Processed Food

This video demonstrates that it is difficult for our bodies to process processed food, ironically. Scientists asked two people to eat noodles, one ate top ramen and the other ate a home-cooked version. Then each of these people swallowed a camera in the form of a pill. After two hours, you could still see ramen noodles floating around in one stomach, while the other stomach was just full of mush that used to be the home-cooked noodles. These results are almost obvious considering that food is consistently being developed to extend its shelf life, which also hampers decomposition in our digestive system.

Many chemicals are used to treat food in order to keep its shape and color. Just as preservatives make it difficult for food to go bad, our digestive system has trouble breaking down such foods into the nutrients that we need. As a result, processed foods stay in our stomach as our body waits for them to decompose. Simultaneously, this prevents other food from being passed through our normal digestive cycle, clogging up our body. This also signals to our body that it is full and has excess food, which leads it to store fat and can cause to weight gain.

ramenWorse yet, processed foods can contain chemicals that are harmful to our “gut flora.” Gut flora is composed of beneficial bacteria that live in our digestive system. It can break down potentially harmful, even carcinogenic, substances. But our bodies cannot produce gut flora, it comes from foods that we eat and then can flourish within our body. This is why “cheat days” are so bad for you; there’s a high chance you’re killing bacteria that proactively ward off diseases. Staying consistent with a diet full of fresh whole food choices is the key to providing probiotics with a friendly environment and maintaining good health for the long term.

 

Health is not a Competition!

compete-with-yourselfMany of us can get caught up in the competitive aspect of sports and fitness. This is similar to an eating disorder if you get carried away comparing yourself to others. Competition, whether it’s individually or as part of a team is motivational in itself as long as it is fun. But if you’re pushing yourself too far each time you exercise then you are likely to burn out or get injured.

Competitive sports are great when you’re having fun; but the moment that you “take one for the team” or go beyond your limit, you’re not benefiting your long-term health. Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t made to take the continuous impacts and strains that are associated with many of the sports we love. Strengthening and stretching are important to prepare us for such impacts to help prevent injuries. Most importantly, however, we need to stay connected to what our body is saying and listen to it instead of aggravating or creating injuries. Remember that you won’t be able to contribute as much from the sidelines!

Similarly, many popular fitness programs like Crossfit thrive on emphasizing competition. Exercising with others on a team is motivating and can distract you so it helps pass the time, however they can also lead you to be careless with movements or push yourself too far. And those scores and rankings will not matter if you can’t come in to compete!

Also, it’s important to realize that you will have bad days and good days, so keep that in mind when you aim for your personal best.  Accepting that you will not always be exceeding your prior achievements can help you to slow down and focus on your form, which can help you exceed your personal best when you are feeling great!

Solicit Support

It's all about you

It's all about you

A great way to get motivated is to have positive support from people in your daily life. If the people you’re closest to know your goals to be healthy and happy, they should encourage you and help you stay on track. Choose to tell a few positive people who will not criticize or dismiss your goals but will help you achieve them.

I’m not encouraging people to share everything through social media, quite the opposite!  Having a core, small group of supporters is essential to success. However, if you let everyone know what your plans are then you’re putting unnecessary pressure on yourself to live up to others’ expectations. This is a stress you can definitely avoid, especially at first!

Even if you’re not sharing everything with people, once you begin making positive progress you won’t hear the end of it! The beauty of living a healthy lifestyle is that it makes you look great. These days, people consistently complement my husband and me, especially friends and family that we don’t see on a regular basis, because they see huge changes when we do meet. It took a couple months before we were noticeably different, and it’s hard explaining to people that it’s not really what they see that matters, rather it’s how we feel and our long-term health. But it is motivational to hear that we’re looking good, even if we’re not doing it for the complements!

As a bonus, sharing your accomplishments and how you succeed will also inspire others, especially to those close to you. Sometimes, those who help support you will even be motivated to join in and start up some healthy habits themselves, and then you can support their decisions. Just remember that you cannot change others, you can only change yourself. And through changing yourself, you change your own reality.

Cooking: Sans le stress

woman-dancing-in-the-kitchen-270-thumb-270x270Cooking at home is the only way that you can truly control what you eat, but many people find it stressful. Personally, I think cooking is fun, and I’ve developed some practical, and not-so practical habits that help to keep it that way.

Firstly, I always plan out time to cook or reheat food for dinner, depending on my schedule -and I do groceries ahead of time to last me the entire week.  If I know I’ll be busy during the week, then I pre-cook food and keep it ready in the fridge or even just pre-chop things so that they are ready for me to cook fresh yet quickly. Another thing I love doing is using the slow cooker: I simply throw in some raw food during lunch or breakfast, turn it on and have a meal to come home to! Similarly, I will pre-make breakfast or lunch beforehand if I expect to be rushed during those mealtimes.

