Thanksgiving: Feeling Thankful When Life Isn’t Perfect

321602_278316702194454_4244576_nIt was probably mid-July when I started to write a post about dust and sunlight. It was going to be about what you do when the sun shines through the windows in the late afternoon and illuminates the room so that dust that is normally invisible can suddenly be seen. I was going to make an analogy with our lives, and how sometimes we have moments where something strikes us about ourselves and we become truly clear about what we need to do……yet  we still don’t do anything….we leave the dust there, even though we know we should probably clean it up.

But that post never got finished because life turned kind of upside-down. Well, my laptop also was on the blink so I could blame that too. The reality was we had worked for almost a year getting our house ready to put on the market. We got rid of lots of random stuff we never used, we cleaned the attic and garage, we painted and fixed things and finally, we said “now or never”. All that work paid off. The house sold in a day. The closing came fast and before I knew it I was following my husband in a rental truck, me in our car down 84 west…..we were moving to Florida.

I was kind of pushed into an early retirement, having to leave both part time jobs that gave me so much joy (working at Connecticut Children’s Hospital and the Gengras Center School for children with special needs). I was leaving behind almost all of my family and most of my closest friends. My beautiful garden was left to someone else. I stuffed as many sentimental flower pots and lawn ornaments I could into that truck but moving to a condo meant I couldn’t take it all. It was hard to drive away from a life that took decades to build. And yet, I was so excited to be retired and not have to drive through any more snow storms during rush hour. I was thrilled to be in a new place where I could have sunshine and walk barefoot and swim most days of the year. Was I doing the right thing? I was so happy yet so sad.

I was a mess.

But I survived this big upheaval in my life. I am sure some of my friends reading this are thinking I am crazy to have even one ounce of regret. I mean, not having to work and living in the sunshine state? What on earth is there to complain about? I actually did (and still do) feel a gigantic sense of relief that I won’t have to deal with having to drive somewhere everyday, or deal with snow, especially driving in it, which I don’t enjoy. And as far as missing family and friends, well already I have visited for a few weeks and had more quality time with my daughters than I typically do (two sleepovers filled with lots of laughs). I dragged my mom down to Florida for a few weeks and trust me, she was ready to go back home. But the point is, I am realizing I can make time, precious meaningful time with my family and friends. It just may be more expensive, flying verses driving a few miles.

But what about joy? That’s what I got from work. That’s what I felt every day interacting not only with the cutest kids in the world, but the most inspirational co-workers, at both jobs. I have missed that joy and even though I have been so thankful for my easier but different life, I have not figured out this part yet. Yes, my visits with my daughters and family and friends back home gave me that joyful feeling, but I need it more regularly.

I have had a few moments down here though. I have met some amazing women who happen to be older than me. One in particular who happens to be 96 years old and sharp as a tack, as they say. She is absolutely beautiful, radiating a sense of happiness and joy. Whenever I have popped in to visit her she is always sitting near a window, soaking in sunshine or watching people walk by with her little bowl of Werther’s Original toffee candy nearby. She says she needs brightness and sunshine, lots of light makes her happy. She is funny and makes others laugh. When you ask what her secret is to looking so young (her face is smooth, not like you would expect for a woman in her 90’s who lives in Florida), she mentions her glass of scotch every night before bed. I doubt that is it, I am guessing it is her contagious joyful attitude. I was a bit worried when I heard she was in the hospital last week (due to COPD). Someone thought she wouldn’t be back. But then yesterday, while on a short golf cart ride around our block, guess who zoomed by? There was Bunny, sitting on the passenger side of the golf cart, her equally joyful and funny caretaker driving. I was thrilled to see her waving as she whizzed by.

I have also felt joy just listening to the ladies in my daily water aerobics class. That is the one reliable routine I have fallen into. Every morning at 9 am anywhere from 4 to 12 women, most in their late 70’s or 80’s join together to exercise. At first I thought I might be bored, not sure how much I would have in common with these women. But over time I learned their stories. Stories of pain and loss, and survival. So many have had some type of cancer, breasts removed, sections of lungs taken out, hip, shoulder and knee surgeries. loss of spouses and even children. And yet, they laugh and giggle constantly. They make jokes about their aches and pains and help each other modify the exercises to make it doable for everyone. They help each other, they are there for each other.

One remarkable lady lost her husband years ago, and then last year lost her older daughter in a car accident. She has an older son with special needs who often stays with her. She has health issues herself, yet, she shows up wearing her “bling”, making us all laugh and giggle. I love visiting her, her door is always open, no need to call, just pop in. Although the rule for our building is that you can only have 3 pots of flowers outside, Adele has ten times that! She is a gardener and loves her flowers. She says she just tells everyone she is “babysitting”. Anyway, this one particular day we were sitting on the couch and out of the closed guestroom came her son who I had never met. He struggled a bit with his walker, eventually making it out to the lanai. He introduced himself and even he made me laugh, telling me my feet were pretty (they are NOT, trust me). When I left her house that day and walked in my flip flops along the sunny brick walkway, I had that feeling, that feeling of happiness and joy. It hit me that I need to interact with people like Adele and her son and Bunny on a more regular basis. I need to be inspired by people who have gone through things most of us would struggle with. People who keep their sense of humor no matter what.

The one thing I sense these joyful people have is a feeling of thankfulness. They have gratitude for all that they do have despite their challenges. They are thankful for their sunny days and friendships. They are fulfilled by helping each other. Yes, they have gone through a lot, but they are survivors and they keep going, focusing on the funny side of life (which is always there, you just have to find it). I often hear someone say “we are so blessed!” These words out of the mouth of someone who survived lung cancer, needs monthly shots in her eye for vision issues, went through months of weekly infusions due to a rare infection that took months to cure. No complaints, no bitterness, just “we are so blessed”.

On this Thanksgiving day I know there are many going through really hard things. Many people I know have health issues, some have relationship struggles, others trying to make ends meet while raising a family. No matter what you are going through, what your struggles are, I hope you can learn from my new water aerobic friends the value of gratitude and looking at the good, not the bad in your life. As I write this, I realize how blessed I am. Now, time to make that pumpkin pie!!!!

Happy Thanksgiving! Enjoy every moment and all that you have.

PS. Thankful for my new laptop! More posts to come, next one probably to do with dealing with “the day after” Thanksgiving  : D

Checking Out: Sometimes, you just gotta do it

IMG_9335I cannot believe so much time has passed. Here it is, St. Patty’s Day 2019 and I have not written anything since last Fall? I used to be so disciplined, waking up early every Saturday morning to write. There was always something that felt pressing to talk about, or some important message (in my mind) to share with whoever might be interested. Sometimes, I just needed to vent over some ridiculous diet thing I came across, to be sure to set it straight. Over the past several weeks (months), however, I feel like I have “checked out”. Trust me, there have been moments where I have said to myself “OMG, you need to write something about that, that is ridiculous!”. But then, the holidays came, I needed to visit my mom, the couch looked more inviting than the computer, “This Is Us” sucked me in. Football. Politics. You name it, I had an excuse.

What motivates me now to write again? It struck me that what I am going through is probably very common. The feelings that surface when you don’t do what you think you should be doing are different depending on who you are, but I am guessing there are lots of people like me who feel a bit guilty, inadequate, not living up to expectations. The funny thing is that at this point in my life I thought I had gotten over all that. “It’s good enough” has been my mantra for years now. And yet, I have been judgmental of myself, feeling “intellectually lazy”. By that I mean, I just don’t feel like thinking sometimes. This is different than just feeling “lazy” physically, which happens to all of us (listen to your body, I always say).

Anyway, with the New Year come and gone, I thought, “should I make a resolution to start writing again?” Nah. Anyone who knows me knows I don’t believe in setting unrealistic expectations for yourself (just another reason to feel inadequate!). Instead, I have kind of accepted that my life may be shifting as I get older, closer to retirement age (although as of now, I just can’t imagine not working at the jobs I love, with people I cherish). Maybe it is coming to the realization that as time goes by, career is so much less important to me than other things in life. I feel like things are changing fast. I see my mom getting older, slowing down. And although I haven’t lost energy physically (thank God) when mom and I go for long rides in the countryside, neither one of us can remember where we are going or how we got there….FYI if you have to get lost in Connecticut, Litchfield and Cornwall are beautiful, New Haven not so much.

Yes, I have to admit I enjoy getting lost in the countryside and listening to my mom’s stories much more than thinking about dietitian kind of things. There are times when I quite honestly am really tired of being a “nutritionist”. I get tired of the reality that so many people think about eating and food in ways that to me are just not fun. Sometimes it makes me sad that a person can’t just “dig in” and enjoy food because their thoughts are busy judging, fretting, worrying, feeling guilty, planning, ugh. Sometimes I wish I did not notice these things, but because of my career and because of the clients I worked with for so many years, I can’t help it. I have spent decades trying to undo whatever damage I can, every chance I can. Even though I don’t work specifically with eating disorders any longer, I still try to give anyone a reality check who asks me for one. “Is the keto diet good?” NO. “Aren’t carbs fattening? ” NO. “Should I count calories?” NO.  And on and on and on. I have been trying in my daily life to help anyone who asks me a nutrition question to avoid the lure of crazy diets that promise to make you into something that supposedly is better than who you are right now. I have spent lots of energy over the years trying to teach people, anyone who asks, about a more holistic approach to feeling happy and good in your body. This involves intuitive eating (which is much harder for some than others, much more difficult than it sounds for those who have dieted or who have body image issues or disordered eating). It also involves good sleep, joyful movement, good hydration, healthy relationships and mental health in general.

