The Nutritional Food Chain

A few people have asked me to explain my preferences for biodynamic, organic whole foods. In this post, I have tried to provide information and resources (see links for additional details) that explain my dietary hierarchy. I decided to include animal-based foods in the hierarchy because, although I don’t eat meat/fish/dairy/eggs for ethical reasons, my husband and most of my friends and family members do consume these foods (hopefully in moderation).  

Wild or Home Grown

In an ideal world, everyone would live in warm climates so they could gather seasonal, plant-based foods and hunt/catch their own wild land animals/fish. Alternatively, everyone could grow their own seasonal produce using high quality soil and humanely raise their own animals. Check out Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for more information regarding these lifestyles.

For a variety of reasons, the hunter/gatherer and farmer lifestyles are neither viable nor desirable options for most people living in developed countries in the post-industrial era. That’s why I’ve laid out the modern alternatives…

Animal Welfare Certifications

The Animal Welfare Approved label is the gold standard with regard to animal treatment. There are several other organizations that offer animal welfare certifications/ratings, including the Certified Humane Project and Wholefoods animal welfare ratings. Check out the Animal Welfare Institute and the USDA for additional details regarding these programs. 

Biodynamic  

Biodynamic food is ethically and sustainably farmed/raised with emphases on nutrient optimization and ecological sustainability. I have never seen a biodynamic food that was not also labeled USDA Organic. That’s because the biodynamic standards are even more stringent than the USDA’s organic standards. Look at it this way:

Organic

The USDA has implemented relatively strict and consistently enforced food standards with regard to organic labeling. Click the links below for topic-specific fact sheets:

  • GMOs – “The use of genetic engineering, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs), is prohibited in organic products. This means an organic farmer can’t plant GMO seeds, an organic cow can’t eat GMO alfalfa or corn, and an organic soup producer can’t use any GMO ingredients.”
  • Lifestock – While there are some welfare components to the USDA’s organic standards, the requirements are not as stringent at those of the Certified Humane Project.
  • Production & Handling
  • Labeling
  • Allowed & Prohibited Substances – For processed foods, “100% Organic” is best. There are some nontrivial loopholes/exceptions regarding foods with “Organic” and “Made with Organic” labels.
  • Organic Practices

Loopholes:

  1. Land must have had no prohibited substances applied to it for at least 3 years before the harvest of an organic crop. (There is no guidance regarding proximity to conventional crops.)
  2. Soil fertility and crop nutrients will be managed through tillage and cultivation practices, crop rotations, and cover crops, supplemented with animal and crop waste materials and allowed synthetic materials.
  3. Operations must use organic seeds and other planting stock when available.
  4. Crop pests, weeds, and diseases will be controlled primarily through management practices including physical, mechanical, and biological controls. When these practices are not sufficient, a biological, botanical, or synthetic substance approved for use on the National List may be used.

Many skeptics point to these loopholes as an excuse to buy cheap conventional foods instead of their pricey organic counterparts. In my opinion, these skeptics are making a mistake. “Experts at Consumer Report believe that organic is always the best choice because it is better for your health, the environment, and the people who grow our food. The risk from pesticides on conventional produce varies from very low to very high, depending on the type of produce and on the country where it’s grown. The differences can be dramatic.” Better safe than sorry.

Minimally Processed Foods Containing High Quality Ingredients

There are many convenience foods that are fine in low to moderate quantities. This category includes 100% whole grain breads and pastas, organic nut milks and butters, dried fruits, frozen fruits and vegetables, organic salad dressings and sauces, BPA-free canned (or preferably jarred) tomatoes, low-sugar granolas and cereals, dried or BPA-free canned (no salt added) beans, organic expeller pressed oils, dried whole grains and seeds, shelled raw nuts (don’t forget to soak or sprout them), and cold-pressed juices. Most people don’t have the time or desire to make all of these foods from scratch. Thankfully, there are a plethora of ethical food companies that sustainably produce these items with high quality ingredients and very few additives.

Conventionally Grown/Raised Whole Foods

Conventionally grown Clean Fifteen fruits and vegetables are relatively safe. By contrast, conventionally grown Dirty Dozen PLUS fruits and vegetables should be avoided as much as possible. The general rule for fruit is: If you eat the skin, stick to organic. Certain crops, including corn, wheat, soy, and papaya, are often grown using genetically engineered seeds. In order to avoid GMOs, choose organic when consuming these particular crops.

For conventionally raised livestock, the regulatory requirements are sparse. Below are some examples:

  • Free Range/Roaming – Producers must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside. (Note: Outside access can be satisfied by a small hole in a factory farm wall.)
  • Natural – A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as "no artificial ingredients; minimally processed"). (Note: The label “natural” is basically meaningless. Check the explanatory statements for substance.)
  • No Hormones:
    •  Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim "no hormones added" cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says "Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones."
    • The term "no hormones administered" may be approved for use on the label of beef products if sufficient documentation is provided to the Agency by the producer showing no hormones have been used in raising the animals.
  • No Antibiotics – The terms "no antibiotics added" may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.

Most restaurants serve food made with conventionally produced ingredients. While it won’t hurt you to eat out or order in occasionally, remember that if the restaurant is not advertising specific quality standards and/or food sources, the food will likely contain pesticides, antibiotics (not pork or poultry), hormones, additives, preservatives, chemically extracted or hydrogenated oils, and other low quality ingredients. Bon appetit.

From a health perspective, eating one or two 3oz servings of animal protein every (other) day will probably not have a significantly detrimental impact on your health as long as your diet consists primarily of vegetables, fruits, legumes, seeds, and whole grains. That said, most animal-derived foods are hard to digest and are detrimental in large quantities. From a spiritual perspective, I believe in David Wolfe’s concept that food choices have karmic implications – the consumption of large quantities of meat, dairy, and eggs from conventionally raised animals will result in the accumulation of bad karma. Refer to the chart below for additional details:

Note that conventional milk, which is essentially stolen from baby calves (which are killed for veal) and then fed to humans, has NEGATIVE karma. Ponder that. I would also go a step farther than Wolfe and suggest that there is a karmic distinction between meat from wild/pastured animals and meat from conventional animals.

Highly Processed Foods Containing Low Quality Ingredients

Many of the processed foods stocked in modern grocery stores are unnecessary in small quantities (it’s easy to find better things to eat) and toxic in large quantities. Stay away from foods like chips, cookies, crackers, fruit snacks, microwavable “instant” foods, bread and pasta made with white flour, sweetened yogurts, milk chocolates, pastries, snack packs, string cheese, chemically extracted oils, sugary cereals and granola bars, hot dogs, deli meats, candies, sodas, pasteurized juice drinks, canned soups, and frozen microwavable meals. These items should literally be banished from your home. If a product contains a bunch of low quality foods and ingredients you cannot pronounce or visualize in whole form, don’t eat it! I used to be able to eat a dozen Oreos in one sitting with no problems. After switching to a predominantly whole foods diet, I ate six Oreos and my stomach was in knots. Your body may have adapted to these products, but they are unquestionably suboptimal and will harm you in the long term.

Sooo that’s my take on food production and quality standards. It takes effort and conviction to eat a mostly organic, whole foods, plant-based diet, but once you try it and feel truly healthy for the first time, you’ll never want to go back. 

