Dealing with conflicting information

Wait…so are eggs bad for you again? But I thought you couldn’t have coffee while pregnant, now it’s OK? OK, I’ve got it, now. So red wine is good for you…except when it’s not?

These are such classic examples of the tennis match head flip we have to do as consumers reading headlines around diet and nutrition. One day a food is good for you and the next you shouldn’t eat it. With all this conflicting nutrition information, what is a health conscious consumer to do?

If there is one thing the media is really good at, it’s taking the slightest possibility and running with it as though it is unequivocal truth. One study can come out suggesting that people who eat potatoes 3 times a week are more likely to have inverted nipples and the next thing you know every outlet is reporting you should never ever eat potatoes.

But here’s the thing: correlation does not equal causation. There may be an environmental factor causing inverted nipples in a certain region and potatoes might just happen to be common and affordable in that region, thereby skewing the results. Or maybe there is a genetic factor that causes inverted nipples and also creates a taste for potatoes.

This is a silly example but the point is that just because 2 things are happening does not mean they are related.

Furthermore, just because one study had a particular finding, doesn’t mean that finding holds true. That study may have been poorly constructed, its results might not be able to be reproduced, it could have been funded by someone with skin in the game – a whole lot of different issues. So what should you do?

  1. Don’t stress about it

Getting stressed out about whether or not you should put stock in a new study isn’t helpful. Chances are, whatever those findings are won’t merit your dropping a habit immediately. By all means, give the story a read, but don’t let it drive you into a panic.

2. Keep an open mind

Remember, one study doesn’t prove anything conclusively. It needs to be peer-reviewed and the findings need to be able to be replicated. We still have SO MUCH to learn about the human body and nutrition – what we think we know now is bound to change as we learn more.

3. Talk to a professional

If you’re really concerned about the findings you’re reading, talk to your doctor or your nutrition professional about it. They should be able to let you know whether or not you need to make changes.

4. Focus on balance

At the end of the day, if you’re eating a wide variety of foods and eating more of the “healthy stuff” than the “less healthy stuff,” you probably don’t need to worry much. Too much of anything can be a problem, including information. So focus on finding your balance and don’t get sucked into the back and forth media coverage of these studies.

Meal Planning Success Tips

Meal planning and prep is an important pillar of healthy eating because it gives you complete control over the ingredients and portions that you and your family eat. In fact, research has shown that eating home cooked meals frequently is associated with healthier diet quality. That’s not to say that meal planning and prepping is easy. It takes time, thought, and energy. So how can you make meal prepping work for you? First off, there’s no wrong way to meal prep. Here are some meal planning success tips to get you started: 

Meal Prep Success Tips

Work with your schedule 

Some people like to do a lot of meal prep all in one day. Others will split it up over 2-3 days during the week. Another way to do it, is to cook larger meals and save leftovers for a couple days (helloooo crock pots and one-pan meals!). Look at your schedule but also consider your energy and stress levels as well when deciding which system works best for you. Create your schedule around that. 

Plan before you shop

Your meal prep plan needs to take into consideration not just your time, but also your budget and your inventory. Planning before you shop will cut your time in the grocery store and also allow you to modify your plan if you discover you need to purchase too many items for certain recipes. You also will have the opportunity to modify recipes by planning ahead as well. 

Try to reuse ingredients

It will save you time and money if you are able to use the same ingredients in several different dishes. For example, you could use quinoa to make a batch of stuffed peppers, a quinoa salad side dish, and vegetarian taco filling. Just make a large pot of quinoa at the beginning of the week and then work it into those dishes. Likewise, see if you can find ways to repurpose your leftovers into new meals.  For example, leftover chicken can be used to make chicken fajitas, leftover salmon can be made into salmon burgers – you get the idea.

Use your freezer

Some foods freeze better than others and taking advantage of that can save you time and money. Some ingredients that freeze well are:

  • Fruits such as peeled bananas, chunked mangos, and berries
  • Raw or blanched vegetables such as peppers, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, carrots, and kale
  • Cooked vegetables such as sweet potato and squash (stock up on these when they’re in season and cheap, roast them up, then freeze them)
  • Firm tofu
  • Raw meats

Some prepared foods that also freeze well:

  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Stir fry
  • Cauliflower fried rice
  • Pasta dishes
  • Black bean burritos

Spice it up!

Don’t be afraid of flavor. Spices and herbs are your best friend when cooking healthy foods. They allow you to reuse the same ingredients in many different ways. If you are uncomfortable improvising with your flavors, follow recipes. Tired of the same old grilled chicken breast? Try adding garlic and paprika for Mexican-style or go with lemon and rosemary. You can play around with different combinations once you get comfortable with the flavors that you enjoy. 

Get your family/friends involved

Cooking together is a good time to connect and it’s a great learning experience for kids! Research has shown that if you encourage your kids to meal prepare throughout their young adult life, they are more likely to eat healthier later and are less likely to develop picky eating habits. 