So I guess the reason I needed a “time out” or to “check out” for awhile is just because I got tired. And just because I am writing now does not change anything. I still am tired of thinking about nutrition, but I am not tired of trying to help others enjoy their lives. I may have just shifted, I have noticed, into enjoying the cooking and cuisine aspect of it all more than the nutrition aspect. It is just so awesome to watch as someone (tentatively) tries a spinach ball or mango salsa for the first time, and ends of loving it. It is even more rewarding to see an autistic kiddo who used to only eat candy now accept pears and strawberries and blueberries. It even makes me happy when my corn-dog lovin husband tells me my quinoa sliders are delicious : D

My priorities have definitely shifted, and I honestly don’t know when I may feel like writing again, and who knows what I may feel like writing about….but spring is around the corner, so I am guessing it may have to do with flowers…..

In the meantime, please check out this article about how people judge what we eat, it says it all     .Don’t Judge

Happy St. Patty’s Day!! Hope you eat or drink something green today, and I don’t mean kale!

 

Ending the battle on obesity: can we talk about building health instead?

soupHave you ever gone to your doctor and had advice thrown at you without them even asking about the reality of your life? It is unfortunate that most jobs in the healthcare industry now revolve around “productivity”and making a profit. A friend of mine who consults in pediatrician’s offices around the state tells me the poor doctors scramble and stress about their time and seeing patients because their productivity is tracked by the companies that manage them. It is for this reason I believe some doctor visits seem rushed. It is probably why in some cases there is just not time for a doctor or nurse to get the information they need from you to counsel you appropriately. So many people I have worked with have told me they have felt insulted when told to “stop going to McDonald’s!” or “just exercise more” or “cut down on your portions” when the reality is they cooked only healthy foods, they ate tiny portions and they already were exercising. Or, even scarier, the eating disorder patient being told to “keep doing what your doing, your weight is good!” without even asking about the dangerous way the patient lost weight. So, it is not always lack of time, but, sadly, the tendency for people to make judgments about behaviors based on someone’s appearance or size.

A friend shared this great article with me recently that describes what is going on perfectly. In a nutshell, it tells personal stories of individuals and what they go through. It describes our “war” on obesity, and the repercussions of that war. Finally, it suggests changing our focus instead to one of promoting health.

Please take the time to read the entire article, it is worth it. huffington post article

The truth is, looking at our life as a whole instead of just the fat on our thighs (or butt or tummy) just may lead us in the right direction. Taking a look at sleep, stress, nutrition, physical activity, smoking habits, etc. and tackling a little bit at a time brings us closer to feeling good (and yes, probably looking our best, too). It is not glamorous or exciting or as dramatic as fast weight loss and the lure of dieting can be, but the difference is, it may be doable.

The Dieting Game: Can You Really Ever Win?

hungry man and burgerI have two questions for you. Question #1: Do you know anyone who followed a diet and lost weight? I bet you do, because ALL diets work. Yes, I said that. And NO, I don’t believe in dieting, but they DO work…..initially. If you ever tried one, then you know. That is why I often hear “I am going back on the Atkin’s Diet (insert Weight Watcher’s, Zone Diet, Hollywood Diet, etc) because I lost a lot of weight on it last year, it works”. Yes, all these diets “work” because they provide less calories (energy) than you were eating before (if you follow the restrictive guidelines spelled out in whatever plan). Voila! You lose weight.

Question #2: How many of those individuals that you know who were “successful” in losing weight continue to maintain their weight loss a year or two later? I am guessing there aren’t too many. Research predicts this, past experience proves this, yet, millions of people continue to support the diet industry (or continue to repeat the same diets over and over). Even worse than gaining back weight is falling into a destructive eating disorder, another fall-out of starting on a restrictive diet. If you are reading this and thinking “hey, I actually lost weight and have kept it off!” then you, my dear, are the exception. Hopefully, you are one of the lucky ones who made some positive changes in your lifestyle as a consequence of starting your diet; and hopefully, none of that disordered thinking that goes along with most diets did not stick.

I have known people who started exercising at the same time as dieting and learned they actually loved moving. They end up becoming yoga fans, or loving the gym or zumba, and enjoying every minute. Even when they give up the diet, they have successfully incorporated something healthy into their lives that is helping them have a healthier lifestyle (and body). Sometimes, people who are forced to learn to cook healthier because their diet calls for different foods realize they actually enjoy some of the healthier meals. They may learn how to shop smarter and eat out less and end up eating healthier in the end, even though they give up their weight loss diet. Again, these people are the lucky ones who have taken something positive from their restrictive diet and are able to move on and incorporate a healthy habit or two. But this is the exception rather than the rule.

Unfortunately, for most people, this is not the outcome of following a strict weight loss diet. Instead of loving the new exercise regime they started, they give it up immediately because the only reason they started it in the first place was to lose weight. And since they are off the diet, they of course are off the exercise. To them, exercise still feels like punishment, so why would they continue?

As far as learning and incorporating some healthier cooking and eating habits, most dieters end up missing the foods they have been restricting so much that they tend to overeat them once they give up their diet. They avoid salads like the plague. They go right back to the easier life of picking up fast food or eating whatever is quickest. They go back to that “all-or-nothing” thinking (and eating) because in the back of their minds, they know another diet will come (so why not enjoy it all now, right?).

If you are a dieter, but not one of the lucky ones who has evolved into a healthier lifestyle, and just can’t imagine life without another diet in your future, what other options do you have? How about a reality check?

The reality is that YOU are not like anyone else. Over the years I have learned that our bodies (and weight) are affected by so many complex factors that only focusing on eating/food/exercise is like taking a toothpick to chip away at an iceberg. You really need to get to the bottom of it. We all have our own “big picture” of what affects what we eat, how we live and what we are, and these factors can be supportive of health or non-supportive. What kinds of things am I referring to? I group these contributing factors into three categories:

  1. physiological
  2. behavioral
  3. psychological

If you do not address each of these areas then evolving into a healthy happy lifestyle is next to impossible. Although some diet programs attempt to address things like behaviors, positive thinking/emotional eating and metabolism, they typically only scratch the surface, and they tend to be “blanket” approaches. We are all different and what works for one may not work for another.

So where to begin? Instead of judging yourself (I notice people often beat themselves up emotionally when they fall off the dieting wagon) I recommend a “detective” approach. It means more of a problem-solving, discovery model of moving toward change rather than a judgmental approach. In other words, you just want to gradually figure out, step by step, by trial and error, how to move into a lifestyle that is better for your body (and mind and soul for that matter). For example, let’s start with #1: Physiological.

What kinds of things contribute physiologically to your body and weight? Here are a few:

  • Conditions such as low thyroid (hypothyroid),  PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome-a condition many women have and don’t know with symptoms such as irregular periods) and genetics all contribute.
  • Lack of sleep affects hormones that cause weight gain and food cravings.
  • Inadequate protein intake or imbalances in macro-nutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) may contribute to food cravings.
  • Not moving enough, loss of muscle mass, sedentary lifestyle in general compromises our body’s ability to self-regulate (in other words, active people are more in tune with their hunger and fullness, making it easier to avoid over-or under-eating)

As far as #2: Behavioral, some things that contribute to our not-so-healthy behaviors include

  • repetitive behaviors that have evolved into automatic habits (such as sitting on the couch the minute you walk in the door from work, or stopping in for a donut just because it is on the way to work, or eating in the car, or skipping meals, etc).
  • Non-supportive food environment: purchasing lots of unhealthy foods because it was on sale (hard to resist those buy-one-get-two chips!); leaving food on the counter where it becomes a trigger every time you walk by; not planning ahead for dinners so you have to resort to eating out; going to the grocery store hungry so you end up buying stuff you didn’t plan to buy
  • Clean-plate Club: you were made to finish your food even if you were stuffed because someone is starving somewhere
  • Eating food because it is free (such as when your work provides free pizza or donuts or whatever and you just had your lunch, you are not hungry, but you eat it anyway…because it’s free)
  • You eat food because you think you should, because it is good for you, even though you don’t want it or aren’t hungry anymore (note: some people with a history of disordered eating often do have to make themselves eat according to a meal plan, even when they may not feel hunger. This is critical for them as they may not be connected to their body signals).

And, finally, #3: Psychological

  • You grew up with lots of attention paid to body image, weight, dieting
  • You have used food throughout your life to provide pleasure (after all, you got a cookie when you were good growing up, now you can reward yourself whenever you want to)
  • You have used food and eating to stuff emotions (you are not good at expressing yourself or you grew up repressing how you really felt because it just wasn’t acceptable or permitted); you never received counseling or got help for this or you may not even be aware of it
  • You have dieted so much in your life that you are fearful of being without food
  • You had a parent (or spouse or friend or sibling) who restricted your food or commented on your eating or your body/weight and so you are rebelling
  • You have extremely negative “self-talk”, in other words, you beat yourself up in your mind way too much

These lists are just examples and do not come close to all of the factors that can have an affect on our eating and health. They are probably just the tip of that iceberg, and I am guessing you can think of many more examples in your own personal life. The bottom line message is to accept how complicated and intertwined all of these things become over time, and how difficult and complex it can be to figure it all out. It takes time. It takes more than a diet. So please don’t feel bad if you are one of those people who didn’t last on one. Instead, maybe you did learn something about healthy cooking or grocery shopping, or maybe you discovered you really do like grilled fish or roasted veggies. Don’t give those good things up just because you are not on that specific diet anymore.

