nutrition

How to Move Out of a Dietary Rut

health, nutrition, weight, wellness

Why is it that despite so many interesting foods in the world, we sometimes fall into a dietary rut? My family recognized how busy we all are and our health was suffering.  We constantly passed each other coming and going, rarely joined together for a meal, and the grocery list was non existent. I found myself stopping at the grocery sporadically picking up what I could remember, and noticed I was buying the same things.  For busy working families, lapsing into a boring menu routine may be due to a lack of time, planning, or know-how. Unfortunately, a lack of variety and a reliance on convenience foods come with unappetizing pitfalls.

The risks of a dietary rut

Eating the same foods frequently deprives you of the flavors and textures that make meals adventures and help you be a  healthy eater. It also limits nutrient intake. “You need a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. In order to get them, you need to eat different types of fresh foods every day,” says Teresa Fung, adjunct professor in the nutrition department at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Those nutrients should come from fresh vegetables and fruits, lean proteins, legumes (beans and lentils), nuts and seeds, healthy fats (avocados, olive oil), and low-fat dairy products.

Relying on prepackaged food or takeout meals can subject you to unhealthy ingredients like refined carbohydrates; saturated or trans fats; high amounts of salt; and lots of calories, preservatives, and additives. An unhealthy diet is associated with an increased risk for many chronic conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and cancer.

Easy ways to bust the dietary rut

Fortunately, breaking out of a dietary rut isn’t hard.

  1.   Get variety elsewhere. A lot of grocery stores have a good number of healthy, prepared foods, and you can pay by the ounce. Prepare the protein at home (like fish or chicken) and buying the side dishes — vegetables, whole grains, or salads — to bring home. Make it something you wouldn’t normally eat.
  2.  Be adventurous. Try something unusual at least every other week. Make it yourself or get it from a restaurant. Caution: focus on vegetables or protein, and avoid anything with a lot of butter or cream. Need ideas? Pick a country and look up traditional dishes and recipes on the Internet.
  3.  Try a subscription meal kit. You choose the menu on a website, and the premeasured, fresh ingredients arrive at your door. Go for something with lots of vegetables and whole grains, and a chunk of protein. There are many meal kit services. Two of the biggest are Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. Prices per person, per meal, range from $10 to $12.
  4.  Cook in batches. Cook once or twice a week and eat leftovers in between. Make a large entree (like white bean soup), broil several chicken breasts, or cook a few side dishes (like brown rice, quinoa, or cooked spinach) that can be eaten throughout the week. It’s easier to cook 14 carrots in one day than two carrots per day for seven days in a row.
  5.  Get your kids in on it. They’ll be more inclined to eat it if they helped prepare it.

A few more tips

We finally realized that the key to variety in our family meals was planning and shared responsibility.  Now, in about half an hour on the weekend, we come up with healthy, interesting menus and shopping lists for the week.

We take turns or work together making dinner, and we batch-cook a lot of meals.

We recognized our challenges and agreed to try making changes, together. I’m not the only one planning meals and grocery shopping, we agreed to eat together at least once per week and get back on the health track!

Nutrition Counseling is more than What We Eat.

health, nutrition, therapy, weight loss

 

When I reflect about ALL the ‘diets’ I have tried, followed, failed, and succeeded over the years, I realize they’re all the same.  I see how they have come and gone like fads. We hope this will ‘be the one’ to shed the pounds, and quick! They are a place to start, not a place to end.

Much has been made of the recently published results of the DIETFITS (Diet Intervention Examining the Factors Interacting with Treatment Success) study. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28027950

Most of the headlines emphasized the fact that the two diets researched, low-fat and low-carb, ended up having the same results across almost all end points studied, from weight loss to lowering blood sugar and cholesterol.

What’s most interesting, however, is how these two diets are similar.

What DIETFITS revealed about weight loss

The study began with 609 relatively healthy overweight and obese people, and 481 completed the whole year. For the first month, everyone did what they usually did. Then, for the next eight weeks, the low-fat group reduced their total fat intake to 20 grams per day, and the low-carb group reduced their total carbohydrate intake to 20 grams per day. These are incredibly restricted amounts, considering that there are 22 grams of carbs in my organic seedtastic whole grain bread I’m enjoying as I write this, and 20 grams of fat in half of the dark chocolate bar I enjoy (I eat one ½ inch by 1 inch square at a time).