Only prepare foods that you enjoy eating

You may feel really motivated to cook only quinoa and asparagus for your lunch the next day, because you think that will be the healthiest. But if you don’t actually like quinoa and asparagus, you probably won’t end up eating it later. What’s the point of forcing yourself to eat things that you don’t find tasty? Food can be delicious and healthy; you sometimes just have to be creative. This is why when you work with Well & Simple, we offer thousands of new recipes that are easy to prepare yourself, and are tailored according to your taste preference.

Theme nights make things easier

These can be fun and give the whole family something to look forward to, as well as take away some of the thought you have to put into a meal. Some examples of fun theme days are: 

  • Meatless Monday
  • Taco Tuesday
  • Fishy Friday

Plan the dine out days

Meal planning also means planning nights when you don’t have to cook! If you know you will end up dining out once a week, you may as well put it on the schedule so you can always stick to your plan, and avoid wasting extra ingredients.

There are many other perks to cooking your own food besides it being healthier. It can be less expensive, and can be even tastier than takeout. It’s also a fun opportunity to teach your kids an important life skill, or just to spend time together on a busy work day. Following these meal planning success tips will help you get on your way.

Our intern, Nicki, actually conducted her senior thesis research on meal prep amongst college students and found that they eat more fruits and vegetables if they prep their own meals as well. So there you have it: meal prep is an important and even college students are getting in on it!

How about you? Do you meal prep regularly? What does it look like in your house?

Some Advice on Motivation

Motivation can be a struggle on a good day, let alone living under quarantine. It’s OK not to feel motivated right now but there are ways to help you find your motivation again.

Picture this: you had a long day at home, doing paperwork, jumping on Zoom calls, trying to school your kids, managing your finances, cleaning the house, and, before you know it, it’s time for your at-home workout. Or maybe it’s time to prepare that new dinner recipe you had planned on making. (Maybe this WAS your day and you don’t have to try to picture it at all!) After a mentally & physically exhausting day, you just don’t feel like doing any of it. You want to throw in some Easy Mac and relax and watch Tiger King. We’ve all been there, and we’ve all felt ashamed for feeling this way.

We feel pressured to get certain things accomplished, to learn something new, to get on those home workouts because suddenly we supposedly “have nothing but time.” But time isn’t all we have. Time is still a finite resource and on top of that we still have responsibilities and stress and the emotionally taxing task of processing what is happening to us as a society under quarantine.

And yet, a quick scroll through your social media feed will turn up some message that if you don’t learn a new skill, start a new side hustle, or pick up a new hobby at this time, then you are somehow inferior and lazy. This mentality not only ignores the reality before us, it’s also harmful to our mental , emotional, and physical health. No one—and I mean NO ONE—is always motivated and that is OK and it is NORMAL.

So first and foremost, as the article linked above explains, we are processing a lot of big emotions right now, so be gentle with yourself and take what you need at this time. Instead of feeling down on yourself, please remember that not being motivated is okay. Likewise, feeling overly motivated is OK, too. We all process these things differently. Before anything else, you need to listen to your intuition and follow what feels right for you here and now.

If you do feel that you are ready to get moving on some goals now, there are things that you can do to get you started.

4 Ways to Find Motivation

  1. Reevaluate your goals 

If motivation has been a long-time struggle for you, it may be a good time to reevaluate your goals. Make sure you have solid goals, and, if not, change them. But how do I know if my goals are “solid”? Ask yourself the following questions: Is this goal feasible for me to accomplish? How will I know I have accomplished it? Does this goal still resonate with me? What will accomplishing this goal do for me/for my life?

  1. Ask yourself if you are happy with the way you are tackling your goals.

I often remind my clients to take into account their personal preference when it comes to working towards goals. If you don’t enjoy the process, you won’t adhere to it. I take a more agnostic approach to diet and exercise, because the best option is the one you’ll do. You do not exist simply to suffer now in order to be happy later. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy enough that you don’t dread doing it every day.  Cook recipes that you find tasty as well as healthy. Allow yourself treats from time to time. Whatever you choose, it has to work for you or it won’t work at all.

  1. Look back at how far you have come and celebrate the goals you have already smashed.

We all love to look at how far we have yet to go to reach our goals, but how often do you look back at what you have already accomplished? Don’t be afraid to give yourself a pat on the back. You are doing amazing! Recognize that. When you feel good about what you are doing, you are more likely to see it through.  No matter what stage of change you are in, there’s always something positive to look back upon. If you are still at the very start of changing your lifestyle habits, realize that coming to that decision to make change is often the hardest part for people – so that’s a huge accomplishment in itself! Focus on working towards small goals and build on them over time. Then you can look back and remember that you never used to take time for self care. Or you never used to drink enough water. Or you just started enjoying veggies with every meal. Those are all HUGE wins to celebrate! Don’t deny yourself these victories.

