A Journey of Mindless Food Choices Determines Future Health

delicious-food-served-signHave you ever thought about what shapes your choice of meals every day? What happens during your day that reinforces those choices? What about where you live or work? As life goes on with school, college, careers, marriage, kids, and so on, we may not pay enough attention to what we feed ourselves when we get hungry. Many of us live a life on-the-go and feel we are unable to take the time to learn what is in our food, or how many calories we are consuming. Here’s a personal look at a hypothetical individual who has reached a crossroad in his life when mindless eating begins to affect overall health — an all too common scenario.

Jon was getting his annual physical when his doctor informed him that he has “metabolic syndrome.” Now in his 40s, he knows that he’s gained a few extra pounds over the years, but now he’s being told that based on his height and weight, he’s considered obese. Jon also hears the doctor mention something about hyperlipidemia and pre-diabetes while he is reviewing his blood test results. His new results put him on the “high risk” list for heart disease and developing diabetes. By the end of his appointment, he’s given a prescription for a statin, and a warning to change his diet, exercise more and lose weight to reduce his risk for serious health issues down the road.

All this new information is swirling around Jon’s head like a world wind as he is leaving the doctor’s office. Clasped in his hand are brochures that were given to him with tips on how to change his diet to reduce his triglycerides and his blood glucose, along with a list of local health clubs. As he gets into his car to drive home, he tries to make sense of it all. He never truly paid much attention to how his diet can affect his health, yet knows he could use a little more exercise. Sitting at the office all day doesn’t help, and he certainly doesn’t want to end up with a pile of medical bills. Ultimately whatever he decides to do can and will have an impact on his future health.

How does someone like Jon end up in this situation? It certainly didn’t happen overnight. Both he and his wife don’t have much time during the week to devote to mealtime. Most of their time is focused on work and raising their two children. They both rely mostly on convenience meals that are high in energy and low in nutrition to get through their day. Breakfast is from the drive-through, lunch is delivery, and dinner is take out most days of the week. Looking at Jon’s life up to this point and his current living environment can provide some answers.

Most of Jon’s meals growing up were ready-made in a box or a bag. He’d usually wash it down with an extra-large soda. As a child, it was common to see him riding in the back seat with his sister while mom ordered meals from the drive thru. His family didn’t have much, so cheap eats were commonplace. Grocery shopping usually consisted of bags of chips, two-liter bottles of soda, frozen pizzas and microwave meals. His mother always cut coupons for highly processed foods, and rarely bought whole foods and vegetables. She didn’t have the time to cook, but it was important that her children had food to eat since she usually worked long hours. The microwave meals were easy for her children to heat up and feed themselves, since she couldn’t be there when they came home from school.

During the school year, mornings in his household were always at a hectic pace to get out the door, so he’d usually grab a bottle of soda and a package of cupcakes from the school vending machines for breakfast. During lunch, he’d eat a big slice of pizza, with soda and a bag of chips. The school did serve vegetables, and offered fresh fruit, but he always passed them up in the food line and went for a package of cookies instead.

During college, Jon got hooked on caffeine energy drinks because he felt they helped him to stay more alert in class. The long nights of studying deprived him of sleep. As a young adult, he’d already had a well-established diet of fast and convenience foods, which where mainly high in fat, salt and sugar, and low in vitamins and minerals. The dorms he lived in didn’t have a kitchen, just a microwave. Students were required to purchase meal cards for the cafeteria. This encouraged most of them including Jon to get take out.

When Jon landed his first job, he was happy that the mall nearby had a food court in it so he could walk over every day for lunch. There were also restaurants nearby that would deliver when he had tough deadlines to meet, so he could work through his lunch hour. His work consisted of sitting in his office most of the day on the phone or working at the computer. Over the years, he started to gain weight, since he wasn’t nearly as active during his high school and college days. After work he usually came home tired and spent most evenings watching TV.

For someone like Jon, change won’t be easy. The environment he lives in has a restaurant on every corner. Food is everywhere. To lose weight, Jon will need to learn how to balance his energy intake with his physical activity. He’ll need to consider choosing foods with a higher nutrient content that are overall lower in calories. Since he became less active as an adult, his high calorie food choices have contributed to his weight gain.

It helps not to go it alone. There’s so much advice everywhere, but a good place to start is with a registered dietetic professional, who can help Jon get on the right path. To become more mindful of his eating habits, it might be necessary to keep a food diary for a while to get an idea of eating patterns. It’s also a great way to estimate how many calories he’s consuming daily and what types of foods he normally eats.  Most importantly, learning to read food labels is crucial in understanding how much energy is in each serving, where the calories are coming from (fat, sugar or protein), and to know what constitutes a true serving size. It’ll take a long-term commitment on his part to see results.

