Health


Over July 4th weekend, I was reminded of how “easy” it is to lose weight. As the conversation went on, we all know what the problem is. We either eat too much or don’t exercise enough, or both. I was asked what I did to lose weight and everyone already knew what the simple answer would be, “I eat less and workout.” Yup, so easy, so simple, and yet… not! That’s what we all laughed over as we contemplated health, wellness, weight-loss, and weight maintenance. 

In our conversation we realized that knowledge or know how might not be the problem. The problem for some is sticking to the plan. The problem for others is resisting the need for instant gratification. The problem for others is prioritizing exercise. My initial problem actually was expertise, as I wanted to know how much I should eat. I wanted to be accountable for the calories in and calories out. Once I gained that knowledge, came up with a plan, stuck to it mountainsand prioritized my workouts, I lost the weight. Perfection, right? Nope. Now of course, to maintain weight loss, there are other problems, which, as our conversation developed, we realized is likely always going to happen. It’s called “moving mountains” for a reason as it’s not just one mountain. Just as one is moved, another will appear. 

What I’ve learned recently is that once I recognize there is a problem, I don’t have to know why or define it. What I can do is create rituals or good habits to combat those problems. Hearing this made me feel like a lightbulb had gone off. The best example I was given for this behavior involves a person that might be a workaholic and doesn’t spend as much time at home as they’d like. Instead of trying to figure out why this happens, they should create a ritual and stick to it. Be home for dinner at 6pm at least 2 nights a week (to start). They can later change it to more days and over time, the problem is solved. There wasn’t time wasted on trying to figure out why the problem existed or complicated steps to fix the problems. Setting rituals and sticking to them became the new behavior.    

lightbulbA ritual I have created is to always order the small size, even if that means the kids size. I’m getting used to it as sometimes it is hard to remember but I have found the smaller size to be plenty. I now get kid scoops, small or kid size fries, a cup instead of a bowl, etc. It allows me to still eat what I want, get wonderful flavor and food, but without the guilt or as many calories. 

Another ritual I’ve started is to use the small plate, regardless of the food size or amount I think I’m going to get. This is for home, restaurants, the buffet, etc. Sometimes I think the food will not fit but it does. Sometimes I also think I would not get satisfied by what I put on the plate but I do. The truth is, if I had more on the plate, I likely would have eaten it. There is no harm in going back if I’m truly hunger but typically, that doesn’t happen. I don’t know why I sometimes overeat or don’t stop while there is still food on the plate but getting a smaller plate keeps me from caring so much and eating less. 

I plan to add a few rituals in my personal life that have nothing to do with food and exercise as well. I do ponder too much about the why, as opposed to coming up with action items to obliterate the bad behavior. Quite honestly, rituals is not something I think I would have come up with as a solution on my own, so I thought I’d share it as others might find it equally useful.

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I do love summer. It’s warm, people always seem friendly and there’s so much to do. With that said, summertime for me sunshinehas its difficulties as related to health, wellness, and my eating regimen. The warmer weather makes me want to go out and do more; however, that’s not necessarily a good thing. I like to sit on patios at various restaurants and watch the passersby. I like to head down the street to grab a bite of ice cream and sit in the park. Sure, I walk to all these events, which add to a healthier me, but eating, drinking and possibly staying out late, those aren’t helping my wellness cause. I try to do a mixture of things to balance my summer fun. 

I love salads. As a cold natured person, I don’t typically eat salads in the winter, as I need food that will warm me up. However, in the summer, I crave salads all the time. This is a good thing as I can have a light dinner salad with a glass of wine (or two), sitting on a patio. This keeps the calories low and helps me soak up some vitamin D through the sun. Since we frequent many establishments in our neighborhood that are in walking distance, I do burn off a few more calories in the summer than usual, so that’s a plus as well. If I walk to get a salad and a couple of glasses of wine, I’ve likely walked off at least one glass of wine. 

sushi rollI also love sushi. For some, sushi in the summer is not desirable as there is the risk that it’ll go bad quite quickly, but again, I’m cold natured so the best time for me to eat it is in the summer. Sushi, at least the sushi I eat, is extremely low in calorie and very good for me. I don’t get sushi with excessive ingredients or with crunchy, fried, or saucy accompaniments. I like most of my sushi au naturel, with wasabi of course. If I get it with rice, I try to get brown rice. I try to mix it up a bit with some nigiri (but typically don’t eat the rice) and a few bites of a sushi roll. Luckily, I finally have my husband into eating sushi so we can get a couple of different small rolls and some nigiri to get the most bang for our buck and save our waistlines. 