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Get Primed

For my birthday, my dear friend, Stefanie, gave me a copy of The Prime by integrative neurologist Kulreet Chaudhary, M.D., whose name you might recognize since she is a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show. In the book, Dr. Chaudhary explains her fascinating background – her early childhood in India, her transition from Indian culture to American culture, her adoption of the Standard American Diet in college and medical school, her battle with migraines, her rediscovery of the efficacy of Ayurveda, and her patients’ successes with integrative medicine. This is not just another cockamamie diet book.  Throughout the book, Dr. Chaudhary explains the ancient history and modern science behind her recommendations.

The Prime was conceived as a detoxification and weight loss guide for people who are unable to meet with Dr. Chaudhary in person. The Prime is a 4-stage program; each stage lasts 2+ weeks. The detox, which involves tea, juice, broth, supplements, and lifestyle elements, is supposed to help you improve both your physical and mental health. Dr. Chaudhary is a neurologist, but in The Prime she painstakingly explains the brain-gut connection in an accessible manner.

Dr. Chaudhary emphasizes that readers should take their time in each stage because the stages build upon the progress made in the prior stage(s). I am still on Stage 1 and have been for about a month. I can be impatient with health progress, so I am really working on internalizing the concept of “slow and steady wins the race.”

There are 4 recommendations per stage, and the recommendations accumulate. By the end of the detoxification process, you are doing 12 different recommendations, some of which are easy, like popping a few pills. Others are more time consuming, like juicing and meditating, or disruptive, like changing your eating and sleeping patterns. I’m not going to lie, the whole process seems daunting, which may be another reason why I’m still on Stage 1.

The first stage involves dry brushing before you shower using a brush or silk gloves, drinking Prime Tea (fennel, cumin, and coriander seeds), taking a fiber supplement (half ground flax, half psyllium husk) every other night, and taking Triphala before bed. These recommendations, as well as those in the following stages, purportedly help increase agni (digestive fire), remove toxins from your gastrointestinal tract, and stimulate your lymphatic system.

So far, I feel healthier. Prime Tea tastes yummy and helps me stay hydrated. Dry brushing feels nice before hopping in the shower. The fiber and Triphala have improved the consistency of my poops and increased their frequency, which is always amazing! Those last two recommendations are musts for people with constipation issues (as is upping your fruit and veggie consumption).

Stage 2 includes the incorporation of Prime Broth and Prime Juice, both of which need to be made fresh on a regular basis for the duration of the detox. Thankfully, Stef and I discovered that Juice Press’s Mother Earth is relatively low in sugar and could reasonably replace the Prime Juice when you’re in a pinch. Prime Broth is a bone broth, which is obviously not going to work for ethical vegans, like me. I found a few vegan substitutions, like this rich vegetable broth recipe, which I will adapt using the spices from Prime Broth to make a vegan bone-free broth. As I write this, I am realizing that Stage 2 really won’t be that hard!

Dr. Chaudhary says you don’t have to change your diet before embarking on the detox program because, if you implement the recommendations consistently at a your own pace, your taste preferences will automatically change. The idea is that you will become increasingly in tune with how various foods make you feel and will gravitate toward foods that make you feel good (i.e. whole, plant-based foods). For non-vegans, she recommends a few high quality dairy products, like ghee, boiled raw milk, and homemade yogurt.

Personally, I am happy that I switched over to a predominantly organic, whole foods, plant-based diet prior to embarking on the detox. Dr. Chaudhary concedes that the depth of the detoxification depends on your starting point (i.e. how toxic you are at the beginning) and notes that some people will need more extreme measures, like Panchakarma, in order to fully detoxify. Moreover, for many people, the long term gain of detoxification comes with moderate to severe short term discomfort. 

I have not experienced any detoxification side effects so far because I probably wasn’t that toxic to begin with. I should note that I gave up alcohol and coffee prior to starting the detox. I did not like feeling dependent on coffee or dehydrated from alcohol, so I gave them both up. Everyone keeps thinking I’m pregnant, but I’m notttt! My mind-body connection is just strong, thank you very much.

For more information and details on the recommendations I did not discuss, buy the book or borrow it from your local library. I don’t want to give away the whole shebang because I really want you to read the book. The background and scientific discussions, in addition to the recommendations, are eye opening or validating, depending on your point of view. Plus, understanding the “why” behind each recommendation will help you stay more focused and motivated than if I just told you what to do ;)

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Sprout it Out

In Legume Love, I mentioned that, ideally, you should eat sprouted legumes. In addition to legumes, it is a good idea to stick to sprouted (or at least soaked) seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, rice, etc.) and nuts (almonds, walnuts, etc.) whenever possible. Exceptions include macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, pistachios, chia seeds, flax seeds, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts, which can be consumed raw.

I recently learned that some additional steps help to further neutralize the phytic acid and enzyme inhibitors:

  1. Add 1-2 tbsps of Himalayan or sea salt to your filtered soaking water.
  2. When the nuts/seeds/legumes are done soaking/sprouting, rinse them and pat them dry with a clean dish towel.
  3. Dehydrate the nuts/seeds/legumes in a dehydrator/oven/toaster oven for 12-24 hours.

Many raw nuts/seeds/legumes are not easily digestible. The soak/sprout-dehydrate process neutralizes the nutritional drawbacks of raw nuts/seeds/legumes while maintaining their benefits.

For the dehydration part, most raw foodies recommend a temperature of 105-120°F. Currently, I use my toaster oven as a dehydrator because it has a minimum temperature of 120°F. However, when this appliance-loving yuppie moves to the ‘burbs, she’ll be acquiring one of these bad boys. If you’re not a strict raw foodie, you can dehydrate your nuts at 150-200°F (i.e. the minimum temperature for many ovens/toaster ovens) without major nutrient depletion. Dry roasting above 250°F is much faster than dehydrating and brings out the flavors of the nuts/seeds/legumes, but higher temperatures result in the neutralization of enzymes, the depletion of other nutrients (i.e. iron, magnesium, and phosphorus), and the formation of acrylamide (click here, here, and here for more information regarding this carcinogen).

Side note: Did you know that most “raw” almonds in the US aren’t actually raw?!?! In September 2007, the USDA passed a regulation requiring California growers to sterilize almonds for sanitation purposes. Organic almonds are usually steam pasteurized, but conventional almonds are often treated with chemicals. If you want truly raw almonds, buy the nuts directly from farmers or purchase nuts grown outside the US.

Whatever you do, stay away from “roasted” (read: fried) nuts that list oil as an ingredient. Your typical bar nuts are not only devoid of enzymes, depleted of nutrients, and full of acrylamide, the nuts (and the oil in which they were fried) are also definitely low quality and possibly rancid. Even if you can forget about all the dirty hands that grabbed nuts from that bowl, remember that the nuts themselves are toxic.  

I totally understand if you don’t want to go through the hassle of sprouting and dehydrating (a.k.a. activating) your own nuts/seeds/legumes. The spout/dehydrate process is time consuming, plus quality dehydrators are pricey and take up precious counter space. I occasionally embark on activation adventures, but most of the time I buy pre-sprouted nuts/seeds/legumes. Living Intentions, Living Nutz, Go Raw, and Moon Juice sell sprouted/activated nuts and seeds. Food for Life, Ludenberg, and Tru Roots offer sprouted grains and legumes, as well as products made with sprouted legumes/seeds/nuts (e.g. breads, cereals, and pastas). Don’t forget to ask your local grocery store to stock your favorites and check out your local farmers market for fresh sprouts!

