better.  Our bodies can fluctuate, there’s no reason our moods should too just because the number on the scale does.  Look at the overall progress.

I snack smart.  I keep my favorite healthy snacks easily available.  If I’m craving chocolate, I eat a handful of Dark Cocoa almonds (it’s pure cocoa with no sugar).  They keep the cravings satisfied and keep my friends from finding me hiding in the supply closet with two Hershey bars and a Pepsi.

We all have our challenges to face, our goals to reach, and our own reasons to stay motivated.  You just have to find yours and find a way to remind yourself daily of what they are.  Remind yourself daily that you are strong enough to overcome the challenges and reach your goals.  No matter what those goals are.  So, when are you due?

Fighting colds 101

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Thinking back, I probably appeared to be cowering in the corner like the guy had the plague or something.  In my defense, he kind of looked as though he might.  His eyes were red with that “I haven’t slept in two days” look, he was sniffling, sneezing and I’m fairly sure he was achy all over.  Yeah, he was a walking Nyquil commercial.  And I was trapped in an elevator with him.  I’m pretty sure I held my breath for five floors.

It seems that no matter where you find yourself, somebody’s spreading the love.  Between colds, the flu, or other infections, avoiding germy people is impossible short of buying yourself a Bubble Boy setup and rolling around town in it.  Strangers on elevators, kids at day care, even those overzealous co-workers who refuse to take sick days—they all pose a risk.  Avoiding them might just be your best defense, but boosting your immunity is just as important.  Since our immune systems naturally tend to weaken as we age, supporting them is essential during cold and flu season.

Try some of these tips to help keep your immune system in fighting condition:

Work out smarter, not harder - According to Len Horovitz, MD, a pulmonary specialist and flu expert at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City,  workout routines that get you all buffed up in a matter of weeks might boost your confidence, but they actually slow down your immune system.  Studies show that moderate exercise helps immune cells circulate through the bloodstream at a more rapid pace, so bacteria or viruses are less likely to slip through unnoticed.  Aim for about 20 minutes of cardio (walking or running, for instance) plus 15 to 20 minutes of strength training three times a week. You could also try some yoga for an extra boost.

Go to bed earlier - Losing even a little bit of sleep could make you more susceptible to colds. You may relish your downtime before bed—who doesn’t want an hour to read or watch TV after he crazy, hectic day you’ve had? But if you relax at the expense of sleeping, fighting off germs gets harder. As little as 30 to 60 minutes of additional shut-eye per night is enough to boost your immunity, Dr. Mark Moyad, director of preventive and alternative medicine at the University of Michigan Medical Center and author of Dr. Moyad's No BS Diet Health Advice: A Step-by-Step Guide to What Works and What's Worthless.Dr. Moyad's No BS Health Advice, says, “Sleep is a restorative process, and its necessary for the immune system to function properly,” he explains. Even naps can help. “When you feel tired don’t fight it,” Dr. Moyad adds. “It’s your body’s way of telling you that you need to recharge.”

Limit sugar and alcohol - Too much alcohol? It could affect infection-fighting immune cells. Life often means career, family, and keeping up the social calendar – all at the same time. This can lead to meals on the go, sugary snacks for energy, and a bit of weekend social drinking.  It also means your immunity can suffer, says Dr. Moyad, “The sugar in just one can of soda can compromise immune system function by 30% for up to three hours,” he explains.  How? It immobilizes immunity cells and damages their ability to surround and destroy bacteria.  He recommends not only limiting drinking but also replacing sweets with high-fiber snacks like oatmeal, whole-wheat muffins, or apples.

Amp up antioxidants - To ramp up your immunity, add more antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies to your diet. Research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that broccoli, cabbage, and kale offer the biggest immune system boost because they contain an important cancer-fighting compound. Another smart choice is matcha, a powdered form of ground-up green tea leaves. One cup of matcha can rival the antioxidant protection found in 10 cups of brewed green tea and up to 100 times the antioxidant power of vitamins C, according to pharmacist Suzy Cohen, RPh, author of Drug Muggers: How to Keep Your Medicine From Stealing the Life Out of You. Dr. Moyad suggests adding a spoonful of honey to your tea for extra protection: “It has incredible antibacterial powers.”

