What is mindfulness and how can it help me?

Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD., the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health, Care, and Society, defined it as “paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” The Center believes that Mindfulness is “consciously and systematically working with your own pain, stress, illness, and the challenges of everyday life.”

So, what does all of that really mean? When you are being mindful, you are not letting your life pass you by, you are living in the present, allowing your thoughts and feelings to come to you, but not judging them as either good or bad.

How can Mindfulness help me?

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the MIND:

  • Lower levels of psychological distress, including less anxiety, less depression, anger, and worry
  • Reduced ruminative thinking
  • Greater sense of well-being
  • Feeling less stressed, more joyful, inspired, grateful, hopeful, content, vital, and satisfied with life

Research on mindful meditation’s effect of the BRAIN:

  • Helps to influence areas of the brain involved in regulating attention, awareness, and emotion
  • Significantly improved the efficiency of executive attention during a computerized attention test (good news for ADHD)
  • Increased grey matter density in the hippocampus which is important for learning and memory
  • Decreased grey matter density in the amygdala which plays a role in anxiety and stress; activated regions of the brain that are associated with positive feelings towards others

Research on mindful meditation’s effect on the BODY:

  • There is scientific evidence to support the therapeutic effect off mindfulness meditation training on stress-related medical conditions including- psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, fibromyalgia, and chronic low back pain
  • Reduces symptoms of stress and negative mood states and increases emotional well-being and quality of life, among persons with chronic illness

Research on mindful meditation on BEHAVIOR:

  • Better ability to quit smoking, decrease in binge eating, improved sleeping quality, and reduced alcohol and illicit substance use.

How do I do Mindfulness?

Here are some examples to get you started:

Mindfulness Meditation

Find a place where you can sit quietly and undisturbed for a few moments. To begin, you might want to set a timer for about 10 minutes, but after some experience you should not be too concerned about the length of time you spend meditating.

Begin by bringing your attention to the present moment by noticing your breathing. Pay attention to your breath as it enters and then leaves your body. Notice the cool air that enters, and the hot air that exits. Before long, your mind will begin to wander, pulling you out of the present moment. That’s ok. Notice your thoughts and feelings as

if you are an outside observer watching what’s happening in your brain. Take note, and allow yourself to return to your breathing. Sometimes you might feel frustrated or bored. That’s fine–these are just a few more feelings to notice. Your mind might start to plan an upcoming weekend, or worry about a responsibility. Notice where your thoughts are going, and accept what’s happening. When you realize your mind wandering, return your concentration to your breathing. Continue this process until your timer rings.

Five Senses

The goal is to notice something that you are currently experiencing through each of your senses.

What are 5 things you can see? Look around you and notice 5 things you hadn’t noticed before. Maybe a pattern on a wall, light reflecting from a surface, or a knick-knack in the corner of a room.

What are 4 things you can feel? Maybe you can feel the pressure of your feet on the floor, your shirt resting on your shoulders, or the temperature on your skin. Pick up an object and notice its texture.

What are 3 things you can hear? Notice all the background sounds you had been filtering out, such as an air-conditioning, birds chirping, or cars on a distant street.

What are 2 things you can smell? Maybe you can smell flowers, coffee, or freshly cut grass. It doesn’t have to be a nice smell either: maybe there’s an overflowing trashcan or sewer.

What is 1 thing you can taste? Pop a piece of gum in your mouth, sip a drink, eat a snack if you have one, or simply notice how your mouth tastes. “Taste” the air to see how it feels on your tongue.

The numbers for each sense are only a guideline. Feel free to do more or less of each. Also, try this exercise while doing an activity like washing dishes, listening to music, or going for a walk.

 

Practicing Environmental Control: The Grocery Store

Managing environmental cues or as I like to call it, practicing Environmental Control, in the grocery store may seem easy, but is actually quite challenging. A basic misconception is that food-related decisions are consciously and deliberately made. The reality is, food choices are often an automated response. Sometimes choices made may even be the opposite of what the person would consciously prefer. How, you ask? Let’s take a look at a prime example: food placement traps.

Practicing Environmental Control: The Grocery Store

End of aisle location accounts for about 30% of all grocery sales. Vendors pay special fees for these spots and placement which can increase sales by a factor of five. Research using eye tracking equipment shows the attention drawn by special displays has more to do with the display itself rather than the goals of someone who selects them. Furthermore, people who lack the capacity to fully control eye-gaze and look the longest will be more likely to purchase those items.

So, how do we go about practicing environmental control in the grocery store?

