Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Do you hear your body?

Your body is wise. This is a rather simple idea and one too many of us ignore. The concept is your body knows what it needs and when it needs it. I've heard the idea from several of my teachers and it is a good practice to remember. What does it mean, exactly?

We all know when we are sick. You wake up in the morning and your first thought is "Ugh. I don't feel well." Maybe a sore throat, muscle aches and headache. All too often, too many of us ignore these signs from our body. We press on and do whatever important task is on our list. Often times, rest is the best medicine for most of what ails us. And, water (a headache is an early warning sign for dehydration). If your body doesn't feel well we know we should get some rest and drink some water.

Do we? Sadly, not. During the last several decades, we've been trained not to listen to our own bodies and worse yet, we've learned to mask the messages we receive from our bodies with medications. Knee hurts, take some ibuprofen. Headache, take some ibuprofen. The list goes on and on.

Sure, when we aren't feeling well, all we really want is to feel better. And yes, often the fastest way to feel better is to take some pills. The long term consequences of this pattern can lead to a bigger problem. Sometimes small little pains are our bodies simply telling us to slow down and take a break. If we keep ignoring the signs or masking them through chemicals, our body will continue to send us signals until one of them finally puts us down for the count. Most of us, at one time or another, have been so sick we cannot move and have no choice but to stay in bed. Why would we torture our bodies so much and leave them with little choice than to escalate the problem until we have to listen?

My advice? Take a few moments and listen to your body. Go ahead, do it right now. I'll wait here...

Very good! Now what did your body say? Need some more sleep tonight? Maybe a little stretching to loosen tight muscles? Are you thirsty? Maybe calling an old friend to catch up is just what the body wants.

Each and every sensation your body sends your way is a message. I think it is time we cherish the one and only body we have to take us through this life. Why wouldn't you listen? After all, the body only has so many ways to say ouch.

Gratitude to my teachers. To read more about them, see the links below:
Bob Duggan, Tai Sophia Institute
Joshua Rosenthal, Institute for Integrative Nutrition
Dr. Mark Hyman, The Ultra Wellness Center. Dr. Hyman is credited for "the body only has so many ways to say ouch."

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Pursuit of Health

How do we get healthy? If you have a great deal of time you can go through the 44+ million Google search results and perhaps figure it out. Naturally, part of the problem is much of the advice conflicts with other advice and some of it is created by people with significant special interests. What is the average person (with a job, kids, pets and not enough free time already) to do to get healthy?

I had an opportunity to listen to Dr. Mark Hyman this weekend at IIN and he put the pursuit of health into two very simple questions:

  1. What do you need to get rid of?
  2. What do you need to add?
Wow! Is it really that simple? The questions are simple enough and if you consider all of the parts of your life and answer those questions, odds are you'll be well on your way to health. (Dr. Hyman has a great deal of information on his website which dives into detail so head there for more information. And his book, The UltraMind Solution, is terrific). For a quick synopsis, here are possible things to examine for each question.

Get Rid Of?
  • toxins
  • allergens
  • infections
  • poor diet (i.e., processed and fast foods)
  • stress
Need to Add?
  • Healthy whole foods (i.e., vegetables and fruits)
  • Vitamins, minerals, nutrients, hormones
  • Light, water and air
  • Movement
  • Rhythm and sleep
  • Relaxation
  • Love and community
  • Meaning and purpose
Voila! Perhaps you can spend a few moments this evening thinking about those two questions. Who knows what brilliant ideas you'll have? Remember... every little bit helps!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Nothing or All

This week, the First Lady announced the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition. A day later, President Obama dined with Russian President Medvedev at a burger joint in Northern Virginia. Ray's Hell Burger, to be exact.

It didn't take long for the blogsphere to comment about the irony of these two events being only a day apart. Why would the President eat a burger a mere 24 hours after his wife announced an initiative designed to get Americans to eat more healthfully?

Is a greasy, giant burger part of a healthy diet? Perhaps not. Should we force ourselves into eating only healthy food, all or nothing? Definitely not! Granted, the timing wasn't great. But let's face it, sometimes taking a friend out for lunch to sit across the table, face-to-face, for a tasty burger, dripping with grease might be the best way to discuss anything. Who can be anything other than themselves with cheese dripping down the chin and globs of ketchup falling onto the table?

Give the President, and every one of us, a break. A burger on occasion is just fine. The secret to health? Only do so on occasion... which, for the sake of clarity is likely about once a month. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Not Enough?

