Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stress Management

All of the healthy eating and exercise in the world won't help if you're miserable and stressed out. It has only been since 1956 that we have used the word stress to mean something affecting our bodies and feelings (you can thank Hans Hugo Bruno Selye). Stress is a very common response when you ask a person how they're doing... "I'm under a lot of stress" or "I'm stressed out."

People experience stress in different ways. Some feel flushed or hot, some feel nervous or fluttery, some feel tired and worn out. Regardless of your "experience" of stress it may be helpful to think of the experiences simply as messages from your body. Our body only has some many ways to communicate with us and the sensation of "stress" is often your body's way of getting your attention. In times of stress, your body wants you to make it stop and it will keep sending you messages until you get the message and intervene.

Stress Interventions

You have many choices to address stress and, since there is no one size fits all approach for everyone, we suggest you test a few see what works best for you. Here are some ideas:
  • Deep Breathing - Often we can feel much better immediately if we take a few moments, get our bodies still and take three deep breaths.
  • Nature - Getting outside and into nature is also a great way to take a stress break. Even a 10 minute walk can help separate you from your stressors and give you a new more calm perspective.
  • Cardio - Getting your heart rate up and your blood pumping can help you reconnect with your body and alleviate the stress sensation.
  • Meditation - A bit more involved than deep breathing, meditation is a great way to turn your thoughts onto yourself and get centered and grounded (See our Relax Breath meditation)
  • Yoga - Even a few simple poses, like legs up the wall, are a great stress intervention
  • Friends - Sometimes we feel better by just having a few moments to vent. Call a friend and tell them, "I need to vent. Will you listen to me for a few minutes without trying to fix my problem?" Getting it out into words helps and having someone truly listen helps even more.
  • Music - Turn on your favorite song and sing along, even if you have to sing silently to yourself.
  • Dance - More of your favorite music and get up and dance as boldly as you dare.
  • Hot Tea - Hot tea can be a very soothing experience so brew a cup and sip slowly.
You may have other great ideas, too. The idea is for you to recognize stress as a message from your body and take a few minutes and implement the stress intervention that works best for you.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Do Something Sweet

On an airplane today, there was an older couple seated in front of me across the aisle from each other. A long flight, so I had settled in and was happily working and listening to music. The husband of the couple got up and went to the back of the plane. A few moments later he wandered back toward his seat and, having noticed his wife was reading, he reached over her head to turn on her reading light.

It wasn’t dark, she didn’t ask. He noticed. He noticed that he had an opportunity to do something sweet. Something small, something seemingly unremarkable. And yet, it was huge. The wife looked up and smiled at him. He smiled at her. No words were spoken. But the actions spoke volumes. Do something sweet. Something small and show someone you love (and anyone around who may notice) that the small things do make all of the difference. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Broken Parts of the Whole

Let's consider a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, the staple diet of some childhood food phases. The thing that makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich so good is the complete experience. A bit of soft white bread, crusts included. A thin and perfectly even layer of crunchy peanut butter. A huge glob of strawberry preserves (so much so that it drips out when you take a bite). Cut in half. That was my perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich - and yours was probably slighty different.

Now, let's consider the parts on their own. Soft white bread? Not bad, though pretty boring all alone. Crunchy peanut butter? It tastes good but it makes your mouth all sticky and then you need to drink lots of milk. And strawberry preserves? Yes, yummy but go ahead and eat a big giant spoonful on its own. Blech!

The sandwich is so good because all of the parts work so well together. Same goes with much of our food. Milk is a great example. Whole, pure (and raw) milk is delicious and healthy because it has all of its parts intact. Oranges as well. A whole orange is a much better choice than many beverages contained in packages and labeled "orange juice."

Our food is grown as a whole and complete system. That whole and complete system is part mystery and part beauty. Even with our scientific acumen, we still do not understand the nature of the parts (nutrients, fiber, natural sugar, vitamins) contained in foods. It is not so much that we cannot separate and catalogue the parts; it is because we can't really tell how, or why, the parts work so well together when they are together.