Mindfulness and education are our biggest allies when it comes to our health. Modern society doesn’t make it easy to be healthy. Food companies know how to hook us. They usually have a large budget to hire marketing experts who know how to persuade us during our most vulnerable times, when we are hungry, tired or both. Food is integrated into every aspect of our lives everywhere we go—sporting events, the zoo, airports and gas stations. To beat the game, we need to be in touch with our own habits and our daily routines. Don’t let these companies know more about you or your family than you do. They expect that most people won’t bother with food labels. Take control of your own health and fight the urge to chose mindlessly.

Start right now! Food label basics:

http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm
 

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Revisiting New Year’s Resolutions, Renewing the Motivation to get Healthy

With February upon us, our feelings of a new beginning fade, and our New Year’s resolutions start to fall away, one by one. The responsibilities in our daily lives tend to move our resolutions lower and lower on our to-do list. Old habits die hard.

Winter in many parts of the U.S. means cold temperatures and lots of snow. Not everyone loves winter sports or spending a lot of time outdoors in the cold, which means many of us turn to more indoor “less-active” activities. High-calorie warm comfort foods and an increase in snacking can start to dominate, as well as more time on the couch watching TV.

New Year’s resolutions that are forgotten may simply mean that they require too much of a commitment. As mentioned in “Stay Motivated Weeks into 2015 — How to Stick to Your Healthy Resolutions,” choosing a New Year’s resolution that is realistic and achievable is first and foremost the best way toward success. If you have a number of resolutions, think about concentrating on one first. Three common examples include, losing weight, eating healthier and quitting smoking. Someone who wishes to accomplish all of these in one year may be taking on more than their busy schedules will allow. It might make more sense to focus on one resolution first, like quitting smoking. This may make eating healthier and losing weight more attainable in the future by eliminating the pressure to achieve goals faster than what is comfortable at your own pace. Try not to strive for perfection which can promote the desire to “give up.”

It’s easy to fall into the idea that incomplete resolutions are failures, but to continue with this idea can block any chance to learn how to modify a resolution for success. Our lives are constantly changing. What’s true today may not be true tomorrow. Think of a resolution as a form of personal growth rather than a restriction or a punishment, or as a journey rather than a final destination. Take the opportunity to look at it more constructively with an open mind.

Since things never go exactly the way we imagine them, a course correction may be necessary. Realize that unhealthy habits take a long time to develop. Replacing them with healthier habits will also take a certain amount time as slip-ups happen every now and then. It’s important to look at slip-ups as part of the process of change, which is completely normal. Become more mindful when these slip-ups occur. What are the triggers? When are old habits likely to surface? By correlating situations with undesired behaviors, it may become easier to control them.

Above all don’t go it alone, discuss resolutions with people who are positive motivators. Consider counseling especially for resolutions that concern smoking or alcohol. These are situations where outside help from a professional can be extremely beneficial. Resolutions around healthy eating, losing weight and exercise can also be better performed with the help of a doctor, registered dietitian or a certified personal trainer. Work with health care providers that have the proper credentials help to you put together a plan that fits your lifestyle. When you create a plan that revolves around your lifestyle and not one that revolves around a one-size fits all program, your plan will work with you instead of against you.

But, who says that New Year’s resolutions have to begin on January 1st anyway? Is there a better time during the year to concentrate on a resolution?

Reference

Making Your New Year’s Resolution Stick. (n.d.). Retrieved February 1, 2015, from http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/resolution.aspx

Be healthy as a family— sitting down for dinner makes for healthy well-adjusted kids

When you were a child do you remember sitting down to dinner every night as a family? Or was everyone too busy to even take five minutes to ask, “How was your day?” Chances are if you’re a parent in this generation, the latter may be closer to the norm in your household. Now days there are more single-parent households with a full-time working parent. Even in homes with two parents, both are usually employed. Add to that all of the extra-curricular activities kids are involved with during, after school and on weekends. At home they spend more time on a computer, laptop or cell phone. Is it any wonder why meals at the dinner table every night is practically extinct? Parents, what if there was a way to greatly improve your child’s success and sense of well-being just by devoting an hour to them a few times a week? Would you do it?

Meal time is a perfect opportunity to step up as role models. Sitting down to a meal at least once a day gives families time to focus on each other. Three main areas that can be greatly influenced are communication through connection, eating healthier with a more focused eating pattern, and at school, academic performance and social skills.

As children watch how their parents behave at the table, this is a perfect training ground for teaching communication and social skills, showing good manners, taking turns and even how to entertain guests. Children feel more emotionally content and more connected to the family. With stronger family ties, and a greater sense of identity and belonging, they are less likely to act out by smoking, drinking or taking drugs.