Keeping the kitchen tidy on-the-go is another way I keep cooking stress-free. For example, I’ll wash a cutting board and knife right after using them, while whatever I chopped is cooking on the stove. I also wipe counters clean as I’m cooking, and I keep them clean by using a tray, plate or paper towel for food that might drip or crumble all over the place. These all go into the dishwasher as soon as I’m done using them! I’ll also sweep things on the floor to the side so that I don’t have to vacuum constantly yet don’t track foodstuffs all over the place.

The most important part of keeping the kitchen tidy though is having an organizational system – and sticking to it so that you can reach for something and find it ready to use! I recently moved all of my spatulas, wooden spoons and ladles into an open crock next to the stove, which has made them much easier to access than the drawer in which I used to keep them. This makes sense because I use them pretty much every time I cook.

Finally, a great way to reduce your boiling point is turning on some music and dancing around the kitchen. Pretty aprons, nice dishes and a bright cheery atmosphere can also make you want to cook more. So clean up your act, put some spice into your cooking habits and enjoy cooking sans le stress!

Chilies

Chili-Peppers-505x336

Chili peppers are nutritious, filling and have a low glycemic load. [1] They also contain an ingredient that is useful for combatting obesity: capsaicin.

Capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers that makes them spicy, “is known to increase energy expenditure and decrease body fat.” [2] Although it is not yet understood exactly why capsaicin does this, the study above linked capsaicin ingestion with an increase in active brown adipose tissue – which takes calories from normal fat and burns them. Another study, which was just published in the Journal of Nutrition, linked capsaicin to feeling full even when restricting caloric intake by 20%. [3]

In other words, chilies naturally induce our bodies to expend energy and burn fat, while simultaneously curbing our appetites!

Besides their beneficial health qualities, dried chili peppers are one of my favorite spices because their taste varies greatly depending on what you are seasoning. Even if you don’t like spicy foods there are some sweet chilies that still contain a fair bit of capsaicin. There is an increasing amount of chili varieties available, both dried and fresh, which further diversifies their applicability to all types of cuisine. Also a little known fact: fresh chilies taste much different raw than when they are cooked, which also makes them a versatile addition to any type of dish, whether it’s meat, grains, dairy or veggies!

Here’s an article about how to pick the perfect chili pepper: http://allrecipes.com/howto/choosing-chile-peppers/

Smoothies are unhealthy

smoothies-article

Smoothies are often marketed as a good-for-you beverage, and sometimes even as a meal-replacement.  Many restaurants and smoothie chains market milkshakes, which used to be a treat equated more with an ice-cream float or malt beverage, as smoothies! Although I enjoy an occasional smoothie, I would never recommend having them regularly and I always check the ingredients or make my own.

Like juice and soda, smoothies liquid calories: therefore they are not going to satisfy your hunger as much as an equivalent amount of calories of solid food. To make things worse, you can drink them quickly without realizing that you’ve had enough until you’ve had too much. Worst of all, they often come in a jumbo cup that contains multiple servings; yet people tend to drink their smoothie in one sitting.

Most smoothies have a high glycemic load because they contain sugars and other additives that are high on the glycemic index despite already being made from sugary fruits and starchy vegetables. [1] Not to mention that they’re also not a balanced meal.

Smoothies sometimes come with “boosters” of protein, antioxidants or other nutrients that we may think are beneficial and healthy. However, these are usually dietary supplements that have not been approved by the Federal Drug Administration and are therefore unregulated apart from marketing and labeling standards. [2] Many dietary supplements have not been studied, let alone proven to be beneficial for our bodies, and some studies have found negative side effects from these or similar substances. So you may be paying extra for something that could hurt you in the long term.

By definition, smoothies are blended. Because it’s already partly processed, your body does not have to work as hard to break down the nutrients that are left and, therefore, you burn fewer calories during digestion. Also, the pulp is often filtered out or left at the bottom of the blender, meaning that you won’t get the benefits of the fiber from the fruit or vegetables. This is the main reason why I don’t consider a smoothie a nutritious food that would be suitable as a meal replacement. If you choose to have a smoothie be sure to read the ingredients or make it yourself so that you know what you’re drinking.

Core Workouts

core-body-abs

Although you may not get washboard abs just from core workouts, they are key to fitness. The area from your mid thighs to your armpits is called the core because it supports your spine and torso, meaning it is integral that you strengthen it along with the rest of your body. If you have a weak core, for example, your arms could lift some heavy boxes but your back won’t be sufficiently supported and you could severely injure yourself.

Core stability enables your other muscle groups to function fully because it maintains strength and balance in your torso.

Numerous research studies support the fact that the core is key to good balance and injury prevention:

  • According to a 2007 study, researchers found that cyclists who strengthened their core stability significantly decreased their chances of injury while bike riding for long distances. [1]
  • Soccer players that were involved in a similar study were found to have fewer knee-related/costly injuries if they performed core strengthening exercises regularly. [2]
  • Older adults were also found to benefit from better balance during their daily activities if they participated in a core-strengthening routine three times a week. [3]

Core exercises, like strength training, can benefit everyone regardless of age or fitness level.