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Namaste in the Sun

I was spoiled in North Carolina. During my health coach training, it was 75 and sunny most of the week. In addition to my nature walks, my classmates and I were fortunate to be able to practice our coaching outdoors. Sadly, since my return to NYC, the weather has been rather chilly.

In order to persevere with my walking goals, I have been wearing my Namaste hat (see Spiritual Gangster) during my jaunts. Whenever I wear the hat, I inevitably encounter someone who asks, "What does Namaste mean?" To whom I explain, "It means 'the divine light in me honors the divine light in you.'" Then I start thinking about light, warmth, and sunshine despite the cold. Motivated by my sunshine obsession, I decided to write about sun exposure.

SPF is no longer relegated to sunscreen. A plethora of cosmetics, including makeup and moisturizers, offer built-in UV protection. You might be thinking: “The more sunscreen the better. Right?” That depends...

If you have not done so already, you should definitely review the EWG’s resources regarding which sunscreen chemicals to avoid and which products are safe and effective. Unfortunately, every day, well-meaning yet ill-informed people slather or spray toxic sunscreen all over themselves and their families. By sticking to EWG-endorsed products, you can avoid being one of those people.

The truth is, you do not need to be applying sunscreen every day if your daily sun exposure consists of walking outdoors a handful of times in brief intervals. No one gets skin cancer because they were exposed to the sun for a cumulative thirty minutes per day…unless they’re Irish and live near the equator, then maybe. In the vast majority of cases, people get skin cancer because they were once sun worshipers or tanning bed users. After countless sunburns, the pagans develop skin cancer. 

There is no need to avoid the sun like a Vampire. Just use your head. If you plan on being out in the sun for an extended period of time, cover up with a hat, sunglasses, light clothing, and/or natural sunscreen. Alternatively, take cover under an umbrella or awning.

In addition to external skin protection, make sure your diet includes lots of antioxidant-rich foods. No, you cannot supplement your way to health by taking lots of vitamins while continuing to eat nutrient-devoid faux foods. Supplements can give you a boost, especially since food isn’t what it used to be, but they cannot salvage the Standard American Diet (“SAD”).

“Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: You may reduce your risk of vision loss from cataracts” (see Fruits and Vegetables to Fight Cataracts). Cataracts are caused by, among other things, ultraviolet radiation, smoking, significant alcohol consumption, obesity, diabetes, and hypertension…so basically excessive sun/light exposure, poor lifestyle choices, and diseases of affluence.

My advice?

  1. Stick to Michael Pollan’s recommendation: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."
  2. Don’t smoke or drink in excess (see Tenet #1).
  3. Wear good quality sunglasses when you are outdoors (see Protect Your Eyes: Everyday Steps to Sun Safety).

Let’s be real. It is totally ridiculous that people cover themselves with toxic SPF products primarily to prevent signs of aging but do not bother to wear sunglasses to prevent vision loss. Personally, I would rather be wrinkly than blind.

By the way, I am in no position to judge anyone for not knowing all of this until now. In a previous life, I was a sun worshiping pagan and GTL-loving Jersey girl.

All we can do now is try our best going forward and repent to the Moon God ;)

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Health Coach Training Was Reinvigorating

Last week, I went down to Durham for my second onsite health coach training module. This module was much more enjoyable and productive than the first module for a variety of reasons. Instead of trying to please and accommodate others, I decided to focus on self-care and personal growth this time around. I’m glad I did…

I ended up staying in a hotel just north of the Duke campus so that I could walk to and from class at Integrative Medicine. I am proud to say that I walked every day. Monday through Thursday, I explored various routes through and around the Duke campus, which is gorgeous yet a tad hilly (“Climb Every Mountain” was in my head the whole week). Friday, I tackled the Al Buehler Cross Country Trail, which is essentially a woodsy three-mile loop around the perimeter of the Duke University Golf Course. By the end of the week, I became acutely aware that outdoor walking is by far my favorite form of cardiovascular exercise. I just don’t enjoy the treadmill or the elliptical as much as walking in nature. Now that I’m back in the City, I plan to walk along the water and/or around Central Park at least once a week and speed walk to and from yoga, since I won’t have the adorable yet plodding pups with me.

In addition to bolstering my walking routine, I set the following health goals for myself:

Some of my goals are not obviously health related, but they all fit within various elements of Duke’s Wheel of Health (pictured above).

Through my integrative health coach training, I learned a number of life lessons:

  1. Health is not limited to physical fitness and dietary choices. Every decision has health implications.
  2. It is impossible to know what other people are thinking or what they need unless you give them the opportunity to fully express themselves.
  3. Exercise is wonderful when the mode is enjoyable not obligatory, and enjoyment is not static. At various points in my life I have enjoyed long distance running, group fitness strength training, hot yoga, gym cardio, and swimming. However, none of those activities currently appeal to me. Sweating profusely no longer feels detoxifying, and I’m definitely not into feeling the Bern (I mean burn).
  4. I need sunshine. During the winter, I feel lethargic, like a hibernating bear; all I want to do is sit on the couch and watch TV. While I was in Durham, the weather was gorgeous. I quickly broke out of my winter funk and embraced the increase in physical activity and social engagement. Hubble and I might need to replace our annual ski trip with a beach vacation.

I decided to share all of this with you for accountability purposes. What kind of health coach/blogger would I be if I didn’t practice what I preach? I’ll keep you posted about my progress. In the meantime, I would like to suggest that you set some reasonable health goals for yourself and create an action plan with small steps for each goal. Then track your progress as you accomplish each step toward your goal.

Throughout our training at Duke Integrative Medicine, my classmates and I practiced by coaching each other, which means we each got to be the client as well as the coach. As the client, I realized that the Duke method really works (see progress above). The method was developed in light of cutting edge behavioral neuroscience and seeks to help clients make lasting lifestyle changes. If you find it hard to stick to your goal implementation plans, reach out to me. I would love to put my coaching skills to work for you. 

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The Magic Number

Ladies and gentlemen, the magic number for optimal health is 0.8. I know, it seems random, but let me explain…

As I mentioned in Eating Ethos, hara hachi bu is a Confucian teaching that instructs people to eat until they are 80% full. Okinawa is a collection of islands in the southern portion of the Japanese archipelago. Okinawa’s high concentration of centenarians is often attributed to Okinawans’ practice of hara hachi bu, as is the exceptional health of Okinawa’s elderly. While the categories are slightly different, the recommendations delineated in the Okinawan food pyramid are substantially similar to those in my food pie chart. The only major difference is that most Okinawans are flexitarians or pescatarians and consume seafood daily and meat rarely, whereas I get all of my protein, omega-3s, and calcium from plant-based sources. Either way, per the first commandment of eating, it is important to eat slowly so that you can gauge your satiety and stop eating when you are 80% full.