Maybe you can use your experience with dieting and only keep what you want.

But then consider putting on that detective hat. Can you ignore what everyone else is doing, and instead start to look at your lifestyle, habits and emotions that are unique to you? Just start somewhere. Maybe you don’t get enough sleep. I promise you if you start getting to bed earlier (before 11 pm) and getting those 8 hours of sleep you will feel better immediately (and likely have less food cravings). Or, if you are tired all the time, or have irregular periods, maybe it is time to get checked out by your physician. You can’t be active or motivated if you are exhausted. You may decide to make a small change such as meal planning instead of eating on the fly. It is up to you, after all, you know your life best.

Can you win at the dieting game? Yes, you can. If you just take what you learn from them….and leave the rest.

 

 

Untethered Eating: Exciting….or Terrifying?

Image may contain: people sitting and foodI love the word “untethered”….not sure why, probably because it makes me think of a dog escaping his leash and running free to smell the grass, jump around and finally, being able to be the creature he was supposed to be. Maybe that is why when I arrived at the airport way too early last month on my way to Florida, I ended up impulsively buying a paperback in the airport bookstore. I actually almost always end up buying a book at that bookstore because we are ALWAYS early. Anyway, I ended up purchasing The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer because I liked what it said on the back, it was not too long and like I said, I like the word “untethered”.

As I was reading the book, it struck me there were lots of parallels that could be made with the way we eat. I tend to be slanted in the way I look at eating because of my experience with working with individuals with eating disorders and with parents of children who have the dreaded unacceptable BMI. I often react to things very differently than others. When really smart and educated, even insightful and spiritual people fail to react to something that totally infuriates me, I know I am prejudiced against some of our culturally expected natural instincts. Anyway, I know this is why this book struck me so hard in the way it relates to eating, and especially dieting minds.

To see what the book is about check out this description on the Untethered Soul’s website. The bottom line, to me, was learning how to live in the moment verses constantly reliving and regretting the past, and/or spending way too much time planning, worrying about or dreading the future (hhmmmm… do you know anybody who does that with food?). It was about that voice that is continually and always in our heads, barking orders, belittling, shaming and stressing us out. And although it is somewhat different (the book refers to inner consciousness) I have talked about “self-talk” before. It is a common term in healing from disordered eating. We sometimes refer to this nasty voice as “ED” (eating disorder), the one telling us we are fat, we are stupid because we ate something, a cookie will make us gain weight, and on and on. The first step is to start to become aware of that voice.

And that is what struck me about the book message and how it can apply to the way we eat (or try not to eat). Becoming aware of that voice is the first step to a more peaceful relationship with food. Being non-judgmental of that voice, no matter what it says, is also critical. The important thing is to become more conscious of what is going on. Not running from it, not trying to change it, and definitely not judging it. Just sitting with it and accepting it.

After reading the book I started to think about what “tethered” eating looks like. All of the things patients have said to me came to mind. The sad thing is some of the culturally acceptable messages also came to mind (so you can imagine how hard it is to heal from disordered eating when cultural messages about bodies and eating are also disordered……how do you fight the world?).  Some of the thoughts stuck in our heads that keep us tethered might be:

  • You need to lose ______pounds
  • You need to get down to a size _____
  • You need to get rid of that tummy (thighs, butt, insert body part)
  • Carbs are bad
  • You need to be “good” (meaning don’t eat “bad” food)
  • Don’t eat fried foods
  • Sweets are bad
  • Don’t eat after 6 pm
  • Read the label and don’t eat anything with sugar
  • You ate __________ so now you need to burn it up by exercising more
  • Cheese is bad
  • Meat is bad
  • Eggs are bad
  • Cookies are bad
  • Pasta is bad
  • I can’t eat what everyone else is eating
  • I can’t order what I really want in a restaurant

And on and on, you get the message. We are so wrapped up in perfect eating and perfect bodies (whatever that means) that we end up feeling tied up when it comes to food. I actually have witnessed people looking almost like a cartoon when they are faced with food. Imagine a child in front of a bakery counter, drooling over whoopie pies or amazing looking desserts and the mom pulling the kid away, the child’s neck still stretched as far as it can toward that sweet display. Sometimes, that is how people strike me, but there is no leash, no adult pulling them back, they are just drooling and denying themselves something they really want because of the subconscious “tether”.  Then again, at other times when I see someone gobbling something up, it is because they have decided to cut the tie and go crazy (just like the puppy running free, they really let loose). It is a natural instinct I imagine, after feeling tied up for so long. But it has nothing to do with enjoying food in a healthy way (or a normal way). There is nothing intuitive or conscious about either extreme (of restricting or overeating).

If you are someone who is trying to lose weight (or simply trying to be a “healthy eater”), you may be thinking “of course I need to control myself, if I didn’t I would eat everything and gain weight (or be unhealthy)!”.

Probably not, if you stop and think first. Not if you tune in to your true hunger (or your true desire, craving or need). Not if you get to a place of knowing you are truly free, and believing it.

Remember, although I wish everyone with disordered eating could do this and be free, I know it is not that easy. Eating disorders are complex, and getting better is not this simple. Stopping binge eating or recovering from anorexia or bulimia takes lots of therapy , work and medical attention. And although leaning how to “tune in” to true hunger (verses using eating or not eating for something else) may be part of the process to recover, what I am talking about now is directed more toward the “typical dieter” who is simply falling into the trap of thinking eating needs to be perfect, or a certain way in order to affect weight. Those of you with eating disorders need to work with your specialists to do what you need to do for your individual situation. I know you will agree, though, that EVERYONE would be happier and mentally healthier if they got off this crazy perfect eating bandwagon.

With that said, my goal is to give you healthy-eating, dieting, weight watching people a little reality check. Thinking you need to be tied, tethered or whatever to eating a certain way either for a certain time period, or forever is actually preventing you from being the healthiest you can be. Keeping yourself leashed to a specific and narrow way of choosing foods based on Lord knows what not only may affect your physical health, it is likely a drain on your mental health, too. Thinking about every bite you put in your mouth is not only draining, it prevents you from living in the moment and enjoying all that life has to offer. And even worse, it actually keeps you disconnected and less in tune with what your body needs.

But what about our health, you might be thinking? Of course we need to think about what we eat! It is the only way to make healthy choices, right? OK, here is the clincher: it IS a balancing act. You DO need to care about your health (which means caring about your food choices) but, you also DO need to be happy and live life. You DO NOT need to be tethered to anything. How do you do both, eat healthy but be free? THAT is the balancing act.

Here are some tips:

  1. Reject any “all or nothing” thinking. Example (my pet peeve, this drives me crazy): sugar is bad, therefore I need to avoid any foods that have a lot of sugar. I need to pick the yogurt with the least amount of sugar (even though I really don’t like it).  I can’t get the one I like because it has 10 grams of sugar. Mine only has 5 grams. Really? FYI 5 grams of sugar is a teaspoon of sugar (15 calories people). So, for an extra 15 calories you are not going to get the yogurt you truly enjoy? NOT THAT CALORIES MATTER but, the point is, 15 calories is only a tiny fraction of your total intake for a day. It is basically meaningless. Eat the darn yogurt you like, would ya!?
  2. Be skeptical of the latest craze. For example, avoiding gluten. If you have celiac disease or a true intolerance, that is one thing. But most of us don’t have this problem, we have no digestive reaction to eating gluten containing foods and there is no reason to avoid it. On the other hand, it is perfectly smart to avoid things that we know are harmful (trans fat, for example), or, if you have a medical condition and need to limit something (such as saturated fat) that is different. But for those of us who don’t have medical conditions, there is no reason to scrutinize every label and every bit of food we eat. With that said, avoiding weird additives and artificial dyes, etc, and preferring natural whole foods is a personal preference and choice, not what I am referring to here (I like real food myself).
  3. Educate yourself about nutrition, but don’t be perfect. I have said it before, it is smart to make healthy choices, to learn how to cook in a healthier way, to plan ahead in order to avoid spending money eating out, bringing lunch to work or school, etc. But just because you know what makes a healthy meal does NOT mean every meal needs to fit some perfect pattern. Being a dietitian is sometimes irritating because I am totally aware of what I am missing in a meal. And I know how my choices may affect how I feel later. I still, though, really do try to practice what I preach. A good example is my recent craving for avocados. For some strange reason, I have been wanting avocados every single day for the past several weeks. Maybe it is the changing weather, with warm weather finally arriving, who knows. Anyway, there have been days where for lunch I just smash that avocado up with some salt on a roll or other bread item and skip the usual protein source (often leftovers) I typically have. I may have other things in my lunch, but they definitely don’t have protein. But guess what? I feel completely satisfied and happy. I know my hair is not going to fall out just because I got 20 less grams of protein for lunch. Yes, I may get hungry earlier in the afternoon than usual, but who cares, that’s what snacks are for. I would rather be happy with what I am eating and truly enjoy my lunch rather than force feed myself a few slices of turkey that I don’t want. So care about your nutrition, but please don’t try to make it perfect.
  4. Make a decision about what you want to eat BEFORE you start eating. Some people are so “out of tune” with what they like, and so accustomed to denying themselves foods that they tend to have an internal war with themselves when they have to pick something to eat. They may want to heat up a plate of that leftover lasagna for lunch, but noooooooooooooooo! That was a splurge on the weekend, and today they have to be “good”. They should have a salad (the last thing they really want). So, as they start to throw together their boring salad, they grab a few wheat thins (they have deemed that as healthy, so that’s ok), then maybe a few grapes (safe too). Maybe a bite or two of cheese as they grab the lettuce out of the fridge. Oh, there’s that lasagna….maybe a cold broken piece of noodle off the top. Finally, after NOT enjoying any of the bites of food they mindlessly nibbled on, they sit down to their bland salad, feeling deprived, but safe. What if, instead, this person stopped for a minute to think about what they really wanted to eat? Maybe they first had to case the fridge to see what was available (smart). They would have discovered the leftover lasagna and made the executive decision that this would be what would be truly satisfying. They get the plate, cut a piece the size they know would be satisfying but not make them uncomfortable, heat it up, and they sit and enjoy their lunch. They leave the table feeling satisfied, not deprived. There is no need to keep going back to nibble because they have actually satisfied their appetite and had a perfectly acceptable, normal lunch.
  5. Slow down. Put the phone down. Turn off the TV. Get a plate (or a bowl). Sit. There just is no way to start to tune in to enjoying your food when you are distracted. If you want to work on being free from restrictive eating and following rules, and you have taken the brave step to allow yourself to choose a meal you really want, then you also need to pay attention to how you feel. It sometimes takes time to learn how much is enough. It is ok to make mistakes (that lasagna person may be satisfied with half of the piece they took, or may find themselves hungry an hour later if the piece was too small). It is a learning process. If you don’t pay attention and tune in to your tummy and how you feel, you will miss it.
  6. Be wary of peer pressure. It is just weird to me how people care what other people are eating (or not eating). When you are truly in tune with your hunger and fullness, and when you start to really know what you like or don’t like it is a great, freeing thing. But sometimes, it does not make sense to others. I think most of the adults I know kind of think they should not eat sweets, so they avoid them like the plague. But when there is some occasion to celebrate, and sweets are available, they just don’t get it that someone may not want any. Something like desserts and sweets  really do lose some of their allure with both children AND adults when they are not made out to be so naughty. Friends or family probably will comment either way, if you eat it or if you don’t (you can’t win, I am telling you!).  If you don’t want something, they will say “oh, you are so good” and if you do take something they will say something else. Don’t let the stupid comments of others make you either eat something you don’t want, or skip something you really do want. The important thing is to eat what, and how much, makes you feel right.
  7. Don’t stop caring about eating healthy. The reality is that a good part of the time we are actually not too picky and don’t care what is available to eat. You may not be on an avocado jag. You may not care if you have the lasagna or a turkey sandwich if that is what is in the fridge. Maybe the blackened salmon on kale salad with goat cheese appeals to you just as much as the chicken wings with onion rings. Why not go with the healthy choice? That is the smart thing to do. But, if you are really wanting the choice that you have previously had rules about, why not take that risk and get what you truly want? The key is to take the time to tune it to how much is satisfying and enough. For example, if a gigantic basket of onion rings (which I love) is placed on your table in a restaurant, having some is satisfying, but eating the entire basket just because they are there leads to discomfort later for most of us. Taking a serving and passing it on is not restricting, it is knowing your body and what makes it feel right.

Untethered eating is not for everyone. For those who have eating issues such as emotional eating, binge eating disorder, or who have other eating disorders or disordered eating behavior, moving to intuitive eating may not be doable on your own (but, hopefully, you are under good professional care and working on it). And for those of you who are dieters, or just trying to eat healthy, but simply can’t imagine taking that step, I hope you at least take that first step: pay attention to that voice. Ask yourself: are you regretting what you ate yesterday? Are you stressing about what you are going to eat tomorrow? Why not at least take a moment to be in the present. Don’t miss out on the simple joy of even one meal or snack you could be enjoying today.

Just like the puppy who breaks off the leash and runs free…..don’t you want to be free when it comes to thinking about food and eating? Just like that puppy who runs around and around and goes wild for awhile, eventually, he plops down and relaxes…..

and so should you.

 

 

Mirrors and Your Life: Are You a Victim of This Sneaky Thief?

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Sunset on the Connecticut River: No Make Up Needed

I wonder when it starts. When do we start caring about that image staring back at us in the mirror? I do know babies love mirrors. Pets can be interesting in front of a mirror, too. I also noticed that 7 year old girls like mirrors, at least when they are shopping at  Justice, a popular girls clothing store (however, not sure if they are looking at themselves or the cool unicorns on the leggings they are trying on).  I remember when I belonged to a gym decades ago, usually going in the early evening when my children’s father  was home from work and they were ready for bed and I could finally escape. This particular gym had mirrors everywhere! Yes, I understand that it is important to have the right “form” when lifting some heavy weights, or apparently, you can hurt yourself (hence, the heaviest thing I lift is my vacuum cleaner). I never quite understood the exercising in front of the mirror thing, though. I also always felt a bit under-dressed in my jogging shorts and long tee shirt, when all the other women had on these interesting outfits….thongs were the rage back then with tights. To each their own, but all I was there for was the rubberized track so I could jog mindlessly around in circles, and relax until I felt the tensions of the day slip away. But those mirrors. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall. Not sure if those girls in the thongs could see themselves from the back, but my guess is they probably already checked it out at home before presenting themselves at the gym. Clearly, they liked what they saw in the mirror and felt good about it (I hope) because they went out in public like that. Like I said, to each their own.

Anyway, I decided to write about this topic because over the course of the past few weeks I have experienced various casual discussions with individuals from different parts of my life (family, friends, co-workers, etc.) that have to do with dealing with that image. That reflection of ourselves in the mirror. It struck me how much our appearance really matters (for some more than others).  What we are judging ourselves on varies from time to time, depending on our age, and what we might be going through. The change of seasons, especially going from winter to spring and summer seems to escalate the chatter about weight and dieting. Anxiety builds as the time gets closer for us to remove the secure layers we have enjoyed over the cold dreary winter months. People complain about weight gain and how they will appear in their shorts, if they can fit into them. Often people are focused on specific body parts, such as hips and thighs and butts and tummies (of course). As we age, changes in our bodies become ridiculous, and seem to happen overnight. A friend of mine tends to wear pretty scarves to kind of hide the inevitable changes to necks that happen after a certain age. Her mom told her that trick (funny, the only tricks my mom taught me have to do with cleaning and cooking…priorities, I guess). Anyway, I have discovered that if I lift my chin up high enough, and jut my jaw out, I can miraculously be rid of those seemingly new wrinkles under my neck…..although I look kind of weird and it is really hard to maintain, so I don’t walk around that way (often). And then, of course, we have the saggy arm issue and the veins. My old high school friends and I  got together recently over drinks and appetizers, and the conversation was pretty hysterical. We actually laughed out loud at what our topics of conversation have evolved into over the years. Before it was where we were going to get the beer, and how we were going to sneak out at night (and other things) and now it was all about veins and the horror a few of my friends have gone through to get rid of them. I know it is a medical issue however it was still struck us as funny. What have we become?! The mirror does not lie.

The very sad thing to me is the way mirrors literally steal time, precious hours away from some people. I remember a woman I knew who was married to a younger man. She was truly a “spiritual” person, into yoga and art and organic everything. However, whenever she would visit relatives she would be in the bathroom for over an hour to apply her make up. Somehow, she did not feel right with her natural face or whatever, so that she had to apply foundation (that creamy stuff that is the color or your skin and is supposed to cover imperfections?), and blush (to make it look like you are rosy and healthy?) and eye make up and lip stuff…..and VOILA. She missed some meals with us, but she looked good.

I regret the amount of time I wasted when I was young and hated my curly wavy hair. I spent hours in front of the mirror devising ways to wrap it and pin it and tape it and iron it just to make it be straight. It took me until I was in college and 20 years old to finally get it layered and let it go. I felt free. It was like I retired, and left a job I no longer had to do. My time was freed! I just had to wash my head and that was it. Why had I wasted so much time trying to change something that was naturally me just because I did not like what I saw in the mirror?

Don’t get me wrong, I think checking yourself out in the mirror is pretty normal. It is great to feel like you look pretty good and presentable when you leave for work in the morning. That your clothes are kind of clean and not too wrinkled, that your hair is not a mess, there isn’t anything stuck in your teeth. It’s all good. But sometimes, spending too much time checking yourself out, especially excessive scrutinizing of particular body parts can become a problem. Sometimes referred to as “body checking”, which is a common behavior among those with disordered eating, it can be detrimental. Besides spending lots of time scrutinizing yourself in the mirror, body checking might involve squeezing fat layers, or circling wrists or arms to feel if they are the same size, and have not changed and other self-checking behaviors. For those with disordered eating, body checking often leads to more restriction and may worsen behaviors. For others, excessive checking of our bodies may lead to anxiety about our bodies and even trigger eating issues.

And although I said “the mirror doesn’t lie”, for some it actually does. My experience with individuals with eating disorders proved to me that people can look in a mirror and see a totally different image that what everyone else in the world sees. I am guessing you may know someone who always “feels fat” and complains of this and when YOU look at them it is infuriating because you see a thin person. You want to say, and probably have,”you are not fat! you are so skinny!” and find this does not help. Try not to get mad at someone who does this because to them, they see something different. Some people tend to “distort” what they see in the mirror and you will never understand or convince them otherwise. And if you experience these extreme feelings yourself, If you find that you can’t stop with some of these behaviors, and it is truly occupying too much of your day, consider seeking some support from a therapist who specializes in body image issues. Don’t let the mirror and body checking consume your life.