  1. Remember the definitive reason “why” you started

Perhaps most importantly, remember your big “why”. If you don’t already have a definitive “why”, take some time to determine yours. Your “why” should be the deepest and most important reason for changing your habits. It goes beyond things like getting abs or fitting into an old outfit.  It must be specific and have an end result that is meaningful to you. Ask yourself why you want to accomplish your goal? Why does it matter? What impact will accomplishing that goal have on your life? Why is that impact important to you?

Understand that your definitive why should be specific to you. Some examples of powerful whys include: “I want to begin exercising and eating healthier so I can keep up with my kids”, “I want to improve my eating habits so I can help my daughter develop a healthier relationship with food than I had”, or “I’m tired of the way my chronic pain has impeded my daily life and I want to change that.”

When it comes down to it, motivation is a deeply personal force and it requires a lot of introspection to develop it. It also is important to recognize where it’s coming from and why it’s not happening. Listen to your inner voice to do what is best for you.

The Trouble with the Diet Mentality

More than any of the junk food on the market, I think the biggest obstacle to having healthy balanced eating habits, a good relationship with our body, and a healthy relationship with food is the diet mentality. In order to start truly making lasting changes to your eating habits, you have to start working on curbing that mentality from the outset.

What is the Diet Mentality

The diet mentality is a deeply ingrained way of thinking in our culture that emphasizes black-and-white thinking about eating habits. You hear it in the on-the-wagon-off-the-wagon notion and the idea of “good” foods versus “bad” foods. You hear it in the way we talk about our eating behaviors: “I was bad today because I had chips and dessert.” And it’s behind our negative self-talk when we pick apart our physical appearance, berate ourselves for not following our diet, and say cruel things about our bodies.

The diet mentality is critical for the survival of the commercial diet industry because it supports their unsustainable programs which focus solely on the food, counting calories, carbs, and points, and the number on the scale and ignore balance, the reasons behind our eating habits, and food quality.

Why the Diet Mentality is a Problem

The diet mentality is a big problem for a whole number of reasons. First and foremost, all of that negative self-talk and those unrealistic goals that it emphasizes throw us into a self-defeating, self-berating spiral.

Let me explain. Commercial diets rely on one common ingredient for all of their programs: self-control. Here’s the thing about self-control, it’s a finite resource for every single human being out there. It erodes throughout the course of the day, with stress, with lack of sleep, and the longer we rely on it. However, we are conditioned to believe that when we run out of the ability to exercise self-control, it’s a failure on our part. We are simply not good enough, not strong enough, not cut out for this. Have you ever had those thoughts about yourself?

Pretty much anyone who has withstood the diet cycle has had those thoughts. And what those thoughts ultimately lead to are beliefs that we are simply not good enough so why bother even trying. “Well, I already blew it today, so why not just go all in for dinner, dessert, and wine?” “I just can’t do it. What’s the point in even trying?” “I didn’t have the self control for no carbs….but maybe if I’m counting points instead that’ll be easier”.

This is the diet mentality at work. It make you feel bad about yourself, warps your self-image, and keeps you coming back for more and more diets.

Here’s the thing…

The diet mentality does not reflect reality. There are no good foods and bad foods – just food. There are foods you shouldn’t eat as often because they aren’t as nutritious, true. But eating those foods certainly doesn’t make you bad any more than eating a carrot would make Charles Manson good. See what I’m saying?

The goal that we all need to be working towards is BALANCE so that we can enjoy those treats that we like but also eat plenty of the more nutritious foods that our bodies need. The goal is BALANCE so that we can enjoy food without equating it with our worth, so that we can stop berating ourselves and heal our relationships with food and with our bodies.

Releasing the Diet Mentality

Only by working on quelling those diet mentality thoughts and beliefs can we focus on achieving that balance that we need. But it takes time because that mentality is so deeply ingrained not only in ourselves but also in our society. It’s all around us and we don’t even notice it most of the time. So it takes practice noticing those patterns and then flipping the script on them.

So here’s a homework assignment if you’re willing: grab a journal and write down the diet mentality thoughts and feelings you have today on one side of the page. On the other side of the page, flip the script on them, turn them into something constructive or more observational and not judgmental. For example “I was bad today because I ate a whole bag of chips” could be flipped to “I ate a bag of chips today and they tasted really good.” “I can’t eat bread because carbs are bad” could be flipped to “bread isn’t falling in line with the nutritional goals I have today but I can have it if I want it.”

To get you started: your worth is not dictated by the foods you eat. Your body is beautiful and amazing. You are not defective or weak.

Foods to Support Immunity & Stress Relief

As we’ve seen over these past several weeks, people are flocking to the grocery store to stock up on supplies for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing social distancing policies. Toilet paper and sanitizer are obviously at the tops of people’s lists, but have you considered the food you’re buying? In times like this, the inclination is often highly-processed foods with a long shelf life, but these aren’t the best options for supporting your immune system and mitigating the effects of stress on your body. 