**Fun Fact: The number eight is considered to be a lucky number in Japanese, Chinese, and other Asian cultures. Why not include as many eights in your life as possible?**

Another popular nutritional principle is the 80/20 rule. Followers of the rule embrace the fundamental truth that no one is perfect. Observers generally stick to a Paleo or whole foods, plant based diet 80% of the time and indulge in cheat meals the other 20% of the time. Assuming you eat 21 meals per week (i.e. 3 meals per day), 17 meals should consist primarily of nutritious, whole foods. The remaining 4 meals can contain not-so-nutritious foods, like Margherita Pizza with whole grain crust or a veggie burger with baked French fries plus frozen yogurt or apple crumble à la mode for dessert. Cheat meals should be fun, not toxic. As far as I’m concerned, restaurants like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Outback are peddling poison, and I wouldn’t patronize those places if they paid me to eat there. **Don’t forget to follow hara hachi bu during your cheat meals, as well as your nutritious meals.** Indulging in occasional fun foods is fine, but it’s never a good idea to overindulge from a quantity perspective. If you want dessert, make sure you leave room for it!

Through trial and error, I have found that moderate exercise is optimal, and high intensity/impact exercises are often overkill. Personal trainers and fitness instructors frequently say to give 100+% of your effort during your workout, but I would suggest that you give 80%. When I was younger, I had the team sport mentality that you should always try your best in sports and other physical activities. Unfortunately, over the years, I wasn’t getting the results I wanted despite giving my all while exercising. In college, I would watch my sorority sisters barely break a sweat at the gym; meanwhile, I was always drenched. I might have been more muscular, but I was definitely stockier too. My roommate always said I was trying too hard, but I didn’t believe her…until I did. I have a Type A personality and predominantly Pitta dosha. I can’t help but be a teacher’s pet, even in exercise classes. Needless to say, it’s pretty hard for me to NOT try my best. However, through experimentation, I realized that exerting 80% of my effort results in significant cardio, strength, and flexibility training without causing me to be stressed during my workout or exhausted and ravenous afterwards.

  • When I take a spin class, I don’t always turn up the resistance when instructed.
  • My 30-minute elliptical workout includes fifteen 10-second intervals (just 2.5 minutes total) of high intensity exercise. The rest of the workout (27.5 minutes) is done at a comfortable or moderate intensity.
  • When I do yoga, I no longer try to compete with the class Gumby.
  • During strength training, I use smaller weights (2 to 5 lbs) and try to do a moderate amount of reps and sets (15-20 reps per set, 1-3 sets per exercise). I want to be toned but not bulky. When I use 8+lb weights, I build guns and thunder thighs instead of sleek muscles.

During a meditation session, I try to achieve mindfulness 80% of the time, which is realistic. If you expect to be mindful for the entire session, you are setting yourself up for failure. By contrast, if, during a 20-minute session, you are able to be mindful for 16 minutes, cumulatively, you are doing great! When your mind starts to wander, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, acknowledge the detour and get back on track.

We all have lots of professional and social obligations. With regard to time management, try to limit your various obligations to 80% of your waking hours and dedicate the remaining 20% to self-maintenance and growth. Assuming you are getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night, you should be allocating 13 hours per day to work and play and 3 hours per day to yourself. When you are living a hectic life, 3 hours may seem like a lot, but it’s worth it. For every 60-90 minutes of work, take a 15 minute, anti-smoking break. Read a couple of articles or a few pages in a book, scroll through some adorable animal photos (shameless plug – follow my furry angels on Instagram @darwinandsavannah), make some tea, chat with a colleague, meditate, do some stretches in an empty conference room, or take a walk around the block. Your employer will thank you – various studies (e.g. this and this) indicate that breaks boost focus and productivity. The 3-hour target no longer seems insurmountable when you knock out 30 minutes in the morning, 90 minutes during work, and 60 minutes after work. For example, practice mindfulness during your morning routine, take breaks while at work, exercise (take a class, go to the gym, or take a walk), and practice mindfulness while preparing dinner. Voila! Mission accomplished.  

Embrace the eight!

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Five Tenets of Living Healthfully

I have learned over the years that thin and healthy are not synonyms - I was pretty skinny at my wedding, but I discovered that I had a hormone imbalance when I got back from my honeymoon. By contrast, health is inextricably linked to lifestyle choices.

Below are the five tenets of living healthfully:

  1. Minimize your exposure to toxins, including drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, chemicals, and processed foods. Don’t take recreational drugs. No, pot is not an exception, unless you are using it for a legitimate medical purpose, it was prescribed by a doctor, and you acquired it from a reputable source. Recreational use may be legal or decriminalized in some states, but smoking pot still kills brain cells. Don’t drink alcohol in excess. Excess means more than one drink per day for women or more than two drinks per day for men. Cigarettes are vile. They smell repulsive and kill you slowly. Don't smoke them, ever. Avoid exposure to chemicals in cleaning products and cosmetics by choosing non-toxic alternatives. Wear protective gear if you are exposed to environmental toxins at work. Banish highly processed foods, like cured meat products, fast food meals, and sugary cereals, from your diet. Minimize your consumption of moderately healthy processed foods like whole wheat pasta, store-bought almond milk, and dark chocolate truffles.
  2. Adopt a diverse, whole foods diet that consists predominantly, if not exclusively, of plant based foods. Limit moderately healthy processed foods to 25% or less of your diet. I don’t really consider cooked or dehydrated foods to be processed, although raw food proponents would disagree. However, heating and freezing foods does cause enzyme and micro-nutrient depletion. When I say “processed,” I mean foods that don’t look anything like their natural sources.
  3. Stay active and stick to physical activities that you enjoy. Experiment with various options until you find a few activities that, when incorporated into a regimen, offer you diverse benefits (cardio, strength, and flexibility). My daily routine includes lots of walking, but I also enjoy using the elliptical machine, doing yoga, and taking spin at SoulCycle.
  4. Focus on stress reduction. Meditation and/or mindfulness practices can help relieve stress. Moreover, avoid emotional vampires, spend more time in nature, identify foreseeable issues and thoughtfully develop game plans for dealing with them, and take time to acknowledge everything for which you are thankful.
  5. Stop beating yourself up. Through my health coach training and personal development reading, I learned that there are actually biochemical reactions that impact brain function and sometimes make it difficult for us to make healthy choices. If you are self-aware enough to know you are making unhealthy choices, you are already headed in the right direction. The next step is realizing that you can do anything you want, as long as you make it a priority. We are all capable of determination and resilience. The third step is setting a realistic goal. When setting goals, it is helpful to consider: 1) your current status and the repercussions of failing to accomplish your goal, and 2) your ideal status and the benefits of succeeding.  During the goal achievement process, cut yourself some slack if you fall off the wagon but do not let yourself off the hook entirely. Sometimes the only way to make progress is to take two steps forward for every step back. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. 
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In Case You Missed It (2/16/16)

Why Poor Children Can’t Be Picky Eaters Instead of defending these moms’ choices, Ms. Daniel should advise them that they are being incredibly shortsighted (the contributor only touched on this point toward the end of the article). Waste in the short term, will lead to healthy habits and healthcare savings in the long term. Also, why are foods being wasted to begin with? If a child doesn’t eat the rice, beans and greens prepared for dinner, the mothers should serve the rejected food for breakfast or lunch the next day. The child will eventually be hungry enough to eat the healthy food. Mothers, junk food is slowly poisoning your children! Highly processed foods are packed with calories but have the nutritional value of paper.  You are doing your children a grave disservice by giving in to their immature, uninformed food preferences. 