Even if you can’t relate to excessive body checking, and you are just a typical person who wants to be sure they are presentable, it is still important to be aware of how you feel when you look in the mirror. Ask yourself, how much of my time to I give to judging my appearance? Am I trying too hard to change the real me? Is it worth it? Am I accepting of the natural changes that occur with age? Remember, there is no right answer to any of these questions. Only YOU can judge what is important to you. It may well be worth it to take the time to wrap that scarf around your neck to cover what you may feel are imperfections that you have not gotten used to yet. If if makes you feel better, why not? Scarves are lovely, and even young women who have nothing to hide wear them all the time. And by all means, apply that make up if you like it! I love my under eye stuff which takes 10 seconds to apply but is magical and prevents me from having to answer people who ask “are you tired? you look so tired!” when I forget to put it on. Some women just love makeup, and if that is you, then have at it. But if putting on makeup is an hour long ordeal and feels like a job, then why let the mirror steal those hours from your life?

And when it comes to your body, ask yourself, how many minutes am I scrutinizing my body in the mirror? If it is a quick check after you get dressed to walk out the door, then no big deal. If you got a new outfit for a wedding, and you can’t help admiring yourself for a bit longer than a minute before you walk out the door, oh well. It is fun to dress up sometimes.  If you have a new purchase you aren’t sure about and have to check yourself out ten times before deciding to return it, no big deal. But, if you find yourself spending an hour glaring at your body with negative thought running through your mind that just make you feel awful, well, that is a different story. Try to give up some of that time in front of the mirror. Work on the words you are saying to yourself (that “self-talk” always going on in your brain). Try to make it more complimentary, (you look pretty good for an old lady!) even if you don’t believe it at first. Fake it till you make it, they say. But, if you are struggling with feeling good about yourself then maybe it is time to seek out some help.

Finally, ask yourself what YOU notice in other people. Do you really notice if someone has makeup on or not? Do you notice the veins in anyone’s legs? Do you really care about anyone’s saggy arms or chin? The first thing I notice about a person is the expression on their face. Are they smiling and happy? Are they kind? Are they genuine? Are they unique? Do they make me laugh? That is what is important to me, and I am guessing that is what is important to you, too. Then why judge yourself in ways you would never judge others? Two of my favorite people often dress up as chickens and a moose outfit just to entertain kids at our school. And everyone loves them. Does it really matter what you wear or how you look?

Don’t let the mirror steal your life away.

Preventing Eating Problems in Kids: The Power of Parenting

Max,face,eyes,blueI remember the first time I saw a 10 month old baby manipulate his mother. I am guessing I was also subtly controlled by my children at times too, but that was so long ago that I forgot. Anyway, it was in a multidisciplinary visit to the “Feeding Team” where I work at a children’s hospital. The session takes place in a kitchen because the “team” needs to observe the child eat. They are referred by their pediatricians for various eating problems, ranging from fears of aspiration, picky eating, sensory issues, and other reasons. The team consists of a psychologist, Occupational Therapist, Speech and Language Pathologist and dietitian (moi). Anyway, after the initial background questions and history, for this one particular child it appeared the concern was that little Suzy Q was “refusing to eat” food. She will only drink the bottle. So the Occupational Therapist proceeds to gently have Suzy interact in a fun way with some purees. After a few minutes of this she puts some food on a spoon and feeds it to the child, who happily takes it in and appears to enjoy it. The mom is flabbergasted. “I swear, I am not lying! She won’t do this at home!” We say, “we know, we hear it all the time”. So then, it’s mom’s turn. She takes the spoon, and with an entirely different face than she had before, proceeds to try to offer the exact same food…..and, you guessed it, just like in an exaggerated cartoon, that baby turns her head and looks away (twisting her head as far away in the other direction as she could, so dramatically, it was almost funny). And although her face was in the opposite direction of her mother, her eyes were straining to watch what her mom was doing. Little Suzy appeared to love the dance mom was performing. Mom continues to get in her face with that spoon, more intense by the moment……she might as well have stood on her head, that is how much energy she was expending. Needless to say, mom’s extreme and intense attempts at getting her baby to eat was backfiring.

Babies are one thing, toddlers are another. That second year of life is pretty interesting as you watch your sweet baby transform into a little tyrant. It is so hard to watch them throw themselves on the floor when they don’t get what they want. Who wouldn’t pick them up to make them feel better? Or just give them the darn cookie, does it really matter?

Another common scenario is the older child who “does not eat”. It always strikes us funny that these kids often are growing off the charts…..how does that work? When we pry a bit further, it appears the child actually DOES eat, just not what mom wants. There may be several boxes of juice, gobs of milk, lots of gold fish crackers, macaroni and cheese, and of course, McDonald’s chicken nuggets (the yellow diet). Or, you get the kid who “can’t chew” and parents are worried about choking. “When he eats meats or vegetables or fruits, he gags.” But somehow, miraculously, the kid can eat chips. And cookies. No gagging there. HHmmmmm.

And then of course we have the older kid whose parents are worried because according to the doctor,  little Johnny is “obese”. They don’t know what to do. The doctor has made a big deal about it, so they feel the need to do something. They try to limit portion sizes, they push healthy food, but the kid still sneaks the chips and soda. Not only that, he stays up until all hours of the night and only wants to play video games. The family has a treadmill but Johnny doesn’t like it.

The list goes on and on. You may be thinking about someone you know who struggles with these issues with their children. How does this happen? And more importantly, is there a way to fix it?

The reality is that some children truly are born with issues from the start. They may have spent time in the NICU with a tube down their noses. Or, they may have suffered from reflux or food allergy or some other digestive issue that is sure to turn anyone off of putting anything in their tummy. Children with sensory issues, such as those with autism, often have trouble with textures or tastes. Sometimes children have real chewing issues because of some developmental delay or genetic disorder. The sad truth is that some children will never eat.

But for the typically developing full-term baby without any other issues, then a parent’s approach to feeding is critical. We see feeding problems all the time that could have been prevented had parents known how to respond when the going gets tough. Without giving any specific nutrition advice (as children’s needs are different at each stage of life, and even individually), there are some basic things to know if you want to promote healthy eating and a decent relationship to food for your children. Here are the 10 top things to know when it comes to feeding your child that may help prevent some typical feeding problems:

  1. The human body is programmed to stay alive. Our bodies naturally know how many calories to eat every day. When we have not had enough, we will be hungrier and want to eat more. When we have had too much, we may want to eat less. As soon as we start taking in food (breast milk, formula, purees, table foods, pepperoni pizza) our bodies go to work to let us know how much to eat. Our children will not starve themselves. If they can’t finish their plate, making them finish teaches them to go against these natural signals and creates a disconnect. Not only that, being forced to eat creates a very negative experience making the table a not-so-fun place to be. Adults don’t want to eat the exact portion size of a food every time they have it, and neither may your child. Instead of forcing a kid to eat more than they want (which leads to misery) why not wrap up and refrigerate the leftovers and offer at another meal or snack?
  2. Sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t. Remember that commercial? I think it was for Almond Joy and Mounds (no nuts) candy bars. You may find that your child loves a certain food (say, yogurt) and will eat it almost daily. Then, suddenly, they may refuse it. We have seen parents totally stop offering a food just because a child does not want to eat it one day, or even for a week. Don’t you have foods that you sometimes love, but other times just couldn’t make yourself eat? Eggs are like that for me. And chicken. I love them both…..but sometimes the thought of them make me gag. I am guessing that happens to kids, too. Don’t give up on a food and assume your child will never eat it again just because they refuse it for awhile.
  3. Children eat what you eat. If you seriously want your kids to eat vegetables, and you hate them, it won’t work. You are their best role model. They trust your judgement. Even adults have their eating issues (pretty much every member of our Feeding Team can relate to our patients because we all have that one food that makes us gag….for me it’s beets). But, when we have children and truly want them to grow into healthy eating adults one day, we need to face our fears. You can live without a vegetable or two (I get by without beets), but if your plate only includes brown foods then, over time, there may be health consequences. We always talk about the “Rule of Twenty” (however, in reality, it may be much higher than this). Meaning, you really need to try something at least 20 times to know if you like it. It may feel funny in your mouth, you may not like the taste of it, but over time, after enough exposures, you may find you really enjoy a food. I can personally say that I have had this experience with a few foods. When I was young, I would never touch a tomato. Tomato sauce, yes, but the taste and texture of a raw tomato repulsed me. Over time, I had tomato on a sandwich, maybe salsa, or in a salad, and eventually I grew to love them. In fact, I have tried to grow them myself (without much luck) and always have a container of grape tomatoes in my fridge, because I add them to everything. Who would have known? The same thing happened with mushrooms and sushi. Anyway, the bottom line: if you want your children to be healthy, they need to learn to eat a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. If you don’t eat them, they probably won’t. Be brave.
  4. Don’t give in to a 2 year old tyrant. I remember reading every book there was about bringing up children when I was pregnant with my first child. When Jennifer was born, she was the perfect baby. Sleeping through the night from the day she came home from the hospital (although I woke her at 3 am to nurse because I thought I was supposed to). She nursed like a champ and did everything right. She was a happy, easygoing little girl. But then she passed her one year mark and was toddling all around, still easy. Until one day, she wanted something she could not have (scissors?). She literally threw herself on the ground in the hallway, screaming and crying. It was torture for me to watch. But thankfully, I had just read about tantrums in the second year of life in a book written by a child psychologist. The bottom line is, when a child throws a tantrum they learn right away if this behavior is going to work by how you react. It was real hard for me, but I stepped over her and said “I will be on the couch when you are done” and totally ignored her. Of course, I could see her and knew that she was safe (although by the sounds coming out of her you would think someone was pulling out her fingernails one by one). Eventually, she stopped, and came to me. She quickly moved on to a different activity. I don’t remember if she ever did it again, but I know she learned that tantrums did not work. I admit, it is not easy to ignore your screaming child. Your instinct is telling you to comfort and make them happy again. You just want to pick them up and make them feel better! But, giving in to a child who is demanding something that is not appropriate only makes it worse. In the world of feeding, this happens with food refusal. You may have prepared a delicious meal of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, corn and salad (that your child normally likes) but one then one day your child does not want anything to do with it. A tantrum results and food is thrown. Your instinct is to just give in and get the preferred food for them (typically chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, etc). This is called “short-order cooking”. When you do this, however, your child quickly learns that the tantrum works. Instead of falling into giving in to this bad behavior, teach your child to eat a variety of foods by sticking to your guns. Offer bread and butter, fruit, milk but DO NOT make their favorite food. They will NOT starve to death, but instead will learn to eat what you offer.
  5. Be the boss when it comes to when and where to eat. We know that structured meals and snacks work best to promote healthy habits, but this is hard when parents themselves are chaotic eaters. It seems to me the “modern family” has a very different lifestyle than many of us older folk had growing up. Life was very different. Without cable TV, internet, cell phones or video games, well, family dinners were kind of the highlight of the day. Even when my kids were young, sitting at the table (with friends often included) was a fun time. Now, however, it isn’t that easy. Parents have to work harder to afford what their family needs. Children seem busier, with outside activities such as sports, music lessons, or even just after school programs to keep kids busy until parents get out of work. There isn’t much time. Picking up a pizza is easier than coming home to cook at 7 pm. And then, kids want to go play their games, parents want to relax and catch up on shows (we only had 3 channels, no Netflix, no “On Demand”, it was easier back then). So families tend to split apart, drift off to the living room or bedroom while they mindlessly much on their pizza. Their “screens” tend to absorb everyone into their own worlds. Not only does this contribute to mindless eating, it also takes away from important family bonding and connection. If this lifestyle rings a bell with you, why not try something different? You may want to start with letting your family know that they are no longer allowed to eat in their bedrooms or in the living room. Instead, even if it is pizza or take out, try having everyone sit at a table. If you are one of those families who have let your table become a collecting ground for everything in the world (backpacks, mail, dog food) then you will need to take some time to reorganize and make the table your new “eating place”. Try having fun with it by creating some “ambiance”. You can even get some inexpensive place mats at a dollar store (or you may have some already that you only use for company?), get a candle or two, then have older children help with setting the table. This creates jobs, responsibility, and a feeling of accomplishment. Not only that, kids tend to truly love the connection with their family. But remember, if your children are in the habit of going in their rooms or eating with the TV, they will rebel and try to refuse. Like I said, you gotta be the boss. They will love it in the end. And the memories you create will last a lifetime.
  6. If you are worried about your child’s weight, don’t talk about weight. I don’t care what your doctor says about BMI. I don’t care what age your child is. If you talk about weight you will cause trouble. There is lots of evidence that focusing on health for the entire family is the way to go. If you single out a child because of weight it will only make it worse. A skinny kid is not necessarily a healthy kid. Ignore body size and take a look at your lifestyle. If you want to have a healthy body, the reality is you DO have to make some choices….and likely some changes. There are a few things that have nothing to do with food that really affect your child’s health (and weight). Sleep is one of those things parents really need to be firm about since lack of sleep contributes to cravings for junk food, decreased energy and physical activity as well as lower metabolism.  I see kids that tend to stay up way too late for a multitude of reasons. Too much caffeinated soda, older siblings who come home late, parents who have a later schedule, a screen in the bedroom…all of these things make it worse. If you want your child to have a healthy weight (which means THEIR genetically determined healthy weight, which has nothing to do with a BMI chart) then they need to get enough sleep. They won’t do it on their own so you as a parent need to step up and be firm. Besides sleep, physical activity is critical. Unfortunately, our schools don’t always provide the opportunity for kids to move. This is really hard, because lots of parents truly do not have the time or the resources to get kids active. Remember, being active does not have to cost money. It can be time set aside after dinner for a dance video or martial arts video, a fun active video game, a punching bag, a trip to the school playground after dinner in the warm months, playing in the snow in the winter, cleaning up after dinner, house cleaning chores, shoveling snow or mowing a lawn, raking leaves or a family hike on the weekends. Getting kids involved in being active and developing physical activity skills not only adds to their confidence level, it promotes a healthier body. Instead of thinking your larger size child should not eat the cookies every other member of your family is eating (NOT FAIR) if you focus on healthy habits for the entire family, then everyone will grow up learning that it is important to eat healthy and have healthy lifestyle habits. I fear that focusing on your child’s weight by trying to restrict food only results in a food obsession, sneak eating and a low self-esteem….stuff that contributes to weight gain and eating disorders. Instead, be the role model for healthy eating and a healthy lifestyle, for the entire family. Don’t focus on your child’s weight.
  7. One huge mistake I see parents make is not controlling their child’s screen time. Too much screen time greatly affects a child’s health because it leads to extreme inactivity. I have seen parents have really good intentions, and try to limit their children to the recommended 2 hours or less of screen time daily. Unfortunately, kids lie. They may keep their cell phones with them in bed, or Ipads or laptops. They log on and play their games with their friends or watch You Tube. They end up staying up until the wee hours. I have seen parents think they are limiting screen time, only to find out their kids are logging on behind their backs while in bed. If you have a child or teenager with a cell phone or Ipad or computer, don’t expect them to be honest with you. YOU need to take control. Take the phone, the Ipad, the laptop, the controller or whatever and don’t give them the temptation.  They will not be able to resist, and it WILL affect their health. They may not like it, but TOO BAD. You care about them, and this is what parenting is all about. They are not going to be happy all the time.
  8. Don’t be weird about food. By that I mean, please don’t jump on the latest fad bandwagon and go on and on in front of your children about why you are never going to eat gluten again. Or never going to eat sugar. Or carbs. Keep your dieting stuff to yourself. If you have issues with your body or your weight, please don’t share your issues with your kids. Don’t jump on the scale in front of them (or how about not having a bathroom scale? Kids don’t need to learn that the force of gravity on their body is important….because it isn’t).  If you are struggling yourself with concerns about your weight, ask your doctor for a referral to a health professional (such as a dietitian or a therapist) who can help you with your issues, but try not to talk about these things in front of your children because they will listen.
  9. Take care of YOU. This has nothing to do with eating and food, but everything to do with health. I have met so many parents who have so much on their plate that eating vegetables has to be the last thing on their list. You know yourself and your family and children best. If there are other things in your life that are stressing you out it is not only OK to focus on that first, but essential. There is always time to work on eating healthy. Getting happy first is more important.
  10. Don’t be perfect. Eat cookies. Go to the drive-through at McDonald’s sometimes. Eat popcorn in front of the TV while watching a movie, stay up late, forget to brush your teeth. But don’t make a big deal about it. Talking about “being bad” or “why did I eat that!” or expressions of guilt when we don’t eat perfectly or skip the gym or choose chicken wings and fries instead of the salad insinuates that we need to be perfect. And we don’t because we can’t. Remember, it is all about moderation, and most of the time trying to be as healthy as we can be. Get enough sleep, eat fruits and veggies, be active. But it is never perfect and that is ok. And not being perfect, and being ok with that is a real important lesson to teach your children.

For more great information on dealing with feeding issue with children see the websites:

Ellyn Satter and Give Peas a Chance  by Kate Samela, MS, RD, as well a recent article by the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding how to prevent health problems starting at birth-First 1000 Days

Two Cookies and a Yogurt

Image may contain: foodThe other day I was casually chatting with a young man about healthy eating. When someone finds out you are a dietitian they often have lots of questions. Anyway, this young man said something that really stuck in my head: “I feel like a war is going on in my head” he said when talking about trying to eat healthier. Apparently, he had been trying to lose weight and thought he should totally avoid eating junk food, and, just like everyone else who tries to “not eat” something, it creates a struggle.  But the way he described it as a “war” made me think. I actually could relate to having “wars” in my head with lots of things. We all have ideas of what the “right’ thing to do is, and struggle with decisions on a daily basis. Whether it be about what we should be accomplishing, if we should spend money on something, if we should have another drink, or visit a loved one, or make an appointment for a colonoscopy.

But when it comes to food and eating, what does this “war” mean? What is going on here? Where does it all stem from?

I have my opinion about that war, and where it originates when it comes to eating, and it is complicated. I don’t think we can ever totally come to a conclusion with this as everyone’s experience is different. I know people who grew up with health food nuts (sorry, don’t mean to offend anyone, but I am referring to those who are kind of obsessed with eating healthy foods only…..whatever you consider healthy food….you are talking to an Italian here, I have trouble thinking sausage is not ok). And then there are those who have a different food background with cultures dictating the foods they are exposed to. Or, think about someone who grew up with a weight watcher kind of mom who was always dieting and talking about her weight, jumping on a scale and degrading herself depending on the force of gravity that day. Another common scenario I have seen these days is the truly good and caring parents who have heard from the pediatrician about BMI concerns with their child. These parents unknowingly start thinking they need to restrict their children and scold them for wanting what everyone else is eating. Then of course there is the cultural influence, the final word of what we are supposed to look like. One year big breasts are the thing to have for women and the next year it is all about muscles. Abs always seem to be “in”. The bottom line is how we look at food can be complicated. God bless the untainted soul who somehow is resilient to all of it. Far and few between.

