August 26, 2011

Health and wellness does not always depend on doing something. Sometimes, one must not do in order to preserve one’s sanity. Unfortunately, many people cannot spend a few minutes every day enjoying silence. The radio flips on first thing, then they turn on the TV for breakfast, crank the tunes in the car, stare at a computer and chat on a phone much of the day, more chatting and tunes on the way home, and flip on the TV when they walk through the door. Why? Have you ever heard of someone saying that they “need” noise?

The problem that arises from this is simple. Over-stimulation of the visual and auditory senses bombard our brains with too much information. It provides a buffer but more often acts as a barrier between us and the world. It desensitizes us, deafens us (quite literally, and not just because of iPod earbuds), promotes emotional response often in negative forms. We grow tense and anxious, worried and even fearful, and hardly ever happy. A lot of music promotes anger and rebellion, or suggests that we “are not good enough” the way we are. Then there are the advertisements that scream, “Buy! Buy! Buy! And you’ll be happy.” Nor should we forget our dear news anchors. I know many friends of mine who say they really get fed up with the media for always reporting the nasty and gruesome.

My response: turn it off.

While we cannot get away from technology overload at many workplaces, we can mindfully take some noise out of our personal lives. Admittedly, I am a music nut. I love to listen to most anything. For me, music is primal. It speaks to the heart. It gets me moving and gets my brain working.

This is all well and good. However, our brains need a rest from time to time from continual stimulation. Now, I don’t have any studies to plaster on this post but I have found through personal experience that shutting off all noise-producing electronics (okay, maybe leave the A/C on) to be really beneficial. It allows my mind to calm down–even stop!–and regroup. If something barges into my quiet time, I simply acknowledge it and let it pass. It will still be there in 15 minutes. This time is my time.

What I experience from this is what you may have heard as “deep relaxation”. When the mind quiets, the body relaxes. You might even get a nap. What is most important, however, is that you are taking the time to invest in yourself, in your physical and mental well-being.

This takes time. You cannot sit in a chair for 5 minutes and feel relaxed. You must dedicate time to doing this, preferably 15-20 minutes (an egg timer or one on your phone work well to help keep you on schedule if you’re busy). You must also be comfortable. I prefer lying on the floor. Some prefer sitting on the floor in an easy, cross-legged position. Either way, we close our eyes and we focus on our breathing. It’s going in and going out; the filling and emptying of the lungs; the rejuvenation we experience because of it. Then we resume our day, refreshed.

Another great way to experience quiet is to relax outside. I love listening to birds, wind in the trees, and water. This offers you the opportunity to reconnect with your world without having to go all tree-hugger. (I also believe this is why some people garden. They enjoy the quiet and it enables them to reconnect with nature, from which they receive life-giving sustenance.) However you proceed, enjoy it. We spend the vast majority of time running helter-skelter throughout our day with little thought about ourselves. Isn’t it about time you do?

A Calorie Is Not A Calorie

August 21, 2011

Okmeamithinknow. All rights reserved by the artist. Please do not copy or steal. Thank you.

I have long wondered why I cannot seem to stop my sugar intake. I’ve known for a while that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the culprit (aided by sodium), but today I have seen the logic behind. I have seen the why.


If you are fat; if you cannot lose weight and if you have tried every diet under the sun and wonder why the hell nothing is moving; if you exercise like a fiend and still aren’t seeing the results you want and all the calorie-counting and carb cycling are doing no good whatsoever; if you suffer from overweight and obesity, Type II Diabetes, hypertension, and other Metabolic Syndrome-related diseases; if you cannot break the addiction to soda or sweets or bread; if you hate bad-tasting food; if you are confused by or tired of the corn industry ad campaign about HFCS; if you really do believe that all of this USDA/FDA Food Pyramid hoo haw is a government conspiracy, please take the time to watch the reason WHY!


Dr. Lustig, one of the leading experts in pediatric obesity epidemiology, is engaging, knowledgeable, and easy to understand. And, if you get lost, do as he suggests: count the arrows. Yes, I know it’s 90 minutes but this 90 minutes may save your life.




