Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Road to Our Resolutions

We’ve all made resoultions, usually about once a year when January 1 rolls around, resolutions about working toward healthier habits, and ultimately, better health. And, we’ve all, at times veered away from our best intentions, usually unintentionally. This says, “we’re human. It’s what we humans do.” And, it also says we sometimes end up doing what we don’t intend to do or want to do. That’s part of what makes us human. When we make a resolution, or set our sights on a goal we want to meet—and then we don’t, that also makes us human. Maybe not happy with ourselves, but human.

So if we don’t give up, we try again, and maybe we try harder. We fall down six times, we get up seven. But, just how hard are we supposed to try? How hard is this wellness stuff supposed to be?

Actually, it’s about as hard as we make it. It’s really pretty simple. It’s just not easy. So, which is it? Well, like life, it’s a long chain of choices. There are “cues” all around us that move us toward or away from the choices we make—and the reasons why. We make certain choices because we think they are better for us. We associate the choices we make with comfort or denial, success or failure. And, sometimes we choose one thing over another without even knowing why. (Do you know that by simply believing something is good for you, or believing it tastes good, you attribute a higher value to it—and eat more of it. As an example, if you see an expensive looking name on a bottle of wine, you will tend to drink more of it.)

Now, let’s think about less . . . because less of something is also a choice. Less isn’t necessarily about deprivation. As an active choice, less of something can actually be more (no this isn’t gobbledygook, there is a point), depending on how you choose to look at it. Less food can mean better health (more health). It can mean weight loss (more health). It can mean success as you go after your New Year’s resolution (more health). You probably have the idea by now. And, where ideas are concerned, here’s a wild one . . . we know it’s socially acceptable to support each other when we’re trying to break the smoking habit. Think what we could accomplish, individually and collectively, if we made eating a less socially acceptable habit?

Here’s a final thought on the choices we make, the reasons we make them, and what we hope to achieve with our New Year’s resolution of working toward better health and healthier habits. Have you ever thought about what you can accomplish if rather than focusing on what you “have” to give up, you focus instead on what you will get in return?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Food Signals . . . Those we give, those we get

With Christmas and New Year’s fast-approaching, it’s probably natural that we occasionally think of giving and getting. It is, after all, that time of year. But, have you ever considered the “Giving and Getting” side of food signals? Now’s a great time to give it some thought because those signals are all around us.

Let’s start with an obvious seasonal signal—that plate of cookies many of us leave out for Santa (who obviously doesn’t need cookies but we want Santa to be comfortable). We bake cookies for friends, and receive cookies and candies from friends. Face it, food is on our minds. (Make a mental note when you’re out shopping to notice the number of restaurants touting “All You Can Eat.”)

But, the holidays, and the rest of the year, is not about all you can eat—where food is concerned, we think the focus should be on why, what and how much you eat.

In a logical world, we should be eating for nutrition and to satisfy true hunger. Babies know this. When they’re hungry they cry. We feed them. When they’ve had enough, they stop eating. As we grow up, we get distracted by food signals, and those distractions lead us away from what we did naturally as babies.

Food is everywhere. It’s hard to escape it. And, because it’s all around us, many of us find we’re almost always eating—sometimes just a bite of something that looks good, sometimes a big meal, and often more than we need or really want. We tend to eat mindlessly, sitting at our desks, in front of the TV, and as a result, we don’t pay attention to how much we’re eating or whether we’re even hungry. Do you think the Cinnabon smell that permeates the food court at the mall is an accident?

We tend to eat too fasteven when we’re not in a hurry. This doesn’t allow time for our bodies to receive the “full” or satiety signal. Have you ever finished a meal, and realized you barely tasted what you just ate? Have you ever looked at your desk and wondered where those four little bite-size fun bars went?

And we tend to eat when we feel stressedand at this time of the year we all feel a little stress. In your heart of hearts, you already know there are other, more productive ways to deal with stress. Ask yourself, why are you eating . . . does the food comfort you? Do you eat to celebrate? Are you eating because everyone else is eating? Are you really about to starve to death? Probably not.

We also tend to eat too much. While this is not news, it’s also not all our fault. We’re served larger servings at restaurants—in fact we’d probably complain if we were served an actual recommended portion. And, did you know there’s science behind why we sometimes eat too much? A recent study by the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas finds that foods high in fat (such as a hamburger) actually tell your brain to “keep eating.” The study points out that your brain chemistry can change in a short period of time, meaning that when your brain gets “hit” with the fatty acids, you can become resistant to the hormones insulin and leptin. In other words, your brain isn’t being told to stop eating. In addition, those foods highest in fat are the foods that cause us to eat more—beef, butter, cheese and milk. Take a look at the ingredients in your favorite junk food—see anything there you might want to avoid?

