Weight loss vs. health gain

17079-close-up-of-feet-standing-on-a-scale-pvWeight loss is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the US. Hundreds of companies are banking on the fact that most people would like to see a smaller number on the scale, and they’d like to see it quickly, please. Our culture tells us that extra pounds are something to be loathed. Excess weight is a malignancy that must be excised. That number on the scale is the enemy, and if you can just reduce it down to some other arbitrary number then everything will be okay. People will love you. You’ll love yourself. You’ll get that raise, you’ll get that guy or girl, you’ll make everyone at the beach or the gym or your high school reunion green with envy.

But these companies also are betting that once you lose the weight by following their restrictive diet plans and exhausting fitness routines, you’ll gain it back. Why do so many of them offer lifetime memberships? Or repeat customer benefits? Or sell their shakes/pills/powders by the case at warehouse grocery stores?

It’s because they know the truth: that maintaining optimal weight comes as a result of getting healthy — balancing blood sugar and hormones, reducing inflammation, clearing up systemic infections and/or fungal proliferation, bringing the body’s microbiome systems into balance, restoring the integrity of the gut lining and the vascular endothelium, eradicating toxins, and a host of other things that can throw the body out of balance and cause it to hang on to extra weight, or to require medications that have weight gain as a side effect.

But they can’t sell you that. So instead they sell you restriction, deprivation, starvation and exhaustion. All of those things will, indeed, cause you to drop weight in the short term. Over the long term, even if they stick with the program, many people will plateau because the body has had enough. It flips into survival mode and in order to keep you alive, it starts to hang onto all the resources it can, which results in stalled weight loss.

Most people, though, will stop before they get to that point. They’ll realize they just can’t keep up with a restrictive diet and/or exhausting fitness routine. Their bodies will rebel. And they’ll go back to their old way of eating/moving and gain all the weight back (plus a little extra for their trouble). This is the unfortunate result, more often than not, of focusing solely on weight loss without giving attention to health.

What’s the alternative? Focus on gaining health. A functional medicine practitioner can diagnose and treat any underlying issues, and that coupled with a diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits and healthy fats and proteins, along with a balance of movement and rest that works for your body, can set you on the path to reaching and maintaining not only your optimal weight, but your optimal health as well. It’s not a quick fix by any measure, but the result is a lifetime of looking and feeling better, and that’s a lifetime membership worth opting into.

Weight loss vs. health gain

Three steps to break through limiting beliefs

9455-a-beautiful-girl-jumping-on-a-beach-pvHow many times a day does the phrase “I can’t … because” cross your mind or your lips? “I can’t stick to a diet because I just don’t have any willpower.” “I can’t run because of my knees.” “I can’t exercise because of my crazy schedule.” “I can’t do anything about my crappy job because I need the money.” Do any of these sound familiar?

Sometimes they come in another form: “I’m terrible at math.” “I hate exercise.” “I’m the worst cook in the world.” “I suck at maintaining friendships.” “I’m trapped in this unfulfilling relationship.” “I’m too old.” “It’s too late to change anything.”

All of these are limiting beliefs, and they are the biggest obstacle to success in any endeavor. If you truly believe you can’t do something, full stop, then you’ll be right about that every single time.

But here’s the thing: these beliefs can be changed! You truly can free yourself from these thoughts, because that’s all they are — just thoughts. They’re only true if you believe they’re true. Are you ready to stop believing all these negative, limiting, not-objectively-true-at-all things about yourself? These tips will help get you started!

1. List your choices

“I can’t stick to a diet…” Okay, well can you drink water instead of soda for a week? Can you eat a salad instead of a burger for lunch every day for a week? What about just drinking water instead of soda or having a salad instead of a burger today? Maybe you can give up your sugary coffee drink. Or replace your afternoon candy bar with some fresh fruit. What can you change about the way you’re eating now?

“I can’t run…” Can you try walking? Riding a bike? Standing to do a task that you’d normally do sitting? Doing some yoga? Sitting in a chair and punching an imaginary punching bag? How can you get moving more than you are now?

“I can’t exercise…” Can you park a little farther from the door at work? Take the stairs? Walk to lunch instead of driving? Go to the restroom that’s a little farther down the hall? Do some squats while on the phone or watching TV? Do some bicep curls with water bottles while waiting for the microwave to finish? How can you work in more movement while doing the things you already do?