We’re here to discuss some of the food items that you may want to consider purchasing during this time of crisis, rather than just bread, milk, eggs, and pasta. Obviously these items may vary depending on any dietary needs or restrictions, but hopefully it will give you some ideas for foods that can really support the health of you and your family.

But first, let’s give you some general information about what makes the following foods so beneficial.  

The Power of Plants

When it comes to the best foods to be eating right now, plants are where it’s at. Fruits and veggies are loaded with beneficial compounds called phytonutrients, which act as antioxidants and support healthy body function, including immunity. Phytonutrients are what give the produce its bright colors, so the more different colors you eat, the greater variety of phytonutrients you’re consuming.

Low Stress Foods

We are currently under a tremendous amount of stress, which means that our bodies are experiencing very high levels of the stress hormone cortisol consistently. Cortisol is not only the stress hormone, but is also involved in a wide range of other processes such as the body’s inflammatory response, blood sugar regulation, sleep cycles, blood pressure, and memory function. Because of its involvement in these other processes, having it chronically sitting at high levels can have far-reaching health impacts.

Eating a lot of processed foods, sugar, alcohol, and simple carbohydrates can exacerbate the effects of stress by triggering cortisol responses in our body. Eating mostly low-stress foods, such as fresh produce, lean proteins, and complex carbohydrates (ie whole and minimally processed foods) can help mitigate those effects and won’t have the same dramatic impacts on cortisol levels.

What’s on Our Grocery List

Frozen Fruits

Frozen fruits and veggies are nearly identical nutritionally to fresh ones.  Some frozen fruits that we recommend are blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, and mangos. You can get big packages of these pre-frozen fruits, which will keep for about 6-9 months. Be sure to check the expiration dates on the packages you are buying, though. You can also freeze sliced bananas for use in smoothies. Simply cut it into slices and store in a sealed container. 

Ideas for use: 

  • Smoothies are a great way to make sure you’re eating enough fruits and veggies. Here are a couple of our favorite recipes:
    • 1 cup mixed berries, 1/2 frozen banana, 1 handful baby spinach, 1 cup frozen cauliflower rice. Add water and blend to desired consistency.
    • 1/2 cup frozen mango, 1/2 frozen banana, 1/2 cup old fashioned oats, 1/2 cup frozen cauliflower rice, unsweetened almond milk. Blend to desired consistency.
  • Use as a topping for overnight oats or cooked oats.

Frozen Vegetables

As with fruits, frozen vegetables will keep for a long time and pack a nutritional punch. Some frozen vegetables that we recommend you pick up are cauliflower (florets or riced), peas, broccoli, green beans, bell peppers, and spinach. Again, keep an eye on expiration dates, but pre-frozen veggies are expected to keep for 8-10 months.

Ideas for use:

  • Add frozen cauliflower to your smoothies
  • Cauliflower rice & quinoa tacos – use the cauliflower-quinoa mixture in place of meat
  • Toss frozen bell peppers into a fry pan and cook to add them to an omelette.

Potatoes

Need a break from all the frozen veggies? Potatoes have got your back. They can be kept raw for up to 2-3 months in the proper conditions. They are also one of the most versatile vegetables, and have several different variations, so you never get sick of them! (At least, we never do.)

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet potato toasts with almond butter and cinnamon
  • Roasted sweet potato with over-easy eggs
  • Sweet potato mash with shredded coconut and maple syrup
  • Make your own veggie burger – it’s surprisingly simple: just cook the potatoes until soft, then toss them into a food processor with some seasoning and other veggies. Form them into patties and cook!

Dried or Canned Beans

Dried and canned legumes are also a great option for long-term storage. Dried beans are good for up to 2-3 years if stored properly. And canned beans can last 3-5 years. Just be sure to look for BPA-free cans when you’re shopping. These foods are a good source or fiber and protein. 

Ideas for use:

  • Rice & beans
  • Soups
  • Black bean dip

Nuts

Nuts are a great source of healthy fats and protein, and properly stored will keep for 6 months or longer. These make a great snack and can be used in meals as well.

Oats

Another great source of energy and fiber that can be kept dried for a significantly long period, oats are a versatile option that can be stored dry for up to 2 years.

Ideas for use:

  • Overnight or hot oats
  • Process in a food processor to use as flour in muffins
  • Make-your-own crazy granola recipe
  • Toss them in the blender with your smoothie ingredients to make a thicker, more satisfying smoothie

Quinoa

Quinoa is another nutritious food that you should stock up on. Unlike other plants, quinoa is a complete protein. It’s also a great source of fiber. Quinoa is simple to prepare and can take on almost any flavor profile. Dried quinoa can keep for 2-3 years when stored properly.

