Does one diet work for everyone? Is there one best way of eating? Is one diet better than all the others? The answer to all these questions is no. There are clear healthy eating habits everyone should follow. This includes avoiding processed foods, eating real/whole foods, avoiding sugar, and avoiding processed oils. The exact composition of a healthy diet can vary depending on one’s age, metabolism, and genetics. Most children are highly sensitive to insulin. This means they can eat carbs all day long and still remain thin. Furthermore, most children have a good metabolism. Unfortunately, as we get older things change. Most people, as they age, become less sensitive to insulin. This means that excess sugar is not burned by the body’s cells, but instead gets stored as fat. Insulin sensitivity varies from person to person. Some people can cut their carbs to 100grams a day and can lose weight and remain thin. Other people need to lower their carbs to under 25grams a day to lose weight. If you are on a low carb diet and not losing weight, you may need to cut your carb intake even more. Remember that everyone’s metabolism is different. Some people can eat a large amount of food and remain thin. Others are not as lucky. As we get older and lose muscle mass our metabolism slows down. We burn less calories at rest compared to when we were younger. A good way to naturally increase your metabolism is to increase muscle mass by lifting weights. More muscle mass leads to a higher metabolism and more calories burned at rest. The take home message is that everyone is different. Do not believe anyone who claims their diet is the best for everyone. What works for others, may not work for you. The key is to experiment and find what does work for you. Again, you can never go wrong avoiding processed food and sugar in your diet. A good rule of thumb that everyone can follow includes a diet of unprocessed, whole foods that your body recognizes as food. For most people, including a good amount of protein in every meal can help with weight loss. As noted above, cutting back on carbs is also important in losing weight. However, the exact amount will vary from person to person. Therefore, experiment a little with your diet if you are not having success. Keep a food diary if needed. Find what works specifically for you. One size does not fit all.
- Exercise. Exercise can be an extremely effective stress reliever. When life’s annoyances or frustrating situations build up, you can feel stressed. Aerobic exercise like walking, bicycling, swim ming, jogging, and aerobics can provide an effective release of these negative emotions, turning these otherwise potentially unhealthy emotions into motivation for increased health and well-being. Exercise decreases stress hormones, including cortisol,and increasing endorphins, your body’s feel-good hormones, giving your mood a natural boost. Physical activity can also take your mind off of your problems and either redirect it on the activity at hand or get you into a zen-like state.
- Breathe Deeply. Feeling stressed evokes tense, shallow breathing, while calm is associated with relaxed breathing. Inhale slowly, taking deep breaths, feeling your entire belly, sides and lower back expand. Exhale, sighing again as you drop your chest, and feeling your belly, back and sides contract. Repeat 10 times, relaxing more fully each time.
- Meditate. Meditation involves focusing the mind on a single thought or phrase. It involves staying in the present. Any repetitive action can be a source of meditation. This includes walking, swimming, painting, knitting or any activity that helps keep your attention calmly in the present moment. When you catch yourself thinking about your job, your relationship or your lifelong to-do list simply let the thought escape, and bring your mind back the repetition of the activity. Try it for just 5 to 10 minutes a day to start.
- Visualization. To start, simply visualize anything that keeps your thoughts away from current tensions. It could be a favorite vacation spot, a fantasy island, a place in the country or something tangible, like the feel of your favorite silk robe or cozy sweater. The idea is to take your mind off your stress, and replace it with an image that evokes a sense of calm. The more realistic your visualization, in terms of colors, sights, sounds, and touch the more relaxation you’ll experience.
- Listen to music. Music can calm the heartbeat and soothe the soul. Music helps take your mind off your life stressors. So when the going gets rough, take a musical stress detour by listening to your favorite songs.
- Laugh. See the humor in life. Laugh at your self and life. Have fun and “play” at life. Act like a child, who has no worries. Watch a good comedy on TV or see one at the movies. Read a funny book or comics.
- Learn to say no. Allow yourself to say no to some requests. Don’t over commit yourself. Put yourself first; say yes to you.
- Live in the moment. Stop fantasizing about “What If “. Stop thinking about things in the past that you cannot change and stop focusing on things in the future that may or may not occur. Choose from what is available, now. Enjoy the present. Do not miss what is happening now. Enjoy the blue sky, the tall mountains, the colorful flowers, or that gorgeous sunset. Do not miss out.
- Write it down. Make notes to yourself. Make a to do list. Write special dates down on your calendar. This way you will not worry about forgetting to do important things.
- Be human. Touch, hug someone, hold hands, stroke a pet, make contact with friends and family. Spend time with your pet. Communicate with friends. Spend time with each other. Share the good stuff. Hug three people each day. Relax and enjoy the feeling of human connection.