That kind of dietary restriction is impossible to maintain over the long term and, as this study showed, unnecessary. Participants were instructed to slowly add back fats or carbs until they reached a level they felt could be maintained for life. In addition, both groups were instructed to

People were not asked to count calories at all. Over the course of a year, both groups attended 22 classes reinforcing these very sound principles — and all participants had access to health educators who guided them in behavioral modification strategies, such as emotional awareness, setting goals, developing self-efficacy (also known as willpower), and utilizing social support networks, all to avoid falling back into unhealthy eating patterns.

Participants in both groups also were encouraged to maintain current US government physical activity recommendations, which are “150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic physical activity (2 hours and 30 minutes) each week.”

Get all that? Basically, the differences between groups were minimal. Both lost the same average amount of weight (12 pounds) over the course of a year. Genetic and physical makeups didn’t result in any differences either.

I love this study because it examined a realistic lifestyle change rather than just a fad diet. Both groups, after all, were labeled as healthy diets, and they were, because study investigators encouraged eating high-quality, nutritious whole foods, unlimited vegetables, and avoiding flours, sugars, bad fats, and processed foods. Everyone was encouraged to be physically active at a level most Americans are not. Also, this is a big one, everyone had access to basic behavioral counseling.

This study could have been called a study of sustainable healthy lifestyle change.

The best diet is the one we can maintain for life and is only one piece of a healthy lifestyle. People should aim to eat high-quality, nutritious whole foods, mostly plants (fruits and veggies), and avoid flours, sugars, trans fats, and processed foods (anything in a box). Everyone should try to be physically active, aiming for about two and a half hours of vigorous activity per week. For many people, a healthy lifestyle also means better stress management, and even therapy to address emotional issues that can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.

I don’t diet anymore.  I love food that fuels my body and mind. I have adjusted my habits and routines to manage meal planning, shopping, and cooking so eating doesn’t feel like a chore. Food is on the bottom of my daily priority list, having a healthy body and mind for as long as I can is at the top. Here’s how I do that:

  • I choose to live in harmony with others
  • I choose to stretch and challenge my mind.
  • I choose to be aware of and accept my true feelings.
  • I choose to live each day consistent with my morals and ideals.
  • I choose a work path that is consistent with my values, interests, and beliefs.

 

In addition to ongoing learning about the nutrition of food and the importance of exercise, the most important skill is mastering your mind.  A re-trained attitude is the only map that can get you out of “dietville” once and for all.

Nourish Yourself for a Lifetime of Weight Health.

health, nutrition, positive thinking, self care, weight, wellness

Eating is a natural part of digestive rhythms set in your genes, largely controlled by two hormones, leptin and ghrelin. When these hormones are in balance, the alternation between being hungry and being satisfied is also in balance. But these simple facts about the physiology are beside the point when weight becomes a problem.

A Wellness-System Approach to Weight Control

The real problem with weight issues is holistic, involving a person’s entire lifestyle. A better approach to weight control is a wellness-system approach, which looks at everything that goes into being overweight: eating habits, sleep, self-image, core beliefs, exercise, and more. These elements are rarely isolated. Instead, they organize themselves into feedback loops. Like a train running around a circular track, letting passengers off and on at each stop, a feedback loop has inputs and outputs.

If much of your daily input is positive, you are creating mostly positive experiences. If your daily input is negative, the reverse is true. For anyone who has struggled with weight gain, it’s almost certainly true that there is too much negative input on a daily basis. Even the simple pleasure of eating can become part of the negativity, because mentally and emotionally, food has become part of a larger problem.

These feedback loops exist so that you can cope with life and hopefully thrive. Take one element—good sleep. The most basic function of sleep is to revive you when you’re tired and supply mental alertness when you wake up in the morning. But sleep can be thrown out of balance by all kinds of things: anxiety, pain, excessive noise, mental restlessness, habitual insomnia, night shifts at work, and so on. Far from being a simple mechanism, sleep adapts itself to a person’s lifestyle, and even though there is negative input, such as being too anxious to fall asleep, the body-mind will find a way to cope. Even the worst insomnia is marked by periods of sleep during the night.