So, instead of walking around all winter wearing a surgical mask for protection, try a few of these immunity boosters and enjoy a little human interaction.  After all, living in a bubble is highly overrated.

 

How to Eat Healthy at Chipotle

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Like so many of us, Steve grew tired of the fast food scene. He didn't like being unsure of exactly what was in between the buns of his burger, or how many chemicals were used to make it taste the same way every time. He didn't like the way a stomach groans with subtle dissatisfaction after a fast food meal. You know the groan of which we speak. 

Being a chef, he felt like there was room for food that was better for everyone in the equation, from the suppliers of the ingredients to the customers who eat it in their cars. Combining all of these sounds like an impossibility, but he managed to pull it off. 

Steve is Steve Ells, the founder of Chipotle. Founded in 1993, Chipotle now has over 1400 locations, and they continue to push his vision of "Food with Integrity." Their 2013 "Scarecrow" campaign went viral, and ruffled the feathers of many of their fast food rivals. 

Chipotle is known for their fresh ingredients at surprisingly fair prices. But is it healthy? Organic, home grown, sans hormones...none of these guarantee that you'll be slimmer or live longer for eating them, though you certainly stand a better shot with these types of foods. 

We poured through the Chipotle menu to find the best, healthiest items that match up with our preference: the Mediterranean Diet. This diet emphasizes olive oil, fruit, veggies, nuts, whole grains, beans and fish, with other meats and processed foods deemphasized or forbidden altogether. 

Next time you roll into a Chipotle, try these dishes for an even healthier experience: 

Burrito Bowl/ chicken or pork - This is everything you love in a burrito, just minus the high-calorie flour tortilla. Guacamole, lettuce, black beans...so good. Skip the rice and cheese if you really want to stick close to the Mediterranean Diet. 

Crispy Tacos- While the corn shells are a bit iffy, everything else is good. 

Guacamole - All that cheese you skipped out on is replaced in flavor by a bit of guacamole. Chipotle makes theirs with simple avocado, salt, jalapenos,cilantro, lime and diced onions. It isn't low cal, but avocado and the other fresh ingredients make up for it with other health benefits. 

Beware of: Really, they've done a great job of limiting their menu, so there isn't a ton to avoid. The flour tortillas and chips are really our primary threats, and they're both very easy to avoid. 

Hey, sometimes you have to hop out of the car and grab something quick. 
It happens to us all. Chipotle is one of the places you'll do well to drop in to, because they have a rare combination of fresh ingredients and reasonable prices. 

Chipotle is known to make orders any way the customer wants, so we'd love to hear your ideas and healthy menu secrets. Let us know in the comments!

 

Willpower – Practice makes Discipline

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Lori laid down the spatula and poured a glass of milk.  She told herself that one brownie wouldn't hurt.  Minutes later, an entire row of brownies had not-so-mysteriously vanished.  She hadn’t intended to eat any of them.  After all, how was she going to lose weight eating brownies?  But the sight and smell of them had led her to eat just one, then just a second, third, and fourth – until half of a pan of brownies was MIA.

I’ll be the first to admit, my willpower looks like the Fellowship of the Ring members against an army of Orcs when facing the temptation of chocolate.  But like the Fellowship, it can sometimes overcome.

You see, willpower is the ability to resist short-term temptations in order to meet long-term goals.  It’s not always easy, especially with a busy lifestyle.  We have to contend against coffee and dessert dates with friends, family dinner nights and Sunday lunch at Grandma’s house.  If you're like me and have an old-fashioned family that eats big, calorie-loaded meals together all the time, telling Mom or Grandma that you're trying to cut back practically assures that you'll get handed a second helping even bigger than the first!

There are ways to help you reinforce and sustain the willpower you so desperately want to say you have.  Try a few of them for yourself.