Just like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich is at its best when it is all together, so is the rest of your food. Eat things as they grow in nature. Doing so simply removes a whole bunch of guess work, by you and your body.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Food Hierarchy

The question I am most frequently asked is, "What should I eat?" And while there is plenty of food advice out there, we lack an easily understood way to convey what is food and what are our best choices. The food pyramid has certainly failed us (and is a great example of special interests at work), we aren't teaching meaningful nutrition in our schools and people are innundated by food commercials and rumors. The result? A great deal of confusion about what to eat.

During a Wellness Workshop I led earlier this week, we spent a great deal of time talking about making good food choices. I left the workshop with a mission: create an quick reference tool for making good food choices. And... The Food Hierarchy was born.

Hopefully, this tool will help to clear up some of the confusion about what is actually food and what highly processed, fake and chemical things disquise themselves as food. If people chose at least 80% of their food from the green and yellow categories, we would go a long way toward a more healthy world.
As with all things, this is a work in progress. I would love to hear your feedback and ideas!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Plan to Plant

Spring is in the air and in the soil! If you haven't done so already this weekend is a great time to start your yearly garden. A garden project can be a very ambitious undertaking and it can be as simple as a plant or two housed in a container. It doesn't much matter what or how much you plant, the idea is to plant. As a general rule of thumb, choose (at least) one plant for each member of your household. Everybody can get into the gardening fun and you'll have a family activity to enjoy together all Spring and Summer long.

What to plant? Your favorite vegetable, of course! My most favorite is tomato plants. Yummy... I can't wait until the first tomato harvest, still warm from the sun. And, there are many other things that are easy to grow like herbs, leafy greens (arugula grows like crazy), cucumbers, peppers and squash. This weekend, find a few containers and invest in some good quality organic soil and get planting.

The Internet is full of great information about planting a garden and your local garden store is another great resource. You can also search your local area for a community garden when you can get a little garden plot for your own use. Remember, the idea is to plant something this year. Anything, really. Doing so will be good for you, good for the Earth and you'll be encouraging others to follow your lead. Happy Gardening!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Eating for Energy

Take a moment for yourself. Take three deep breaths, in and out. Now, consider this question... Do you have enough energy? Is your body ready and raring to go? Could you jump up from your chair and be a little ball of power?

If so, congratulations! If not, you're not alone. The dictionary defines energy as "the capacity for vigorous activity; available power." For our bodies, it means we have the juice to get up and go and do our daily activities without feeling worn down and tired. Many people suffer from energy slumps which can be caused by stress (emotional, chemical, mental or physical) and by what we eat.

Since energy slumps can be caused by our food, it is also true that energy abundance can be created by our food. This is excellent news! Making better food choices can help you regain the energy you need. Let's learn how!

Energy Zappers
There are several food items that cause energy depletion including:
  • Caffeine (more on that below)
  • Soft drinks
  • Alcohol
  • Too much meat or not enough meat
  • Processed, chemical "fake" foods
  • Sugar and fake sugars (see below on this one, too).
  • Trans fats
To clarify the caffiene and sugar items: Yes, it is true that a jolt of caffiene or a dose of sugar can give you an energy boost. The boost is temporary, however, and puts your body into a depletion-craving cycle where it asks for more after it processes through what you've already given it. And more and more and so on. This vicious circle is not good for our bodies and over time, can cause harm.

Energy Suppliers
More healthy food sources of energy include:
  • Whole, raw fruits
  • Leafy greens (like kale, collards, chard and arugula)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, wild rice)
  • Beans
  • Green algae and seaweeds
As your probably noticed, the energy suppliers are whole, natural and unprocessed foods. These foods are whole and complete organisms and therefore can give your body whole and complete nutrition. The nutrients, fiber and vitamins all work together with your body to fill up its fuel tank so you have the energy you need to get the job done.

Another great tip for instant energy is a quick round of exercise. Stand up and do 20 jumping jacks. Or talk a walk outside for 10 minutes. Anything really that gets your blood pumping and body moving will help you feel more perky.