  • Have an awareness that marketing is focused on selling foods that are not necessarily good for you.
  • Make a plan
  • Make a grocery list
  • Be aware of the ‘bad’ food placement traps
  • Don’t shop hungry
  • Do NOT under any circumstance ‘window shop’ junk food – don’t venture or gaze into the difficult areas.
  • Purchase fruits and/or vegetables at every grocery store visit
  • Purchase fresh fruits and vegetables if you have a plan for immediate use, otherwise look for canned or frozen variety.
  • Don’t read labels in the stores – this can be too taxing and cognitively stressing. Study labels thoroughly at home, so when you need to compare in the store you know what you are looking at.

To help you get started on the right track, I encourage you this week to go grocery shopping and make a plan that includes a specific list for vegetables and fruits and a more specific plan to substitute a new fruit or vegetable for any usual white carbohydrate item you purchase. Happy Shopping!

Rethink those 2,000 calories

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.

  1. Chipotle

This meal combo meal comes in at just under 2,000 calories!

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  1. Olive Garden

This includes the “Tour of Italy Sampler”, 2 bread sticks, side salad, and a glass of red wine for 2,020 calories!

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  1. IHOP

 “Classic Skillet” with orange juice is 2,000 calories.

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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!

  1. Home

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!

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Alana Scopel

Are you getting enough calcium?

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.

Are you getting enough calcium

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. 

calcium through food

Resource: National Institutes of Health

Alana Scopel

5 Shortcuts to Mealtime

You’ve done your meal planning but the day has still fallen apart, now what are you going to do for dinner? 

You’ve done your meal planning but the day has still fallen apart, now what are you going to do for dinner?

 

Here are 5 Shortcuts to get a meal on the table in no time…

  1. Have fruits and vegetables already prepped and ready to go. Have these fruits/vegetables washed, cut and in individual containers. Put a dry paper towel on top before you put the lid on to help soak up the moisture. Do this on a day that works best for you. For some it may be the weekend and for others it may be a weekday/weeknight.
  1. I have priced cauliflower this time of year and buying the already cut up cauliflower is about break even with a head of cauliflower. My family loves cauliflower and there is so much you can do with it: Fresh, steamed, roasted and mashed. When you have it already cut up you can do any of the above in a short amount of time.  Don’t be afraid to look around in your fresh produce section to find easy time savers to keep on hand.
  1. Keep staples on hand:
  • Buy meats in bulk and freeze in family portion sizes
  • White/sweet potato
  • String cheese
  • Applesauce
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Freeze bread
  • Yogurt
  • Tortillas
  • Cottage cheese
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned fruits & vegetables
  • Low Sodium canned soup
  • Italian dressing (liquid or dry)
  • Canned Beans
  • Whole Wheat Pasta (any kind)
  • 5-10 minute rice
  • Oats
  • Chicken broth (98% fat free)
  • Cream of … (98% fat free)
  • Canned fish/chicken
  • Frozen chicken
  • Eggs
  • Vegetable/Tomato Juice
  1. Keep frozen steamer bags of vegetables in the freezer. I love that they don’t go bad, you can take it out of the freezer and within 5-7 minutes in the microwave you have steamed vegetables. Honestly, this can be quicker than going through the drive through.
  1. Ziploc Zip’n Steam Bags: these are fabulous. You can cook vegetables and protein in them.  You can actually make a whole meal in minutes in them.  I always keep baby carrots on hand, so in a pinch I throw some of the baby carrots in the bag, look at the cooking directions and usually in a few minutes you have a side.  But you can also cook fish/chicken in these fresh or frozen.  FABULOUS!!  Get them in the baggie aisle.

Simple Meals

These are quick and simple meals, with no special ingredients and would primarily be using staple ingredients that you already have on hand. I recommend keeping 5-10 recipes in your ‘back pocket’ for when you need a meal on the table in just a short amount of time.

  1. Thawed chicken with either Italian dressing or BBQ sauce on top and bake
  2. Soups – chicken noodle soup, you can make any canned soup better with your own ingredients added to it
  3. Breakfast for dinner: whole wheat pancakes/waffles, omelets with vegetables,
  4. Salad with all the toppings
  5. Roasted chicken from the store
  6. Quesadilla/tacos/spaghetti
  7. Cubed chicken/canned chicken with cream of chicken soup and frozen veggies, mix together. Top with stove top and bake ~30 min.
  8. 7 can soup (add 7 cans of whatever you want to make a soup), simmer on stove till warm.
  9. I’m a realist mom here – chicken nuggets, fish sticks – ITS WHAT YOU PAIR IT WITH
  10. Always remember the #plategoals to make your meals balanced. Even in a pinch, you can make it happen!

plategoals

 

Megan Klemm

 

Are you stuck in your workout routine?