“I can’t do anything about my job…” Can you talk to someone at work about any issues you might be having? Can you ask for more training, more pay, a different work location? Can you make sure your resume is up to date? Can you keep an eye on job listings? Can you get your interview suit dry-cleaned and ready to go? How can you make yourself more valuable to current and prospective employers?

You have choices. You absolutely do. There are things you can do to work toward where you want to be. List them out, even if they don’t seem possible right now. No one but you has to see this list.

2. Set yourself up for success

If cookies trigger binge-eating behavior for you, don’t have any cookies in the house! Don’t set a trap for yourself in which you reinforce your limiting belief. If you know cookies are your biggest temptation, and you buy them anyway, and you inevitably eat one (or five or thirty), what’s going to happen? You’ll beat yourself up, you’ll reinforce your limiting belief that you have no willpower or are addicted to cookies or whatever negative thing you believe about yourself, when all along it was a clear case of entrapment.

Don’t set traps for yourself. That’s a form of self-harming, pure and simple. Remove temptations from your environment and replace them with health-supporting options. Out with the cookies, in with the fresh fruit! This is not a test of willpower, it’s an act of self-love. It’s giving yourself the tools you need to succeed.

3. Work toward short-term goals

Instead of vowing to lose 50 pounds in a year, why not aim for losing one or two pounds in a week? Instead of giving up donuts forever, why not give them up just for today? Instead of jumping right in to walking five miles a day, why not walk half a mile today and then make a point of walking just one driveway/doorway further tomorrow? Take one week, one day, one choice at a time. Every single moment is a chance to make a choice. This one particular sugary latte you’re about to order — you can choose to have water and a banana instead.  Just for this one. This one particular bowl of pasta you’re about to eat — you can choose to have a salad instead. Just for this one.

Working to short-term goals lets you experience immediate success. You set a goal, and hey, you achieved it! Maybe you don’t suck at this. Maybe you can do it.

And believing, even a tiny bit, that you can do it is the beginning of the end of those limiting beliefs.

Three steps to break through limiting beliefs

Easy recipe: homemade nut milk

almondmilk

Have you ever read the ingredient label on a carton of nut milk from your local supermarket or health food store? Most of them are full of thickeners, coloring agents and sugars. It’s kind of crazy because nut milk is so easy to make! You don’t even need a recipe, really, but here are the instructions for one quart of homemade nut milk.

For all nut milks: begin by soaking one cup of nuts in water with a pinch of sea salt for 10-12 hours (or overnight). Rinse and drain nuts and dump into a blender with a pinch of sea salt. You also can add a pitted date and/or a bit of pure vanilla extract if you like.

For almond or hazelnut milk: add 4 cups filtered water and blend on high speed until liquefied. This might take a couple of minutes depending on how powerful your blender happens to be. Line a wire mesh strainer with fine cheesecloth (or use a nut milk bag) and strain, then transfer the liquid to a sealed quart-sized bottle or jar and keep in the refrigerator for up to one week.

For cashew milk: add 3 cups filtered water and continue as above, but do not strain milk. There’s no need with cashew milk as the cashews will soften and pulverize completely. (The date may not, however, so you may want to substitute a tablespoon of raw honey for the date if you’d like a sightly sweetened cashew milk.)

That’s really all there is to it! If you’re making almond or hazelnut milk, you can take the further step of drying the leftover pulp in the oven or a food dehydrator, then pulsing it for a couple of seconds in a food processor to make nut meal for recipes that call for that ingredient. All for the cost of one cup of raw nuts!

Easy recipe: homemade nut milk

Three steps to get back on track in 2016

17229-a-woman-eating-a-fresh-salad-pvThe holidays are over. Now what?

Leave it in 2015

The most important step in moving forward is to leave the past in the past. Beating yourself up for decisions you made and actions you took in the past is a form of self harm. Learning from mistakes is one thing; dwelling on them is another. When we dwell on the past, we freeze our forward progress. We hold ourselves at the moment of transgression. Accept the fact that you went a bit off the rails over the holidays, forgive yourself for having made those decisions, and believe with all your heart — because it’s absolutely true — that you can come back from it.