  1. If you must eat, drink and be merry - at least make it healthy! OK, so everyone's idea of merriment is not a demanding hike or an hour at the gym, and let's face it: big meals are always going to be a popular way for loved ones to gather together.  So try going to a restaurant that serves healthier choices, or offering to help with dinner so you can offer options that are both more nutritious and perfectly delicious to boot.  It's easier to have the willpower to stay focused when you make sure healthy choices are readily available.
  2. Don’t forget portion control. Even after making the switch to healthier foods, eating colossal amounts of them won't help trim down your waistline.  Be aware of your portions.  Leave the last bite or two unfinished. Never go back for seconds. And if you have an adult beverage, sip it slowly, and limit yourself to one. Believe it or not, you'll still feel full and satisfied without busting the button off your favorite jeans.
  3. Allow yourself a day off and a well-deserved reward!  You somehow managed to make it through the day (or week) defying the forces of darkness.  You've stuck to your guns.  Go you! Now, treat yourself to a relaxing massage or a day out with friends. Do something that will encourage you to face the constant pitfalls again next week without caving.

If you slip now and then, don’t beat yourself up.  We all do.  Just get back at it.  It’s about staying the course and controlling all the typical ways your determination can be worn down, and doing so more often than not.  When you can keep getting back up, keep practicing your resolve, it only makes your discipline, your willpower—and you—stronger.

 

No Pain No Gain – How to tell if your workout is working out

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I hated him.  Maybe hated is a strong word.  Loathed?  Detested?  What word do you use to describe how you feel about a man who pushes you to a point that every fiber of your being is screaming for the end and you’re fairly certain death is imminent?  I’d say hate works pretty well.   

“Give me two more suicide runs.”  He said it calmly and without a single pant.  I was convinced he should be panting as heavily as I was if he was going to insist on pushing me over the edge.  I shot him a steely look.  “No pain, no gain.”  He said as he smiled smugly at me.  Yep.  I hated him.  But I ran two more suicide runs anyway. 

I've been athletic in some way most of my life.  Sports all the way from elementary school through college.  So I’m accustomed to the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality...and the onslaught of sore muscles and Tylenol that follow the day after a tough workout.  What I've learned over the years is that you shouldn't feel this way after every workout. 

Pain isn’t an indicator that you’re whipping your body into shape. It’s not necessary to be so sore you can't raise your arms to wash your hair the next day (yes, it has happened).  However, if you’re actually getting results, then your body should be feeling some physiological changes it isn't used to.

Here are some ways to recognize if your workout is working for you:

  1. The "no pain, no gain" myth – This saying is, to put it simply, bull malarkey.  Granted, there are times when you need to put your body through the ringer a little, but it shouldn't be a gauge as to whether or not your workout is doing its job.  Most exercise should not hurt.  If it does, chances are you have an injury. (Of course, if you've never exercised at all you may think everything hurts – or that you’re dying – but that very likely just your body getting used to exercising.  If you feel fine a little while after you're done, the "hurt" didn't damage anything except possibly your ego.)
  2. Soreness – If you’re wondering how sore you should be, keep this in mind – a little soreness is okay, but you shouldn't be so sore that you can barely roll yourself out of the bed the next morning (yes, sadly that has happened too).  If you’re getting too sore, check the ego at the door and back off a little on your next few workouts.  Don't skip them, that will start the cycle over again, just go easier.  Ease your muscles into it so they can recover and then you'll be reenergized and ready to increase the intensity.  Also remember, soreness should decrease as you progresses. The longer you stick with your workout routine, the more used to it your body becomes.
  3. Energy level and appetite – Don’t freak out when you find yourself wanting to eat everything on the menu at Luigi’s when you first start working out.  It won't last long. You are consistently hungry because you've changed your diet and started working out.  It’s possible you will even feel rather tired for a week or two.  It won’t take your body long to adjust and you’ll have more energy than you’ll know what to do with.  Okay, you've probably already got a list waiting of what to do with the energy, so hang in there.
  4. Don’t sweat it – Seriously, how much you sweat is no indication of how well your workout went. Like pain, some people think if they didn't sweat they didn't get anything from their workout. Not necessarily true.  While sweating is healthy and if you never sweat at all then you probably aren't exercising hard enough, you don't always need to be dripping wet when you’re done. An example would be resistance training.  If you’re going light on the weight, you may not necessarily sweat much, but that doesn't mean you aren't getting benefits.  Keep at it.