Some of my favorite core exercises include mountain climbers, steam engine, bird dog, yoga bicycle, heels to the heavens and side-arm balances. Due to the fact that the core is such a large muscle group, there are literally hundreds of different ways to workout the core – I’ve even found a few different exercises that I have yet to try while doing background research for this article. Sites like Livestrong.com and the Mayo Clinic show plenty of varieties.  Share your favorites with me!

As with all other exercises, it is important to vary your routine and to consistently come back to these muscles while still giving them a break. I do a core-focused workout at least once a week and then also do core exercises at least three times a week. It’s one of my favorite muscle groups to target because I keep finding new ways to focus on core strength and stability.

Minimize Glycemic Load

glucoselevelsUntil I began cutting back on carbohydrates I had no idea what “glycemic load” or the “glycemic index” was. In a nutshell, it measures how long it takes for your body to process a carbohydrate.

The glycemic index a great tool to use because you can pick out foods that you know your body will absorb over a long period of time, which will not only leave you feeling satiated for longer but also make your body expend more energy to break down your meals.

Glucose is 100 on the glycemic index because your mind senses it and your liver absorbs it nearly instantaneously.[1] This can cause a spike in insulin levels, which is why it is dangerous for diabetics to eat sugary foods! It also elevates cholesterol, triglycerides and leptin, which negatively affect your metabolism and can lead to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. [2]

Glycemic load takes into account the portion of whatever you are eating. It follows logic; you can not only substitute toward foods lower on the index but also choose to eat smaller portions of foods that are higher on the index.

Some sports drinks and candy bars that are made of ingredients high on the glycemic index claim to provide your body with a boost while training. Recent studies have shown that this is false! The quantity of food that you eat can affect your performance, but something lower on the glycemic index is probably still better for you because it will not boost your performance. [3][4] One study even concludes that ingesting foods high on the glycemic index hampered fat breakdown.[5]

Foods are scored on the Glycemic Index based on how long it takes people to break them down.

Researchers at the University of Sydney maintain a database of scores and provide lots more information about this dieting tool: http://www.glycemicindex.com/about.php

Maybe and No: Avoiding social pressures

maybeandno

I am a loyal, caring person and want to help out whenever I can. But this has hurt me in the past because I wasn’t willing to put my own needs and wants ahead of others’.  I also got roped into doing things that I didn’t enjoy a lot more often. Social pressures ended up taking away time that would have been better-spent achieving my own hopes and dreams, like consistently working out.

Overdose

People who rely on others’ help to extremes are often charismatic, but many are also often the people that will not be willing or able to help you out when you need it later on. They also are likely to abuse your helpfulness by throwing it back in your face, insisting that you help them more once you’ve lent a helping hand. Don’t let someone manipulate you into doing things that you will not be proud of down the line – you can’t always be doing things for others!

Declining to do things politely will free up your schedule to make room for things that are priorities in your own life, as opposed to others’ concerns. Indeed, you could be hurting others by trying to help them. For example, you can give money to a beggar with a baby yet this act could support an increase in child exploitation.[1] On a smaller scale, you could be preventing someone from learning a valuable lesson by doing something for them.

Fortunately, there aren’t any requirements if somebody asks for a favor or wants to hang out. Be polite and hear out the request, but make time to think it over before making a time commitment. I am much more consistent with my eating and exercise since I learned to say maybe and let things that I care less about happen without me. Since I honestly evaluate the efforts I make for others, I feel happier with the work that I do put into relationships and helping others, and I also have made more time to achieve my own goals like being healthy and happy.

Review: The Weight of the Nation, an HBO documentary

theweightofthenation

The Weight of the Nation covers a wide swathe of issues; it discusses environmental factors like the inexpensive junk food that dazzles us at every corner to the lack of playgrounds, particularly in poor neighborhoods. It gives examples of people on both sides of the street – from the experts that are striving to understand obesity to everyday Americans struggling to make a positive change in their lives.

This four-part HBO documentary was one of the first educational videos I watched when I began my healthy lifestyle. The show is available for free online and it’s part of a greater campaign to curb the obesity epidemic. I have recommended the show to a few of my friends, and those who watched it agree that it is incredibly motivational.

The documentary itself is split into four parts:  the scope of the obesity epidemic, the choices people make, how children in particular are affected by our societal norms and the challenges we all face in overcoming this issue.  Some parts were hard to swallow, not only when they show fatty organs that have massive muscle walls and fat build-ups, but also because the people they interview about their obesity-related health problems are so similar to many of my own friends and family.

The takeaway for me came during the second part; maintaining your health requires consistent work for the long-term. In particular, they cite a study from the National Institute of Health that followed people who are pre-disposed to type 2 diabetes and showed that those who lost some weight and began eating right significantly reduced their chances of developing the disease. They interview a set of identical twins; one of them loses some weight, eats right and stays healthy but the other doesn’t and develops diabetes.  It’s sad to see the results for the twin that develops diabetes, but is truly motivational to staying fit and avoiding such serious health problems. Whether you’re overweight or thin, a fitness expert or if you hardly ever move around, I believe that watching The Weight of the Nation ( http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com) can be a step toward living a healthy and happy life.