Clean house

Relax, I’m not suggesting you scrub toilets. Though putting on a little music — whether it be Wu Tang Clan, Willie Nelson or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart — and getting your scrub and sweep on is a great way to add a little movement to your post-holiday recovery plan! But no, I’m talking about food temptations. If you allowed yourself to indulge in Christmas cookies, special holiday foods and treats, anything that you feel you shouldn’t be eating on a daily basis and/or that triggers binge behavior, get rid of it. Get it out of the house. It’s okay that you ate those things; it really, truly is. It’s okay that you enjoyed every delicious morsel and moment of your holiday celebrations. In fact it’s more than okay; it’s great! But if you feel like you shouldn’t be eating that way anymore, get that stuff out of the house. Box it up to share with friends and family, put it in the break room at work, or just throw it away (I assure you, starving children in developing countries will not benefit one iota from your leftover yule log and kugel).

Welcome abundance

No one wants to start a health journey staring at empty refrigerator and pantry shelves. Once you’ve purged the house of non-health-supporting leftover holiday treats, it’s time to fill those shelves with an abundance of foods that will help you progress toward your goals, whether they be to lose weight, balance hormones, or just plain feel better. The only real rule to follow here is: the less processed, the better. This means choosing fresh food as much as possible — vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, unprocessed meats, nuts, eggs, whole grains instead of products made from flour, and full-fat no-sugar-added dairy. Don’t be fooled by packaged “diet” products — if you read the ingredient and nutrition labels, you’ll see that even products that claim to be light or high in protein are mostly stripped carbohydrates and fruit sugars. Just grab a handful of nuts and fresh berries, grapes or apple wedges — they’re portable and you’ll get plenty of fiber to go with those naturally occurring sugars!

These are only the first steps, but they form a solid foundation on which to build toward a lifetime of health in the new year. Stay tuned for more tips to get your health journey started out on the right foot in 2016!

Three steps to get back on track in 2016

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season

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The holidays can be stressful for health-conscious individuals. Beginning with Halloween and continuing through Thanksgiving and the December holidays, each occasion has its food temptations. Many of these can be emotionally fraught as well; no amount of explaining that you’re trying to lose weight, avoid dairy or cut back on sugar is going to remove the sting of you refusing your mother-in-law’s famous pumpkin gingerbread cheesecake.

People tend to do one of two things when it comes to facing all this holiday temptation: become overly rigid and filled with anxiety at holiday gatherings where food is involved, or go completely off-plan and eat whatever comes in range for a couple of months regardless of how it makes them feel physically.

I’d like to suggest a middle path: giving yourself permission to deviate from the norm. What does that mean? Well, it depends on what your “norm” happens to be.

If your norm is to become rigid, refuse even a bite of your mother-in-law’s pumpkin cheesecake, joylessly turn your nose up at the plethora of holiday delicacies before you while virtuously nibbling on a carrot stick and giving yourself an ulcer over the constant refusal to try “just a bite”, my advice to you is: relax! If the food on offer won’t actually kill you or make you incredibly sick (i.e., in the absence of food allergies or extreme food sensitivities), is there any real harm in taking just a bite of your mother-in-law’s pride and joy pumpkin cheesecake or your niece’s famous sticky toffee pudding? Can you fill your plate with foods that fit more closely with how you eat on a daily basis (maybe make/bring these dishes yourself) and take little tastes of a few other dishes in which the cooks have a lot of emotional investment?

In a perfect world, everyone important to you would understand why you eat the way you do and respect that, or at the very least they’d have no emotional attachment to how you eat. But we don’t live in a perfect world. Most of us live in a world full of people who express love through food. I’m not suggesting you completely abandon your convictions, insert a noodle where your spine used to be and capitulate to every individual culinary whim in a gathering of two-dozen friends and family, I’m just suggesting you weigh the cost of taking that bite against the cost of not taking that bite and make the decision that works for you, not just in terms of your diet, but in terms of your relationships and your anxiety level. If giving yourself permission to loosen the reins just a tiny bit (again, while not compromising your overall health) helps you sail through holiday gatherings with less anxiety, by all means, do that. It’s okay.