Keep in mind, everybody is different and there are no set in stone rules about how you should feel all of the time and no two people are going to respond the same physically.  You have to learn how your body reacts, and – don’t get discouraged – it could take some time.  Concentrate on really listening to your body.  And remember, after a break-in period, you should start to feel good and have more energy!  If this isn't the case, ask your trainer – even if you hate him with a passion the first week or so – because isn't feeling better why you’re working out in the first place?

 

Portion Control – Because Size Matters

Portion_Control___Size_Matters

I walked into the den to tell my grandmother dinner was ready.  She sat in her favorite chair, shaking her head at the television as a reporter talked about the obesity rate in America.  When I asked about the scowl on her face, Grandma replied, “In my day, the fat lady was something you only saw at the circus.”  With that, she turned off the television and made her way to the dinner table.  As we filled our plates, my brother commented jokingly that his plate wasn't big enough.  That’s when it hit me. 

Size matters.  The bigger our plates, the bigger our portions, the bigger our caloric intake.  And I'm not the only one who has noticed the circus of events.

A 2009 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine looks at cookbook recipes (mainly from the classic The Joy of Cooking) over the last 70 years or so.  What it found was that calorie counts per serving have gone up considerably as the writers of said cookbooks have increased portion sizes to conform to changing cultural norms.  For example, the 1936 edition of the kitchen classic averaged 268 calories per serving, the 2006 edition averaged 384 calories.  That’s a pretty considerable jump.

So how can we control our portion sizes?  Here are a few simple ideas:

  1. Downsize your plate. One thing the study pointed out is that the average plate size has increased over the years, which means the portion size has kept pace.  Try eating your meals off a salad or dessert plate.  A smaller plate will make portions look larger, it’s a visual trick that will make your brain think you're eating more. You could also cut down any shoveling behavior you might be tempted to engage in at the dinner table by switching to a smaller fork.
  2. Divide and conquer.  Depending on what the meal is, you can divide your food onto two plates—one for now and one for lunch the next day. As a bonus, this can help you tighten your wallet while you tighten your waistline.
  3. Timing is everything.  I takes your stomach about 20 minutes to tell your brain you're full. So try this: Before reaching for seconds, glance at the time (you know you have your cell phone handy). Spend the next 20 minutes having dinner conversation, reading, or playing candy Crush (ok, so that might just be me).  Anyway, after 20 minutes, see if you're still starving for another plate of lasagna. Chances are, your cravings are gone. If you're still hungry, fill up on some low-cal veggies or have a big glass of water. Sometimes it's easy to confuse thirst with hunger.
  4. Embrace your inner child.  That’s not permission to have candy for dinner. It is permission to order from the kid’s menu  when you're out and about.  Don't be ashamed, the kid’s menu often has the most sensibly sized and nutritious options available.  Not to mention, if you play your cards right, free toy.  Enough said.

Give Yourself a Hand

It's kind of crucial to understand what a portion actually is. So here is what may prove to be an invaluable tip: Use your hand as a guideline for portion sizes. (If your hands happen to be extra-large or extra-small for your size, adjust accordingly.)  

Palm = Proteins: Make protein portions the size of your palm. Protein would be products like fish, poultry, meats, and cottage cheese. Some veggie protein sources include legumes (beans, etc.), tofu, tempeh, and wheat glutens.

Thumb = Fats: Fats are important, but also very dense, so use the rule of thumbs...match fat portions to the size of your thumb. Good fat sources are avocados, olive oil, nuts, and seeds.

Fist = Fruits, Grains, etc.: Your bread, fruit, cereal, rice, and grain portions should be about equal to the size of your closed fist. Remember whole grains are best.

Hand = Veggies: Open your hand and spread your fingers as wide as you can. That's a good vegetable portion. Raw veggies are loaded with fiber and nutrients and contain very few calories.

We've grown accustomed to eating more and more per meal, but with these tips and adding in healthy snacks between meals, maybe we can avoid the circus life.