 As I stated, I do try to walk more during the summer. Many places that we frequent are within walking distance (less than 2 miles), so regardless of the weather, if I know I’m going to eat and drink, it’s time to walk. If I do eat any excess calories, it’s possible I’ll burn them off. For example, my birthday is next Sunday. On Saturday, we’re doing a 5k event and then hanging out with friends that afternoon, likely bar hopping. I figure the 5k gets us started off with a good calorie burn (this is after I already do my 2-hr normal workout for the day). From there, I’ll be sure to watch what I eat. We’re going to a Mexican place, so I’ll get a couple of tacos with everything on the side so I can control the sour cream and cheese, along with no chips and salsa. When we bar hop, I’ll sip slowly (thus shooting for no more than one beverage per establishment) and make sure I only eat if I’m hungry, and even then, it’ll be low in calorie. In addition, we’re making sure to walk everywhere. This will certainly keep my metabolism in overdrive, as I’ll wake up, workout, do the 5k, and never stop going, thus burning numerous calories.

picnic ants, noWhether or not this plan works next week, we’ll see but as I’ve always said, having a plan is at least a good start. Moreover, knowing my weaknesses and setting boundaries is quite helpful too. Luckily, I do like low-calorie foods such as salad and sushi and I live in a walking neighborhood that helps offset my need to be active when the sun comes. This summer, I hope to continue having plans and ideas to ward off the pounds like Raid against ants at a picnic; I’m going to squash all these summer temptations like a bug.

Behavior

Behavior is not really a word I’ve paid much attention to until recently. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve found myself continually pondering the question, “how do you change behavior?” Someone asked me this in reference to losing weight and honestly, I didn’t really have an answer. Oddly enough, I’ve changed many of my behaviors in life but I don’t know how I was able to do it. Maybe I was just motivated. Maybe I just had a great support team. Maybe I chanted a few good mantras along the way and decided to live by them. Maybe I just got lucky. I suppose any of these answers is true, depending on the behavior I was trying to change and that moment in my life. 

The biggest behavior that I changed that is monumental to my health is that I stopped smoking. I had a 3-4 pack a week no smokinghabit. Why did I stop? Because I knew it was a bad habit and it really made no sense that I smoked. My parents didn’t smoke, I didn’t grow-up around smokers and quite frequently, I didn’t even do it in the house because I couldn’t stand the smell. As tobacco has been proven to be an addictive substance, and I smoked for about 12 years, I would have to say I was addicted but quitting didn’t seem too hard because I had a great support system. Everyone wanted me to stop anyway. None of my friends smoked and even my father-in-law, who’d smoked for years of his life, had quit. I suppose I started smoking in college to prove I was grown. In hindsight, that seems a bit silly and I’m sure that’s another thing that helped me quit. It took me a few times to stop before it really took, but once I went a year within a cigarette, I was done and that was over 10 years ago. 

Not eating out for every meal and going to fast food restaurants is another behavior I changed, as this was crucial to losing weight. I was able to alter this behavior because there are various great tasting foods out there that are low in calorie and good for me. Moreover, I do know how to cook. Bottom line, I like flavorful food regardless of whether it is healthy, good for me, or is food categorized as a heart attack waiting to happen, and it doesn’t matter from where the food comes. Once I figured out a schedule on when to prepare home meals and found terrific tasting recipes, cooking more of my meals at home and eating that wonderful food became the new behavior. If I drilldown and examine behavior and habit, maybe they haven’t changed that much. I still eat food that tastes great; I just get the food from a different source. Additionally, I know I’m still a few pounds overweight and could stand to eat less, so overeating is still a behavior I’ve yet to conquer. 

Adding exercise to my daily routine might be the one area in which I can say I’m lucky. I just happen to enjoy working sunriseout. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a morning person and so getting up in the morning is generally not a problem for me. I see exercise like work, so this is where having a couple of life mantras come in handy too. It doesn’t matter if I want to get up and do it or not. I have to get up, it has to be done and if I like my current lifestyle, I had better get to it. For me, there is no better motivator than the truth. 

My best answer to the question of how to change behavior is to keep trying. If at first you don’t succeed… As I said, it took me a few times to stop smoking but I kept trying and finally did. Staying motivated and being true to self are helpful. One of the things I do every morning is say to myself, “Today I’m going to be a better person than I was yesterday.” In my head sometimes I think “be a better person every day, all day long.” I try to make sure my actions speak to being a better person. Sure, sometimes I fail but other times, I soar. The fact that I even try is what brings about my success and changes in my behavior.

INDDLast week I was surprised to find out there is a day dedicated to no dieting. This annual celebration, INDD, occurs every May 6. The day is not about eating whatever you want, as I initially thought when I saw no diet but it is about body acceptance, promoting a healthy lifestyle and raising the awareness of the dangers of dieting. I think these are important concepts to keep in mind, so I’m going to celebrate this day. 