Disparity in Life Spans of the Rich and the Poor Is Growing This should not be surprising to anyone who read the previous article. Bernie Sanders can go on about universal healthcare all he wants, but he is missing the point. All the healthcare in the world will not save people from poor lifestyle choices. 

Fat Cats on a Diet: Will They Still Love You? "[A] new study in The Journal of Veterinary Behavior suggests that owners need not fear rejection if they restrict their cats’ calories. After an eight-week diet, the cats actually demonstrated more affection after they were fed, their owners reported." That's right, your cat (and your kid) will love you more in the long run if you take good care of them nutritionally. 

Yes, I’m Fat. It’s O.K. I Said It. and How We View Obesity We should not make overweight individuals feel bad about themselves because it only compounds the problem. However, putting shame aside, overweight people should not be complacent about their weight, which is likely to have significant negative health implications. Also, there is a huge difference between carrying a few extra pounds and being obese or morbidly obese. I urge individuals who are 30+ lbs overweight to find a workable weight loss and maintenance regimen. My advice would be to get active and eat whole foods. I guaranty you will see results with moderate, low-impact activity, like walking, combined with a mostly whole foods, plant based diet. I'll say it a million times if I have to - you cannot eat too many vegetables. You will get full before you eat enough to get fat. 

How to turn a fitness goal into a lifetime of good health (fluctuating weight included) "[E]nvision a journey to good health — complete with numerous peaks and valleys. That means being mentally and emotionally prepared and having behaviors in place to deal with the myriad changes and challenges that come even after the finish line. It’s not about goals or measurements but rather establishing the right mind-set to change your life for the better."

Organic Meat and Milk Higher in Healthful Fatty Acids “Organic meat and milk differ markedly from their conventionally produced counterparts in measures of certain nutrients” but scientists are not willing to say that “these differences are likely to translate to better health in people who eat organic meat and drink organic milk.” Remember the duck test?

Getting People to Exercise Requires the Right Incentive "'There’s a presumption that tracking your activity will help you change your behavior,' said the lead author, Dr. Mitesh S. Patel, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania. 'But it typically doesn’t work unless it’s combined with behavior change strategies. Our study shows that the design of the incentive is critical to its success.'” I told you that well-tech is hogwash

A parental primer for kids’ nutrition questions This is an amazing resource that explains basic nutritional concepts. Great read for people of all ages. 

Tired of treadmills? Don’t underestimate the elliptical. Check out my 10-20-30 Elliptical Training Sesh.

How to get your kids on the bean bandwagon Beans/legumes/pulses are affordable sources of fiber, protein, healthy fats, and micro-nutrients. Check out my Instagram (@healthyyuppie) for some great pulse-filled recipes. Also, review my tips for integrating legumes into your diet

Why it’s so hard to cut back on sugar (and what to do about it) Sugar is addictive. That's a fact. Like any addictive substance, sugar is hard to give up once you are hooked. I have had success in significantly decreasing my consumption of processed sugar by transitioning to naturally sweet foods (fruits, dried fruits, agave nectar, maple syrup, etc.), staying hydrated, and getting enough healthy fats. Sometimes people misinterpret thirst for hunger and fat cravings for sweet cravings.  

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10-20-30 Elliptical Training Sesh

Photo Credit: Fox News Magazine

Photo Credit: Fox News Magazine

In last week’s In Case You Missed It post, I mentioned a popular fitness concept called “10-20-30 training.” I decided to try this interval program over the weekend. I found it difficult to implement the program on the treadmill because the speed changes took too long on the machine. However, I had more success on the elliptical. Below is a 30-minute 10-20-30 elliptical training session for moderately fit individuals (feel free to adjust the stride/minute ranges to your fitness level):

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In Case You Missed It (1/28/16)

What a study about empathy in animals may be able to tell us about autism in humans – “Empathy research is a big topic in neuroscience these days, with a growing number of studies focused on how emotions figure into people's thoughts and actions. One of the main things we've learned is that various non-human species are also able to recognize the distress of others and respond in a comforting way.” That’s right, folks, animals have and perceive emotions and consequently react with empathy. Armed with this knowledge, please consider buying cruelty-free cosmetics, celebrating Meatless Mondays, eschewing authentic fur and leather garments, replacing dairy products with plant-based alternatives, and making other choices to minimize animal suffering. Once you experience the positive karmic impact of your humane choices, you might even be motivated to go vegan!

What you need to know about pulses, the United Nation’s healthy food of the year – Good thing you have me to keep you ahead of the curve with some Legume Love ;)

To Prevent Back Pain, Orthotics Are Out, Exercise Is In – Back when I was an avid long distance runner, wearing orthotics definitely reduced my back pain. However, if your back pain is due to extra weight and/or muscle weakness, then obviously exercising will help by promoting weight loss and strengthening your muscles.

The best superfood soups you can make in 30 minutes or less – Most of these sound delish! Just omit the sausage from the Tuscan Italian White Bean Soup with Zucchini Noodles – no need to ruin a healthy soup with unhealthy, processed mystery meat.

The Right Way to Stretch Before Exercise – “‘Runners and cyclists don’t have much risk for acute muscle strains.’ Stretching before these activities is therefore unlikely to protect against in­jury. (Stretching after workouts, or the occa­sional yoga class, is advisable for everyone, he adds. Such postexercise stretching was not a part of the review, though.) Runners and cyclists can adequately warm up…by jogging or pedaling lightly. But…people who play basketball, soccer, tennis and ultimate Frisbee — or other sports that involve leaping, sprinting and forceful, potentially muscle-ripping movements — should stretch in advance [but hold each stretch for less than 60 seconds].”

Employee Wellness Programs Use Carrots and, Increasingly, Sticks – Employees certainly shouldn’t be fined or denied health insurance coverage due to their current health status. However, maintaining a health-sustaining corporate culture that incorporates unthreatening wellness initiatives is valuable to both companies and their employees.

Rate of Birth Defect of Abdominal Wall Increasing, C.D.C. Says – “A serious birth defect is appearing in maternity wards with increasing frequency, and experts do not know why, federal researchers reported on Thursday. Infants with the defect, called gastroschisis, are born with intestines poking out of a hole in the abdominal wall. Other organs, like the stomach and liver, may also be found outside the body at birth.” So scary! The cause of the defect has not yet been identified, but certain lifestyle choices (i.e. alcohol consumption and smoking) have been identified as risk factors.

HPV Vaccination Rates Highest Among Hispanic Girls in Poorer Areas – I am not generally anti-immunization, but, when it comes to the HPV vaccine, I believe the risks outweigh the rewards. Dr. Mercola notes that Hispanic women are twice as likely as non-Hispanic white women to get cervical cancer, partially due to poor access to health care (i.e. regular gynecological check-ups that include Pap tests). Perhaps the perceived higher risk explains the higher vaccination rates.