Now, what happens if we decide to get back in touch with what we eat, and why we’re eating it? What if we’re on the lookout for what all those food signals really mean? Which of them are in our own best interests rather than adding to some fast food chain’s burger count? And while we’re at it, think what we could do for our collective health and well-being if along with becoming aware of the food signals we get, we all began to pay a little closer attention to the food signals we give others.

The food signals aren’t going to go away—the catch is learning to listen to them—and then paying attention to where they direct us.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Less Than 10 Years From Now

Yes, if we’re lucky, we’ll all be older. But there’s more, and this should get your attention . . . less than 10 years from now, you or your spouse will have diabetes. And, for some scary statistics from a recent study by United Health:

  • By 2020, an estimated 52 percent of all Americans will have diabetes.
  • There are 26 million diabetics in the U.S. and another 67 million people considered pre-diabetic.
  • More than 90 percent of those who are pre-diabetic don’t even know it.
  • During the next decade, our national cost of diabetes will increase to a total of $3.35 trillion. Our annual spending will increase from $194 billion a year today to more than $500 billion a year by 2020.
  • Over 80% of people with diabetes are overweight or obese. (CDC)
  • Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. (CDC)

This is a big, ticking time bomb. But the bigger question is . . . why aren’t we defusing it? Why are we just watching it happen?

And, while we’re watching this happen, consider that it doesn’t have to . . .

  • The foods we choose to eat on a daily basis contribute 80 percent to whether we will develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer.
  • Gaining just 11 to 16 pounds doubles the risk of type 2 diabetes, while an increase of 17 to 24 pounds nearly triples this risk.
  • Just a 7 percent weight loss can reduce the risk of progressing from pre-diabetes to diabetes by as much as 58 percent.
  • The American Heart Association says a 5 percent weight loss could reduce pre-diabetes gradually, leading to a 10 percent reduction by 2020, meaning almost 10 million people would not develop pre-diabetes or diabetes during the next 10 years, resulting in $45 billion lower projected costs to our health care system.

We, each one of us, has the ability to turn this epidemic around. Why aren’t we? Have we become immune to the personal and financial costs of chronic disease? Do we still care? So, what are you willing to do?

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Gift of Health . . . a Touchy Topic? Why?

The holidays conjure up thoughts of gifts, wrapped in shiny paper and colorful ribbons. For many of us the end of the year comes with more than a little carefree overindulgence—in the form of spending, celebrating and eating too much. Concerns about our health and wellness find themselves on the back burner until after the New Year, which we often meet with both remorse and new resolve, at least for awhile.

Let’s take a step back. Good health is a condition in which our bodies and minds work well and work in sync. We each get one body—are we taking care of it? Do we pay attention to what we put into it and what we ask of it? Do we look for excuses to abuse it—I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’ll do it later, I’ll take a pill instead?

Ours is the heaviest nation in the world, and this brings with it long-term and serious national health implications. Chronic diseases kill more than 1.7 million Americans every year, and account for 7 of every 10 deaths, and one-third of years of potential life lost before age 65. The foods we choose to eat on a daily basis contribute 80 percent to whether we will develop diabetes, heart disease or cancer. Approximately 40 percent of deaths in the U.S. are caused by behavior patterns that could be modified. As a whole, Americans are 4.5 billion pounds overweight. But, just a 7 percent loss in weight (12.6 pounds for someone weighing 180 pounds) can reduce the risk of progressing from prediabetes to diabetes by as much as 58 percent.

Now, shift the focus to wellness. We know the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. We know apples are better for us than candy bars. We know water is better than a soft drink. We know too much sodium, too much saturated fat, too much cholesterol, trans fats and high fructose corn syrup (to name only a few) are bad for us. We know fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, legumes and lean protein are good for us.

So, what happens when we consider the gift of good health? We’re not suggesting a gift-wrapped scale. We’re not even suggesting a literal gift (although we do have some suggestions for healthy gifts). What we’re after is for each of us to treat our bodies as the gifts they truly are. Each of us can give ourselves and our families the gift of health and wellness, and we can do it over and over, every day of the year. We can do it through the choices we make, not the excuses we find.

What do you think? Are you ready for a gift that really does keep on giving?