Americans have been brain washed. Perhaps sight washed is a better term. We only think there is enough food if the plate is piled high or the bowl is brimming over. Anything less than that seems, well, not enough. I've taken to using salad plates for lunch and dinner entrees as a way to help my mind believe there is a whole plate of food there waiting to be consumed. And, in fact, there is.

A few weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Joel Fuhrman speak as part of my program at IIN. Dr. Fuhrman told the audience the body can only really process 400 calories at any one meal. Any excess calories are unnecessary and are stored or eliminated. I have been thinking about a 400-calorie per meal eating plan (I did not say diet!) and have been considering what I could eat to hit that benchmark.

This evening, I wandered to the local Whole Foods to buy tilapia for dinner and the recipe called for 4 ounces of fish per person. I asked for 8 ounces of fish (dinner for two) and the fishmonger promptly weighed and wrapped the fillets. I brought them home to prepare and when I opened the package it seemed like not enough food. I then perused one of my favorite calorie counting sites, FitDay, and it tells me a 4 ounce tilapia fillet is 109 calories. By the time the fish is wrapped in the luscious marinade it will be up to 218 calories. With the sauteed spinach on the side and a few slices of whole wheat baguette (with some healthy olive oil, previously mentioned risks notwithstanding), the total dinner will amount to just below 400 calories.

All of this to say, I think we have fooled and/or trained our bodies to consume far more food that we actually need (and, if you think cooking a healthy meal like this dinner is time consuming, rest assured it took me far longer to write this blog).

Spend some time and re-think your food. And, use little plates. Bon Appetit!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Danger, step away from the olive oil!

Today's Wall Street Journal has an article about potentially adverse reactions between medications and food with "health-improving" qualities. When I read this article, my first assumption was the article was funded by the pharmaceutical industry. It is in the best interests of their bottom-line, and hence their shareholders, for the American public to eat unhealthy food and need a multitude of prescription drugs to stay alive.

Disclaimer: I am not a physician. Do not stop taking any prescription medication without the advice and support of your physician. The article has a link that lists some common foods and potential drug interactions. If you are taking any prescription drugs, the information is worth reading.

Now for my opinion: This article is not surprising. Many of the foods listed are considered detoxifying. And, after all, what is a prescription drug other than a pile of chemical toxins formed into a pill?

I, for one, would rather explore (with the advice, counsel and support of a qualified professional) what natural food choices I could make to avoid taking toxins in pill form. Perhaps that is just me...

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Problem with Headlines

The advent of the Internet has brought with it a significant hunger for news. There are millions of people on the world wide web at any given moment and many of them are surfing for something that catches their eye. Sometimes, the speed of surfing stops people from reading full articles and blogs and, instead, they only take with them the headlines. This is a problem.

A headline today read "Too much exercise can cause problems for some women." When you take the time to read the article, only 3 paragraphs long, it goes on to say "inexperienced female endurance athletes can damage their health." I would contend this statement applies to men as well. I'd further contend that doing near anything without experience, or doing so blindly without some training or education, could result in damage to one's health.

The near insatiable need for content to satisfy the thirst for "something new on the web" has resulted in an environment where nearly everything is news. Worse yet, in the absence of actual news we just make things up. This blog is a great example. I sit here and make things up all for the sake of brand recognition. Each writer thinks, of course, their voice and their writing is meaningful. The web gives all writers a platform for sharing their words, good or bad. Some percentage of what is put on the web probably it is helpful. My question is what responsibility does each of us have to be cautious with the snippets we put out there? The headline reading too much exercise can cause problems for women only applies to a minuscule number of women out there exercising. We know most people don't exercise so why would this headline appear at all. More accurately written as, "Are you a new endurance athlete? Read this.

The other women that read it? Perhaps they will skip their workout this afternoon. Perhaps they feel justified in continuing to avoid exercise. Perhaps they'll share the headline with their friends and perpetuate the myth that exercise can be harmful.

I think we need a glut of positive reinforcement out here. After all, some daily exercise is only good for everything in your life.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Salt. The New Evil.

The USDA's draft dietary guidelines include a reduction in salt intake. According to this article in the Los Angeles Times, Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of salt on a daily basis. The new dietary guidelines recommend no more than 1,500 milligrams per day (the current guidelines published in 2005 says 2,300 milligrams).

While I agree we could all likely do with a little less salt in our diet, I fear the consequences of labeling salt the new evil. Let us simply recall what happened when we named fat evil in the 80s. A huge influx of low-fat food hit the grocery store shelves. Most of it fake food, almost none of it food for you. But we were sold a story that low-fat meant you could eat it and it wouldn't make you fat. And we bought it. By the billions and billions. And, obesity trends track right along with the influx of low-fat foods. If you want to read more about that coincidence, click here.