No matter what the contributing factors are as to why an individual may be so affected as to feel at war with themselves when it comes to food, it is helpful to know we are not alone. The experts have been looking into this for many years. There happens to be decades of research exploring this phenomenon of what is typically referred to as “restrained eating”. I have talked about this before as it is a theme that never seems to have disappeared. People don’t seem to stop and re-evaluate, even when they experience the same thing over and over (dieting, losing weight, gaining it back, dieting again). Not sure why, but guessing it has to do with the constant focus and pressure on being the right body size, something that women especially seem to distract themselves with. Although those suffering from eating disorders focus on eating, weight and food for other reasons, I am referring to the “typical” dieter, that person who just simply wants to lose weight. Even for these people, looking at food in a restrictive way eventually can become harmful. The person who starts out just wanting to lose a few pounds often starts to look at food in a different way (once they start dieting). For example, before the weight concerns and dieting/restrained eating started, maybe they were a bit picky about what kind of cookie they liked. They could easily refuse an oreo because they only liked their mom’s homemade oatmeal cookies. Nothing could hold a candle to those. But, suddenly, after 3 months of dieting and avoiding sweets altogether, even fake cookies look good. At a meeting at work, if cookies are on the table, they call out to dieters. The bigger the “war” in a person’s head, the louder that cookie’s voice. The non-dieter, on the other hand, may glance at those cookies and just not want one. Yes, any cookie takes on a different meaning depending on the war in someone’s head.

But is it not just about cookies. According to that young man I was talking to, any “bad” food was a food to be avoided. Once he realized he needed to lose weight he fell into the trap of thinking what everyone else in the world seems to think: certain foods make you fat and other (healthy) foods don’t. The good/bad  all-or-nothing thinking when it comes to food is the problem yet again. Giving any one food this particular power is a mistake. When it comes to health (or even weight for that matter) NO FOOD IN THE WORLD has the power to affect either (well, unless of course it is poisonous, but that is not what I am talking about and I think you know just what I mean).

What I told this young man is the same thing I will tell you. Yes, nutrition matters because eating a variety of healthy foods gives us everything we need to feel good, do what we want and prevent illness. But, it does not have to be that complicated. I believe in working on “mindful” and “intuitive” eating, and listening to one’s body, which is not easy for everyone (especially dieters or those with eating disorders). But, for the typical dieter who is at war with themselves, I have seen it work to free them. I have seen people actually learn to have just one slice of cake instead of half of the entire cake…..like they did when they told themselves they should not have any, ever. When people are able to tune out the “war” voice, and instead tune in to their true hunger and actually give themselves permission to have it, a funny thing happens. Your body really does not need or want more than a normal amount of anything. It is only when we deprive ourselves, when we restrict and unrealistically tell ourselves we can’t ever eat something that we break down and overeat it. And continue a war that we will never win.

Instead, I suggest you care about your health, make it a priority. Eat your vegetables (experiment with ways to prepare them to make them taste yummy such as roasting). Include protein sources with all your meals because it makes you feel better and last longer. Eat fruits you enjoy because they taste good and are healthy. Buy wheat bread instead of white. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t go to war over something as simple as a food choice. Your body knows what to do if you learn to listen to it. A normal serving of anything will never hurt you. But, if you deprive yourself, you definitely will be more obsessed with food and more likely to overeat and binge on it…..and not feel so good afterward.

Oh, you might be wondering what the heck “Two Cookies and a Yogurt” means. Well, I hate throwing away food, especially cookies. So on New Year’s Eve when my good friends Barbara and Fred had us over, there were gobs of Italian cookies leftover. She offered them to me, and well, you know, I couldn’t say no. They ended up in my freezer and I have been having them with my coffee for breakfast ever since (only 6 left I think!) No, cookies do not comprise a well balanced breakfast however, throw in a Greek yogurt and you are good to go. Well, I am. Everyone is different. Eat what is good for YOU for breakfast.

But don’t go to war over a cookie.

 

 

The Pegan Diet: if you want to be a vegan but also want to eat meat (?)

steak,meat,food,dinnerI have to admit I was a bit thrown when Dr. Oz said “and the great news is that So-and So (can’t remember her name) is going to be going to school for nutrition!”. The audience applauded. This sweet young lady had just finished explaining how to incorporate snacks and alcohol into your “Pegan” diet. For some crazy reason I was assuming she was an “expert”and already educated in nutrition? Ya’ll know I am not a huge fan of the Dr. Oz Show, but when flicking through the channels yesterday to find an update on the upcoming snow storm hitting New England, the headline caught my eye: The Pegan Diet. Apparently, I missed this new diet when it came out a few years ago. I couldn’t resist (especially because I need to be informed of these things when someone asks me a question about the latest diet trends, which they inevitably do). I had to watch it. In case like me, you were unaware of this diet, I thought you might be interested to learn some of the details, and more importantly, be able to be informed before you start something like this.

So the Pegan diet attempts to combine the popular “Paleo” diet with a “vegan” diet. The Paleo diet is based on eating like the people did back in the Stone Age and avoiding any “modern” foods.  The diet is based on eating meats, vegetables, fruits and nuts with no grains, beans, dairy or processed foods. Vegan diets eliminate all animal products but do include beans, nuts, lots of grains, healthy fats like oils and of course fruits and vegetables. But combining these two diets feels like an oxymoron to me……either you are vegan and don’t eat animal products, or you do eat them and so then you are not at all a vegan, right? Apparently, from what I read, the thinking is that following a vegan diet is too difficult for those who like to eat meat, and following a paleo diet has too many rules. The Pegan Diet is supposed to feel easier I guess? Easier if you are ok without ice cream. Seriously, the Pegan Diet has even more confusing rules if you ask me. Meat is ok but should only be used as a “condiment”. Dairy is not ok. Beans are ok but only in limited amounts (half cup) and grains are also allowed but limited to “low-glycemic” grains (do you really want to think about glycemic index?) and also limited to half a cup (do you know anyone who only eats a half cup of pasta?). Anyway, you get it.

There’s more. According to the Dr. Oz show, you can modify the diet (I think he is calling it the Pegan 365 Diet) by including alcohol and “snacks”. The catch is that only 2 drinks a week are allowed (so you can participate in Happy Hour with your friends even though you are dieting. They don’t want you to feel isolated). And the examples of snacks they gave on the show included a large plate of cucumbers (this is new?), non-dairy yogurt with berries (so creative) and a frozen dairy free yogurt pop (that might be good), oh, and black bean brownies (don’t knock it till you try it I guess). The point is that it is still a diet, and that means restrictive.

Yes, like with all diets, you WILL lose weight. I estimated the calories to be around a 1000 a day, more or less depending upon your dieting skills. No magic here, any diet will cause some weight loss with that little calorie intake. Besides the low calorie level, there are many nutritional inadequacies. These are clearly spelled out in this excellent critique of the diet (click on the link) by the true experts in Today’s Dietitian

There are some good things I did see on the show, and there are some good aspects to the diet. I absolutely loved some of the recipes and meals demonstrated. One was a vegan chili stuffed pepper that looked really yummy and is certainly a healthy dish providing lots of fiber and nutrients (I would melt some cheese on it myself). There was also a salad with arugula greens and roasted asparagus and what looked like roasted artichokes topped with chick peas and a dressing made of olive oil I think. That also looked great and would be even better with some grated Parmesan or grilled fish on top. Healthy and yummy, and nothing is wrong with that. The diet also focuses on whole foods, avoiding processed foods and things like that. I agree that cooking with real food is not only healthier but surely tastes much better. I would gladly pit my mom’s homemade minestrone soup against any canned version. Or my husband’s homemade cinnamon rolls against Cinnabon’s. Yes, I am all for whole, real foods…..but let’s face it, sometimes you just want a Snickers Bar. Or a Ritz cracker with peanut butter. Or more than 2 glasses of wine a week.

The bottom line is if you want to try a diet like this just know it is probably not a life-long way to live. Our bodies just are not wired to live in such a restrictive state. If you are one of those people who really can’t give up your dieting and you decide to try this, I hope you learn something from it. Maybe you will discover some new ways to cook, or learn that you actually do like vegetables. But please don’t judge yourself if you can’t stick to this and please consult with an expert (Registered Dietitian) or ask your doctor about supplements you may need (such as vitamin D, calcium, iron) which are not adequately provided by this diet.

Finally, what rubs me the wrong way is how gullible some people think we are when it comes to falling for the next popular diet. It seems all you need is a catchy name. So I was trying to come up with something good (that is, if I had to invent a diet). All I could come up with was The “Happivore Diet”. The rules would be simple:  Eat what makes you happy. Eat what makes you feel good. Listen to your body. Learn from your mistakes in eating, or drinking ; ) Care about your body and your health. Learn to cook. Keep trying new foods, especially vegetables and fruits. Learn about nutrition in a sane way (what you need to be your best). Respect your uniqueness (if you feel like you are addicted to sugar and can’t have it in the house, you know yourself best). If you need the structure of a meal plan or certain diet plan, do what you need to do for yourself. If you don’t want to eat animal products and prefer to eat vegetarian, do what is best for you and live in a way that fuels your passion and beliefs. Most important, never give up on your quest for health, physical, spiritual and mental health. And remember, YOU are the true expert in your own life.

