Oh, the smell of winter is in the air. The colder temperatures, snow, ice, winter coats, skiing, sledding and root vegetables. Can you tell this is an enjoyable time for me?
No, actually it isn’t. I don’t like cold, I don’t like skiing, and I’m not a big fan of snow. Yeah, yeah I know, I live in Illinois, but I’m still not use to it! However, I do love root vegetables because you can roast these vegetables and they are fabulous to eat. They are like a guilty pleasure, almost too good to be good for you! Plus, it is super, super easy to do.
New Year’s is a time where many people make resolutions. “I’m going to lose weight,” or “I’m going to quit smoking” are two of the popular resolutions, but what about mental health? Less commonly do people make resolutions for their mental health beyond a simple phrase such as “be happier.” But, if you are one of the 43.8 million adults in the United States who experiences mental illness (NAMI, 1999), you might benefit from some resolutions toward improving your mental health.
Here are some possible changes to pursue:
Make sleep, diet, and exercise a priority. Snickers has a popular series of commercials where a celebrity is acting in an angry, irritated, or frustrated manner until they are given a Snickers because they become emotional when they are hungry. After taking a bite of the Snicker bar, the person returns to his or her typical self. While I (and I’m sure our dietitians) would agree that sugar isn’t the answer, these commercials do have a point: our physical health impacts our mental health. When we are tired, hungry, fatigued, or inactive, our mental health suffers. Resolve to make simple changes to your habits this year: get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, go on more walks. Try to build on choices you make that are already healthy.
Think positive. This sounds cliché, but there is evidence to suggest that optimism improves our life. The Mayo Clinic reports on their website that optimism has been connected to longer life span, decreased depression, decreased distress, reduced cardiovascular disease, and improved coping skills. Unsure of how to start thinking in a positive manner? Begin with creating a daily affirmation for yourself. Waking up and saying “Today is going to be a good day,” can lead you to viewing the day in a more positive light. If you have a specific stressor you are worried about, trying envisioning how that problem will go well instead of how it can go wrong.
Seek help. In 2012, ABC News reported that only about 60% of people with mental illness received professional help. Professional help is available in a variety of ways, from counseling to medication to support groups. If you are unsure where to go or what method is best for you, start with speaking with your doctor about the issue.
Mental illness is a difficult challenge for many people, but the New Year is a great time to make positive changes. Even if you aren’t dealing with mental illness, perhaps pursuing one of the above resolutions can make your 2017 a more positive and enjoyable year.
As we start a new year, we think about setting New Year’s Resolutions and so many of these resolutions focus around “perfecting” ourselves. Well, let me tell you perfection is quite a funny thing because IT DOESN’T EXIST!!! When we try so very hard to reach the unattainable it can wreak havoc on our bodies and cause anxiety, tension, headaches, depression, etc. Thus, causing a destructive relationship around food.
How many times have you tried diet, after diet, after diet? You lose the weight and then gain the weight back, you know the old adage ‘yo-yo dieter’. We try to be perfectionist on the diet, but find we are trying to reach the unattainable and give up after a while because those food rules and deprivation aren’t working. Then the weight comes back on and the anxiety, tension, depression, etc. accelerates because we couldn’t be PERFECT.
So let’s try this year to let go of the perfectionistic thoughts and regain our relationship with food.
Ask yourself why. Why do I want to fill in the blank?
What is the underlying perfectionistic tendency with this question? Is the WHY because of a life transition like children, spouse, marriage, divorce, career/career change, medical diagnosis, friendship, etc.? You can’t always have control over life events, so because of this are you trying to take control somewhere else, such as with food.
2. Embrace your diet imperfections.
I know this is hard, I struggle with it too, but I’m giving you permission this year to not be perfect. It’s okay to fail and give in from time to time allowing foods you desire to bring enjoyment and pleasure to eating. When you do this, your relationship with yourself and food will be that much more joyful.
3. Focus on mindful eating.
By being mindful of your eating, this allows you to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through your food selections. Using your senses can be both satisfying and nourishing. Thus, acknowledging your response to food without judgment and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to help guide your food decisions.
I have quite a few patients asking for a calorie amount to follow, but I rarely give an actual calorie count to a patient. Instead, I teach patients about the different macronutrients (carbohydrates, protein, and fat) and how to portion meals and snacks so nutrient needs are being met. Although I do not give calorie amounts often, it is important to be aware of calorie content in the grand scheme of things when trying to lose weight, gain weight, or maintain a healthy weight. 2,000 calories/day has been set as the average need of an adult. However, this number varies greatly depending on sex, activity level, genetics and so on. Let’s say that 2,000 calories per day is accurate for you; do you know what this actually looks like?
A 2014, New York Times’ article, “What 2,000 Calories Looks Like”, provides examples of a 2,000 calorie meals. I’ve selected a few examples of meals from the article that you can find here in restaurants in our area. Click here to view the full article.
This meal combo meal comes in at just under 2,000 calories!
This includes the “Tour of Italy Sampler”, 2 bread sticks, side salad, and a glass of red wine for 2,020 calories!
“Classic Skillet” with orange juice is 2,000 calories.
Many of these meals (or equivalents) are eaten 2-3 times a day, meaning calorie intake can be far in excess of needs! Calories are generally controlled better at home. I use the #plategoals method to educate patients on food groups and portion control. Cooking at home decreases processed food intake, which in turn decreases calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium—all good things to keep in moderation when trying to live a healthy lifestyle. Lastly is an example of a day’s worth of food prepared at home, filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and lean protein!