So, if you'd like to have more energy in your body and in your life. Consider what on the list of energy zappers you can zap from your diet. Consider what energy suppliers you can rely upon instead. And, when you feel a slump coming on don't resort to the caffiene or sugar trap, get up and get moving!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wellness Goals

The first step to make a plan for wellness is to know where you're going. Take a little time and reflect on your wellness goals. Wellness goals come in all forms so devote a little time to really understand what is motivating you to make some healthful changes. We also believe wellness is much more than eating well and getting exercise every day. True and total wellness is also about the other parts of your life and your "mind" health and well-being.

A fun and easy way to assess your overall wellness is by answering this question: Do you jump out of bed each morning ready and excited to greet the day? If you do jump about of bed raring to go on most days, chances are you're doing pretty well. If you're startled awake by your alarm and your first thought is, "Ugh, morning already?" then we think you have some opportunity to be more well.

Given that, think about your goals. To help you along, here are some examples:

  • I want to lose weight
  • I want to model healthy behavior for my kids
  • I want to "feel" better
  • I want better shape and muscle tone
  • I want to live longer
  • I want to prevent diabetes, heart disease and stroke
  • I want to find my life's dream
  • I want to start my own company
  • I want to retire
  • I want a new job
  • I want to climb Mt. Everest
  • I want to run a marathon
  • I want to write a book
  • I want to travel the world
  • I want to be happy
There are as many different goals as there are people. Wellness is personal. Your wellness goals are personal. Let's make them happen!


Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sugar Addiction

Stress sometimes invokes our most comforting craving. Sugar. Sugar cravings can, of course, also come from nowhere and many people simply crave sugar all day, every day. To be your most healthiest self, getting a handle on your relationship with sugar is important.

By all accounts, many Americans have a serious issue with sugar. On average, we consume 21.4 teaspoons of added sugar each day. This adds up to an astounding 320 calories! A day. That many added calories in our diet each day will significant weight gain. So what can you do? Three things:
  1. Understand why you crave sugar.
  2. Be able to identify the many forms of sugar so you can avoid it.
  3. Choose other healthy options
Understanding Sugar Cravings
A craving for sugar is often a simple message from your body. When you crave sugar, your body craves energy and your wise body knows sugar will deliver the quick hit it desires. Digested sugar become glucose and glucose is the fuel for your cells.

Identifying Sugar
We can all identify the most obvious sources of sugar. Cakes, cookies, candy bars, ice creams are all laden with sugar. Unfortunately, added sugars also lurk in many popular foods. In fact, the flooding of processed, low-fat and non-fat "food" products in our culture has only added to the problem. Food manufacturers often use sugar, and its many forms, to fool us into thinking processed foods taste good. Sugar ends up in our foods under many names including: corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, glucose and fructose. You've heard it before, read the labels, so you know what you're putting in your body. Or, to avoid the problem entirely, don't eat processed foods (aka things that come in boxes).

A note on sugar substitutes: Some people replace the real sugar in their diets with fake sweeteners like the many choices that come in blue, pink and yellow packets. There are also the more trendy sugar substitutues like agave and stevia. Should you substitute sugar with something else? Our philosophy is this: You are better off with whatever is as close to its natural form as possible. The things that come in packets are no better than other processed foods and are best avoided. If you want whole natural sweeteners use honey, maple syrup and the natural forms of stevia (green or brown).

Healthy Options
Sometimes a sugar craving is your body asking for something else. To identify more healthy options, it helps to understand what is really going on. Once you have a real understanding of what is going on, you're better able to select an option that will satisfy your sugar craving. Consider the following:

Often, if you take a few minutes to listen to the messages your body is sending, you'll be able to give it what it really needs and you'll be happier for it. Remember, every choice counts and you get to choose!

