Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: being thankful, giving thanks, gratitude, positive psychology
Many of us wonder how we can achieve greater happiness. Is it a matter of switching jobs, making more money, moving to another city? Losing 20 pounds? Or would getting a pet help? Any of these things could potentially make a difference, but there is a simpler way to attain greater contentment, and it can be done right now, in the next five minutes—taking a few moments to express gratitude.
In the field of positive psychology, research has shown that when we express gratitude or thanks for things that are good in our lives, our outlook on life shifts and we feel happier. Gratitude helps us feel more positive emotions, savor meaningful experiences, improve our well-being, and better handle life’s troubles.
It’s so easy to focus on everything that is wrong in our lives. And it’s too easy to forget all that is right in our lives. Taking a few minutes each day to write a few words about what we’re thankful for—“I’m thankful for my loving and supportive husband,” “I’m thankful that I can afford to buy healthy food for my family,” or “I’m thankful for that beautiful maple tree right outside my bedroom window,” for instance—can really put things in perspective and remind us that things are better than we sometimes think they are.
You can express gratitude on a regular basis either by writing in a journal, writing letters of thanks to others, or simply taking the time to think for a few minutes about what is good in your life. Whatever works—but I promise you it’s worth your time.
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: diet, sleep, stress, thyroid, weight loss
Many people seek out my help because they find that they can’t lose weight, no matter what they try. They may tell me they’ve tried Atkins and Paleo, gone gluten-free for a year, done Weight Watchers, undertaken a juice fast, worked out three times a week with a trainer for two years, or all of the above. And nothing happened. Not a single pound was shed.
Why? How is it possible that all of these approaches can fail?
The answer can be different for everyone. Here are just a few of the reasons why your scale might refuse to budge:
Lack of sleep. Numerous studies have shown that lack of sleep leads to weight gain. If you’re regularly getting less than seven hours of sleep, expect to feel hungrier than you otherwise would, and know that you will likely find yourself taking in more calories than if you’d had a good night’s sleep.
Too much stress. As I mentioned in my May newsletter, (you can read it here), stress makes us fat. Stress activates a biological response that makes us feel hungry. And stress leads to increased storage of belly fat. If you change your diet for the better but stress hormones are constantly being pumped into your system by your adrenal glands, those excess pounds are not going anywhere.
Thyroid problems. Your thyroid gland regulates your metabolism. And if it’s not working properly, not only will you not lose weight, but you may find yourself suddenly and inexplicably gaining a lot of weight, even though your diet has remained the same. Get your thyroid checked if you see sudden changes in your weight and also experience such symptoms as brain fog, changes in your hair or skin, or debilitating fatigue.
Food sensitivities. If you have a hidden food intolerance–which is quite likely if you are bloated, gassy, constipated, or have diarrhea on a regular basis–then you won’t lose those extra pounds so easily. The offending food or foods is causing a constant state of inflammation in your body, and inflammation produces insulin resistance, leading to higher insulin levels. As insulin is a fat storage hormone, you’ll hold onto more fat, especially around your mid-section.
Restaurant food. Home cooking is increasingly becoming a rare occurrence for so many of us. The problem with this is that restaurant food and other foods prepared outside the home tend to have way more calories, fat, salt, and sugar than we think they do. Take a look at the “Calorie Bomb” section on the left side of my newsletter each month—do you find these calorie counts shocking? I do. The reason I put them there is to underscore how caloric food can be in many of America’s most popular restaurants. Think about this the next time you grab your file of takeout menus.
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: hate my body, negative body image, negative self-talk, self-esteem, weight loss
Almost all of us have a distorted image of our body, often due to the importance our culture places on outward appearance and the onslaught of media images of airbrushed models and celebrities. On a daily basis, we talk to ourselves in ways we would never speak to another. Imagine speaking to a child the way you speak to yourself about your body. It would devastate and squelch a child. It affects you similarly, causing stress and emotional pain, which can make improving your health or losing weight even more difficult.
