The Benefits of Spring Cleaning on Your Mental Health

For many, spring means warmer, brighter weather—and that means it’s time to throw open the windows and start spring cleaning!

We’ve discussed before how spring cleaning has health benefits. Opening the windows to let in fresh air can actually improve the humidity and change the oxygen balance in your home. Even sunlight coming in through the windows can help clean the air. But spring cleaning also has associated mental health benefits, including improved mood, decreased stress and heightened creativity. Here are some specific mental health benefits of spring cleaning:

Gets you moving

Spring cleaning is a physical activity, and it gives you a sense of accomplishment. Cleaning gets the happy chemicals moving around in your brain, propelled by an increased heart and respiratory rate. Spring cleaning can give you some of the same mental health benefits as physical exercise, such as running or biking. What’s more, a disorganized space is associated with less physical activity, while organization and order have been associated with choosing to eat more healthy and taking charge of your general health

Reduces stress

Clutter and stress are related, and we know stress is bad for mental health. For example, piles of paper can create a false image that work is endless, and that even when we finish what we are working on, there is more to be done. Looking at the clutter in your home can bring on the anxiety of incomplete tasks or just make it more difficult to accomplish your daily routine. Many Americans feel that home organization and cleanliness are among their biggest stressors. Women specifically have shown to have chronic levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, if they perceive their homes as cluttered. Attacking that clutter can help reduce that stress.

Invites a fresh start

Sometimes mental health issues seem overwhelming because of their long history. You can fall into a pattern of poor mental health and get stuck there. Spring cleaning makes you feel like you are getting a fresh start. When your house looks different—decluttered and clean—you feel a greater ability to change the state of your mental health as well.

Tips for “spring cleaning” your mental health:

If you’re struggling with your mental health, why not try giving it a fresh start as well? Spring cleaning is not only a deep house cleaning, but an exercise of the mind!

  • Create a targeted, personal to-do list of what you want to achieve emotionally.
  • Divide goals into dream goals as well as short and long-term goals.
  • Get at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day.
  • Get up at the same time each day to create a better sleep routine.
  • Schedule regular social activity.
  • Nourish your body and mind with a healthy diet.

First Day of Spring brings…Spring Cleaning!

Is clutter in your space preventing you from living a healthy lifestyle? Believe it or not, disorganization can do more than just make it hard to find daily things. Spring cleaning can actually help you live more healthfully.

Set a goal to declutter

This spring, set a health goal for yourself to start decluttering little parts of your life one at a time. You can use my “non-resolution” method from previous posts if you don’t have a favorite goal-setting method.

Remember to be specific with your decluttering goal, just like any health goal you have set. Here are some examples:

1) Organize your container cabinet.
You want to set a goal to take your lunch to work twice a week (or once a week or every day—tailor your goal to your life) but your Tupperware® or plastic container cabinet is a mess. Decluttering this space will make it more feasible to pack and take a lunch to work. Once this cabinet is tidy, packing leftovers directly from the dinner table into containers in the fridge is easy. Lunch for the next day is ready to go!

2) Organize your pantry.
Do you ever find yourself overbuying food because you can’t remember what you have in stock? Pull everything out of your cabinets, wipe down the shelves and strategically organize your food. You may be surprised how much you have, and this may be a good time to take a box or can to your local food bank. Put items that are due to expire in the front and work them into your meal plans.

3) Organize your refrigerator.
Your refrigerator can get dirty very quickly, so it’s time to deep clean it. Go through everything: I bet half of those condiments are expired! Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.

Declutter for better health

Add decluttering to the goals you already have to be healthy in order to make them easier to obtain and maintain. After you have met your goal for a significant amount of time, make sure you reward yourself (NOT with food!) to help you keep going. Happy First Day of Spring and spring cleaning!

Stay Healthy Inside and Out this Winter with these Tips

During these winter months, we often want to sit down in our stretchy clothes by the fire with something warm and comforting. And in small chunks, this is perfectly acceptable. However, vegging out too much can increase our chances of gaining weight, catching “something” that’s out there, or just feeling plain ol’ miserable.

So, to help keep up your health and sanity during the winter season, here are some of my go-to tips.

  1. Eat within one to one and a half hours after waking.

I hear a lot, “I’m not hungry in the morning” or “Breakfast food is so carb-y.”  But who says you have to eat breakfast food for breakfast?

Eating something is always better than nothing when it comes to breakfast. Try something from this list for a high-protein, low-carb breakfast:

  • an egg (hardboiled, scrambled, over easy, even in the microwave!)
  • plain Greek yogurt with honey or frozen fruit stirred in
  • cottage cheese
  • almond/peanut/cashew butter (NO Nutella®!)

I’m not against using protein supplements either, but be cautious when choosing. In addition to protein for breakfast, balance your breakfast by adding a nutrient-dense carbohydrate, such as sweet potatoes or steel-cut oats. I’ve been known to eat a sweet potato and walnuts for breakfast; it’s a sweet and protein-full breakfast. The biggest takeaway here is: It doesn’t have to be a “typical” breakfast, as long as you’re eating something nutrient rich and within an hour and a half of waking up.

