Food Is Not Your Enemy

Do We Even Need to Work Out?
March 12, 2019, 1:00 pm
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle | Tags: , ,

There is no question that moving our bodies is a good thing. For those of you who were hoping I was going to advocate a couch potato lifestyle—sorry! But what is worth taking a closer look at is how we go about moving, and if it is so critical that we all sweat at a gym on a regular basis.

The longest-lived peoples in the world, according to Dan Buettner, the author of the Blue Zones books, often do not “work out.” These healthy populations, who live in Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece; and Loma Linda, California; tend to get their exercise in other, gentler ways. They walk. They hike. They garden. They head down to the pier to buy fresh fish. They bring their dogs outside to run around.

The key is that they are not sitting for eight hours a day, five days a week, with their only movement being an hour at the gym here and there. Movement is part of their days, every day.

This does not mean that you should abandon your CrossFit or spin class or weight lifting regimen if you enjoy it and it makes you feel good. There are certainly plenty of cardiovascular and mental health benefits to more intense workouts, not to mention they can help you with your weight-loss or weight-maintenance efforts. The point here is that there are other ways to approach exercise—if you hate the gym, don’t feel that you have to go! Head outside. Walk or bike every day. Take the stairs. Get a dog. As long as you’re moving, you are doing your body good.


How to Get Rid of Abdominal Fat

You’ve probably heard about the pear-shaped body vs. the apple-shaped body. The pear shape, characterized by more fat in the hips/butt/thighs, is seen as less problematic than the apple shape, where more fat is carried around the mid-section. Why does it matter where the fat is concentrated, anyway?

The fat that accumulates in the abdominal area is known as visceral fat; it lies deep in the abdominal cavity, and pads the spaces between our organs. Fat cells—particularly abdominal fat cells—are biologically active, meaning that they essentially function as an organ that produces hormones and other substances that can affect the functioning of our bodies. And the substances released by these excess cells have been linked to increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, and gallbladder problems.

The good news is that you can tackle belly fat. Regular moderate-intensity physical activity, for 30-60 minutes a day, will do wonders—walking, biking, aerobics, swimming, dancing, or any other type of cardio will work. Strength training can play a role as well in helping to trim your middle, but sit-ups and crunches—while they can firm your abs—won’t get rid of the visceral fat.

Diet-wise, you’ll want to avoid the usual villains—white flour and sugar, trans fat, and excess saturated fat. And eat plenty of fiber-rich foods.

How to Lower Your Blood Pressure Naturally

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a condition that most people will develop at some point in their lives. It is dangerous as it increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, which are among the leading killers of Americans.

The good news is that elevated blood pressure—a reading of 140/90 or higher is considered high, according to the National Institutes of Health—is something we can reverse, often through diet and lifestyle changes. Here’s how:

-Control salt intake. Even if you generally eat a healthy diet, your sodium consumption may be higher than you realize—especially if you regularly eat food prepared outside the home. Ninety percent of the salt in our diets comes from prepared and processed foods and restaurant foods, according to Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University. What this means is that you shouldn’t stress about sprinkling salt on your homemade roast chicken at the dinner table. What you should stress about is, for instance, that burrito at Chipotle or that can of soup you’re slurping. My husband, a very healthy eater, found out recently his blood pressure was borderline high. We then looked up the amount of salt in the vegetarian burrito bowl he ordered twice a week for lunch from Chipotle, and it contained more than a day’s worth of sodium. On top of that, there were the tortilla chips he’d get on the side. Yes, Chipotle sources sustainable and clean ingredients, but that doesn’t mean the food isn’t loaded with salt. Other foods that are surprisingly salty are bread, cheese, and cold cuts.

-Eat a diet rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium. These nutrients help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, bananas, avocados, beans, and leafy greens. Calcium-rich foods include dairy and leafy greens. And magnesium-rich foods include nuts and seeds, cacao and dark chocolate, and, yes, leafy greens.