I started my weight loss journey concerned about the number on the scale. I wanted to lose weight and see that number go down. As the pounds dropped, I then wanted to look good. I wasn’t not even sure what that meant but I knew it at least meant I needed to lose more weight, decrease the inches and get more body definition. Sure, we all want to look good but having 6-pack abs, 2-3% body fat and a bikini perfect body isn’t going to happen for most of us. I realized that inches, pounds, flab/fat, didn’t so much matter. What matters is that I am getting daily exercise, I eat more fruits and vegetables, my blood work always shows great results and overall, I am healthier; possibly the healthiest I’ve ever been. All of these things are what International No Diet Day are about as fat phobias, biases and body obsessions need to be shed more than the pounds. 

I still look in the mirror and wonder, if I’d not gained so much weight would I have this residual flab; however, I’m beginning to realize it makes no sense for me to ponder such things. I have to focus on the important aspect of my life now, which is that I am healthier and yeah, I might not be a perfect 10 but I do look pretty good. I achieved all of this with hard work and determination in changing my lifestyle, not dieting. 

Diets can be dangerous, unsuccessful and defeating. Not eating the right food groups or getting enough vitamins and minerals, working out too much, taking diet pills that increase heart rate, metabolism, fat burn, etc. and missing meals can wreak havoc on the body. Some diet methods can cause aggressive/mood altering behaviors, internal organ no dietdamage or failure, and respiratory problems. Some can even kill. Stepping on the scale to get a pleasing number and looking good aren’t worth the risk of any diet. Sometimes diets don’t work, sometimes the weight is gained back (10-fold even) and other times, an unrealistic expectation can bring about a defeated mentality, causing more damage to self-image than the initial need or want to lose weight. 

Today is about recognizing we are all different shapes and sizes and that is a good thing. Let’s applaud who we are, what we look like and strive to be better through healthy, realistic, lifestyle changes. Let’s not obsess over pounds, body shape or inches. Happy International No Diet Day and maybe the beginning of a new/better way to think and feel about beauty, self-image and size.

sleepzzzsI recently read about a sleep study called Lights at Night (LAN). This study showed that exposure to artificial light while asleep can contribute to cancer, lead to depression and even make you fat. Sadly enough, it was only the last part that intrigued me to read further as now-a-days it seems that almost anything can cause cancer and I suppose the same could be said about depression. I’ve worked pretty hard at losing weight so I figured something that might “make me fat” as the article stated was worth me continuing to read. Apparently, light pollution, such as passing traffic, television light, or streetlights affect the melatonin, leptin, and ghrelin levels in the body as well as the biological clock. In short, as related to weight gain, the body’s hunger cues are affected and people tend to eat more. 

I found this quite compelling. So much so, that as I continued to read, I was wondering how much pollution I get at night. There is a streetlight right outside our window, the blinds do not close out all the light (moonlight and otherwise), and my husband generally stays up watching television after I’ve fallen asleep. The article lists various ideas on how to make a sleep environment dark and conducive to a good night’s sleep. Those suggestions are:

  • Installing blackout drapes or blinds – I figured that since I live in an apartment, I wasn’t getting this installed. Plus, it didn’t help my problem with the television being on at night. I go to bed about 7:30 or 8pm work nights, so I would not expect my husband to turn off the television. 
  • Close the bedroom door – again, this gets rid of some of the outside light but not the inside. 
  • Get rid of your electric clock – I love my clock and frankly, I’m not getting rid of it. My dad gave me that clock over 20 years ago and it (knock-on-wood) still works like a charm. The article did mention to move the clock away from the sleep area so the light does not illuminate that part of the room. Additionally, it was mentioned that red light might have a minimal impact on sleep patterns. I keep my clock clear across the room anyway forcing me to get up out of the bed when it goes off. 
  • Avoid night-lights and television lights – I’ve already mentioned that one, so it’s not going to happen. 
  • Wear an effective sleep mask – ta da! I found my solution. I can take this with me anywhere I go (travel, airplane, sleepover, etc.). No matter what, I’ll have darkness at night. Additionally, this solution is inexpensive.sleepmask

I started using my sleep mask Tuesday night and honestly, I’ve had the best sleep ever. I woke up a little after midnight last night and feeling completely rested, wondered how I managed to oversleep. I looked at the clock and realized I had 3 plus hours left until it was time to wake up. Wow. Keeping the light out does allow for a more relaxing sleep. Even my husband mentioned Wednesday that I was out like a light thus sound asleep much quicker than usual. I don’t know if I’m in the honeymoon stages or if this is what you call a placebo effect but for now, I’ll take it. If this $10 expense can lower my risk of cancer, keep me happy, without the fat part (of fat and happy), and make such a HUJ difference in restful and soothing sleep, I’m all for it. With sleep mask in hand, I’m continuing my strides to a healthier me.