Can Shame Be Useful? – “Modern American culture is down on shame — it is, we are told, a damaging, useless emotion that we should neither feel ourselves nor make others feel. This is particularly the case when it comes to drug and alcohol addiction. The nation’s drug czar, Michael Botticelli, has led a well-intentioned campaign to eradicate feelings of shame in addicted people by, in part, likening addiction to cancer, a disease outside of people’s control. But in fact, the experience of shame — the feeling that one has failed to live up to one’s own standards — can play a positive role in recovery from addiction, as well as from other kinds of destructive habits…A vast literature shows that addiction is an activity whose course can be altered by its foreseeable consequences, including tangible rewards for cutting down on use. In contrast, no amount of reinforcement or punishment can alter the course of an entirely autonomous biological condition, like cancer. You would never bribe a patient with breast cancer to keep her tumor from spreading, or threaten to impose a penalty on her if it did…The lesson is that shame can act as a spur to amend self-inflicted damage when people perceive that damage is fixable and manageable. In light of this finding, comparing addiction to a purely biological disorder, like cancer, might backfire, leading people to see their habits as unalterable….It is critical for the therapist to help the patient distinguish…inappropriate shame, which goes to the core of self-worth, from realistic self-appraisals that guide restorative actions.”

Oprah’s 26-pound weight loss just sent Weight Watchers stock skyrocketing – I really want to short Weight Watchers now. Doesn’t everyone know that Oprah is the quintessential yo yo dieter?  She’ll be fat again in 6 months, and Weight Watchers stock will come crashing down.

The Health Benefits of Knitting – Like coloring, knitting “can induce a relaxed state like that associated with meditation and yoga. Once you get beyond the initial learning curve, knitting and crocheting can lower heart rate and blood pressure and reduce harmful blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. But unlike meditation, craft activities result in tangible and often useful products that can enhance self-esteem. I keep photos of my singular accomplishments on my cellphone to boost my spirits when needed…[Moreover,] the rewards go well beyond replacing stress and anxiety with the satisfaction of creation.”

Certain Foods May Lower the Risk of Erectile Dysfunction – “A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, tea and wine may help reduce the risk for erectile dysfunction, a new study found. Previous studies have suggested that flavonoids, the antioxidants in these foods, produce anti-inflammatory effects that reduce the risk for heart disease and some cancers.” Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is basically a no-brainer at this point. If you’re not doing it, you’re bringing up the rear.  Gone are the days when meat-and-potatoes people garner respect.

Centenarians Proliferate, and Live Longer – “The number of Americans age 100 and older…is up by 44 percent since 2000, federal health officials reported Thursday.” Looking forward to joining their ranks in 7 more decades! 2100, here I come!

Ask Well: The 10-20-30 Workout for Swimmers (Sequel to: A Way to Get Fit and Also Have Fun) – I’m going to try this 10-20-30 workout next time I go for a swim or metric-free run.

How to Make Home Birth a Safer Option (follow up to As Home Births Grow in U.S., a New Study Examines the Risks) – “Unfortunately, the choice of birth location has become a charged debate in this country. In Britain, on the other hand, the medical system seems to have been adopting a more holistic view. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) released guidelines just over a year ago that recommended that health care providers explain to women at low risk of complications that home birth is a safe and acceptable option.” Call the midwife!

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In Case You Missed It (1/21/16)

Why fiber may trump everything else when it comes to gut health – My mom has been saying this for nearly a decade. Apple + Tree <3

10 food myths that are hurting your kids – “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children, depending on age and activity, should eat one to three cups of vegetables every day (and nine out of 10 American kids don’t get enough).”

Sugar is Satan's favorite substance  ;)

What’s New in the Dietary Guidelines – “The new guidelines can be confusing, containing what seems like conflicting messages and bowing, in some cases, to industry pressures, especially with regard to meats…According to the findings of countless large studies, much of what is produced on American farms ends up as foods that can undermine health. The most blatant example is red meat, especially processed meats that are high in potentially health-robbing saturated fat and salt. Although the agencies’ advisory committee initially sought a recommendation to cut back significantly on such foods, which are associated with an increased risk of cancer as well as heart disease, this advice was deleted from the final guidelines following vehement protests from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, an industry trade group, and its supporters in Congress….Yet the new guidelines come down hard on added sugar, much of which Americans consume via soda and other sugar-sweetened drinks. They suggest limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories, which will be easier to accomplish once the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed label change to list added sugars separately from naturally occurring sugars takes effect. It is not the natural sugar in dairy foods and fruits that undermine health so much as the sugars added to foods like ice cream and fruit drinks and the enormous array of dessert and snack foods that Americans consume. Economics clearly comes into play here. The sugar industry’s economywide annual impact is $19 billion, which may sound like a lot until you compare it with the meat and poultry industry – the largest segment of the country’s agricultural economy – which has a ripple effect that generates $64.2 billion a year. It is easy to see which has the strongest clout.”

New Guidelines Nudge Doctors to Give Patients Access to Medical Records – “The Obama administration is tearing down barriers that make it difficult for patients to get access to their own medical records, telling doctors and hospitals that in most cases they must provide copies of these records within 30 days of receiving a request. In theory, patients have long had a right to obtain copies of their records, but federal officials say they receive large numbers of complaints from consumers frustrated in trying to exercise that right.” Easy access to one’s own medical records is essential. It's not enough to know you're in the "normal range" for everything. Moreover, easy access promotes record sharing, which facilitates better integrative care from traditional and alternative healthcare providers because it enables everyone to be on the same page.

Food and the Single Girl – Healthy eating is an important element of self-care. For those who are not single, try to be a positive food influence on your partner.

‘Supplements and Safety’ Explores What’s in Your Supplements – Generally, when deciding whether to take supplements, ask your healthcare provider(s) for specific supplement and brand recommendations to ensure optimal benefits and quality. Specifically, algae-based DHA/EPA is a great alternative to fish oil.

When Athletes Go Gluten Free – “Gluten-free diets are increasingly popular in the fitness community. But a new, carefully designed study of the effects of gluten-free diets on athletic performance suggests that giving up gluten may not provide the benefits that many healthy athletes hope for…Of course, this study was small and short-term, with athletes following each diet for only a week. Whether avoiding gluten for a longer period of time would lead to verifiable improvements in performance or well-being remains unknown.”

What bike and run commuters need to know to keep it up through winter – “Using exercise to commute to work in chilly weather doesn’t need to be met with a cold shoulder. There are ways of making cycling and running to work safe and comfortable enough to become regular winter habits, leading to increased fitness and, best of all, the satisfaction of knowing you’re kind of a badass.”

Straddling Conventional and Alternative Cancer Treatment – I love that leaders in integrative medicine are finally getting mainstream attention.

Heartburn Drugs Tied to Kidney Problems – The moral of the story: Drugs have side effects.

‘Moonshot’ to Cure Cancer, to Be Led by Biden, Relies on Outmoded View of Disease – “Unlike in 1971, when President Nixon launched his cancer war, researchers now understand that cancer is not one disease but essentially hundreds. The very notion of a single cure — or as Mr. Obama put it, making ‘America the country that cures cancer once and for all’ — is misleading and outdated.” Why isn’t anyone talking about prevention?

Health Reform Realities – It must be a cold day in hell. The New York Time’s resident socialist has acknowledged that “Bernie Sanders is wrong…and Hillary Clinton is right.”

Anger and Scrutiny Grow Over Poisoned Water in Michigan City – The situation in Flint is a textbook example of the lack of regulatory oversight by the DOA and FDA. I wish politicians would stop arguing about guns for a second and notice that people are being poisoned by toxic food and water every day.

Protect Female Farmworkers – If you disregard the moral ills associated with your food, will your soul survive? Choose Fairtrade whenever possible.