Friday, March 11, 2011

How to Choose You

Wednesday's three tips for wellness stand: Water. Cook. Walk. If you start with those three things, you'll be on your way to better health. To choose you, choose wellness and help save our healthcare system, I'm going to add two more: sleep and plan.
  • Drink plenty of water each day.
  • Give up all processed, sugar-laden and fake-sugar-laden drinks.
  • Prepare at least 80% of your meals at home (17 meals a week; make your lunch and take it with you).
  • Use whole, natural ingredients (opening a box of something, adding a liquid and heating does not count as cooking).
  • Walk at least 30 minutes every day.
  • Add other exercise (start with strength training 2x/week, flexibility 2x/week and build from there).
  • Get 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.
  • Each Sunday, plan your upcoming week to include:
    • What you'll eat
    • How you'll exercise
If you do these five things, consistently, you're on a good path to wellness. When you're on a good path to wellness the people around you will notice and follow your lead. Then the people around them will follow their lead. And pretty soon, we'll be able to reverse the obesity trend and preserve our healthcare system and help our economy. Every choice matters. Every person matters. Choose you. Choose them. Choose us.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

It's Complicated

If you read yesterday, I shared three simple things you can do to help reverse the trend of obesity to help prevent the possible collapse of our healthcare system.

It really is that easy and it really is much more complicated. There are a whole bunch of reasons it is so difficult to get healthy and stay that way:
  • Our education system doesn't teach meaningful health and wellness
  • Farm policy makes unhealthy fake "foods" artifically cheap
  • We cook too little and eat out too much
  • We spend too much time with the television or computer and not enough time moving our bodies
  • People work and commute longer leaving less leisure time to cook and exercise
  • We don't listen to our own bodies enough; we listen to commercial advertising too often
  • People think eating whole, real food is too expensive, too time consuming, or too difficult
  • There are big, big dollars being spent by the companies that profit the most from our ill-health (food manufacturers, big Ag and drug companies... in my darker moments, I wondered if big Ag and fake food makers are in cahoots with big pharma. We're made fat by the former and treated by the latter...)
So, yes, it is complicated. And, yes, it does require personal effort to lose weight and get healthy. And, yes, there is a big, profitable machine working very hard to keep things just the way they are.

The biggest yes of all? What you do, and each choice you make, matters. You can refuse to be a victim.

I want you to choose you and choose wellness.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

What To Do

I'm devoting this week's writing to our collective healthcare system. Here's the gist, so far:
  • Each of our individual choices regarding our health and wellness impacts everyone else
  • We need to spend less money on healthcare to save the healthcare system (and perhaps our entire economy)
There are three, very simple things each and every one of us can do to make a difference:
  1. Drink only water
  2. Eat at home
  3. Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day
Period. More tomorrow...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Why It Matters

We are in "it" together. Life, that is, and our healthcare system. Having spent 20+ years consulting in the healthcare system, I could spend hours explaining how each and every one of us impacts the healthcare system for the rest of us. I won't bore you with the details, instead, will trust you trust me. If you're interested. write to me and I'd be happy to explain the technical details. For now, consider this:

Think of a balloon. There is only so much air we can put into the balloon before it will burst. The strength of the balloon walls will eventually collaspe with the increased pressure of adding air. Our healthcare system will also collapse unless we do something drastically different. Why?

We continue to spend more money on healthcare in the United States. Healthcare is now 17.3% of the GDP; we spent $2.5 trillion dollars on healthacare in 2009. Part of the spend is inefficiency and can be fixed, but it almost doesn't matter. Here's why:
  • The vast majority of money we spend in our healthcare system is to treat conditions that are largely preventable and are directly related to lifestyle choices
  • New drugs, tests and surgeries only add cost to the system and their efficacy in treating long-term lifestyle choices is suspect, at best.
The only way to save our healthcare system is for each and every one of us to get, and stay, as healthy as we can. This isn't my problem or your problem, it is our collective problem. If so much of our collective money goes to pay for healthcare we have less money for other things (like education and social security ). It doesn't matter how much of your insurance premium you pay or how much your employer pays. The money comes from somewhere. And the cost goes somewhere. It Acme Manufacturing Company has to pay more in healthcare costs for its employees it is adding those costs to the price you pay for the widget at the store.