Positive Coping Mechanisms

If you look at the coping mechanisms that make life positive, they aren’t a mystery. Here are the main ones that need to be reinforced every day:

  • Good self-image
  • Sense of purpose and meaning
  • Contact with friends and family
  • Giving and receiving love
  • Good sleep
  • Physical activity
  • Alone time and quiet time
  • Play
  • Social support systems
  • Absence of pain and discomfort
  • Low stress levels
  • Absence of anxiety and depression.

 

Coping with Weight Is Not About Diet

Although the list could also include “a nourishing whole foods diet,” let’s leave food out for the moment, because instead of attending to all of these positive reinforcements, people who struggle with weight are asking food to do too much of the work. For example, it becomes a surrogate for a good self-image or a quick fix for anxiety.

To cope with weight doesn’t come down to anything about diet; if it did, dieting would work. But only about 2 percent of dieters manage to lose at least five lbs. and keep it off for two years. Naturally, weight is much harder to control if a person indulges in a fatty, sugary diet with lots of snacking and fast food. None of that counts as healthy eating. But asking someone to give up the foods they feel compelled to eat is the same as saying, “Stop being compulsive.” If we could obey such an instruction, we’d all be at our ideal weight.

Looking from a wellness-system perspective, coping with weight means coping with how your entire life is going. Weight will come off and stay off when the other input in your daily life is so satisfying that food no longer looms as the first and foremost coping mechanism you rely upon. Overeating is a habit, no doubt, and habits stick around when they serve a purpose, however misguided. If you fulfill the purpose in a better way, the need for the habit decreases and in time goes away.

I advise taking a wellness-system look at yourself, with the intention of fulfilling your real needs in life:

  • purpose
  • meaning
  • creativity
  • renewal
  • love
  • self-worth
  • other positive elements on the list above 

When you build a self that is life-enhancing rather than self-defeating, all kinds of problems decrease and vanish.

How to Add Positivity into Your Life

So, to go back to the image of a train circling the track, picking up and letting off passengers, you can start today by adding a little positive input and letting go of a little negative input. Your motivation must be positive on both sides. Whatever you choose to add or subtract, the choice must feel good. Willpower, self-discipline, being down on yourself, guilt-tripping, and denial don’t feel good, which is why the best laid plans of dieters always go astray. They are trying to force a change when the change doesn’t feel good. The inevitable result is a return to old, comforting habits, even when those habits have very little positivity left in them.

  • Copy the list of positive inputs and put it up in a prominent place.
  • Buy a weekly calendar with big spaces to write in.
  • When you begin your day, consult the list and write on the calendar three specific things you intend to do that will add fulfillment to your day.
  • At the end of the day, check off the ones you accomplished.

Positive input is easy to create. For example, under “Play” you can play a game with a child or a friend or by yourself, whatever brings you pleasure. Or under “contact with friends and family” there are endless choices, beginning with a friendly phone call.

The point is to choose something and follow through. Don’t give a thought to changing your dietary habits unless you feel good about the change, such as having frozen yogurt instead of ice cream or sharing one dessert instead of ordering two. Even fast-food chains now have healthier choices. When you become creative and at the same time maintain your positive input program, you are taking a wellness-system approach to coping with life, and that’s always beneficial.

 

Why losing weight is so hard and gaining weight is so easy.

health, nutrition, self care, therapy, Uncategorized, weight, wellness

You just enjoyed the holidays and come to find out that you gained 5 pounds. In your disbelief, you quickly curse the Weight Gods for being so cruel. Sound familiar? This was me the last couple of months. A little cookie baking, eating the holiday yummies, packed it on quick. This inspired me to discuss the seemingly unbalanced equation of weight gain vs. weight loss, the facts that surround the issue and how losing the 5 pounds feels so much harder than gaining them:

FACT 1 – It is Simple Math: To maintain your ideal weight, you need to eat as many calories as you burn in one day. The balanced equation looks like this:

Calories Eaten = Basal Metabolic Rate + Physical Activity

If what you eat equals more than what your body uses, you will gain weight. In the situation of a holiday, it is likely that you eat more unhealthy food than normal and possibly get less exercise, resulting in an imbalanced equation, with a higher number of calories on the eaten side than on the burned side. That imbalance over the course of a few days can easily represent a few pounds.