Think of all the effort and time you spend on improving, altering, and judging your appearance. Who would you be and what could you accomplish if your valuable resources weren’t used this way? Constant emphasis on the external makes us discount the great presence and intelligence that is housed by the body. It makes us forget to acknowledge the beautiful bodies we have.
The body you have right now is really an incredible organism. It never misses a heartbeat, it maintains homeostasis, and it miraculously digests whatever you put in it. It is your instrument for expressing your creativity, intelligence, and love. By focusing on the 1% you don’t like or wish were different, you may be ignoring the remaining 99% about your body that is beautiful and strong.
What would your life be like if you were simply at peace with the body you have? You may wish to make your body healthier, but could you do that out of love and respect for your body instead of the opposite? Could you begin to treat yourself with kindness, to limit the negative self-talk, and to reconnect with your inner wisdom? Take a minute to imagine what that would feel like. It would mean celebrating your body rather than punishing it. It would mean nourishing your body rather than depriving it. It would mean a chance to watch your body flourish when treated with care and respect.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, Mushrooms | Tags: Vitamin D
Whenever one of my clients tells me that they recently saw their doctor for a general checkup, they also tell me that their blood work indicated they were low in Vitamin D. I’ve just come to expect this.
Vitamin D occurs naturally in very few foods: wild salmon, herring, organ meats, egg yolks, mushrooms, and lard are about it. Milk has D added, as do some types of OJ and cereal. But it’s tough to get enough D just from food. The most effective way to get our Vitamin D is actually from the sun: It’s beneficial to expose your legs and arms for five to 10 minutes in mid-day summer sun, two or three times a week. And fortunately, our bodies can make enough vitamin D in the summer to last us all year, which comes in handy in sun-scarce winter when our bodies make virtually none.
There have been a plethora of reports stating that a lack of D can lead to such health problems as depression, high blood pressure, heart disease, and increased risk for some cancers and autoimmune diseases. The problem is that the medical community is not clear on exactly how much Vitamin D we need, or what constitutes “low” Vitamin D. For this reason, in the Annals of Internal Medicine the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommended against even getting our D routinely tested, unless you have bone-health problems or a condition that can affect fat absorption, such as celiac disease.
According to a report from Harvard Medical School, even if you test low for Vitamin D, there’s little evidence that taking a D supplement will do you any good. And too much D can actually cause calcium to accumulate in your blood, which can damage your heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.
Speaking with your own doctor about the D issue and how it affects your body would be a good course of action, as well as getting outside in this glorious summer sun. (And if you happen to like liver, go for it …)
Filed under: Beans, Dairy, Eggs, Meat, Mushrooms, Restaurants, Vegetables, weight loss | Tags: umami, Umami Burger
Growing up, you may remember learning about the four tastes that our tongues can detect: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But it’s now generally recognized that there is a fifth taste, a taste that’s prevalent in such foods as mushrooms, parmesan cheese, miso, tomatoes, and meat—“umami.” And this umami taste, a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has found, can actually have an effect on our appetite.
Umami was first recognized in 1908 by a Tokyo researcher, Dr. Kikunae Ikeda, who postulated that there exists in many foods a savory, meaty taste that does not really fit into the categorizations of sweet, sour, bitter, or salty. He found that ground zero of this flavor is a compound called glutamate, or glutamic acid, which occurs naturally in the umami-rich foods. His work went mainstream only in the 1980s, and is now lovingly paid homage to by chefs worldwide as well as by the wildly popular burger chain known as Umami Burger (the burgers contain such toppings as truffle cheese, shiitake mushrooms, and roasted tomatoes).
Interestingly, two University of Sussex researchers found that when given umami-rich soup, their study participants initially felt an increase in their appetite as they ate, but eventually experienced greater satiety after the meal compared to the control group. This increased satiety, of course, can lead to eating less later in the day. Helpful if you’re looking to lose weight!