A study from the University of Minnesota showed a definite relationship between teen’s dietary intake and family meal patterns. Family meals were associated with higher intakes of fruits and vegetables, protein, vitamins and minerals, and a lower intake of sugary soft drinks and snack foods. Eating at the table becomes a more focused activity when TV and other digital media are turned off. When parents display a healthy relationship with food and a sense of security, hunger and satiety cues are more respected. This can reduce the risk of obesity associated with emotional eating and grazing, and incidences of extreme dieting behaviors and disordered eating.

Children who have at least one family meal at the table most days of the week do better in school. Research shows improved vocabulary and reading skills, higher grades and test scores and overall greater academic achievement. They also get along better with their peers at as well.

Think about how you can hit the brakes on your busy lifestyle to set aside time for a family meal. Try making mealtime a priority by planning ahead and creating a positive atmosphere.

Make mealtime a priority by clearing out schedules, and as a family and agree on a time ad stick to it. Plan ahead to teach your children basic cooking skills by having them participate with food and recipe selection and preparing the meal. At the table, use this time to reflect on the day, talk about issues at school, help children find solutions to everyday problems, and plan for the future. Leave out the arguments and fighting, and put aside the desire to be right. Let conversations be free-flowing and share ideas.

As a parent, you’re your child’s first role model. They will look to you for guidance, even at the dinner table. Take this opportunity to eat healthy meals together, and help improve your child’s sense of well-being.

Reference

Family Meals spell S-U-C-C-E-S-S (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 2015, from http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/cff/documents/promoting_meals/spellsuccessfactsheet.pdf

Stay Motivated Weeks into 2015 — How to Stick to Your Healthy Resolutions

As the year passes by and the motivation of New Year’s feelings of a new beginning start to fade back into the everyday grind, good intentions for sticking with healthy habits and a healthier lifestyle also start to wane. Life happens. So does the unexpected. As usual, getting sidetracked from taking care of ourselves is normal and understandable. But there are some ways to counteract this phenomenon of lost New Year’s resolutions.

Plan a realistic goal that is achievable based on lifestyle and ability should be first and foremost. With our busy lives, goals should be very specific and measureable within a certain time frame. For example, for someone who wants to lose 50 pounds, their goal could start like this, “I plan to increase my physical activity for 150 minutes per week for 6 months to lose 10 pounds.” After 6 months another goal can be set for losing additional weight.

By breaking down the main goal of losing 50 pounds into smaller more incremental goals, it can help to maintain focus with a greater the chance of success. The possibility of losing 10 pounds a little at a time seems a little easier in our minds than 50 pounds all at once.

After six months, plan another goal, such as, “For the next six months to lose 10 pounds I will choose a salad or steamed vegetables as a side, instead of French fries whenever I go out to eat during the week.” The idea here is that along with increased physical activity this second goal will help with continued weight loss and now losing 50 pounds is closer to reach.

You might ask yourself, “What if I don’t lose 10 pounds, what if I only lose 3 or 5 pounds?” This might mean you may need more time to achieve the goal, or you just need to modify it a little. Instead of 10 pounds, the new goal could be 5 pounds. Instead of seeing it as a failure, the idea here is to make the goals manageable within your lifestyle. By adjusting the goal a little bit, it will help keep you on track instead of giving up completely. Losing some weight is better than losing none, and increasing physical activity is always good for the body and shouldn’t be looked at as a waste of time.

Don’t go it alone. If a friend or a family member has similar goals why not plan something together? If the goal is to increase physical activity, join a health club together and plan to meet at the same time during the week. Plan early morning workouts or after work walks.

Keep track of goals in a journal. It’s a great way to feel a sense of achievement as the weeks pass, by looking back over the progression of your accomplishments. Strive for the small changes, not for perfection, to feel a sense of moving forward.

Consider a consult with your doctor and a nutrition expert for help getting started. A registered dietitian can help put together a realistic plan for a better chance of success.

Set yourself up for success not failure. Look at goals or New Year’s resolutions as something modifiable instead of static. If the goal of losing 50 pounds in 2015 ends up as 20 pounds lost in 2015, celebrate your accomplishment, because all of the little modifications and small healthier choices will ultimately add up to a healthier new you.

 

Reference

Define Your Goals. (n.d.). Retrieved January 11, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/growingstronger/motivation/define.html

How do YOU like being told what to do?

Unsolicited advice — we all give it — we all receive it. When we see something that goes against our own core beliefs, or when we perceive a problem a friend or loved one might have, the immediate reflex is to jump on our soap boxes and begin orating about what should be. Unsolicited advice can be intrusive especially when the listener hasn’t given permission or asked for help. Some advice givers may not understand that their advice can sometimes lead to negative consequences, like feelings of frustration for someone who isn’t interested or ready to hear it. Giving advice about certain topics can require the right timing, an area where some advice givers usually fail.