Put simply, we have to stop spending so much on healthcare. The only way to do that is for each of us to stop needing so much healthcare. How? We have to reverse the trend of obesity so we use less of our healthcare dollars to treat the preventable health problems (like weight loss surgeries and prespcription drugs to treat high blood pressure, cholestorol and diabetes).

We have to do what we can, each and every day, so that we have a healthcare system to help us when we really need it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Health Matters

Two facts:
  • Health insurance premiums continue to rise (even with passage of health reform)
  • Obesity costs the US $147 billion per year (in direct medical costs alone)
These two facts are related. The amount we pay in health insurance premiums is impacted by many things, including the inefficiency of the system and the cost of administration. It is also significantly impacted by the costs associated with obesity. As the costs of obesity rise so will our health insurance premiums. Carole Carson wrote today, "One out of two Americans will require treatment for diabetes or prediabetes-at an annual cost of $3.35 trillion-less than 10 years from now..."

I contend solving rampant obesity is critical for the United States. Our economy simply cannot withstand the pressure of this largely preventable spend. Our effort and ability to maintain our own health could be considered our patriotic duty.

More as the week goes on. For now, consider this... are you doing everything in your power to maintain a healthy weight and stay healthy? 

Friday, March 4, 2011

'"A New Way to Eat Fruit.'?" Really? But, why?

Ah, television commercials. They really do expose you to new things. Last night, I saw a commercial for Fruit2day and their tag line "A New Way to Eat Fruit." Really? Do we need a new way to eat fruit? Is the old way to eat fruit not working for us? Curiousity got the best of me and, today, the trusty Internet enlightened me.

From the Fruit2day website:

So, now I know. Or, at least, now I know this company's version of why. All of these reasons I will summarize into, "It is just too darn hard to eat real fruit." You might have to peel, slice, chop or even...  bite the fruit to eat it! Wow, such effort required.

The company, by the way, is Hero WhiteWave a joint venture between Hero Group (from Switzerland) and WhiteWave Foods (which is owned by Dean Foods Company who is also the manufacturer of the recently questioned Horizon "Organic" milk and Land O'Lakes butter and Silk Soymilk).

Point #1: This product is produced by a company owned by a publically-traded, for-profit company seeking to maximize shareholder value. 

What is this stuff? According to the label it is juice from concentrate, small pieces of fruit and "natural flavor." There are two servings per bottle and they are sold in a two-pack for the suggested retail price of $3.75. Each serving has 110-120 calories depending on the flavor you choose. It is good? I don't know, I haven't gone to buy any (yet; I may for sake of the blog). If you have tried it, I'd love to hear from you. Personally, juice with chunks sounds a bit gross.

Point #2: The words natural flavor on the label can signify both natural and synthetic additives. Yes, something synthetic can be labeled "natural." I'm not making this up, see the FDA website.

While I wouldn't suggest eating a pineapple while driving to work, I do happen to love a fresh, local peach so juicy that I have to stand over the trash can when I eat it. And, let's face it, spitting cherry pits and watermelon seeds was one of the best things about being a kid. Sticky hands after an orange? You know it was a good orange. Goodness people! I don't want to live in a sterile box. Sometimes getting dirty are the good parts of life.

Point #3: If we remove any and all actual experience from eating, we might as well just pop a few "food" pills each day and get on with it. Eating, real food, is fun. Let's not completely ruin it.

Story warning! This, I do not know, it is simply a suspicion. The people making this product did not create it for the urban poor who don't have adequate access to real fruit. This product was made for the people who can afford to buy it from their suburban grocery stores. They buy this stuff instead of real fruit because the commercial makes us believe it is better. Yes, you too can have your fruit chunks mixed with juice from concentrate in a plastic bottle with natural (aka synthetic) flavor. Yummy.

Downtown Detroit, Michigan is considered a food desert because of the lack of major grocery stores. You cannot get Fruit2day within 5 miles of Detroit zip code 48226. If you're living in this area and want fruit chunks in a bottle, so sorry, you're going to have to walk more than 5 miles. Perhaps this company should donate a bottle, each day, to each child attending school in 48226 so they get something at least close to real fruit in their diet.

Point #4: This isn't a "great, new, save the world idea." This is a business (who wants to make a profit, see point #1). 