-Exercise. One of the most important things you can do to prevent or control high blood pressure. 30 minutes of moderate activity a day will do it.

-Watch alcohol consumption. Excess alcohol can raise blood pressure—this means not having more than one drink a day for women, or more than two drinks a day for men.

-Manage stress. Stress can raise our blood pressure, and cause many other health problems as well. Experiment with different ways to bring your stress levels down, either by deep breathing, meditating, going out for a walk, or talking to someone about what you’re feeling. You may find some inspiration here.

-Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Of course, if you eat a nutrient-rich diet of mostly home-cooked food, exercise regularly, limit booze, and keep control of stress, maintaining a healthy weight may simply come as a matter of course.

Four Steps to a Healthier Year
January 30, 2015, 12:20 pm
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

There’s no need to avoid all grains. You don’t have to shun beans. Juicing as a lifestyle? Not advisable. Paleo? Meh. Atkins? Why, so you have an excuse to eat a pack of bacon every day?

The diet industry in our country loves to push us to extremes. We’re told at every turn to cut out entire food groups, imbibe crazy quantities of this or that, and to then just sit back and watch the pounds melt off. They might indeed come off, but the chance of those pounds staying off are slim to none if you don’t make real, permanent, and sustainable changes. Ask yourself—can I comfortably eat this way for the next 20 years? If the answer is “no,” then you’ll likely need a different approach.

Begin by getting back to the basics of healthy eating and living. You can’t go wrong if you …

Eat whole foods. This means eating food that’s as close to its natural state as possible. Fresh fruits and vegetables. Raw meat that you prepare yourself (as opposed to pre-cooked breaded chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs). Nuts. Beans. Whole grains. Not Cheetos.

Cook. It’s so easy to eat out, order in, do drive-thru. But food prepared outside the home tends to be high calorie, and restaurants just serve us way too much food. Cooking at home means you know exactly what’s in your food, and we tend to serve ourselves much more reasonable portions than restaurants do.

Ask yourself if you’re hungry. Most of us, at least some of the time, eat when we’re not hungry. We eat because we’re bored, or stressed, or lonely, or because the food is there, right in front of us, tempting us. Always ask yourself if you’re hungry before eating. You’ll be surprised by how often the answer is no.

Exercise. Schedule it in. Treat it like taking a shower—you don’t try to talk yourself out of showering every day, do you? Likely not. You just do it. It’s not negotiable. To be healthy, you need to move. Walk, run, dance, play basketball, ice skate, do yoga, whatever. Just do something that you enjoy–on a regular basis.

There’s nothing faddish about this advice. Which is why I think it’s the best way to go.

Walk Your Way to Better Health
August 15, 2014, 9:46 am
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , , ,

The core classes at the gym are not scheduled at a convenient time for you. The local yoga studio doesn’t feel welcoming to anyone who isn’t already in perfect shape. The perky spinning instructors espousing affirmations make you want to roll your eyes. That’s why you don’t exercise.

You know these are all excuses, and that you shouldn’t let these things stop you from being physically active. But the fact is, they do stop you.

There is one type of exercise, however, that’s pretty tough to complain about. It can be done at any time of day or night, and it can be done anywhere. It’s free. It’s easy. And anyone can do it, even someone who is 100 pounds overweight: WALKING.

Walking may seem like nothing—is there really any benefit to an activity so, well, simple? The answer is yes. There is plenty of scientific evidence that regular brisk walking is associated with better health, including lower blood pressure, better mood, and improved cholesterol ratios. And it does burn a significant number of calories—314 per hour if you weigh 160 pounds, for instance, and up to 469 calories per hour if you weigh 240 pounds, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Going for a stroll on a regular basis will also help reduce your risk of stroke and type 2 diabetes, increase breast cancer survival rates, and reduce fibromyalgia pain.

You really have no excuse not to do this—so put on your sneakers and get out there!