Given that umami flavors are generally delicious, why not seek them out then? Other foods that are considered umami-rich are seaweed, green tea, eggs, shellfish, soybeans, asparagus, and carrots.
Filed under: Chronic Disease, Dairy, Eggs, Fruits, Grains, Healthy Lifestyle, Meat, nuts, Oils, Sweets, Vegetables | Tags: cholesterol, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fats, heart disease, inflammation
For years, dietary cholesterol was thought to raise our risk of cardiovascular disease. We were told to limit such high-cholesterol foods as red meat, butter, eggs, and shrimp because there was an assumption that the cholesterol in these foods would increase our blood serum cholesterol levels—and high LDL cholesterol is a risk factor for heart disease. But in a report released in February 2015, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) of the United States government stated, “Previously, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommended that cholesterol intake be limited to no more than 300 mg/day. The 2015 DGAC will not bring forward this recommendation because available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum (blood) cholesterol, consistent with the AHA/ACC (American Heart Association / American College of Cardiology) report. Cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”
Yes, this means what you think it means—you can eat omelets without worry! Shrimp cocktail? Yes, please! It turns out that only 15% of circulating cholesterol in the blood comes from what we eat, according to Dr. Steven Nissen, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, who was interviewed by CNN.com after the government’s report was published.
The newer theory about what leads to increased risk of heart disease, according to a report from Harvard Medical School, is chronic inflammation in the body. Inflammation is a necessary immune response to infection or trauma, and is a good thing when it occurs in connection to problems like sprained ankles or if we eat a contaminated food and become sick. But stress, lack of exercise, and eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis–foods that contain chemicals, additives, damaging fats, and refined sugar, for instance–can lead to chronic low-level inflammation in our bodies, which results in slowly damaged organs, poor functioning of our organ systems, rapid aging, and heart disease. Inflamed arteries cause cholesterol in the blood to “stick” and gunk up the works, and this can eventually lead to a heart attack.
The key culprits in the American diet that lead to inflammation? Sugar, refined carbohydrates like white bread and pasta, and low-quality fats that are too high in omega-6 fatty acids, like soybean, corn, and “vegetable” oil. Choose whole grains rather than white stuff; and get your fats from olive oil, seeds, nuts, fish, and avocados (which are all high in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids) rather than from the omega-6 oils that are used often for commercial deep frying and in processed foods.
You’ll be doing your heart a huge favor.
Filed under: Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: deep breathing, relaxation, stress, vagus nerve, weight loss
New Yorkers work hard. We love to be busy and talk about how busy we are, and then we grouse about how stressed out we feel. If advice is offered to some of us type As about how to scale back and find a little time for ourselves, we will explain why we simply can’t do that, that it’s not possible to change anything, and that we just have to continue on and somehow survive on five hours of sleep and takeout Pad Thai.
And then we wonder why we can’t drop the 20 pounds we’ve put on in the past two years.
The fact is, stress makes us fat. And actively releasing that stress and relaxing can help us lose weight, in a way that all the steamed broccoli and skinless chicken breast in the world can’t.
Stress activates a biological response that makes us feel hungry (which is why so many of us stress eat). Carbs and sugar are particularly appealing when we’re stressed. And stress leads to increased storage of belly fat.
One of the easiest and most effective ways to counteract these forces conspiring to make us fat is to practice deep breathing. If you take a deep breath, you stimulate your vagus nerve, a nerve connected to your fat cells, stem cells and all the organs and tissues in your body. Stimulating this nerve turns on the production of hormones that calm your nervous system, reduce the stress hormone cortisol, kick start your metabolism, and regulate your appetite, according to Dr. Mark Hyman, a leader in the field of functional medicine. The simple act of taking deep breaths essentially leads to an increased level of fat burning.
So make some time on a regular basis to meditate, do yoga, or simply sit and breathe, without distraction. Even five minutes a day can make a difference. And who doesn’t have time for that?