Here are some of my favorite quick notes (they may not be worded word-for-word but the idea is there):

1. 30 years of nutritional advice is based on a study (The 7 Countries Study) that has a hole as big as the USS Cole.

2. Americans (referring to teens but also each of us, as of 2008) consume 112 lbs. of sugary carbohydrate (mostly in the form of HFCS)…and it may be as much as 140 lbs. No, sucrose is not different. HFCS = sucrose.

3. Fructose is not glucose. It is a hepatotoxin, meaning that it can only be processed by the liver. Anything that cannot go through the body’s natural energy cycle is a poison.

4. Fructose is ethanol without the buzz.

5. There are no good sugary drinks on the market. Get rid of them. Drink water and milk (and not chocolate milk either). (Step 1 in a four-step process to combat childhood obesity and promote weight loss. The other three are as follows: eat carbohydrates that have fiber, as it is an essential nutrient; wait 20 minutes before eating second portions; buy screen time minute-for-minute with exercise, which is the hardest to do.)

6. The Food and Drug Administration only regulates acute toxins (i.e. ethanol). It does not regulate chronic toxins (i.e. fructose).

7. The USDA does not want to know about it. It’s job is to sell food to other countries.

8. Fructose is a carbohydrate that acts like a fat.

9. Glucose (and glycogen, its storage form) is the energy of life.

10. It is up to us to combat bad food.


Wikipedia, linked to "Sugar".

Here is another article, done by the American Council on Exercise, about Stevia. My personal opinion still is that the less processed sugar you consume, the better off you are. (Besides, it really is more expensive than fruit and vegetables!)




If you would like to do more research on those items Dr. Lustig mentioned, here are the particulars:

Pure, White, and Deadly by Dr. Yudkin, 1972

The Paleolithic Diet:

1. http://www.amazon.com/Paleo-Diet-Weight-Healthy-Designed/dp/0470913029/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1313953938&sr=1-1

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paleolithic_diet

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. No, he did not mention it but after reading the book (political issues aside, and there she isn’t all wrong either), it changed the way I look at food. It is a personal favorite of mine.

Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats by Mary G. Enig, PhD (recommended by a girlfriend of mine and on my to-buy list):


Clean Food: A Seasonal Guide to Eating Close to the Source with More Than 200 Recipes for a Healthy and Sustainable You by Terry Walters (another on my to-buy list…if you end up liking Kingsolver’s book, you might look at this too):



Let’s face it, folks. We’ve got to take charge.

Runner’s Dilemma

August 20, 2011

With the increased popularity of “barefoot” running and those funky looking shoes, the fitness industry is booming with conflicting advertisements as to what is fashionable, sculpting, etc. What the ads don’t bother mentioning is that activities such as walking and running have nothing to do with fashion. It is nice to look good, but very few people look good after sweating up a storm. Even if you buy into the trend, you may not be helping yourself. A new study by the American Council on Exercise suggests that while shoes play a role in limiting running injuries, the majority of such injuries come from how the runner strike’s the ground.




The study suggests that the common heel-strike, promoted by the elevated “cushioned” heels of modern tennis/running shoes, is a hard habit to break. While barefoot shoes like Vibram Five-Fingers promote fore-striking and despite proper instruction, most of the participants in the study still struck the ground with their heels. Combine this with the lack of absorptive cushion of a traditional running shoe and the potential for injury increases. Correct fore-strike may require some active thought but it does decrease the injury risks and improves proper biomechanical function, which is great for joints, backs, and stride.


Personally, having tried running barefoot (literally, with socks), I can tell you that it changed my whole mindset about running. I have always hated it. Now, I

Again, sorry for the cheesy arrow. Second time this week. Click photo for more information.

don’t. It has become easy. And, the switch from heel-strike to fore-strike came in an instant. I find it hard to run barefoot and strike the ground with my heel. It does not feel natural. This is coming from someone whose worn traditional running shoes her entire life, although (admittedly) I prefer being barefoot whenever possible or in flip flops.  If you are interested in barefoot running, do your research and be prepared to actively retrain your body, starting with your mind. Also, you can check out Born to Run, a narrative on discovering the secrets of an Indian tribe dedicated to running hundreds of miles without injury or rest by award-winning journalist and often-injured runner, Christopher McDougall.