Nutrition and weight loss are topics where most of us have strong opinions. There’s a tendency to push ideas on to others, especially our loved ones. A wife demands that her husband, who is obese, lose weight after he tells her that his doctor told him his cholesterol and blood glucose levels are high. She then begins to lecture him consistently on his meal choices, and always nags him because he doesn’t get enough exercise. Over time she only gets more disappointed in him after learning that he gained a few more pounds. Though his wife means well, this classic behavior often falls short on allowing her husband to experience any success at all. He may become angry and resentful toward her and completely give up if she doesn’t give him some space. Even though his wife has the best of intentions, she may fail to understand what will truly work to get him to commit to a healthier lifestyle.

The success rate for permanent weight loss is low for people who approach it incorrectly and are looking for quick fixes. There are so many internal and external forces at work that can help or hinder success. People who successfully lose weight and keep it off usually have a strong motivator, the desire and tenacity for change, along with the belief that they can accomplish their goals within a supportive environment. Unsolicited advice usually comes from those not really equipped with the ability to handle this kind of situation, and could be unknowingly harping on someone to change because of their excessive worry about that individual (e.g., the wife with the obese husband).

It may be difficult to trust that every adult with a sound mind can make the best choices for themselves give a set of circumstances, even if it doesn’t seem to make sense. Lecturing and nagging can only go so far before the person on the receiving end begins to find ways to tune it out in order to gain a sense of self-preservation. Letting it go and accepting that not everyone will see it our way is difficult, especially when it comes to health decisions, it can be heartbreaking. But having the strength to back off, and make a conscious effort to stop meddling may actually lead to a better outcome by reducing stress for the person on the receiving end. Drop the agenda and make more of an effort to listen instead of lecture. It’s easier said than done, when in reality, what we all want is a little control over our situation, our environment and to ensure the health and happiness of the people closest to us. But consider a well-known anecdotal definition of insanity, which is, doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results.

Since When did I Become So Resistant to Change?

Recently I asked myself this question, now that the holidays are approaching. When I was younger, I used to get frustrated with people who continuously rejected new ideas and always wanted things kept status quo. But lately I’ve started to notice it in myself. Whether its how I feel about today’s fashions, which to me, have all been done before. I no longer see pink hair, tattoos and face piercings as a statement of individuality, it seems that most of the young people have one or more of them these days. They’ve become too mainstream. But I’ve noticed my new desire for the status quo comes from the need of a comfortable space. As someone who isn’t afraid of getting out of their comfort zone, I do find myself longing for a simpler time.

For me it’s Thanksgiving. I have to admit, the fact that it has been decided it’s now appropriate for stores to be open on this holiday, it is without a doubt messing with my head, and lately has really become a contention with me. Apparently, retailers no longer want to give their employees this holiday. It would be too easy for me to get on my soap box and ramble on about it for more than a few paragraphs, so I will try not to.

The past couple of years I’ve offered to host Thanksgiving for my husband’s side of the family and it has turned into a great compromise. I get to cook what I want for Thanksgiving and my in-laws get a break from cooking. Certain foods can be powerful in triggering memories in people sending them to another place and time. For me, its my dad’s special recipe for stuffing.

My father was born on Christmas day, so that time of the year was extra-special for him. Everyone in the family got to wish him a happy birthday and a Merry Christmas all in the same sentence. His presents were either birthday or Christmas based on what the giver wrote on the tag. Sure, he used to joke that he got gypped out of getting more presents, but to me, not everyone could say their dad was a Christmas baby.

As a kid, starting with Thanksgiving, the house was transformed into a magical place. As a family, we decorated the whole house while Christmas records were playing. The decorating didn’t start until the day after Thanksgiving, and Christmas shopping didn’t start until that following weekend. The only early shopping that was done was when my mom placed an order from the “Sears Wish Book” catalog by telephone. We also kept our decorations and lights up until New Year’s Day. When my father passed, Christmas was never the same, neither was Thanksgiving.

The menu was my dad’s. He had a special recipe for stuffing that no one else could duplicate. Anytime I celebrated Thanksgiving away from home as an adult, that stuffing was missed… very much. My mom said that the recipe was his mother’s. Now that I’m in charge of the menu, it’s crucial that the stuffing recipe have the same flavor that I remember. My mother is my partner-in-crime to ensure that it does. She cuts up the onion and celery to a specific size, then she will sautée it in butter with a special blend of spices. This is when the whole house starts to smell like Thanksgiving. The mixture is then refrigerated. The bread for the stuffing gets cut up into small pieces and is left out overnight to dry out. The next day, all the ingredients are mixed together and the turkey is stuffed before it goes into the oven.

For a few hours while getting food ready, my mom and I enjoy the time together remembering back when the holidays weren’t centered around black Friday. For a few hours my kitchen becomes the status quo, and is transformed into a magical place with the sights, sounds and smells of Thanksgiving as a child.