Ideas for use:

  • Sweet quinoa breakfast porridge
  • Quinoa pizza crust
  • Quinoa pilaf

Heartier Fruits and Veggies

You should also consider picking up some produce with a slightly longer shelf-life than less hearty options. For example, cruciferous veggies (like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower) can keep for a good chunk of time stored properly in the refrigerator. Citrus fruits and apples also tend to keep longer than fruits like bananas and berries, so those are options to consider as well.

 

It is a stressful and unprecedented situation that we have all been thrown into. While most of what is going on is far out of our control, we do get some say in the matter of our health and the way eat is a fantastic starting point. Try to remain calm and take precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe.  

 

*Please keep in mind that the time periods suggested to keep these items are general and you should always follow the product’s specific expiration dates*

Fitness Industry Sayings that Need to Go

I didn’t get into health and nutrition coaching because I wanted to create weight loss plans. I got into it because I spent most of my younger years obsessing over my weight  and I had a horribly unhealthy relationship with food and my body. I saw how much harm the diet and “wellness” industries caused myself and others and I wanted to help other people embrace healthy eating and balance. This isn’t an easy mission when the giant diet industry is spamming all of our feeds with toxic messages. My intern, Nicki, is totally on the same page about these messages, so we put our heads together on what language we think the industry needs to ditch.

1. Get your beach/bikini body

“Bathing suit season is coming.” “Get your body bikini-ready!” “Time to work on your summer bod.” UGH! We need to stop promoting the notion that only certain types of bodies are worthy of a bikini. This kind of mentality not only is harmful by driving people to extremes to lose weight, it also encourages the policing of other people’s bodies. As the meme says, “the only way to get a bikini body it to put a bikini on your body” and it’s true. Stretch marks? Cellulite? Jiggle? Rolls? Put a bikini on it. I’m no more worthy of a bikini than you or your neighbor and vice versa. 

2. Toxic “motivation”

You’ve definitely heard it or maybe been told it yourself, “motivational” sayings like: “sweat is fat crying,” “pain is weakness leaving your body,” “nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” “unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going” (looking at you, Jillian Michaels). This is the kind of garbage that lands people hurt or ill. Exercise should not be punishment and ignoring your body’s warning signs is a recipe for disaster. What we need to be focusing on is positive encouragement, tuning into one’s body, and finding balance. It’s the imbalance that this mentality promotes that keeps people pumping money into the diet industry for unsustainable tactics. Also, have you ever had pizza? It definitely tastes better than skinny feels.

3. Good Food vs Bad Food, Healthy Food vs Unhealthy Food

As humans, we like having opposite categories, I will give us that. But, when it comes to applying blanket classifications to foods, we run into some problems. Are some foods healthier than others? Yes, obviously. But that doesn’t mean that one food is good and another is bad. As the saying goes “the dose makes the poison.” It’s about proportionality. You should eat more nutritious foods than less nutritious, caloric foods. But focusing on completely avoiding “bad” foods is unsustainable and can lead to disordered eating habits.

4. Superfood

And while we’re at it, we need to 86 this “superfood” label we are giving to a new fruit or vegetable every 6 months. Say it with me: there is no such thing as a superfood. This is a buzzword created by the food industry (yes, even agriculture is an industry) to increase sales of certain products. Fruits and vegetables are rich in highly healthful compounds called phytonutrients as well as vitamins and minerals. This is what makes them so good for us. But cauliflower is not more super than kale which is no more super than blueberries. They just have different amounts of different nutrients. What you really need to focus on is eating a wide variety of different plants so your body can reap the benefits of those nutrients.

5. “Get your body back”

There are few things that frost my cookies as much as seeing an ad for some program directed at new moms promising to help them “get their body back.” Here’s the thing, there is no body “lost” in the process of carrying a child. Does your body change? Yes. Is that a problem? It shouldn’t be, but in our sexist society some think it is. Until we can stop telling women that they need to “get their bodies back”, women will continue to belittle themselves, resort to varying, sometimes extreme, measures to lose weight, and internalize that hatred towards their own bodies. You body just did an amazing and incredibly difficult thing. Of course it’s going to change and it’s that change that makes it so amazing. What the message needs to be is that the postpartum body is amazing and beautiful and that new moms can focus on caring for themselves and their newborn. 

 

We’re not so naive as to think that this kind of talk is going to go away – it isn’t. But what we do want to encourage through this post is more dialogue around the effects of this kind of language. We want to encourage everyone to become more aware of how this mentality slips into their daily lives and focus on reframing those words into more positive, healthy, encouraging thoughts.

 

Exercise vs Physical Activity – What you need to know

Well & Simple is proud and excited to be presenting our first blog post from our new intern, Nicki Thurston! Nicki is a student at Endicott College and you’ll be seeing some more content for her here over the semester. 

People often use “exercise” and “physical activity” interchangeably, but there is a difference between the two. Essentially, exercise is a more structured and organized means of physical activity created around specific goals. However, regardless of that difference, both are important to your physical and mental health and you should try to work both in. 

