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.

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Weight loss vs. health gain

What are your cravings trying to tell you?

8224-chocolate-chip-cookies-on-a-plate-pvWe all crave certain foods from time to time. But what do these cravings mean and why do we have them?

Cravings are the body’s way of communicating a need. Figure out the need, and you can give yourself a variety of choices for how to fill that need, including choices that won’t derail you from your health goals! Here are some common food cravings, what they might mean, and how you can tackle them.

Craving: Chocolate

Why you’re craving it: Odd as it may sound, chocolate cravings often stem from mineral deficiencies, particularly magnesium, iron and zinc.

Try this instead: Make sure you’re getting enough minerals in your daily diet. Grass-fed beef, pastured lamb and sustainably caught shellfish are good animal sources of iron, magnesium and zinc. Plant sources include dark leafy greens, legumes, Brazil nuts, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds.

If you’ve just gotta have it: When it comes to chocolate, the darker, the better. If your usual drug of choice is a sugary, waxy milk chocolate, it’s time to step up to the good stuff. Gradually wean yourself to the darkest chocolate you can stand (aim for 70% or greater cocoa content). Chocolate that dark not only will feed your chocolate craving, it’ll also help supply the minerals your body is missing without spiking your blood sugar.

My favorites: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Cacao Bar (available pretty much everywhere, including Walmart), Alter Eco Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate bar (also 85% cocoa content, available at health food stores).

Craving: Cake and cookies

Why you’re craving it: A craving for sweet carbohydrates in baked form usually stems from stress. This can be emotional stress from a difficult work, school, relationship or financial situation, or it can be physical stress from illness (or certain medications used to treat it), lack of sleep, injury or overexertion. No matter how you slice it, if you’re craving cake and cookies, you’re hurting on some level and you need comfort.

Try this instead: The first line of defense for comfort food cravings is to try to fill the need for comfort without food. If you come home from work and immediately end up face-down in a box of Ring Dings, it might be time to switch up your routine. Change into some comfortable clothes, put on some soothing body lotion, cuddle up with a blanket (and/or a pet), put on some relaxing music, light a scented candle or diffuse some essential oil, try a little self-massage. Do some yoga stretches (check videos on YouTube) or meditate for as long as you can stand it (one minute is okay — one breath is okay!). Find a long-term stress relief and self care routine that works for you and watch those comfort food cravings melt away!

If you’ve just gotta have it: Sweet fruits and warming spices are the way to go if your body is screaming for baked goods. Try sauteing apple or banana slices in a skillet with some grass-fed butter or coconut oil, then sprinkling with cinnamon, nutmeg and/or powdered ginger. Unsweetened applesauce with cinnamon, warmed on the stove or in the microwave, is another good choice. And if you really really need a cookie, these power cookies from Abel James are packed full of superfood ingredients.

My favorites: I like to mash a banana with some nut butter, then add cinnamon and other warming spices and heat the whole shebang in the microwave or on the stovetop. It sounds weird, but it’s so comforting and delicious!

Craving: Salty, crunchy snacks

Why you’re craving it: Barring a sodium deficiency in your diet, which is rare, a craving for salty, crunchy snacks usually stems from plain old boredom. People who crave chips, pretzel sticks and crackers on a regular basis tend to need a lot of sensory stimulation and novelty, or they tend to have a lot of nervous energy and need to do something with their hands.

Try this instead: Just like with a comfort-food craving for baked goods, a salty/crunchy craving that stems from boredom often can be met by addressing the boredom directly. So try something new that engages your mind, keeps your hands busy, and gives you a different sensory experience. Knitting, crochet and other forms of needlework, crossword puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, sudoku, adult coloring books, solitaire (with actual cards, not on your phone), getting up and moving around when you usually sit, or even sitting in a different chair or spot on the couch all can twitch your brain out of that boredom groove.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Kale chips and other veggie chips are a health-supporting alternative to potato, tortilla and pita chips provided they’re fried or baked in a non-inflammatory oil (like coconut, avocado or olive oil). Roasted nuts are another great choice — make your own by tossing two cups of raw mixed nuts with a couple of tablespoons of healthy oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, then roasting on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes.

My favorites: This may sound weird coming from a health coach, but I’m a big fan of pork rinds provided the only ingredients are pork and salt – Baken-Ets Traditional is a pretty widely available brand. I also love Seasnax, which are a good source of iodine for those of us not using iodized table salt. And Inka Chips Original plantain chips have taken the place of tortilla chips in my house — they’re great for scooping up homemade guacamole and salsa.