If your norm is to go wild, throw your usual eating pattern out the window and indulge in mass quantities of sugar and trans fats for six or eight weeks until you’re completely kugel-wasted and physically miserable, I’d like to suggest a similar approach to the above: relax! It doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. You don’t have to eat an entire plate of kugel. You can have just a bite or two and make your grandmother happy. If leftovers get sent home with you, you don’t have to eat them! You can give yourself permission to set aside a small taste to enjoy later and then throw the rest away.

That’s right: you can throw leftovers away. You don’t have to eat them. I know the idea of that makes many people uncomfortable, especially those of us who were raised with the spectre of starving children in developing countries. To our parents and grandparents, throwing away food was the basest of sin (not to be confused with the bassist of sin, which of course is Geezer Butler). But here’s the thing: if the item you’re throwing away is a nutrient-deficient amalgamation of stripped/milled grains, sugar, oxidized fats, chemicals, and other ingredients that do not support health in you or anyone else, does it really count as food?

When you cut coupons or helpful articles out of the newspaper (this is a thing we oldsters used to do before smart phones, just go with me here), do you feel any qualms about chucking the rest of the paper into the recycling bin? No. You got what you wanted out of it, and you don’t need the rest of it. The newspaper can’t feel pain or rejection. The same is true of all that edible stuff we collectively refer to as “food”. If you look forward all year to your grandmother’s kugel, your mother-in-law’s pumpkin gingerbread cheesecake or the peanut butter nougats your son discards from his Halloween candy stash, if the taste of those foods are integral to your holiday experience, if family bonds will be damaged by your refusal to eat them, if a taste or two won’t actually make you sick, then have a taste and throw the rest away. You got what you wanted from it, whether it be warm fuzzies on your part or the part of someone you love, and you don’t need the rest. Make a donation to a hunger relief agency for every container you toss, if that helps you part with it, but get rid of it. Keeping and eating it won’t do you or anyone else any good.

If you’re having trouble deciding which holiday dishes to fill up on and which to taste and toss, ask yourself: will my health be better served if I eat more of this? If not, taste it and toss the rest away.

Most of all, give yourself a break this holiday season. Look after your health. Eat more of what makes you feel good, and eat less of what makes you feel bad. Give yourself permission to break out of old patterns and settle into new ones that better support your health, both physically and emotionally. That will allow you to greet the new year with a renewed commitment to your own well-being rather than greeting it with an extra 20 pounds and a handful of damaged relationships.

Permission to deviate from the norm this holiday season

Should you take a cheat day?

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As a nutrition and wellness coach, when I say I don’t believe in cheat days I immediately paint myself as a hard-nosed, toe-the-line, no-deviation-from-the-script ascetic. But that’s actually the opposite of my philosophy. Let me explain.

In case you’re not familiar with the concept of cheat days, the idea is that when you’re following a restrictive diet, you get a day off every week or so to eat whatever you want as a sort of reward for sticking with the diet the rest of the time. The more restrictive the diet, the more hog-wild cheat days tend to be, often ending in gastrointestinal distress and feelings of guilt and regret. “I was doing so well, but I totally blew it on my cheat day! OMG, why did I eat that?!”

One of the reasons I don’t believe in cheat days is that I don’t believe in restrictive diets, either. I don’t believe in starvation or deprivation. That’s not how you heal the body.

The reason we need food to live is that we break down everything that enters our digestive systems into smaller bits that our bodies need to function. We use food to build and repair tissue, synthesize vitamins and hormones, remove toxins, keep our organs functioning — pretty much everything the body needs to do, it needs food in order to do it. Food isn’t just there to fill up our stomachs and keep us from feeling hunger. Food literally builds our bodies.

Different foods work for different people because we’re all so unique, inside and out. Your genetics, the composition of your gut microbiome, your external environment and whatever toxins and irritants exist there — all of these things affect how your individual body breaks down food and what it does with those smaller parts.

A large part of my coaching practice is helping people figure out what foods work for their individual bodies. What foods support health for you? What foods make you feel and look amazing? What foods give you glowing skin, boundless energy, sound sleep, balanced moods, untroubled digestion, painless movement throughout your day? Conversely, which foods make you feel awful? Which foods cause skin rashes and breakouts, digestive distress, insomnia, anxiety, depression, headaches, muscle aches, joint pain and fatigue?