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The Crazie Health Coach

I have some exciting news…I have been accepted to the Duke Integrative Medicine health coach program and will be heading down to Durham next week for my first on-site training module. Wellness has been a passion of mine since I was a teenager, and I am thrilled to have been given the opportunity to study at Duke Integrative Medicine.

You may be wondering:

Q: What makes you qualified to become a health coach?

A: In college, I was an AFAA certified group exercise instructor. Teaching fitness in a group setting is surprisingly difficult, especially if you’re a stickler for form. While teaching, I saw imminent injuries everywhere. Ultimately, I decided that group fitness instruction wasn’t the right path for me. I am, however, grateful for the form awareness that I gained through my AFAA training because it  has enabled me to avoid fitness related injuries.

In my early twenties, I was surrounded by, and ultimately adopted, disordered eating and excessive exercise habits. In my mid-twenties, I broke the binge-purge cycle by focusing on many of the areas delineated in the Wheel of Health. I stopped running and started walking and doing yoga. I reconditioned myself to crave healthy foods. I ditched the bad influences and reconnected with healthy friends. I stopped pursuing a career in law, which would have made me miserable, and I set my sights on real estate finance, where I could utilize the analytical skills I honed as an undergraduate math major. Last but certainly not least, I found my faith, which has evolved into a strange amalgam of Judaism and eastern religions. Ironically, I implemented the Duke Integrative Medicine approach on my own, well before The Mindful Diet was published. I'm sort of a retroactive success story. 

I believe that my experiences, when combined with formal training, will enable me to be an extremely effective health coach.

Q: Why did you choose the Duke Integrative Medicine program?

A: After researching the curriculum of various health coach training programs and reading reviews by graduates of those programs, I chose to apply to Duke Integrative Medicine because it was the most consistently well-regarded program on the east coast. For those of you on the west coast, Dr. Andrew Weil has developed a similarly regarded program at the University of Arizona’s Integrative Health Center. Through my research, I discovered that there is a general consensus in the wellness community that these two programs are the best in the country. There are a few for-profit institutes that offer health coach certification programs, but their exclusively online curricula did not seem to be sufficiently comprehensive. I understand why people are drawn to online programs because they are convenient and do not require travel or the use of vacation days, but the on-site and telephonic training required and supported by Duke and the University of Arizona better prepare students for in-person coaching sessions with actual clients. Moreover, the focus on lifestyle counseling and the emphasis on mindfulness set the Duke Integrative Medicine program apart.

Q: What is the difference between a health coach and a nutritionist/Registered Dietitian?

A: Upon completion of Duke Integrative Medicine’s program, I will be a “health coach.” Health coaches are wellness counselors, whereas nutritionists/Registered Dietitians are healthcare professionals. Working with a well-trained health coach is an excellent option for those seeking to make lasting changes by replacing unhealthy habits with healthy alternatives. By contrast, patients seeking to use diet to cure or diminish the negative symptoms of a particular illness should consult a Registered Dietitian or Naturopathic Doctor.

A health coach is qualified to teach you how to:

  • Make healthy homemade meals
  • Decipher restaurant menus
  • Implement a sustainable fitness routine
  • Manage unhealthy relationships
  • Meditate or use faith practices to bolster your wellness
  • Make lifestyle decisions that support your personal and professional development
  • Seek enriching environments and avoid sabotaging surroundings

I am so excited about my latest endeavor to share the health. Stay tuned for more posts about my training experience. 

I’m not going to lie – I’m also pretty excited to be joining my husband as a Blue Devil – Scarlet was never my color ;)

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In Case You Missed It (1/4/16)

Paul Rogers, New York Times

Paul Rogers, New York Times

Happy New Year! I have not posted in a couple of weeks because I think the holiday season is a really important time to focus on friends and family. First, my husband, the pups, and I spent a wonderful week with my in-laws. Then, the following week, we spent some QT with my side of the family. We rung in the new year with some awesome friends and can't wait to celebrate my 30th birthday with everybody. You read that right – I just turned thirty. My emotions are a mix of confidence, dread, and excitement about the decade that lies ahead. Here's to an enriching next chapter!

New Year's Resolutions & Trends:

Food & Diet:

Fitness:

Science & Technology:

Policy:

  • Many See I.R.S. Penalties as More Affordable Than Insurance – The ACA did some great things, most notably preventing insurers from discriminating against individuals with preexisting medical conditions. However, if the main goals were to enable all Americans to afford and encourage them to maintain health insurance, the legislation’s success is still unclear. The so-called “healthy holdouts” seem to be undermining the affordability aspect of the plan. As the penalties for not having insurance continue to increase, we’ll see if the holdouts cave and premiums subside. 
  • ‘What can we do better?’ Trying to make the nation’s food system safer in 2016. Try to eat mostly homemade meals made with local, organic, unprocessed, plant-based ingredients in order to decrease your chances of eating contaminated food. 
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In Case You Missed It (12/17/15)

Photo Credit: K. Wright, New Line Cinema

Photo Credit: K. Wright, New Line Cinema

Substantial contribution of extrinsic risk factors to cancer development - Environmental factors and lifestyle choices cause most cancer cases. Go vegan for your health and the environment (-> your health). 

Joke’s on us. American teeth are as bad as British teeth, study says. - 1) As I noted in Weekday Wonts, fluoride has a dark side. 2) Whole, plant-based foods are not only healthy for your insides, they are also optimal for your teeth and complexion. My skin has improved dramatically since I minimized the processed foods in my diet, and my dentist was very impressed with my plaque free teeth at my semi-annual visit. My secret? Vegetables!

10 ways to beat holiday stress with fitness and nutrition - Great healthy holiday tips!

A cheat sheet for talking to your kids about eating their vegetables - Excellent advice!

ClassPass is now giving money to fitness studios to expand – Class pass has been giving me the warm and fuzzies lately. They have the coolest office in our building. Not gonna lie, I feel a twinge of jealousy every time the elevator stops on their floor on the way up to my stereotypical banking cube.  Their workspace is full of bar-height meeting tables and comfy-looking work stations. Their fitness-friendly dress policy is also amazeballs! Moreover, I love companies that embrace the holiday spirit through pay it forward initiatives.

4 super-easy meditations for avoiding holiday freak-outs – Great suggestions for coping with holiday season stress!

Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture — and Your Mood – To counteract this issue, 1) try iPhone fasting or at least minimize your usage, and 2) hold your phone close to eye level to avoid hunching.

Maternal exposure to anti-depressant SSRIs linked to autism in children - Hey future moms, before you pop that Xanax, think about how depressed and anxiety-ridden you will be if you end up having an autistic kid.

FounderMade wants to make your brilliant wellness idea a business – This is an amazing opportunity for wellness entrepreneurs.

A vegan hazelnut “eggnog” recipe you have to try this holiday season – Delish!

After losing 200 pounds, app creator aims to turn monotonous exercise into fun – I’m not a big fan of all well-tech innovations, but this app actually sounds kind of fun!

New York Prisons Take an Unsavory Punishment Off the Table – The DOC is seriously replacing a veggie loaf with eggs, cheese, lunch meat, and coleslaw?! Factory farm lobbyists must be getting desperate – the general population is getting wise, so they are going to feed their poisonous products to prisoners. If that arrangement is not cruel and unusual, I don't know what is.