Breakfast: Yogurt with fruit and nuts, 1 slice of toast with jam, and coffee. Lunch: beef stir-fry with farro, pretzels, a pear, and diet soda. Dinner: chicken with arugula, Brussels sprouts and squash, 2 small cookies, 1 glass of wine and water. All of this is 2,000 calories!
This is not going to be your average holiday blog on how to make a healthy, low-calorie, festive feast. In fact, I tell my patients it’s perfectly fine to relax and enjoy a cookie or two this holiday season. While many of us are concerned with weight gain this time of year, the holiday meals are usually not the blame for those extra pounds. Weight gain is more related to our daily habits that we have surrounding the holiday festivities. Before you drastically cut calories and miss out on Nana’s famous apple pie, consider some of these unhealthy habits that could be affecting your metabolism.
#1 You’re skipping meals.
Missing a feeding (or going longer than 4 hours without eating) is a sure-fire way to slow down your metabolism. When you don’t feed your body often enough, it begins to feel deprived and starts working against you, rather than for you. I know it’s easy to skip meals for the sake of saving calories later on in the day, but unfortunately, this works at your disadvantage. Your body is more likely to store calories (both good and not-so-good calorie choices) with frequent meal skipping habits. For persons with pre-diabetes and diabetes, meal skipping actually worsens blood sugar control. Planning ahead is the best approach to assure you feed your body often enough. This is easily accomplished by packing your lunch the night before, throwing an extra protein bar in your purse or creating enough time in the morning routine to allow for a well-balanced breakfast. Don’t forget about the importance of eating regularly on the weekends and with traveling in addition to the routine of the workweek.
#2 Your breakfast is too high in carbs.
It’s no secret that America loves her carbs. In fact, when you walk down the “breakfast aisle” at the grocery store, carbohydrates are the only food source available: cereal, oatmeal, cream of wheat, pancake and waffle mixes, muffins, bagels, pastries, poptarts and granola. We even find ways to eat dessert for breakfast in the form of cinnamon rolls, donuts, coffee cakes, banana breads and believe it or not, most Greek yogurts have the same amount of sugar in them as a scoop of ice cream. Additional sources from carbohydrates in the AM can come from your juice, milk, fruit, syrup and jelly. Carbohydrates are not bad for you; however, consuming them in excessive amounts with your first meal tends to send your blood sugar and insulin levels on a rollercoaster ride for the remainder of the day. When your blood sugar and insulin levels hit a low point, your irritability tends to go up and guess what, you crave the very thing that will help those levels spike again…carbs and sugar.
#3 You drink too much caffeine.
Before you read any further, heed my advice that coffee is not bad for you! However, caffeine is a very powerful stimulant and can dull the body’s natural hunger cues. Suppressing one’s appetite with caffeine can lead to long periods of time without eating or even meal-skipping altogether. Finally, when you sit down to have a good meal in the evening, rather than use your food for fuel, your body is aggressively storing it as fat as a consequence to being deprived of nutrients throughout the day.
#4 Your snacks lack protein.
Some of the most common snack choices include crackers, chips, popcorn, granola bars, pretzels and desserts. While these foods may taste great, they offer little to no nutrient benefit once chewed and swallowed. They are all very poor sources of vitamins, minerals and protein. Their lack of protein specifically, will leave your hunger pains unsatisfied and not to mention, cause a sharp rise in your blood sugar and insulin levels from the excessive carbohydrate content. For more balanced snack choices, incorporate protein-rich foods such as eggs, meats, cheese, cottage cheese, nuts, peanut butters or protein bars/shakes if desired.
#5. You’re skipping the weights at the gym.
Any form of exercise is better than no exercise, but strength-training specifically has the greatest potential for increasing one’s metabolism. Unlike cardio, lifting weights and even doing body weight exercises can stimulate both muscle retention and muscle growth. Your muscle is the wonderful calorie-burning blanket that wraps around your body. The higher your muscle mass percentage is, the more calories your body burns at rest.
Overindulging on food with family and friends on special occasions should not promote weeklong restrictive eating and guilt. It should be a time you look back and cherish with fond memories. I want you to be able to enjoy all the festivities this holiday season has to bring. Be consistent with your healthy habits and don’t be afraid to partake in some of the joyful delights this winter has to bring!
A recent report from the Journal of the American Heart Association cautions that calcium supplements may be detrimental to heart health. The report analyzed 10 years of medical tests on cardiac patients and found that those who took calcium supplements were more likely to have an excess of plaque buildup in their arteries. The report indicated that participants who received calcium through food did not have an increased risk of developing heart disease. I often see patients that are taking multiple supplements and have the “more is better!” mentality, but that is not always true.
Although calcium is important, is a supplement really necessary? Can you get the recommended amount of calcium through food? Absolutely! Our bodies respond to and utilize nutrients, vitamins, and minerals found in food far better than those found in supplements. An added bonus of achieving calcium needs through food are the other nutrients, vitamins, and minerals the food naturally contains. As seen in the table below, many breakfast cereals are fortified with calcium, so this combined with milk may help you quickly achieve a good portion of calcium needs!
Men and women 19-50 years of age have a recommended daily allowance (RDA) of 1,000 mg calcium daily.
Men ages 51-70 years are recommended to have 1,000 mg daily and women 1,200 mg daily. 1,200 mg/day becomes the recommended amount for both men and women ages 71 and older.