It takes a while to figure all this out. But once you have figured it out, and provided you’ve done it by enjoying an abundance of clean protein, healthy fats and whole-food carbs in proportions that work for your body (not starving yourself, in other words), my hope for you is that you’ll choose to eat in a health-supporting way most of the time. Notice I didn’t say all the time. There may be situations in which you make an informed choice to eat a food that you know will make you feel bad because you’re willing to deal with the consequences of that. And that is a valid choice because you’re the boss of you and you get to make those decisions, guilt-free.*

(* Caveat: When you know a food makes you feel bad and you choose to consume it more than once a week or so, or if you feel compelled to set aside an entire day to binge on foods that you know make you feel lousy, there’s something going on there that needs to be addressed. The best-case scenario is that you’re not including enough calories and fat in your diet so that you feel deprived and deserving of a food “reward”. Worse-case, it’s about you feeling that, for some reason, you deserve to feel bad. Or at the very least, you don’t deserve to feel good. And it might be a good idea to examine why you feel that way.)

Barring an allergy or some other medical condition like diabetes or celiac, there are no good or bad foods. There are foods that make you feel good and foods that make you feel bad. There’s no such thing as “cheating” when you’re eating this way. There’s no stress over worrying whether a particular food is vegan or paleo or low-carb or detox-approved or otherwise on your “diet”. Everything you put into your mouth is a choice, or in some cases an experiment: how will this food make me feel? The answer to that question matters more than any diet dogma.

Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Nourish yourself. Don’t cheat yourself.

Should you take a cheat day?

Do you need a detox?

11705-a-beautiful-woman-holding-a-glass-of-juice-pvI’m sure you’ve seen them around: “cleanse” and “detox” programs promising to jump-start your health and weight-loss journey in anywhere from three to 30 days. Some involve juices, smoothies or shakes, some involve supplement pills, powders and specially packaged “foods”. Nearly all of them promise big results, fast. But do you need a cleanse or detox in order to kick off your journey to health and wellness?

In a word: no.

I am not at all a fan of cleanse and detox programs and don’t include them as part of my health coaching practice. Here’s why:

  1. They’re often deficient in calories, protein and/or fat — all things your body desperately needs to stay healthy and strong.
  2. They don’t actually do anything to reduce whatever toxic load you might be carrying (your liver and kidneys detoxify your body all day, every day).
  3. They’re expensive.
  4. They don’t produce lasting results.
  5. They’re often an excuse for people to eat junk when not on the program.
  6. They shock the body and actually can do more harm than good.

If you drink nothing but grapefruit juice, or lemon juice and cayenne pepper mixed with water, or kale and cucumber smoothies for an entire week, then yes, you’re going to lose some weight. You’re taking in about half the calories and way less than half the protein and fat your body needs to function, so obviously you’re going to shed some pounds (most of it water and sometimes muscle depending on the length of the program).

But what then? What do you do when the cleanse or detox is over? How do you eat moving forward? And how long do you think you’ll keep that weight off once the detox has ended?

Instead of embarking on a seven-day starvation regimen of flavored water and/or synthetic vitamins, what if instead you start TODAY eating just a bit less refined sugar, refined flour and factory-made food and eating just a bit more fresh vegetables, fresh fruits and clean protein? And then tomorrow, you cut back even more on the refined/processed stuff and load up a bit more on the fresh/clean stuff?

Do that every day and instead of sending your body into metabolic shock, causing it to break down muscle and throw your hormones out of whack, you’ll be building sustainable nutrition habits that lead to slow, steady hormone balance, tissue repair and weight loss. You’ll learn what foods work for your body, what foods don’t, what foods you truly enjoy and what foods you can give yourself permission to stop eating. Your relationship with food will change. No longer will it be a source of reward, punishment, guilt or shame; instead it will be what it’s meant to be — an extremely enjoyable way of keeping your body running in tip-top shape, feeling strong and energetic and free from pain and illness.

Those are results that last a lifetime, and that beats the heck out of losing and gaining the same 10 pounds (at $10 or more per pound, in the case of some cleanses) over and over AND OVER again!

Do you need a detox?