For more information on barefoot shoes and their plethora of styles, such as Vibram Five-Fingers, you can search the web. Here is the link to Vibram: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/index.htm


And for your information, yes, I plan on buying a pair. Which to choose?!

Last week I wrote on the importance of exercise and movement, and some easy ways to get moving. This week, I’ll focus on easy ways to eat well for less. You got it: well for less!


iKurai-san. All rights reserved to the artist. Please do not steal or recopy. Thank you.

There’s a huge misnomer out there that healthy eating is hard, complicated, and time-consuming. I believe that this is partially perpetuated by the fast food and quick, boxed food industries. I think this myth also exists because we all know at least one nut who really goes go all out by hoeing out a huge garden and living some odd way we’ve never heard of but that’s supposedly the best way ever to live with regards to health and wellness. The Hunter-Gatherer diet comes to mind. It’s great for the few who can actually manage it but the majority of us simply don’t have the time, energy, funds, or know-how to succeed at it.


The truth is simple and easy. Our bodies are made to digest things that grow and creep. They are not made to digest preservatives, genetically altered, and chemically enhanced or changed products, and do not do well doing so.


Now, I know what you’re thinking. The stuff piled beyond reach in the grocery aisles is much cheaper and there are coupons! (Commence short tirade: coupons do not save you money–and don’t even get me started on those shows that follow the sickos around the store buying 200 bottles of mustard. Coupons promote consumerism. They get you to buy something once at a decent price so that you will buy it again, usually at a much higher price than before. Furthermore, I believe that coupons promote a certain amount of greed as you feel that you can buy more stuff for the same price. Again, what are you going to do afterward? Eat five bottles of ketchup when the mac-n-cheese runs out? End tirade.)


I lived this way too. Not too many years ago my husband was an under-paid, over-worked lance corporal in the USMC trying to support a wife and live in an apartment. We had nothing. I mean it, like I-won’t-use-the-A/C-during-the-middle-of-July-in-NC-who-cares-if-I-get-a-rash-for-three-weeks nothing. We bought the cheapest, quickest foods possible because we believed that we couldn’t afford the “healthy stuff around the perimeter” and we still ended up spending roughly $200 every two weeks. Not only did we run out of the things we liked (the stuff we bought from crate sales and/or coupons often sat forever because we really didn’t like it all that much), but we couldn’t seem to keep slim. That is saying something for a young twenty-three year-old Marine who hauls around 75-pound gear like it’s cool.


I eventually had enough. We also moved to Japan. (It seems like everything began there for me.) Cost of living is high there and even though we were getting overseas pay, things were still bloody expensive. Food, however, was not. Nor was the stuff you find in Japanese markets processed (most of it). Yes, we had the commissary on base but I quit shopping for produce and meats there fast. They kept rotting in our fridge before we got to eating them. Plus, the home-grown stuff in town tasted so much better. Oh, the eggs! I still think of them. What I didn’t get in town, I got at the commissary, and it wasn’t much. We spent only around $150-$175 every two-weeks, and when he was gone doing Marine stuff, it was more like $75.


Here back stateside in the most expensive of states, CA, I still manage to keep my bill around $150-$175. Why? Because I don’t waste my money on the “easy” crap. With few exceptions, I buy around the perimeter of the store. Most importantly, I shop with a list from which I do not deviate. This is the key to both healthy eating and saving money.


So, how can you eat healthfully and inexpensively? Here are 10 ideas:

1. Plan your meals a week or two in advance (depending on how often you shop).

2. Hunt down quick, easy recipes online that use whole foods and healthy ingredients and write down what you need on a list. Stick to that list! Don’t buy more than what you need to prepare that meal. Whole Living Magazine has a great newsletter called the Natural Pantry (free, I believe) chalk full of healthy, organic recipes that are quick and easy to make.

3. Cook enough for leftovers. Generally, I cook enough so that we have lunch the next day, which has totally saves us a boatload of cash.