Yes! Stress is a big contributing factor to weight gain and obesity. Unfortunately, stress is pervasive throughout today’s society. We seem to be constantly stressed out. We are stressed out due to work, family, society, and many other life stressors. When we are under stress, the fight or flight response is triggered in our bodies. Whether we’re stressed because of constant, crazy demands at work or at home or we’re really in danger, our bodies respond the same. It is like we are about to be physically harmed and need to fight for our lives. To answer this need, stress hormones are released, and we experience a burst of energy, shifts in metabolism and blood flow, and other changes. If you remain in this state for a prolonged amount of time due to chronic stress, you start to risk your health. Chronic stress leads to weight gain. The two major stress hormones are cortisol and adrenaline. Too much cortisol slows down your metabolism, increases insulin levels, and leads to weight gain. This makes dieting quite difficult. People experiencing chronic stress tend to crave more processed and sugary foods. This includes sweets, chips, and other foods that aren’t good for you. Prolonged stress can alter your blood sugar levels, causing mood swings, fatigue, and conditions like hyperglycemia and prediabetes. Too much stress has been linked to the metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance which can lead to heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes. Excessive stress even affects where we tend to store fat. Higher levels of stress hormones are linked to greater levels of abdominal fat. Unfortunately, abdominal fat is not only aesthetically undesirable, it’s linked to greater health risks than fat stored in other areas of the body. Excessive stress also leads to emotional eating. This is when you are eating to help deal with your stress and not because you are truly hungry. Food essentially becomes a drug. Fortunately, stress can be controlled. The first step in dealing with stress is realizing that you are stressed. What are your stressors? Once you understand what is stressing you, the next step is to implement stress reduction methods. This will be the topic of our next post.
Planning ahead is critical to avoid wrecking your healthy lifestyle by sudden moments of temptation. If you get hungry at home and a big jar of candy or cookies is steering you in the face, keeping to your diet becomes quite difficult. If you get hungry and are at the mall, you may be tempted to eat one of those gooey chocolate chip cookies which you can seem to smell throughout the entire mall. Those large soft pretzels always seem to be calling my name! Furthermore, if you are on a road trip and get hungry you may be tempted by a snack at a convenience store such as chips or candy. The key is to plan ahead. At home, make sure you have healthy low calorie snacks ready to eat. Have fruit and vegetables cut up and ready to eat. Get rid of all junk food snacks. Do not even have them in your house, or you will be tempted! If you are going to be out, make sure you have snacks with you. Apples, oranges, bananas, and carrots are easy to carry along. Bring a small bag of nuts to munch on. You do not want to be in a situation where you are famished and then make bad food choices that you later regret. It can get difficult on the road when you are traveling. It is possible to eat healthy on the road, but it make take some extra time and effort. Look for grocery stores or markets that carry healthier choices. With computers and cell phones, it is now easy to find healthier options that are convenient. Look for restaurants that have healthier choices. Avoid fast food restaurants. When traveling, pack snacks to bring along with you. Long car trips can make you hungry – avoid mindlessly eating processed carbs such as chips, pretzels and cookies. Traveling through airports can also be difficult, especially when you are short on time and there are so many convenient fast food restaurants on the way to your gate. Again, plan ahead. Either bring food with you or look for healthy alternatives. Look for maps of the terminals to help find healthier options. Do not give in to temptation. Going out to the mall or traveling do not have to result in poor dietary choices. Plan ahead. Eat ahead of time. If your stomach is already filled, you will be less likely to make bad choices. Do not wreck all your hard work by a quick momentary lapse of discretion. The calories in those gooey cookies and large soft pretzels add up quickly!
Many people seem to feel that they are too old to start taking care of themselves. They say, “It is too late.” “It is too hard to change.” “It will not make a difference at my age.” These are all excuses. Many smokers feel that since they have smoked for so long, there is no point in quitting. I have seen many long-term hardcore smokers (40-50 years) who have been able to quit. It was not easy but they were able to do it. And you know what? They found that they started to feel better. They had less shortness breath and better exercise tolerance. Food started to taste better. It clearly was not too late. The same goes for one’s diet and weight. Sally was a feisty 76 year old widow. She was 75 pounds over weight. She was a diabetic and hypertensive on multiple medications. She was chronically tired. It was an effort just to get off the couch. She felt like pill time was another meal due the large handful of medications she was taking. She lived alone and never felt like cooking just for herself. She had multiple aches and pains that made getting out of bed painful. Her arthritis was getting worse. Her PCP told her she might soon need insulin for her diabetes. One day she decided that she had had enough. She did not want to live this way anymore. She started to change her diet. She started to increase the number of fruits and vegetables she ate every day. She stopped eating sweats. She increased the fiber in her diet to help her feel full. She started walking. Initially it was hard. She could only walk for 5 minutes. Soon she could do 10 minutes. Eventually she built up to 30 minutes. Slowly, the weight started to come off. It was slow, but steady. She lost 5 pounds the first month. She slowly started to feel better. She started to have more energy. Her shortness of breath improved. Her mood improved. She continued to watch her calories and her weight slowly continued to decrease. Before she knew it she had lost 25 pounds. Her blood pressure dropped. She was able to come off one of her blood pressure medications. Her blood sugar also dropped. She no longer needed insulin. Her PCP stopped one of her diabetes medications. People started to notice. They started to comment how good she was looking. She was able to get some nicer fitting clothing. She also noticed her aches and pains were improving. Her hips and knees both started to feel much better. Her mood was continuing to improve. She was feeling happy. Her entire life was changing – at age 76! It is never too late. She made a decision to live a new life. She was focused on overall good health. Good health is something we earn, especially as we get older. Making a commitment to maximizing your quality of life as you age is the greatest gift you can give yourself. Start today. Make a commitment to improving your health and your life. It is never too late!