Physical Activity

Physical activity does double duty, helping you work towards your health goals through calorie expenditure and heart health while also being fun. Physical activity can be the perfect opportunity to enjoy some family time and get your family active. Studies have shown that participating in family physical activity can be beneficial for mental and physical health and family communication. Some ideas you can try with your family include: swimming, recreational sports, hiking, skiing, snowshoeing, and so many more. (Check out these tips for how to get your family motivated to get healthier)

Finding physical activity that you enjoy is an awesome self-care act as well. It can be a good excuse to take time out of your day for a hobby. Maybe you enjoy gardening, or playing pickup basketball with friends. Regardless, you are doing something that you enjoy, while reaping all the healthful benefits of physical activity – from soaking up some Vitamin D, to getting some fresh air, to improving your cardiovascular health.

Exercise

Compared to physical activity, exercise is going to give you more specific, targeted health effects. 

Let’s take weight-bearing exercises as an example, like lifting, running, and working with resistance bands. These exercises can improve bone density, which is especially important for young women in order to have a healthy skeletal system later in life. Weight bearing activities are also good for building muscle. Having ample muscle mass is  important for lifting and moving things safely in everyday life. Strengthening your muscles can prepare your body for difficult tasks, while also preventing injury.  

Incorporating cardio into your exercise routine can improve your cardiovascular health and help with calorie burn if you are seeking to lose weight. For optimal health impacts, you want to be doing a combination of cardio and weight-bearing/resistance activities.

What is even greater is that the benefits of exercise go beyond the physical. Even if you don’t love to do it, exercise triggers the release of all sorts of “happy” chemicals in your brain, known as neurotransmitters. These are responsible for feelings such as motivation, satisfaction, alertness, and happiness. So you get some physical benefits and a little pick-me-up.

 

So there you have it! Physical activity and exercise both serve really important roles in our lives. Ideally, you are fitting both in (because it’s all about balance), but you are still reaping benefits from either.

 

Looking for some tips on how to fit in more exercise? Check out what to do when you don’t have time to exercise and how to stay motivated to exercise.

 

 

Jillian Michaels is part of the problem

Content Warning: Fat shaming, disordered eating, verbal abuse

Fat shaming takes many different forms and is everywhere – from blatant insults to shaming thinly veiled as concern about someone’s health. No matter its form, fat shaming creates and perpetuates harmful cycles of self-hatred, poor body image, and unhealthy diet and exercise habits. Jillian Michaels has built her career on fat-shaming and profiting off of dangerous, unhealthy habits.

If you’re reading this, I’m sure you heard about her comments this week on Lizzo’s weight, which she then backpedaled on to use as false concern about Lizzo’s health, citing that obesity creates higher risk of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes. OK, well since we are so concerned about people’s health, let’s talk about the health problems Jillian’s approach in The Biggest Loser, which has contributed to her ~$14 million net worth (source), creates.

Before we even dig into the physical problems created by excessive calorie restriction and exercise, let’s talk about her brand of “coaching” and “encouragement.”

  • “I don’t care if people die on this floor. You better die looking good.”
  • “I don’t care if one of your legs fall off or if one of your lungs explode.”
  • “The only way you’re coming off this treadmill is if you die on it.”
  • “Unless you puke, faint or die, keep going.”

And let’s just generally mention the screaming and name-calling from the show as well.

Sounds like a coach you’re itching to work with, right?

You may say those things were just stunts for the show to increase viewership, but you’re taking all of this in complete isolation, which is not how it occurs. When you are already struggling with self-esteem, body image, and negative self-talk like the contestants and many in the audience, words like these stay with you, regardless of their intent. They can become part of the self-hatred soundtrack playing in your mind engendering further negative self-talk, obsession, unhealthy habits, and extreme dietary measures not to mention depression and anxiety.

They also create unrealistic, dangerous standards for how you should be working out and eating. This kind of “encouragement” pushes over-workouts and tuning out your body’s internal cues that could be telling you that you’re in danger and need to stop. You begin to think things like “if I’m not in pain or struggling to breathe, then I’m not working out hard enough and it’s not effective,” particularly if you’re someone who is new to physical fitness.

And while we’re on the topic of physical fitness, let’s talk about the actual physical measures she has promoted. The show’s weight loss plan is based on extreme calorie restriction and excessive exercise designed to create a large calorie deficit which, in turn, leads to weight loss. It pays no mind to nutrient balance or food quality, just the calories in: calories out ratio. Our bodies simply are not designed for this.

A 2016 study following 14 contestants found the following after their stint on The Biggest Loser:

  • Extremely low levels of the satiety hormone leptin, leaving them feeling constantly hungry
  • Drastically slowed metabolism
  • And ss many as 6 years after the show, contestants’ leptin levels and metabolisms had still not recovered which led them to regain much of the weight.