4. Commit to cooking. If you are busy during the week, great! Spend a few hours on the weekend preparing, storing, and freezing meals for the week. If your weekends are crazy, enjoy them! Make some extra food when you cook during the week and eat those on the weekend.

5. For breakfast, switch up sweetened box cereals for oatmeal (which helps lower cholesterol levels), fruit, and/or two eggs (any style) and a piece of toast. Eggs, whole grain bread, and oatmeal are much cheaper and more healthful than many breakfast cereals. Plus, you can make your own granola with rolled oats.

6. Have fruit, vegetables, and cheese and crackers around for snacks. Most often, we get hungry between meals, particularly between lunch and dinner. Don’t fight it. Eat an apply instead.

7. Buy a filtered pitcher or water filter for your faucet instead of bottled water. Not only does it save you loads of money (as you ought to be drinking at least four of those bottles daily to stay hydrated and–yes, it’s true–full), it also is eco-friendly.

8. Buy locally and seasonally. Meaning: in November, buy the pumpkin that is grown in the town, state, or country rather than the tomato that was picked too soon and genetically altered to survive the journey from New Zealand to your grocery store. Not only will it taste much better than the tomato, it will save you a few extra dollars. (To read a great resource on local and seasonal eating–and gardening, if interested–read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, one of my all-time favorite authors…and a book that changed my views on a lot of things “food”.)

9. If and when possible, buy in bulk. You can usually get more for less.

10. If and when possible, buy meat, eggs and dairy from a butcher, local farm, or farmer’s market, looking for naturally grown, unaltered foods. They may be a bit more expensive than those in your local supermarket, but you won’t be upset by the quality of the products you buy.


Remember, it takes time, energy, and resources to change a behavior. Also remember, it’s still okay to have that indulgence you crave every once in a while. Healthy eating (living!) is not about denial. It is about balance. It is about ingesting as many good things into your body and doing as many good things for your body, mind and soul while enjoying those treats guilt-free!


So, go ahead! Give yourself permission to add those Milano cookies onto your grocery list. You’re planning on sticking to that list anyway and one small treat won’t hurt you; it will gladden your soul. Then, after that cookie (or two), you can go on and cook great, healthy, inexpensive meals for the rest of the day!

Well-Rounded Fitness

August 5, 2011

Sorry, folks. There is no quick fix to battling the bulge. You know, that thing around your middle that seems to grow and grow the longer you stare at it. The cold, hard reality is that “weight loss” is a multi-billion dollar industry. All those programs want you to stare at your gut helplessly. All those supplement advertisements want you to feel out of control. All those who taut exercise-less regimens want you to indulge in that late-night snack. The bloodhounds smell your helplessness, your fear, and your money.

There’s more bad news. A new study published by the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, states that U.S. adults are eating more…and more frequently. Contributing factors include super-sized portions, food energy density, and the frequency of eating. (For the entire article, click the link here: http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/us-adults-eating-moremdash-more-often?utm_source=Fit+Tips+August&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=E1) Hm…Little wonder the average American is having no success shrinking that growing waistline.

Oh, and did I mention that all those “metabolism-boosting” claims are, for the large part, malarkey? Check out Tom Venuto’s blog (see to the side) for some great mythbusting information. It’s sad to say it but he’s right. What those fab abs you see on TV forget to mention is that you really cannot beef up your metabolism to extraordinary heights.

What you can do is increase the amount of energy you expend. I know, I know. I just heard some of you shout, “Oh, no!” She just said “exercise” in a sneaky way.

Yup. I did. It’s high time Americans stop thinking they can quick fix their way to image perfection. (Sorry, again. There really is no such thing as a perfect body anyway.) We need to start thinking about TDEE: Total Daily Energy Expenditure. Simply stated, the more you input, the more you must output. This is the key to weight loss.