This has been an interestingly busy and challenging week for me, one that in the past would have meant tons of empty, sugary, unhealthy calories. I have been out of my office, away from home base, most of this week, especially in the muffinsmornings. All the meetings, conferences, or seminars I attended offered various morning treats like bagels, muffins, a wonderfully smelling apple and raisin tartlet with homemade syrup, Danishes and even fruit. The old me would have easily eaten one or two of these treats during a 3-4 hour session and I’m not talking about the fruit. Instead, this week, I relied heavily on those portal foods I’ve come to love; carefully strategizing what to eat from a calorie perspective and what will satisfy my hunger.

Tuesday and Wednesday morning, I made sure to take cottage cheese with me. While this is a perishable item, cottage cheese and yogurt low in fat seem to stay fresh in a moderate temperature environment for a couple of hours. I likely wouldn’t try this when it’s 80 plus degrees outside but with temperatures barely reaching 30 degrees and the indoor buildings not being hot, I can travel with this dairy product and eat within 2 hours. I have found these go great with Fiber One brownies, Nature Valley granola bars, Kashi bars (just pick one, they’re all so good), and of course, my Vitatops.

I also make sure to carry some almonds with me. I like the Emerald’s Cinnamon and the Dark Cocoa almonds. I tend to eat a couple of those and drink some water between my breakfast and morning snack just to get a flavor booster (and almonds are good for you, helping the good cholesterol, though be sure to eat them in moderation). I just throw a few of these in a Ziploc and carry them with me in my workbag. They really do help curve any hunger pangs or cravings for the wonderfully aromatic foods I see others eat at these events.

bars, life, pb, fiber oneMy mid-morning snack can consist of a banana, which is extremely filling and a Weight Watcher’s muffin, a Honey Nut Cheerios bar, some peanut butter crackers, a Thomas’ Cinnamon Raisin Bagel thin, or a different kind of bar than the one had with my cottage cheese. There really are numerous types of satisfying foods with which I can travel and I enjoy eating. I usually only eat many of these foods during a hectic week like this, so I welcome those flavors when the time approaches. For example, I love Honey Nut Cheerios Bars, but I don’t eat them often. So, when a week like this occurs, I’m all over those things. Yummy!!!

Thursday was another crazy busy day, but at least I did get to stop by the office during the morning meetings, thus settled down with a bowl of oatmeal, making it a nice change for the week. However, dinner was another story. My late afternoon, evening hair appointment meant no traditional dinner at home. There is a pizza place across the street from the hair shop, and some years ago, I would have easily stopped there to get a pizza. Instead, I had my home-prepared dinner meal for my lunch. As there is a refrigerator at the salon, I took a yogurt and some Lance, Whole Grain peanut butter crackers to nosh on while under the hair dryer.

Compared to the week I’ve had, Friday will just be a “boring eating day.” I’ll be in the office eating per usual and for dinner, we’re getting takeout at a place with wonderful local produce for salads and wraps. It is weeks like this that make me really look back at how my life has changed and how I’ve changed. I don’t leave my calories or foods I’ll eat in the hands of others. This really is something in my life that I can be responsible for and fully intend to be. There are so many healthier foods out there, available for whatever is needed and all I have to do is continue to be open to those possibilities. What a HUJ difference an accountable frame of mind, a list of portable foods, and a little bit of planning can make on the road to weight loss and maintenance.

heart tree bannerTomorrow is Wear Red for Women Day, as the kickoff to February and Heart Health Awareness Month. This is an important month for me as it reminds me of how my journey began. Initially, I was concerned with the number on the scale. I just wanted to lose weight and didn’t really think much about anything else. Eventually, I didn’t care about that number as much as I cared about being healthy, being a better me and making my mind, body and spirit stronger. I started thinking more about wellness, from a holistic standpoint (proper exercise, better foods, financial health, stress management, etc.), especially, heart health. 

I still consider myself young at 41, but in reality, age has nothing to do with health, wellness, various ailments and sickness. People now have all sorts of health problems, before their 40s, and with the weight I was carrying, I likely could have had such a story. I like to believe I’ve rewritten my story, at least a little bit, as I strive for a healthier lifestyle and better choices in my life. This month is a good reminder to the path I’ve more recently chosen to take and my 4 plus year journey. Tomorrow, I will proudly wear red, as I understand the importance of heart health. I recognize that making my heart stronger by exercising regularly, having a well-balanced diet, lowering my stress (through Yoga, meditation, family and friends), getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night, and increasing my immune system by getting a flu shot, eating fruits/vegetables, and taking vitamins is essential. 

As the 2011 recipient of the American Heart Association Lifestyle Change Award, I was asked to participate in our local Go Red for Women ad campaign, and I graciously accepted. Please join me in wearing red tomorrow to support the goal of saving women’s lives and ultimately, continuing to make changes for personal heart health.dispatch, wear red

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