  1. Fuel your body as often as every two to five hours.

Fueling your body throughout the day will keep your metabolism going and help with portion control. My problematic time is often in the afternoon. If I don’t have something to eat then, I either get “hangry” or I overeat at dinner. A couple of quick and easy snacks include: 

  • 2 tablespoons hummus + ½ cup sugar snap peas
  • 5 reduced-fat Triscuits® + 1 ounce low-fat cheese
  1. Don’t skip meals.

Even on a day when you have a larger eating episode planned, don’t skip a meal. If you go longer than three to four hours without eating—believe it or not—your metabolism starts to slow down. Your body starts working against you instead of for you. The key to remember is that “something” is better than nothing. It doesn’t have to be a full traditional meal to count as a meal. Something as simple as cottage cheese, canned peaches (canned in light syrup) and cucumber slices with ranch dressing can actually be a meal.

  1. Plan ahead.

This is the biggest challenge to most of us. I hear often, “if I just planned, it would all be better.” I like to say, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” but you can have the best laid plans and have it all fall through.

But some plan is better than no plan. Start small and work up. Try laying out or prepping for breakfast, lunch or dinner for the next day. Then plan for three days a week, then a week and then work up from there. For this time of year, start with just planning for a challenging day and that will get you going in the right direction.

  1. Eat as a family

Did you know the average family meals lasts about 18 minutes? I’ve heard from many of parents that they spend over an hour in the kitchen—and for what? But, believe it or not, these 18 minutes together carry a long list of benefits.

When I say eat as a family, I’m don’t mean plopping down on the couch in front of the TV. Sitting around the table is the most beneficial. In my house, we even sit around our island some nights when I haven’t had time to clear all the paperwork off the kitchen table. But, keep the TV, phones, gaming systems, etc. off during this time.

  1. Leave food in sight.

This doesn’t mean to not put your cold food in the refrigerator, but keep it where you can see it. Store produce and other healthier foods in see-through containers at eye level in your fridge or in a pretty bowl visible on the counter. We typically eat more of what we can see, and if it looks good, it can be one less barrier to making healthy choices happen.

I also like to create a healthy snack bag with nonperishable items and leave it in my car. You may think this is crazy, but you never know what could happen on the road, especially this time of year. It never fails—my shopping takes too long or the roads are not good, and my drive home takes twice as long. Luckily, in my snack bag I have a 100 calorie pack of almonds and walnuts, protein bar, apple, cuties, and a bottle of water. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but it saves calories and money from stopping somewhere and getting something to eat/drink or gorging when you get home.

  1. Ask yourself 3 questions

I encourage you to ask yourself these three questions when are you are going to the refrigerator, cabinet or food table.

  1. Am I hungry or am I actually thirsty?
  2. Am I hungry or bored?
  3. Am I hungry or just tired of dark days and winter?

If you answered “hungry” to any or all of these questions, then get something to eat. But this system will get you thinking before you start mindlessly eating.

I know this time of year can be difficult, on all accounts, in terms of eating. But maybe one or more of these tips will help you to maintain your weight, health and sanity. Happy Holidays!

Baby, It’s Cold Outside—Tips for Eating Right during the Winter Months

During the cold and dreary winter months, food can almost feel a bit lacking as we crave the summer’s bountiful abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables. But lucky for all of us, there are plenty of lesser-appreciated foods, such as root vegetables, beans, frozen fruits and vegetables—even the canned variety.

I totally get it, as the temperature outside (and in my office) continues to drop, it’s tempting to curl up with your favorite comfort food. But keeping our bodies well nourished is crucial to not only prevent weight gain but also to keep our immune systems fighting against all those pesky germs.

Meal Plan

The key to remember is: “If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.” So you’ve got to make sure these better-for-you foods that I mentioned earlier are readily available, whether that be in the house, at work or—believe it or not—in the car. How do we make this happen? Well, for starters, grocery shopping.

Maybe you’re like me and are not a fan of grocery shopping. In the winter, especially, it can be a dangerous expedition with all those bags and grocery cart! Plus, the coats, coats, coats, coats—(I’ve got 3 kids, so I feel like coats take up the whole grocery cart!)

To try and make this expedition or triathlon as painless and accident free as possible, I strive to plan our meals for the entire week. I include leftovers with this meal planning too. I list all the ingredients needed and see if I have what we need already in the cabinets or fridge. Yes, its tedious and one I do after the kids go to bed, but saves trips to the grocery store. Plus, I try to find recipes with similar ingredients for the week. For example, if you have carrots for soup, think about other ways you can have the carrots, such as roasted for a side, shredded in a salad or cooked in the slow cooker with a roast.

Meal planning is important because it saves you time and money. How many times have you made a trip in the in the snow, only to get home and realize you forgot an ingredient (or more!) meaning you have to either go back to the store, figure out something completely different—or giving up and running through the drive-thru for dinner. Planning ahead will save you the hassle!

Maybe this could be the time to try out the drive up or delivery services offered by many local grocery stores. You could also try some of the meal delivery services, but I encourage to be cautious when selecting one (and this is a whole blog most in itself).