What steps forward did you take today to improve your health? Your goal should be continuous improvement. Small steps everyday will lead to big changes over time in your health and fitness. For example, cutting 100 calories a day from your diet can lead to a 10 pound weight loss over a year. What did you do today? Did you exercise? Did you try a new vegetable? Did you try a new healthy recipe? Did you not eat that dessert? By making continual small changes, new habits over time will be formed. The goal is to develop new healthy habits that become automatic. Reading these posts are not enough! You need to use the information to make changes in your life. Go back and read old posts. Review the information. Do something today! There is nothing you can do about yesterday. It is in the past. Tomorrow is always in the future. Today is the only day you can effect right now. Action is the key. Commit to making small changes everyday. Before you know it, major changes such as weight loss or lower cholesterol levels will manifest themselves. Do not procrastinate anymore. Seize the day!
Most people do not think about their sleep habits when evaluating their health. Adequate sleep is critical when trying to lose weight, maintaining your weight and improving your overall health. Recent evidence suggests that your sleeping habits influence both your ability to lose weight and your tendency to eat more. People trying to lose weight were more likely to lose ten pounds when they slept between six and eight hours a night. People ate an average of nearly 300 calories more when they were sleep-deprived compared to when they were well rested. The calories overwhelmingly came from junk foods like ice cream and fast food. Other research found that among adults younger than 40, those who typically slept for five hours or less each night had a greater accumulation of belly fat. Another study found dieters who slept for 8.5 hours lost 55 percent more body fat than dieters who only got 5.5 hours of sleep. These studies only scratch the surface of the research linking your sleeping habits with your body weight. What is the connection? It is likely the effect of altered metabolism, because when you’re sleep deprived, leptin (the hormone that signals you are full) falls, while ghrelin (the hormone which signals you are hungry) rises. In one study, researchers found that people who slept only four hours a night for two nights experienced an 18 percent reduction in leptin and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin This combination leads to an increase in appetite. As mentioned above, people ate 300 extra calories when they were sleep-deprived. Furthermore, sleep-deprived people tend to eat more sweet and starchy foods, as opposed to vegetables and proteins. Sleep deprived people tend to crave sugary treats such as ice cream and candy. These sugar cravings may stem from the fact that your brain is fueled by glucose (sugar); therefore, when lack of sleep occurs, your brain starts searching for carbohydrates to keep going. Increased intake of simple carbs (highly processed foods) leads to increased insulin levels and weight gain. If you’re chronically sleep deprived, and consistently give in to these sugar cravings, you will virtually guarantee weight gain. Other consequences of too little sleep include: high blood sugar levels/insulin resistance, an increased risk of diabetes, hypertension, depression, accelerated aging, and an increased risk of cancer. How do you know if you are getting enough sleep? If you feel well-rested and are able to wake up in the morning with no problem, you’re probably doing just fine in the sleep department. But if you’re fatigued, nodding off or yawning throughout the day, and just want to go back to bed when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, your sleep schedule may need some adjusting. Adults tend to need between six and eight hours of sleep every night. However, there are plenty of exceptions. Some people feel rested on as little as five hours a night, while others need as much as nine or ten in order to feel their best. The amount of sleep you need can also drastically change depending on circumstances. For example, most people need more sleep when feeling ill, or during emotionally stressful times. Pregnant women also typically need more sleep than usual during the first trimester. Listen to your body and respond accordingly. And don’t think you’re going to meet all of your sleep needs by sleeping in for one morning on the weekend. Chronic lack of sleep has a cumulative effect when it comes to disrupting your health. You cannot skimp on sleep during the weekdays, thinking you’ll “catch up” over the weekend. What’s needed is consistency, and when it comes to sleep, routine is the word. Good sleep habits are critical to your long-term health. Make sure you get a good nights sleep to improve your weight and overall health.