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Mood & Motion

keep calm - mood & motion.JPG

Indulging in mood-based motion might help you maintain your fitness regimen.

Some people have a predominant mood - social butterflies are gregarious, loners are solitary, overachievers are zealous, free spirits are mellow. Other people are moodier. I, for one, can flip from amiable to aloof and back again over the course of a few hours. While striving to incorporate exercise into my daily routine, I discovered that I feel more motivated to exercise when I choose a mode that suits my mood at that moment.

Below are some suggestions for linking your mood and motion:

Tip: I have found that full-service gym membership has better enabled me to cater to my moods than did individual studio membership. I like that, in addition to cardio and weight training equipment, my gym offers various group exercise classes and personal training as well as facility amenities, like a lap pool, sauna, and steam room. ClassPass and BFX Studio memberships are also great options for those seeking mood-based variety.

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In Case You Missed It (12/11/15)

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The Three Commandments

First Commandment: Eat nutritious food, when hungry, until comfortably full.

Whole foods are generally nutritious, whereas the vast majority of processed “foods” are nutrient-deficient empty calories. However, all “whole foods” are not created equal. Check out my food pie chart for more details.

True physiological hunger can be distinguished from thirst, boredom, loneliness, and exhaustion through dedicated mindful awareness. I encourage you to read The Mindful Diet, which discusses the various physical symptoms of each condition in detail. It is incredibly helpful to do a quick breathing exercise before deciding whether and what to eat. You will likely make better decisions if you do 20 five-count inhales and exhales before you put money into the vending machine at work, toss a box of cookies into your grocery cart, or order Fettuccine Alfredo at a restaurant. The breathing exercise will give you time to analyze what you really need (e.g. a nutritious snack, a hydrating beverage, a fulfilling occupation, a chat, a nap).

After eating, you want to feel satisfied, not uncomfortably stuffed. When you are full: you will no longer feel hungry; your stomach will protrude slightly; and you will feel more energetic than before you ate. When you are stuffed: you will feel sick or nauseous; your stomach will protrude significantly; you will feel lethargic; and you may experience reflux.

The best way to prevent overfullness is to slow down:

  • “Eat” – Pick up your utensil. Scoop up a small mouthful. Take a bite. Put your utensil down. Chew thoroughly.
  • Repeat “eat” approximately ten times.
  • "Break" – Take a five-minute food break. Drink some water, if thirsty.
  • "Analyze" – When the five minutes is over, analyze your satiety.
  • If you are still hungry, repeat the eat-break-analyze cycle until you are full but not stuffed.

Second Commandment: Indulge in minimally processed foods.

 Minimally processed foods ("MPFs") are convenient and contain redeeming nutritional elements. Organic sprouted grain pastas and breads (Food For Life makes some excellent products), dried fruits, nut butters, canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling), red wine, and unsweetened almond milk are a few of my favorite MPFs. While eating some MPFs on a daily basis is totally fine, make sure your diet consists primarily of whole foods supplemented by minimally processed foods, and not vice versa.

Third Commandment: Treat yourself, occasionally.

When I say “occasionally,” I mean once or twice a month. A “treat” is a processed food (e.g. chips, cookies, cocktails), which has little or no nutritional value but tastes pretty darn yummy. While occasional treats will not be detrimental to your overall health and well-being, there is nothing wrong with swearing them off altogether if you are able to do so. However, if, like me, you splurge every once in a while, it is better for your mental health to give yourself a pass instead of beating yourself up for “cheating.”

I have a sweet tooth. Thankfully, it has actually become easier for me follow my own advice since becoming vegan. Most deserts are vegetarian, but vegan deserts are more of a specialty item. Sometimes a friend will thoughtfully prepare or purchase a vegan desert especially for me. Other times, my family or friends will agree to dine with me at a purely vegan restaurant. In these instances, which occur relatively infrequently, I allow myself to indulge in a vegan, sugar-filled delight. Otherwise, desert is rightly synonymous with fruit. 

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Planning, Pragmatically

I discovered the power of the pen a few years ago when my dear friend, Sara, and I jotted down our lists of needs (non-negotiables) and wants (preferences), as they related to our future spouses. Our goal was to find our soul mates, and our criteria were intended to guide us in the right direction. We regularly compared our dating observations with our lists, and when a suitor did not meet all needs and a supermajority of wants, we moved on. Ultimately, we each met and married a man who fit the bill ;)

I’m telling you this story because there is evidence (here, there, everywhere) that putting your goals in writing is positively correlated with accomplishing those goals. Whether you are searching for “the one,” making a career decision, or embarking on a wellness journey, drafting a list of your intermediate and ultimate goals will help you immeasurably. By putting your goals on paper, you will be able to check off intermediate goals and feel a sense of accomplishment each step along the way to your ultimate goal. During the writing process, you might also think of additional goals and considerations, which will give you a better sense of the big picture. Moreover, if you think of additional intermediate goals after your initial drafting session, you can easily add them to your existing list.

So how does all this apply to health? Let me give you an illustrative example:

Ultimate Goal: Lose 10 pounds in a healthy, gradual manner and then maintain the lower weight in perpetuity.

Intermediate Goals:

  • Internalize your weight loss/maintenance as a priority that trumps social and comfort eating.
  • Develop a script for explaining your priorities to others and addressing unconstructive feedback.
  • Develop a game plan for handling unpredictable schedule changes.
  • Experiment with foods to determine those that help you on your weight loss/maintenance journey and those that do not. Avoid one size fits all nutrition plans. 
  • Experiment with exercise options and frequencies. Find exercises that optimize your enjoyment and physical benefits, and then figure out how many times per week is optimal for each exercise.
  • Develop a strategy for emotionally and physically overcoming plateaus during your weight loss journey.
  • Discover how meditation and/or faith practices can support your physical and mental health.
  • Contemplate how you will feel once you have lost 10 pounds and maintained your goal weight for a significant amount of time. What goal would you want to tackle next?

In addition to writing down your goals, it is also helpful to consider how and why you want to accomplish your ultimate goal. Ask yourself:

  • Are you more effective when you complete the task at hand before moving on to another, or are you an effective multitasker?
  • Do you prefer to work out with a trainer, take group fitness classes, or exercise on your own?
  • Do you have the time and the desire to shop and cook every day to optimize freshness and fulfill your yen for culinary variety? If not, consider weekly meal planning, so you can shop and cook in bulk and rely on nutritious leftovers instead of resorting to takeout.
  • Are you outspoken or reserved? If you are reserved, it is especially important to rehearse responses to questions and comments from the peanut gallery. Try to avoid mood killers and judgmental miserables. Unfortunately, sometimes interacting with a Negative Nancy is unavoidable, so you have to be prepared. One of my yoga instructors has an appropriate mantra: Don’t let anybody steal your peace!
  • What are your internal motivations? Do you want to live a long, healthy life and be able to keep up with your grandchildren? Do you want to eat sustainably and ethically? Do you want to feel happy and fulfilled?

By recording your goals, rationales, strategies, and motivations, you will be able to reference and draw strength from them throughout your quest. 

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In Case You Missed It (11/25/15)

Photo credit: Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Maria Stamy Photography

Photo credit: Animal Rescue League of Berks County, Maria Stamy Photography

Heartwarming:

Food:

Fitness:

Mental Health:

Science:

Policy:

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