Okay, so here's the real deal:

  • People do not get enough fruit in their diet.
  • Helping people eat more fruit is a good thing.
  • Processing fruit into a a plastic bottle is huge waste of resources and energy (packaging, processing, transportation, waste).
  • Fruit does not need to be processed to be eaten. In fact, much of it comes already conveniently packaged from nature (peels, rinds and skins to protect it).
  • The only reason this product exists is because it is (or can be) profitable. 
  • Selling real fruit? Not as profitable. 
Yes, I'm a dreamer. It simply seems to me that if companies with the resources to process something like Fruit2day could, instead, spend their time and effort figuring out a way to help people eat actual, real, whole fruit. Give each child a strawberry plant. Line city blocks with apple trees. Share the joy of peach juice running down your chin.  You must admit, eating real fruit is a better idea. 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Affordable, on purpose.

When you talk about the same thing over and over again to different people, most of the time you get the key points across though you may use different words. Sometimes we use different words because of our audience and other times we use different words because saying exactly the same thing over and over again can get pretty boring.

I talk about Cybercise. A lot. The talks have gotten different (and I hope better) over time as we’ve added new features and new content. Nonetheless, I have my “elevator speech” down and can deliver a more in-depth explanation in about 4 minutes.  I was going through the 4-minute rendition of Cybercise on the phone last week and at some point I said, “Cybercise is affordable on purpose.”

The person on the other end of the line stopped me. In fact, he said, “Whoa! That is brilliant. What you just said. It really resonates with me. You are ‘affordable on purpose’.”

I read Seth Godin’s blog “On Pricing Power” which has got me thinking. Cybericse has pricing power because we are affordable on purpose. We are affordable on purpose because we can be. We set our membership price at $10 per month to help the people who can’t afford to go to the gym and don’t have the money in their budget to hire a personal trainer and nutrition consultant. We decided on $10 a month because it is something (and studies show free things seldom stick) and it enables us to keep creating and delivering meaningful content without subjecting you to ads and without selling supplements, powders, goo and all the other crazy “health” stuff you see on late night television.

Our goal? Sustainable wellness. We want to you help you discover how to get yourself well and, more importantly, keep yourself well. We’re affordable on purpose so there is one less barrier between you and being the best you possible. And when you’re the best you possible, anything is possible.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Health is Not *only* the Absence of Sickness

Recently, I attended a focus group with a small group of women to talk about health. The group was asked the question, "How do you know your family is healthy?" The overwhelming response was because they weren't sick. I must admit, I was surprised.

Being healthy and well is so much more than "not being sick." Much like being happy is much more than not being sad. Or being fulfilled is much more than a good job or a good set of friends.

I've wondered, since the focus group, how we can expand the defintion of health and wellness so that it helps people reach higher and strive for more than "not being sick."

Maybe part of the global challenge to get people to take better care of themeselves is their definition of health is too narrow. In the land of "I'm healthy because I'm not sick" people wouldn't be as likely to make positive proactive choices before they got sick. Why would they? Let's face it, quitting smoking isn't fun so why would you torture yourself by trying to quit before your first heart attack? After the first heart attack, the story gets much different. If you want an incredibly inspiring story about health and cancer read about Kris Carr.

So, why should you work on your health if you're not sick? Because you'll feel better. Because there is so much possibility in life and so many things we can do during our lifetime and all of those things are easier when you feel well. Feeling well is (in my definition) having energy, passion and a sense of awe. It is believing in something and working to make it better.

I imagine a world where the vast majority of people report "feeling well." I imagine a world where, with all of this positive energy, we come together to solve the world's problems. Energy. Heatlhcare. Hunger. Disease. War. Well... why not?

"How far is far, how high is high? We'll never know until we try." From the Special Olympics Song.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

March 1, 2011

In keeping with day 1 of your New Spring Resolutions, I'm going to quote from one of my favorite authors and favorite books. "Oh! The Places You'll Go" by Dr. Seuss.

Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll decide where to go.
Happy New Spring Resolution day!