FACT 2 – A Pound is a Pound is a Pound: One pound of body mass represents 3,500 calories. Regardless, if you are trying to lose a pound or gain a pound, the pound will always represent 3,500 calories. So, if you eat 3,500 calories more than your body requires, you will gain 1 pound. Similarly, if you eat 3,500 calories less than your body requires, you will lose 1 pound.

FACT 3 – Exercise is Weight Discriminating: Whether you are 120 pounds or 175 pounds, you will gain one pound from eating 3,500 calories more than you need. Unfortunately, this doesn’t hold true for burning calories. How much you weigh actually dictates how many calories you burn per hour. The more you weigh, the more you burn, and as a result, the easier it is to lose the pound…sound crazy? It is true.

FACT 4 – Aging Contributes to Weight Gain: As if aging doesn’t contribute enough to unfavorable things, it also contributes to weight gain. As we get older, our metabolism slows down, requiring us to need less food and calories. If you don’t modify your caloric intake as you get older to reflect this change in metabolism, you will start to see weight gain.

The Bad News: Unfortunately, eating an extra couple of unhealthy snacks or drinking a few extra glasses of wine can happen in a blink of an eye. However, the time and energy required to burn off those calories takes a lot more effort. We have provided a chart on what 1,000 calories looks like on both sides in the chart below (remember, it is 3,500 calories that make up a pound).

The Good News: Whether it is rapid or slow weight gain that you have experienced, losing the extra weight can be tackled through two avenues (and should be): calorie reduction and exercise. Choosing to lose weight through both calorie reduction and exercise will accelerate the process. If for seven days you burn 200 extra calories through exercise and reduce your food intake by 300 calories each day, you will lose that extra pound. Further, it is a lot easier than trying to either reduce your caloric intake by 3,500 calories (which is physically impossible) or burning an extra 3,500 calories during exercise (which takes a ridiculous amount of time and energy).

What you Can Do: Assess whether your weight gain was a rapid gain due to atypical behavior (E.g., vacationing) or a longer-term gain. If it was a rapid gain, there is a good chance you will lose the weight by returning to your normal habits. You might have to be a little strict for a day or two, but you shouldn’t feel like a major overhaul is in order. If, however, you have gained the weight over a period of time, assess your habits and think about what has changed in your life. Have you stopped exercising? Have you let your eating habits go? Have you hit a milestone birthday? Once you can assess the reality of your situation, remember the equation: to maintain balance, burn the calories you eat.

 

ELM Mental Wellness Nutrition Counseling is in depth and lifelong. It begins with multiple assessments including family history of eating patterns and health risk, habits-routines-rituals, emotional connection with food. Changing our dietary patterns is grueling. I help clients with meal planning and shopping, self monitoring, goal setting, stimulus control, problem solving, cognitive restructuring, and relapse prevention to move toward a state of lifetime optimal health.

 

How to Nourish your body so you can eliminate anxiety.

emotion, health, mental health, nutrition, stress, Uncategorized, wellness

There are many possible causes of anxiety, from trauma to medication side effects.  Many medical conditions also mimic symptoms of anxiety: thyroid disorders, and other hormonal imbalances, diabetes, asthma, epilepsy, and heart conditions.  “Much of our increasing emotional distress stems from easily correctable malfunctions in our brain and body chemistry-malfunctions that are primarily the result of critical, unmet nutritional needs,” The Mood Cure, Julia Ross (2004,3).

Improved nutrition, lifestyle changes, exercise, stress reduction techniques, supplements, and mind-body practices are all part of a natural approach to anxiety and other mood problems.  James Lake, integrative psychiatrist and author of Textbook of Integrative Mental Health (2007), supports these methods for mild to moderate mental health symptoms, as do many other holistic practitioners and researchers.