The thing is our bodies are incredibly smart and will always tend towards a certain homeostasis. This means that whenever you make changes, your body will make internal changes to counter them to an extent. The decrease in leptin and metabolic rate seen in these contestants is their bodies’ response to extreme weight loss measures.

And these aren’t the only problems with the weight loss tactics espoused by the show. The exercise regimens prescribed to contestants greatly exceed what is recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine (source) and pose a significant threat to the health and well-being of someone who is not accustomed to strenuous workouts and is carrying a significant amount of excess weight.

As for the calorie restriction, anyone who has ever tried dieting or fasting knows that you might be able to do it for a bit but then you swing back to the other extreme. This is because humans don’t respond well to deprivation psychologically or physiologically. We need a certain amount of fuel and nutrients to keep our bodies running efficiently and that amount increases with several factors including physical activity. If that deficit is too great then there comes a breaking point.

All of this is to say that Jillian Michaels has a history of espousing weight loss tactics that put clients at risk of a number of health threats including eating disorders, heart failure, body image issues, depression, anxiety, and more. Given all of this, doesn’t it seem a bit hypocritical that she is suddenly so concerned about Lizzo’s health?

The fact of the matter is that Jillian Michaels is concerned about aesthetics and her version of a physical ideal. That ideal is so important to her that she is unwilling to examine her own contributions to health issues. She refuses to acknowledge that you can be fat and not have chronic illnesses. You can be fat and be very physically active (have you SEEN Lizzo onstage). You can be fat and happy. She refuses to acknowledge that her brand is not coaching; it’s abuse. And she refuses to acknowledge her contributions to a culture of fat shaming.

At this point, you may be asking, as a nutrition coach, who am I to be calling Jillian Michaels out for promoting weight loss tactics. As a nutrition coach, I help people make dietary changes so that they’re eating healthier foods that nourish their body and often weight loss comes with that either as a motivating factor for clients or as a side effect.

I struggled with a poor body image for years and I still do. I’ve said things to myself about myself that I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy. It’s a struggle every day. And I’ve struggled with disordered eating and exercise habits. At one point when I was 19-20, I was eating yogurt for breakfast and a plain salad with no dressing for lunch and dinner every day (snacks were rare) and I was exercising for 2-3 hours a day 5-6 days a week. At nearly 5’5″, I was down to 112 lbs and was convinced I still had further to go. I’ve nearly passed out in lecture hall and I’ve curtailed my social life so I wouldn’t have to eat anything I saw as “fattening.” This is what happens when weight loss becomes an obsession, when your self-image is skewed, when unhealthy habits are promoted as acceptable.

While I’ve recovered in terms of eating and exercise habits, I still struggle with my negative self-talk and body image. My goal as a nutrition coach is to help other women silence that negative self-talk and use healthy eating as a way to nourish and celebrate their bodies. I don’t want people to live the way I used to live and I don’t want people to feel about themselves the way I once did.

As long as people like Jillian Michaels are out there parading themselves around as authorities on health and fitness and policing other people’s bodies, people will continue to resort to extremes to silence that voice of criticism from within and without. If you want to be role model and a coach, don’t comment on other people’s bodies, don’t fat shame, don’t speculate about other people’s health, don’t belittle and degrade. If you do, you are part of the problem.

 

 

Managing Holiday Stress

It’s impossible to talk about health or healthy eating without also talking about stress. It’s behind so many of our unhealthy habits and it’s also fueled by them at the same time. And we all know how bad stress is for our health, not just because of those habits, but because of how chronically high cortisol (stress hormone) levels can affect the way our bodies function. Here are a couple facts about stress and our health:

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey:

  • 38% of adults surveyed said they engaged in stress eating in the last month
  • Half of those adults said they engage in stress in weekly or more
  • 27% of adults say they eat to manage stress
  • 30% of adults report skipping meals due to stress

According to the NIH, anywhere from 60-90% of doctors visits are due to stress-related conditions

Stress contributes to chronic illness, inflammation, sleeplessness, weight gain, and performance issues and it can also impact our personal relationships. This time of year especially, stress management is particularly important.

So…what should you do?

Stress Management Routine

My biggest piece of stress management advice is to make time for yourself every single day. Yes. Every. Single. Day.

That’s not the tall order it might seem to be. I promise. Because it doesn’t have to be 3 hours at a spa (but if you can pull that off, go for it). It can be just 5 minutes to do something you enjoy.

Just taking 3 deep breaths has been scientifically shown to decrease stress levels on a physical and emotional level. So imagine what taking a 20 minute hot shower while listening to your favorite music can do!

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count. Even if you find cleaning to be soothing, that’s not doing something for yourself because it’s still something on your too-long to-do list that you would have done anyway. So you can count cooking, cleaning, or dishes as self-care.

But here’s the thing about stress management activities, things that you would have done anyway because you’re an adult don’t count.