How to Make Your Health & Weight Resolutions a Reality
January 13, 2014, 11:59 am
Filed under: Exercise, Healthy Lifestyle, weight loss | Tags: , ,

Each January you may find yourself making resolutions to lose weight, eat better, exercise more, or generally get your life in greater balance. You really want these things, and get excited as you visualize a thinner or healthier you.

But all too often, a few months pass, nothing changes, and we get down on ourselves. Why does this happen again and again?

First off, know that you’re not alone. Making big changes like these can feel very tough, and many people struggle. But you can do it—it all comes down to having a plan.

Saying to yourself, “I’m going to eat healthier” or “I’m going to eat less” tends to not help you reach your goals—these statements are too vague and leave you adrift at each meal. What is healthier, after all? Does that mean you should skip the butter? Not eat pasta? Have spinach salad all the time? And is it okay to enjoy a big indulgent dinner once in a while? Not knowing the answers to these questions can leave you feeling confused, frustrated, and unable to do anything differently than you’ve been doing for years. The uncertainty leads to inaction. You’re left wishing, but not doing.

Here are a few tips to get you on the path to reaching your goals:

Take small actions every day. What will you do today to help yourself reach your goal? Perhaps you will go for a brisk walk. Or have a large serving of veggies with your lunch instead of fries. Or forgo buying chips and cookies at the supermarket. These are things we all know can improve our health and weight, so do at least one of them every day. Remember that your daily choices need to be different than they used to be or your body won’t change.

Make a schedule. We’re all busy. But if you take the time to sit down and schedule in when you’ll shop, cook, and exercise each week, you’ll see that it is possible to do these things. Waiting to “find time” in between your other obligations will likely lead to inaction.

Rethink a comfortable yet unhealthy habit. Do you take it for granted that every night after dinner, you will sit down in front of the TV with a bowl of ice cream? Maybe you’ve stopped asking yourself if you even want this ice cream on any given night—you simply go on autopilot and grab it no matter what. Start to notice these habits, question them, and decide if you’d like to do something else instead.

Seek out support. Perhaps a friend or family member is willing to take this journey with you and can provide you with moral support, or maybe you feel you need help from a professional. Either way, know that help is out there, and that this can make a big difference in whether or not you’re successful. If you would like personal guidance from me, you can always schedule a free one-hour consultation with me to get the process rolling. You can sign up here.

Here’s to a happy, healthy 2014!

The “Math” Behind Weight Loss

If you’re looking to lose weight, you may be familiar with the magic number 3,500. That’s how many calories are stored in one pound of body fat. The logic dictates that for every 3,500 calories you burn through exercise or cut through dietary changes, you should lose one pound.

It can be a slow process–especially if you decide to hire a trainer and ramp up your exercise but don’t change your eating habits, or if you cut your daily calorie intake but don’t exercise. A combination of the two will speed up your weight loss–this is not news, of course–but patience is still required. If you eat 250 fewer calories per day (that’s equal to 1/2 cup of ice cream or two sodas, for instance) and walk for 30 minutes a day, it would take about a week to lose one pound. That may not sound like much, but think about it–at that rate, in six months you’d lose 26 pounds, and in one year you’d lose 52. All without putting yourself on any kind of radical diet or punishing exercise program.

It’s important to remember, however, that there are many complicating factors when it comes to weight loss. For some people, working with the 3,500 principle may be all that’s needed. But for many others, it’s not quite so simple.

If you’re stressed out, for example, you will have trouble losing weight. Our bodies release cortisol and other stress hormones when we’re under duress, and those hormones cause us to hold on to weight. If you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re also more likely to have trouble losing weight. 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 shed those excess pounds so easily. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, it can seem like nothing you do works to get the weight off. And if you’re eating the wrong types of foods, your appetite and cravings may be so out of control that it might feel impossible to not have ice cream, chips, or several spoonfuls of peanut butter every day.

So while it can be helpful to keep the number 3,500 in mind when looking to lose weight, remember that the numbers aren’t everything. Taking a close look at your broader habits, health issues, and lifestyle can be key.