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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.
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!
For many people, the holidays are a season of happiness, celebration, and family gatherings. For those who have experienced loss, the glimmer of holiday lights and decorations can evoke feelings of loneliness and sadness, reflecting on memories of past times. How can we celebrate a holiday while also mourning the loss of someone close to us? Here are some tips for getting through the season for facing grief during the holiday season.
Typically during the holidays, we can predict the days that will be most difficult for us. Do your best to plan ahead; set aside some time alone if necessary or schedule your trip to the cemetery. If you know certain parts of the holiday won’t be the same, create new traditions or incorporate times of remembrance.
Externalize your grief:
Grief.com has some positive ideas about how to mark the loss of a loved one. Some of these ideas include lighting a candle or saying a prayer for the loved one before the holiday meal. You may also choose to include others by having everyone share a positive memory or funny story about the person.
Take a break:
Grief.com also suggests cancelling the holiday. The beauty of holidays is that they come back every year, so if you decide you need a year off from hosting Thanksgiving dinner or you are just not up for traveling this December, take some time off. It is important to remember that any feeling shouldn’t remain stored up inside. Choosing to cancel or postpone a holiday celebration is not selfish but rather a positive form of self-care.
It is important to remember that the holidays are a time of celebration but can also be a time of difficulty. Be aware of your own feelings and also the feelings of others. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a loved one who may be struggling this holiday season and be sure to take care of yourself.
It’s easy to say “It’s too cold out” and retreat to the couch on winter evenings and weekends. It’s true that the winter months can be difficult to maintain our physical activity routines. If you live in the Midwest or other areas prone to snow, the weather can be an unpredictable hassle. It gets darker outside earlier, and this tends to make us more tired earlier than normal. We also tend to eat more “comfort food” during the cold months of the year. Our bodies can lose muscle mass within weeks of not utilizing them and we can also see changes in metabolism.
With all things considered, physical activity during winter is just as important as during any other season. Here are 5 ways to cure your cabin fever!
Outside is not off limits! Just remember to dress in layers to help insulate your body. Top layers of clothing should be wind and water-resistant, if possible. Outdoor activities include, but are not limited to, sledding, skiing, ice skating (which can also be indoors), snowball fights, shoveling snow, building a snowman or fort, and walking the dog. If none of these are appealing, bundle up and go for a nice walk around the neighborhood!
Use indoor locations as a place to walk. Churches with recreation centers, malls, and other department stores are great options if you don’t want to make a trip to the gym.
Make a “gym” or place to work out in the convenience of your own home! Weights can be purchased inexpensively. Boxes or a step stool can be used as tools for cardio workouts. Jumping jacks and jump ropes count, too!
Whether in your home or at work, use the stairs. We should really use the stairs vs. elevator any time of year, but using the steps during the winter will help increase physical activity that may be hard to fit in otherwise.
Dance! Put on your favorite playlist and have a 30 minute dance session! Dancing burns calories, reduces stress, and is just fun!