Friday, December 13, 2013

The Road to Our Resolutions

It's getting close to that time of year. We’ve all made resolutions, 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. If you buy it on sale, you’ll appreciate the bargain and drink still more.)

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?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Giving...and Getting. And, Food Signals?

With Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, 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 is 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, in real life, the holidays, and the rest of the year, are not about all you can eat. Where food is concerned, we think the focus should be on the 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, in the car, 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 fast—even 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 stressed—and at this time of the year we all feel a little, or a lot of 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 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. It’s not always where we want to, or should go. But, isn't that up to us?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Creating Change . . . Making it Happen

Change happens, and it often happens whether you want it to or not—and it’s not always for the best—but it can be. Change also happens when we make it happen. Yet, so many of us are too often afraid to create change because we are afraid to fail. So, if you’ve lost confidence in your inner ability to create change—think about the following questions. Then, answer them honestly.

1) Do you take your power or inspiration from external sources or from within yourself?  2) Do you read and look at ads and commercials and think to yourself, “This is what I need; this is what I have to do; this is how I should look; this is who I want to be?” This is important, because you know yourself better than anyone else, and you are the one who should be in charge of what you want to change—not an outside source who tells you what and how you should do or be. It takes some thought, and it takes some time, and it takes resolve, but the results stay with you because you are the one who is in charge. And, you are the only one who can make it happen.
We know repeated behaviors eventually turn into habits. And we know improving willpower long-term requires commitment (drawing on our inner ability). We also know as individuals we never stay the same. But, to create change, we have to expand our zones of comfort. We have to develop those behaviors that turn into habits, and then we have to change them—it’s the habit of changing habits that builds inner confidence (that little, or loud voice that says, “Yes you can do this”).

Now, let’s take change and our ability to change, and apply it to our personal health and wellness (because after all, that’s what this Blog is about).

Mindful choices made each day will result in steady changes leading to sustainable health and wellness. The effect is cumulative—and what we do—or don’t do, determines our success and our overall wellness and well-being. Imagine thinking of laying a foundation of wellness as you would think of breathing—in other words, not as a one-time choice but an automatic response and action. So, take a deep breath. Your values—and actions—speak to what is most important to you in life. Where is your focus? We suggest that rather than focusing on all the reasons for why not, or why you will fail, focus instead on all the reasons you will succeed. Keep in mind those things you do well and use those accomplishments to foster a sense of achievement.

Belief is the common element in all forms of achievement. When you believe in your ability to achieve, you are actually setting a goal, and your mind and actions take you where you need to go to reach that goal. When faced with a problem or situation you want to change, by creating change for yourself, you become the solution. The rewards are endless. That inner power can influence not only your health and wellness, but also those pieces in your life you might not even be aware you want or need to change.

The takeaway—What do you think would happen if you put yourself in charge when it comes down to looking at your ability to create change? Hmm  . . . You might just become your own lifeline to your health and wellness decisions and choices.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

You Can’t Outrun Your Fork!

Huh? Here’s the thing. To lose a pound of weight each week through physical activity is pretty much the equivalent of running a marathon. Actually, the calories burned running those 26 miles don’t quite erase a pound, and that also means, not eating what you probably should eat to fuel those miles. It’s a conundrum. (What a great word!)

To be clear, I’m not at all saying physical activity doesn’t count. Where your health is concerned, it’s at the top of the list. But you can’t outrun your fork, and the calories you take in (and don’t take in) are what will ultimately determine how much weight you lose.

This is part of the challenge (and conundrum) people face when starting, or continuing on their weight loss journey, the idea that joining the gym and faithfully attending or running, or walking 5 miles a day will result in weight loss. It won’t, and the downside is, it often discourages physical activity when the scales don’t respond. We tend to give up. We feel we’ve failed, yet again. This is not good.  It’s not good on many levels—personal, societal, and yes, wellness and well-being.

Now, if we take physical activity out of the weight loss equation ... Your diet, the food you choose to eat on a daily basis, is responsible for about 80 percent of your weight (or weight loss) and consequent health. If your goal is to lose weight, the kitchen (and all the other places you find food)  is a better solution than the gym. But, and this is a really big but, for HEALTH, you need both.

It doesn’t seem fair, but then, so many things aren’t. Health, wellness and weight loss are not synonyms, but they are connected. What do you think?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The "ME" Project

We should all have one. Each of us is that important—important enough to warrant a special project that revolves around who we are. Sure, we can whine about what’s wrong—but we can—and should—also celebrate what is right. And, that’s certainly where the focus should be. That’s what we build from, and on. Right? That’s where change comes in and that includes the positive changes we set as goals.

Now think about this . . . if you re-direct your behavior often enough, you change your behavior. And, your attitude toward what influenced that behavior changes. You are thinking for a change. Literally.

But, change is not always a rational process. 

To change behavior, you have to address the conceptual “framework” the behavior fits into. “In one ear and out the other.” Sound familiar? How about, “don’t confuse me with the facts?”  (Don’t mess with my conceptual framework.) If ‘facts’ contradict a framework you’re familiar with (your current lifestyle behaviors are harmful to your long-term health, and in fact studies show those behaviors have a 75 percent chance of eventually killing you), your first thought will probably be, “that can’t be right. Those numbers must be wrong.”

We have an astounding ability to resist change. So, we have to change the framework where that behavior lies, and to do this, we have to create a new and improved framework that will accommodate our new behavior—and do it in a way that makes us feel really good about what we’re trying to accomplish (changing these few behaviors will improve your quality of life and long-term future, as well as that of your family). 

There’s absolutely no scientific reason we can’t change. You’ve probably changed jobs, cars, houses and apartments. Maybe you’ve changed careers. Maybe you’ve changed spouses. Most of us have changed our opinions on different topics. Some of us change political views, our tastes in music and art and even our tastes for certain types of food . . . ah ha! 

Now it’s time to apply those changes you want to make,  for yourself, to your very own “ME” project.