Stress management is as deeply personal as the things that are stressing you out, so you need to find what works for you and those things will change situationally. Some people haven’t ever considered a stress management plan and that’s OK – it’s never too late to create one. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:

  • 5-minute mindfulness meditation
  • knitting
  • take a walk
  • journal it out
  • listen to your favorite song
  • take a long hot shower

Stress management doesn’t have to be complicated or involved – it just has to make you feel better. There’s no reason not to make it a priority – whether it happens just before bed on your lunch break or in between errands. Just make it happen every day.

Set Boundaries

The other biggest piece of advice I have with regards to holiday stress is to set clear, strong, and consistent boundaries. This time of year, the ones we care about can also become one of our biggest sources of stress as we struggle to balance competing interests, demands, and to-dos. If you focus on trying to please everyone, you’re going to end up burned out. Saying “no” and not feeling guilty about it can be your greatest gift this holiday season.

No, I can’t bring a side dish to that party. No, I can’t host your kids at my house today. No, we can’t go to both parties. No, I’m not buying that toy. No, you can’t invite your 3 friends from high school to my dinner party.

Obviously, there are things that you won’t be able to say “no” to. But for those things that you can, that are causing you more stress than they’re worth, that you dread doing – practice using that magic little word.

On Feeling Selfish

Sometimes setting boundaries is going to create a little backlash. Sometimes taking time for yourself will make you feel like you’re being selfish. To that I say this: you can’t pour from an empty cup.

By this I mean that you can’t possibly show up at your best for others if you don’t care for yourself first. In light of that, there is nothing selfish about taking a few minutes or an hour to yourself today and for saying no to something you don’t want to do.

How to handle your leftover Halloween candy

Halloween can be a tricky holiday for those of us trying to maintain healthy eating habits – from the bags of candy purchased in advance for trick or treaters to the leftovers and/or candy our kids come home with. And, when you think about it, Halloween is kind of a kick off to a whole season of sweet temptations leading up to the New Year. But, let’s start with what to do with that leftover Halloween candy, because these are strategies you can use for other occasions as well.

1. Out of sight, out of mind

If we’re being realistic here, it’s not as simple as just dumping the candy in the garbage, especially if it’s your child’s hard-earned haul. Studies have proven that we are more likely to eat treats if they are visible and readily accessible to us, even if we have healthy options in front of us, too. So store those candies away out of your sight so that they’re not constantly staring you in the face and tempting you. Somewhere like the back of a cabinet you rarely open or behind some healthier snacks are good places. This might cut down on how often your children beg for that candy as well….maybe…possibly…

2. Set limits

Having clear boundaries is critical for success in almost any situation. So set those boundaries for yourself and your family. I recommend agreeing to only keep the candy in the house for a week and then disposing of the leftovers by donating them for care packages, etc. I also strongly recommend setting limits for daily candy consumption as well. For the “fun size” candies, I suggest a limit of two per day for that week.

Now, the thing with boundaries is they only work if you stick to them. So it’s important to set those boundaries, make them clear from the outset, and stick to them, especially if your children give you pushback. Think of this as an opportunity to teach your kids about balance.

3. Donate the leftovers

If throwing out the leftovers doesn’t sit well with you (and I totally get that), find a way to donate that candy. In many communities, there are collections for military care packages, etc. Or maybe your college alumni association puts together final exam care packages for current students and they could use the candy. Lots of options out there beyond tossing it in the bin. An added bonus to donating leftover candy after a week is it’s a great chance to teach your kids about sharing and charity. Here is a listing of North Shore donation spots for your candy this year. 

4. Don’t beat yourself up

Most importantly, if you do overindulge, don’t beat yourself up about it. Getting down on yourself is a recipe for a downward spiral and kicking your own butt at the gym isn’t going to undo it – that’s just not how the human body works. The best thing you can do for yourself in situations like that is to own that you didn’t do what you had hoped you would and resolve to do better going forward. This is important not just for yourself but for your kids who, whether you know it or not, watch your every move and hear your every word. This is a chance to teach them how to love themselves and have a healthy relationship with food. Here are some more tips on what to do after you overindulge.

Bonus Advice: How to Talk about Food Choices with Your Kids

While we’re on the topic of setting an example for our kids, watching the language that you use around food is also really important. Dubbing some foods “bad” or saying they’ll “make you fat” can really hurt your child’s relationship with food going forward and can create feelings of shame or guilt around eating. At the same time, it is important to convey that some foods are healthier choices than others. So when you’re talking to children about why you’re giving away the leftover candy or limiting how much you eat, I suggest using language along the lines of:

This isn’t everyday food so we are only going to have a little and then share with some other people. Foods like fruits and vegetables help keep us from getting sick and help us do better in school, but candy doesn’t do any of those things for us so we don’t need to eat a lot of it. Instead we have a little and we focus on eating more of the foods that help us grow bigger and smarter.

Notice that the above example does not say that candy is bad for you or candy will make you sick, etc. It just says that we don’t need it and that other foods do more for us. So we can have a little but should focus on the things that help us the most.