And there is nothing bad about eating more than a half cup of pasta.

 

 

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

No automatic alt text available.One morning last week I went to jump out of bed as usual, ready to start the day in a rush. I had lots to do to get ready for my yearly holiday open house and had to start planning. I love mornings because that is when I have the most energy, however this one morning I encountered a little problem. I couldn’t walk. When my feet hit the floor and I began to move toward the bathroom door, I felt severe pain in the back of both calves that caused me to freeze in that spot and not move. What on earth is happening? That is what I thought at first, but then I paused to recall all of the probably stupid things I might have done to affect my calves like this. And then it came to me: lunges. My daughter had tried to show me the appropriate way to do lunges while we were hanging out in the kitchen, I was probably cooking (can’t remember, just that we were not exercising, just chatting). Somehow we got onto the subject of strength, flexibility, endurance, getting older and what was more important, etc. Anyway, I must have tried a lunge or two. Apparently, I did not get it right, and clearly, I probably need to do more as doing only a few affected my severly inflexible and weak calves in a major way. I was thrown because it really hurt. Needless to say, I limped toward the bathroom and vowed to fix this.

The funny thing is I actually have been making an effort to stretch and do yoga-y kind of things in the morning while I am watching the news because things like this have happened to me before. I am a happy slow jogger/walker/biker kind of exerciser, anything mindless that does not involve counting or time or thinking and serves to relax me. Plus my more aerobic types of activity have served me well over all these years, both keeping me sane as well as giving me a good amount of endurance (more than a lot of people my age I have noticed). I can work for hours moving wood, gardening, cleaning, shopping, you name it, I don’t usually poop out…..and I love that feeling. But, lately more than ever I have been experiencing things I really don’t love such as knives stabbing me in the back of my legs simply from getting out of bed. I need to fix this, that is what I thought.

As usual, experiences like this help me relate to a lot of people who are trying to change and become healthier. It is not easy. I started to think about all of the things people want to change like eating habits, drinking habits, sleep and fitness habits. What is so hard about it, and how long does it take? As the New Year rolls around and you start thinking about resolutions, I think it is so important to give yourself a reality check.  I see people make some common mistakes the serve as a guarantee that in a year from now they may be in the same spot. Here are some things that i have noticed and some suggestions on what may be a better way:

  1. Having really unrealistic goals. You know what I am going to say here. “Lose 10 pounds a month”. “Go to the gym every day after work”. “Run a mile in 7 minutes”.  “Stop skipping meals”. When you set lofty goals you are setting yourself up. How do you know if it is a “lofty goal” or unrealistic? Ask yourself if you have set this same goal before and failed. That might tell you something. Instead of doing the same thing year after year, why not stop and reflect on the true behaviors in your life that really do affect how you feel and even your health. For example, if you smoke cigarettes I think we all could agree that you are risking hurting your health and you definitely do not feel as good as you should. If you have tried to quit before by saying “I am quitting on Monday” and then slipped back to your old smoking habit, then chances are it may happen again. Instead, think about other options. Reading a book on quitting or checking into classes for quitting smoking is still a step toward accomplishing your goal (even if you don’t stop suddenly like you wish you could). The point is to move in a direction. Educating yourself and exploring your options is much smarter than doing the same thing over and over. When it comes to dieting and weight loss, if you have dieted before and it “worked” but somehow you have gained weight back, there are several questions you may want to ask yourself. The first being, why are you trying to lose weight? You know my thoughts on this, not everyone is supposed to have the same body. If your weight has been stable for years and you feel good and are healthy, then instead of jumping on the diet bandwagon, why not take time to reflect on where you want to be for the rest of your life? Could there be a different goal instead of changing your weight? Can you envision yourself years from now preparing healthy meals, being in tune with your hunger and fullness, freeing your mind to focus on learning how to eat healthier instead of counting calories? Following a “diet” may be helpful to some (so I have been told, and I never knock what someone chooses for themselves or what they find helpful). But, in the end, if you want to be your best and healthiest self ever, the diet won’t do it.
  2. Having a “start date”. I have noticed when people say “starting Monday I am going to blah blah blah” they tend to really overdue whatever it is they are stopping on the days and weeks before that magical date. Wouldn’t it be better to avoid this altogether by doing your research on the direction you want to go instead of doing the same thing over and over? For example, if your original goal is to lose weight, but you have decided to take the plunge and focus on eating healthier instead, why not pick something you know is not the best in your diet and focus on that? For example, if you want to drink less soda do some taste testing of flavored waters or experiment with infused waters (adding different fruits to water to flavor it). Then start by decreasing the amount you drink by increments you can handle. It is so easy to tell someone who drinks 8 cans of Coke a day to stop because it is bad for you. Have you ever had that habit? Personally, I dislike the taste of soda however I have known people who really feel they need it. They just can’t stop cold turkey but I have seen people do very well with weaning themselves off it they find a good substitute. So having a “start date” sets you up for overindulging as well as failure. Instead, looking at your long-term goals and moving in that direction is much more doable.
  3. Having self-expectations. Although I have decided I need to work on flexibility I have not given myself any specific expectations. I did that once and almost killed myself (I was going to be able to do a back bend by Christmas). It didn’t work and I could have hurt myself for life. Now, I go with the flow, sometimes taking more time in front of the morning news and other times just a few minutes because I did not get done what I needed to the night before. It doesn’t matter because I feel really good in that I am slowly developing this habit, this association between the morning news and stretching which has now become fun and enjoyable. I don’t need to do a back bend, ever. If you just let yourself move in a direction, just start something without imposing these crazy expectations on yourself, in a year from now, who knows where you will be? And if I ever am able to do a back bend, trust me, I will brag about it……but is is not my goal anymore.
  4. Defining what means “success” or “progress”. This is kind of related to number 3. When we impose ridiculous expectations on ourselves, we are almost guaranteed to feel unsuccessful.  I feel like I have made progress over these past months because my definition of success has evolved into a more realistic one. Are there things in your life that you are trying to change but don’t give yourself credit for? For example, having a goal of eating more fruits and vegetables is a smart goal for your health however expecting yourself to eat 5 cups every single day is hard. Just adding something to your lunch (like a fruit) is success. The more credit you give yourself for even small positive changes, the better your feel and the more likely you will keep doing it.
  5. Taking out instead of adding in. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard people say “I am giving up sugar”. Or coffee. Or soda. Or bread. Or carbs. Fast Food. You name it. Getting rid of unhealthy things in your diet doesn’t sound like a bad idea, but often this leads to the “all-or-nothing” thinking. So when a situation arises, and that person eats or drinks that forbidden thing they not only feel like a failure, they tend to give up on their health goals. Instead, try thinking about “adding in” instead of “taking out” For example, for the soda person, carrying some water bottles with you might help to quench that thirst and prevent a trip to the vending machine. For the sweet tooth, having some extra fruit in your lunch, or even purchasing “Fun Size” candy bars instead of giant ones may help move in the right direction. Not to say you can’t enjoy a jumbo candy bar when you really want one. It is just the mindless habits of buying things and then thinking you can magically eliminate them from your life that doesn’t work. And instead of “cutting out pasta” why not “add in vegetables” to your dinner? Adding in the healthy instead of unrealistically cutting out all of the other stuff makes more sense. (Note: the exception to this is people who truly can’t control eating sweets or other things if they are around and this leads them to binge eating. You know yourself best and you need to do what you need to do for YOU. These suggestions are for the average “dieter” mindset. We are all different and need to respect these differences).
  6. Comparing self to others. I know lots of women my age who can do a lunge without paralyzing themselves the next day. I know women who are yoga teachers who can touch there toes to their heads and even stand on their heads. This will probably never be me. If you compare yourself to others you are setting yourself up to feel inadequate (not always, but sometimes). We are all unique in what we enjoy, how we like to move, our sleeping habits and foods we like to eat. Block everyone else out of your mind and think about where YOU are personally and where YOU want to be.
  7. Cultural ideals over personal needs. Things change year to year when it comes to what is cool to eat (right now it is pink salt and coconut anything). You also have the diet fads and exercise trends that are easy to get caught up in. Try to be aware of the goals you are setting for yourself, and ask yourself “am I choosing this just because everyone else in the world is doing it? Or is this something I want to do because it makes so much sense to me and I feel so much better when I do it this way? Have you done the research into the facts about whatever it is you are starting to try? Instead of jumping on the band wagon, again, think about where you want to be years from now (not next month). If it is truly not you, skip it.

The bottom line, as my mom always used to say “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” I never really thought about what she meant when she said it, but now I think I get it. We don’t need to set deadlines for change, we don’t need to have unrealistic expectations, we need to stop putting time limits on ourselves. Instead, habits take time to change. We used to think it took 21 days but according to Psychology Today it is more like 66 days. Yes, change takes time, but is also takes falling on your face and failing . You learn something when you get out of bed and can’t walk to the bathroom because you were stupid enough to think you could do a lunge when you haven’t done one in…well, ever. I know I have learned I am much less flexible than I thought and at the rate I am going, it may take a few years to be able to be as flexible as I want to be. But I feel good because I have been able to incorporate it into my life. Even those 10 minutes a day is a huge success in my mind. It is a great feeling to have low expectations sometimes. I still feel like I am moving in a direction, and that feels good.

Happy New Year and here’s to you and your healthier direction, whatever that may be!!!