If you know me, then you know how much I love exercise. My passion for fitness led me to study exercise and metabolism in college. Obtaining a degree in Exercise Science and earning 3 different fitness certifications allowed me to share this passion with others and provide guidance for leading healthier, more-fit lifestyles. Over the past 12 years, I have learned a lot about the body, metabolism and fitness capacities through research, practice and personal experience. During that time I have learned what works and what works better.

are you stuck in your workout routine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

First and foremost, you should always start with an activity that you love. This is especially true for those who are just starting out on their fitness journey. The most basic principle to remember about exercise is that your body was designed to move and any form of physical activity accomplishes that objective. Nature never intended for us to sit for 8 hours a day at work, drive umpteen hours during the week and engage in sedentary activities such as watching TV and playing on our smartphone devices. Do what you love and be happy, because if you’re not, it’s highly unlikely that you will stick to your exercise routine. This recommendation is for general health, not necessarily for those wanting to push their fitness to the next level.

nature

That being said, some forms of exercise may not be best-matched for our fitness or physique goals. All throughout college and even into my mid-20s, I was a cardio junkie. Because nothing burns a ton of calories like a good hour of sweat, right?  Sure, I would strength train and teach a variety of classes, but my workouts were still dominated by long, aggressive cardio sessions. To the untrained eye, I appeared “healthy” but looking back, old photos of me reveal I had skinny, cardio-arms and a cortisol-provoked pooch. Overdoing it on cardio workouts left my body chronically inflamed and extremely sensitive to changes in my normal routine.  I would gain weight very easily which would in turn drive me to add extra workouts to burn off more calories. This cycle repeated itself over and over and over.

cardio

 

 

 

 

 

I began journaling my workouts and recorded how I felt after using different training methods. Surprisingly, I would always feel the best after a good weight lifting session, but it would still be years before I made strength-training my primary form of exercise. It’s easy to think that the longer your workouts, the healthier you’ll be.

In 2013, I finally entered the world of Crossfit, fell in love with it and we’ve been happily married ever since. Crossfit is a strength and conditioning program that focuses on functional movements such as weight lifting, running and rowing that are performed at various levels of load and intensity. It can be applied to individuals of all ages and fitness levels. I’ll be perfectly honest with you, when I started Crossfit I merely wanted the aesthetic benefits of it.  My goals were purely extrinsic, like they had always been with exercise. As I became more immersed in the Crossfit culture, something unexpected happened. I found myself surrounded by a group of people who all shared the same passion for hard work as I did and these people are now my fit family. A Crossfit gym is unlike any other gym you will ever experience. It separates itself by the presence of spirit and camaraderie. As I continued with my training in this new environment, my goals became more fitness-oriented and less and less about my looks.

Today, I am constantly striving towards a new challenge and to make myself a better and smarter athlete than the day before. What’s crazy is that when I finally let go of the whole “gotta look good” concept of exercise, my body naturally transformed on its own. My metabolism has never been healthier. I eat twice as much as what I used to, have excellent energy levels, more positive moods and have never felt more beautiful and confident in my body. I also learned that my rest days are just as valuable as my training days. It all happened when I traded in the treadmill for a barbell.

treadmill

Many would agree that Crossfit has a “less is more” approach to fitness. Some days, all I do for a workout is perform 5×5 back squats. The old Amanda would think, “That is hardly a workout” while the new Amanda says, “I can’t wait to see what my body can do today”!

I know what you’re thinking. Can you get injured doing Crossift? Sure can. You know what else you can get injured doing? Zumba, running or picking a toy off the ground. Crossfit is not injury-prone, people are. When skillfully guided by a certified trainer, Crossfit can be a safe, effective and motivating way to train the body and metabolism.

This whole concept of high intensity interval training has caught on like wildfire in the research world. What was once considered a form of training for the elite athlete is now being applied to our clinical population. Numerous studies have shown that not only is HIIT safe for the clinical population, it has shown to have greater benefits in both cardiorespiratory fitness and physiological parameters (weight, BMI, blood sugar and insulin control, blood pressure to name a few) when compared to older standards of recommended exercises such as moderate-intense cardio prescriptions. This further strengthens the need for health practitioners to be not only educated but exposed to alternative forms of exercise that includes strength and interval training.

So, if you feel like you are stuck in your exercise routine, hopefully this article will help generate the idea of pursuing alternative fitness goals. Become comfortable with the uncomfortable. For me, Crossfit served as a gateway to deeper wellness: teaching me to nourish my body better with whole food ingredients, rest, and recover properly. And I now surround myself with people that make me a better person, both inside and outside of the gym. The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. It’s a very simple formula. Love. Laugh. Lift.

Amanda Figge