Why use a natural approach? Perhaps you already feel strongly about taking a natural approach to health whenever possible and want to learn more.  Or maybe your anxiety was so severe and you were so desperate that you turned to medications, but now they aren’t working as well or as expected, or perhaps they do help but you don’t like some of the side effects.  Perhaps you know deep down that addressing the root cause is the way to go.  Whatever the reason, if you’re looking for natural options for combating anxiety, you’ve come to the right place.

Using natural approaches in the form of foods and nutrients can address the root cause of your anxiety, alleviate symptoms, and keep them from returning.  For example, if your anxiety is due to a vitamin B6 deficiency, it makes the most sense to boost your levels of vitamin B6.  This will also help raise your levels of serotonin, which could improve your mood, sleep, cravings, and, for women, PMS symptoms.  It would also be important to look at why your vitamin B6 is low to start with.  Maybe you aren’t getting enough in your diet, aren’t digesting well, are under a great deal of stress, or have depleted levels from taking birth control pills.  This is just one example of a nutrient deficiency that can contribute to anxiety.

Good-quality food is the number one priority.  Taking supplemental nutrients to correct imbalances is ideally a short-term approach.  The exceptions would be if you have an inherited tendency to low levels of some nutrients, or you can’t or won’t take steps to ease high levels of stress.

It’s also important to remember that we are all unique, with individual biochemistry, imbalances, and life circumstances.  There isn’t a one-size-fits-all magic solution, even among natural approaches. By eating better, reducing stress, and addressing any nutritional imbalances, you’ll also see an overall improvement in your general health and well-being.

Eating real, whole, good quality food is the foundation of my work, and any program to prevent and alleviate mental health issues such as anxiety, obsessive tendencies, worry, panic attacks, and depression, as well as maintain optimal mental health. This approach, combined with eating according to your own unique needs, will help calm your anxious mind.

What a PLU number can teach you about fruit and vegetable safety.

health, mental health, nutrition, weight, wellness

You know those annoying stickers you have to peel off before eating your fruit and veggies. They actually educate you how the food was grown, safely or not. If you’ve ever bought produce from a grocery chain, you’ll recognize the ones I’m talking about. They usually have a a bar code on them for scanning and a PLU code, which helps your friendly neighborhood cashier identify what type of produce you’re buying.

The PLU is the “price lookup” number and identifies the fruit or veggie, it also helps to identify something else: how the produce was cultivated. By correctly reading this code, you can tell if the fruit was genetically modified, organically grown or produced with chemical fertilizers, fungicides, or herbicides

The story behind where your fruits and vegetables actually came from has been right under your nose all along! You just have to know how to analyze the labels and the PLU number. It’s actually a lot easier than you’d imagine

Here’s the basics of what you need to know about the truth behind PLU codes.

  1. If there are only four numbers in the PLU, this means that the produce was grown conventionally or “traditionally” with the use of pesticides. The last four letters (or only four, in this case) of the PLU code are simply what kind of vegetable or fruit you’re buying. An example is that all bananas are labeled with the code of 4011.
  2. If there are five numbers in the PLU code, and the number starts with “8”, this tells you that the item is a genetically modified fruit or vegetable. Genetically modified fruits and vegetables have been tampered with in an unnatural way; essentially, produce that has been genetically modified was created in a lab or over decades of artificial selection, and cannot be found in nature. A genetically engineered (GE or GMO) banana would be: 84011
  3. If there are five numbers in the PLU code, and the number starts with “9”, this tells you that the produce was grown organically and is not genetically modified. An organic banana would be: 94011

 

If you’re looking to be hyper aware of what fruits and vegetables have been treated with pesticides and other chemicals and which have not, you’ll want to check out the homepage for the Environmental Working Groups. The EWG has compiled two lists to help consumers identify which produce is generally cleaner and which produce is generally tampered with; the Clean Fifteen and the Dirty Dozen.

 

The Top 5 for the “Clean Fifteen” produce are:

  1. Avocados
  2. Sweet Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Cabbage
  5. Sweet Peas (Frozen)

The Top 5 for the “Dirty Dozen” produce are:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Apples
  3. Nectarines
  4. Peaches
  5. Celery