I promise you there are people sitting in conference rooms right now deciding on which "Low Salt" label will appear on the front of food boxes. I give it 30 days before we see such labels on grocery store shelves.

Our bodies need some salt. Don't believe me, believe The Mayo Clinic. Because the creation of our dietary guidelines is a political process (yes, I'm sorry, too) and because salt doesn't have a hugely powerful and wealthy lobby, we could very well end up in a place where salt is blacklisted. Worse yet, we'll end up with a whole new industry of fake salts which are marketed as "much better" for us (I would wager there are food manufacturers also sitting around in conference rooms making up new snazzy names for the "Anti-Salt" products they are about to create).

Don't get me wrong, I think we should all reduce the salt in our diet. The best way to do so? Stop eating processed foods. The vast majority of salt in the American diet comes from fake foods sold in boxes and at fast food places. If the new dietary guidelines came out and said "Processed Foods: Used Sparingly" I suspect the salt problem would take care of itself.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Redefining Meals

When I was little, one of the best surprises was breakfast for dinner. It always felt like a special occasion though I now suspect it was an invention of necessity... nothing else to make for dinner. Nonetheless, in a little girl's eyes, doing something as crazy as having eggs, pancakes and bacon at 6 PM was a reason to celebrate.

I am increasingly aware that many people struggle with what to make for dinner and, for that matter, breakfast and lunch. This small post, written with fond little girl memories, is here to suggest you redefine your meals. Breakfast for dinner? Sure! Dinner food for breakfast? Why not?

I think the better idea is to listen to your body, hear what nutrition it needs and give it the very best food you can find. If you find yourself eating something unconventional, congratulations!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

3 Questions

What is considered "processed" food? While seemingly a simple question, the suggestion yesterday that white rice is considered a processed food caught some by surprise. Here is a helpful list of 3 simple questions. If any of these questions are true, the food is most likely processed and, for optimal health, should be avoided or eaten only sparingly.

1. Is it in a cardboard box?
2. Does it contain ingredients that don't grow on the earth?
3. Are there more than 5 ingredients?

Avoiding processed food could be the best thing you do for your health. Very easy!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

What To Eat?

On a daily basis, we receive thousands of messages about what we should eat. Television and radio commercials, billboards, what our family, friends and co-workers are eating, news on the web and the latest research in the daily paper. Wisely, many of us have learned to be skeptical about some of these messages but it does leave us with the question of what to eat.

The best advice is the most simple:
  1. Eat only whole, natural foods
  2. Eat less than you think you need
  3. Drink more water
  4. Eat more fruit and many more vegetables
  5. Eat organic as much as possible
To be really clear, to eat only whole, natural foods means you eliminate processed food and many things which have been marketed as healthy. Bread, even "whole wheat" bread is a processed food. White rice is a processed food. Whole, natural foods means to eat things that haven't been changed by humans. Another way to look at it... if it comes in a box, it is processed.

If you want one piece of direct, clear advice? Eat kale. Sauteed in a little olive oil, with chopped onions and garlic? Delicious!

Monday, June 14, 2010

2010 Dietary Guidelines

Stay tuned! The US Government, via the USDA and HHS, is working on the 2010 dietary guidelines. The new guidelines are scheduled to be published this fall. In the meantime, if you'd like to keep up with the progress click here for the website.

On the website, there is a link to the comments submitted by individuals and industry. Suspecting some of the comments would be interesting, I scrolled through the list and downloaded the comments submitted by the Corn Refiners Association (who knew such an association existed?). You might be surprised to learn the Corn Refiners Association submitted a great deal of research in support of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Much of the information they submitted was Government and association research reports which suggests HFCS is not harmful and should remain Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). The FDA created the GRAS list in 1958 as a tool to help consumers and manufacturers determine what additives can be used in food. We could spend a very long time examining the process and the validity of the GRAS list. Here is a small peek...

The list of things on the GRAS list is frightening. One example: Propylene Gycol (PG). On the Dow Chemical webpage describing PG, they say it is "not acutely toxic" and is "essentially non-irritating to the skin." Excuse me? And this means it can be added to my food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals? Yes, quite so. If you'd like to know what else can be added to your food, here you go, but be prepared. Things removed from the GRAS list: saccharin (though Congress granted a special exception and it is still being used), cyclamates (now completely banned) and Red Dye No. 2 (also banned).

Are we supposed to feel good that our dietary guidelines include things on the GRAS list? Given all of this, I am a bit skeptical the 2010 Dietary Guidelines will be good for us.