Stock the Pantry

While it may be more expensive in the short-term, the more you have pre-stocked in your pantry/cabinets, the more things you have to get creative with later. I like to have canned beans, different kinds of rice (brown, jasmine, basmati, wild), quinoa, oatmeal and dry roasted/unsalted nuts.

Look at Sale Items

Keep an open mind to clearance grocery items. You may be surprised to find that a random item could spark an idea for a meal or snack. Out-of-season fruits and vegetables can be expensive, so watch for sales, but don’t be afraid to substitute in-season fruits or vegetables in your recipe.

Don’t Forget about Snacks

I encourage you to stock up on snacks and stash them in lots of places, especially in the car. Some examples are: trail mix, protein bars (that have at least 20 grams protein), whole wheat crackers, squeezable unsweet applesauce, unsalted/dry roasted nuts, roasted chickpeas, hardboiled eggs, string cheese, snack size bags of popcorn, hand fruits and vegetables (grapes, apples, blueberries, baby carrots) just to name a few.

So while you curl up next to the fire this winter, be thinking about how you can plan ahead, try something new and have food available—and don’t forget to eat every few hours.

 

Are you ready for “Ask a Dietitian: Holiday Hibernation” next week?

Ready or not…the last “Doctor is In” seminar is on Nov. 1. In this presentation, registered dietitians Amanda Figge and Megan Klemm will talk eating right throughout the holidays—and getting through winter without packing on the pounds!

Attendees of “Doctor is In” next week will be given three recipes to try at home that show how to balance a plate with carbs, proteins, dairy and veggies. Here’s a sneak peek!

House Salad

Salad ingredients:

  • 1 head red-leaf lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • Half of a small red onion, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 2 (14 ounce) jars quartered artichoke hearts, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 (12 ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and diced
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

Zesty red wine vinaigrette ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, store-bought or homemade
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

Instructions

  1. Whisk the ingredients for the zesty red wine vinaigrette together until combined or add them together in a mason jar and shake until combined.
  2. Add all the ingredients for the salad together in a large bowl, and then toss until evenly combined.
  3. Serve immediately.

From: Gimme Some Oven

Enjoy Halloween Treats—Avoid Sugary Tricks

From vampire bats to Kit Kats®, Halloween is a long-standing tradition celebrated with tricks and treats. In fact, it’s one of my favorite holidays. I have always found humor in dressing up in non-traditional Halloween costumes, even at an early age. Luckily, I have great friends and family that are willing to partake in my couple/group Halloween costume extravaganzas. 

 Routine consumption of “sugary tricks” can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.

There is no “healthy” candy

As a dietitian, the most common question I get this time of year is, “What is the best/healthiest candy to eat”? Unfortunately, there isn’t an answer. But don’t worry! This is not going to be your typical “don’t eat candy” Halloween post.  In my eyes, it’s perfectly fine to eat your heart out in candy for a night (or two). Why? Because we are a product of what we routinely do, not what we occasionally do. This applies to all aspects of life, but especially to our health.  

Everything in Moderation

What I mean by this concept is that it is perfectly fine to enjoy some less-nutritious foods, such as pizza, donuts and candy, occasionally. The problem is that most people enjoy these foods far too often than what their metabolisms are capable of processing. I am more concerned with the “daily candy” our youth and adults consume. Routine consumption of these foods can lead to high blood sugars, hypertension, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, gut problems—and the list goes on and on.

Breakfast Candy

Cereals, Pop-Tarts® and pastries are some of the best ways to start off your day…. If you want a sugar and insulin surge. These habits lead to fluctuations in blood sugar and insulin control throughout the day, disrupt concentration and can suck the energy right out of you. Lower sugar options include eggs, lean breakfast meats, nuts, peanut butter, cottage cheese and small servings of fruit.

Liquid Candy

Juice, soda, sweet tea and sports drinks are simply sugar in a liquid form. Perceived benefits of caffeine, vitamins and electrolytes are far outweighed by the consequences of the rapid absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. Not only does this sugar tidal wave spike insulin levels, it also increases preferences towards high-sugar foods, so the cycle unfortunately continues.

Fake Candy

Often, people gravitate towards items that are “sugar-free,” such as diet soda or sugar-free snacks, with the assumption that these products are healthier. I firmly stand my ground that low-calorie, chemical versions of sugar are no healthier for you than real and processed sugars. They may have a reduced nutrient density, but research shows that sugar substitutes greatly damage our gut lining. This can lead to leaky gut syndrome, propelling a host of other disease conditions.

Fruit Candy

Fruit roll-ups, fruit snacks and fruit-fillings are not fruit. They are pastes and mixtures created to taste like fruit. While these foods may appear to be healthier choices than other snack foods, nutritionally, they are no different than Skittles®.

Dairy Candy

Milk and yogurt contain both natural and added sugars. Calcium intake is important but not at the price of 20 grams of sugar, which is what you may find in a standard serving of yogurt (even Greek) and especially flavored milk varieties. Opt for low-sugar calcium sources such as unsweetened milk substitutes, broccoli, spinach, cheese, cottage cheese or whey/casein-based protein powders.