I know that some of you also just said, “Well, that’s easy. I’ll just diet.” The truth of the matter is that diet alone will not make you healthy. You can be as skinny as a string bean and still store an unhealthy amount of fat that possibly will lead to heart disease, stroke, diabetes, etc. You have to exercise. Why? Well, first, if you haven’t noticed (on yourself or from others), our bodies were designed to move. Sitting does not sit well with our biology (no pun intended). We were built biomechanically to walk and shift and lift and lower and twist and pretty much do everything we can think of, and to sit for brief periods of time. Movement makes our bodies happy.

Second, muscle is important. Muscle keeps us from falling into pieces. Literally. Think about it. Muscle stabilizes joint and protects our bones and organs. It makes up our organs. It comprises our hearts. It also stores energy because movement requires muscles to use energy. Without movement, muscles atrophy or grow smaller and weaker, and when they are small and weak, we are more prone to injury and debilitation.

Finally, think about yourself. Are you really that happy to sit on your couch and munch down a bag of potato chips (or even a serving)? Sure, sitting is nice when you’re tired but most likely you’ve been sitting all day. The majority of jobs now are not movement-oriented. They are sedentary-oriented. Hence, there is no outlet for stress, no enjoyment of sunshine, no relief for sore backs or aching joints, no enjoyment of meals eaten. People suffer from all sorts of ailments, and not just those pertaining to physicality. Prescriptions for depression and other mental illnesses are sky high and on the rise.

So, what to do. Exercise is the proven way to combat imbalances in the body; improve strength, speed, flexibility and coordination; decrease the effects of depression and disease as well as stress-related anxiety and mood; increase self-esteem, physique, and mental awareness; and even improve personal relationships. It makes you feel just plain great. And, better yet, you don’t have to spend hours in the gym to see results. If you’re you’re thinking you need to do something about that bulge, or you’re just starting out, or even if you’ve fallen off the wagon and don’t know how to get back on, here is some simple advice to get you going in the right direction.

Cardiovascular exercise: the U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of cardio in most days of the week, and more so for weight loss. Other fitness experts say that we need 200-300 minutes, weekly. However, don’t get down about the numbers. You can get in 30 minutes easy if you alter your lifestyle choices slightly. Say, ride a bike to work instead of drive (if it’s close) or take a fifteen-minute walk at lunch and another fifteen-minute walk before dinner is served. Or, climb the stairs to and from your office instead of taking the elevator. If you’re the type that needs a friend to keep yourself going, hook up with someone or hit a gym and look at their class schedules. I’ve met some of the best ladies in the world while in class.

Strength training: those all-important muscles need focus too. Most experts say 8-20 reps on every large muscle group 3-4 times, weekly, will cover your needs. Men tend to train hard and do fewer repetitions. Ladies tend to use lighter weights but increase their reps. Pick and choose, depending on what you want. And, ladies, don’t be scared of those burly men grunting away at your local gym. They’re more than likely too involved in their own workout to take too much notice of you (we’re the one’s who multitask, remember?). Also, if you have questions about the machines, schedule an appointment with a trainer or ask one of the staff present how to use them. That is their job, after all.

Flexibility: those worked muscles also need a good stretch. Stretching prevents injury and maximizes the efficiency of the muscles you use. Particularly, stretching the muscles of the lower back, gluts, hamstrings, quads, and hips are helpful for daily movement. Depending on how hard you work, spend 5-15 minutes stretching at the end of your workout.

Mind-body exercise: as a fitness professional who teaches Pilates, I truly believe in the healing power of mind-body exercise. With the heavy workloads and high stress environments people work in today, it is no wonder why yoga and Pilates classes are bursting at the seams. People need to move but they also need to reconnect with themselves. Such classes are also a great way to minimize the adverse affect of sedentary lifestyles.

Most importantly, think TDEE. If you’re looking to lose weight and aren’t sure how to do it, begin by increasing your energy expenditure (i.e. calories used) by 250-300 calories/day and decrease your energy intake by 200-250 calories/day. That equals one pound of weight lost each week. That may not seem like much but don’t overdo things. Slow, consistent weight loss is much better than huge losses and the beginning, followed by frustration and relapse when nothing further happens. And don’t be surprised if your weight doesn’t change for a few weeks at a time as you see progress. Your body needs that time to adjust to its new self.

Good luck and happy moving!