Craving: Beer and bread

Why you’re craving it: Odds are if you’re craving yeasty foods and drinks, you’ve got a little tummy upset going on and your beneficial gut bacteria are trying to boost their numbers through fermentation.

Try this instead: Fermented vegetables such as sauerkraut, kimchi and other traditional fermented pickles should settle your tummy without adding too many inches to your waistline. If you tolerate dairy, try a fermented full-fat dairy product like yogurt or kefir.

If you’ve just gotta have it: Fermented vegetables and diary not doing the trick? Try a traditional fermented cider or ginger beer, kombucha, or a drinking vinegar or shrub. If the bread bug has got you down and you’ll absolutely die without a little bite, opt for a sprouted whole-grain fermented sourdough bread. Just watch your portions if you have a blood sugar imbalance or weight-loss goal.

My favorites: Buddha’s Brew Hop’d kombucha and Live Soda kombucha in Sparkling Ginger are in my refrigerator at all times to soothe any tummy issues that come along. I’m also a huge fan of Farmhouse Culture‘s raw fermented sauerkraut and kimchi.

What are your cravings trying to tell you?

Love begins with you

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“If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?” – RuPaul

People who feel unlovable will do everything they can to prove that it’s true. Have you ever noticed that? Have you been pushed away in a relationship? Or maybe you’ve been the one doing the pushing, afraid that if the other person only knew what you’ve done, thought, said, believed, etc. — they’d realize you didn’t deserve their love?

Well, I have a couple of truths to lay on you:

  1. Everyone deserves love.
  2. You can’t control how someone else feels about you.
  3. You absolutely can control how you feel about yourself.

Self-love begins with forgiving yourself for past decisions and actions, and that forgiveness begins with the knowledge that you can’t go back and change what happened in the past. What does holding onto it and beating yourself up about it get you? All it gives you is an excuse not to move forward with your life. By holding yourself at the point of transgression and marinating in your own perceived failure, you rob yourself of forward progress toward your goals and of the chance to make new decisions. Maybe you’re afraid those decisions will be “wrong” as well, and that you’ll only make things worse? Ask yourself: how can things be any worse? How can it be worse to try something that might make things better vs. forever encasing yourself in psychological amber at a fixed point in your past that can’t be changed?

You have to forgive yourself. You have to realize that you made the best decision you could with what you had to work with at the time. You have to acknowledge that you can’t move backward and try to fix it — the only way past it is to move forward, to keep making decisions, to keep trying to be better. Every moment is a new chance to change your life. All you have to do is decide you’re ready.

Once you’ve forgiven yourself, you can begin to appreciate how hard you’ve already worked. How much you’ve survived. How incredible you are to have kept going. There’s a spark in you that didn’t quit — as evidenced by the fact that you’re still here — and you can fan that spark into a flame. You’ve survived all that, you’ve earned your place in this world, and there is nothing you can’t do. You keep trying, you want to be better, and you deserve goodness and love.

Loving yourself means being whole within yourself. It means knowing you are a complete and magnificent being. Just because you’re trying to be better and because you want more for yourself, that doesn’t mean anything is missing. It only means you’re becoming fuller and richer. Your light is shining brighter. That little spark has become a warming, nurturing flame. Many spiritual traditions would say that you’re becoming closer to God, clearing out space to become a more open vessel for the light of the Divine.

However you look at it from a spiritual standpoint, self-love and being whole within yourself is a gift not only to yourself, but to the world. When you are complete within yourself, you don’t need another person to complete you. Any relationship you enter into is a choice. Sure, attraction and love go beyond conscious choice, but sharing your life with another person absolutely is a choice. If things aren’t going well, if that relationship makes you feel smaller and dims your light, you have the choice to stay and work on it or to leave. Because you know that in your vastness and in your wholeness, you will survive with or without that relationship. You know you deserve a love that nurtures your growth and that honors all you are and all the incredible work you’ve done.

(And not for nothing, but when you love yourself, you’ll want to treat yourself better, feed yourself better food, move your amazing body in ways that make you feel strong and powerful and brimming with health!)

Just a little something to think about on this St. Valentine’s Day!

Love begins with you

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

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

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?