Week 4: Willpower, it’s not what you think!

Imagine a movie where a couple on vacation has a fight and goes their separate ways. She goes back to the hotel room. He heads to the bar to have a drink, and kicks off a conversation with a sexy young woman. One beer turns into four. She offers to show him the gorgeous view from her room. He accepts. They head upstairs. One thing leads to another and well, you can imagine where this is going… So where did he go wrong? And what does this have to do with my health?!

His pre-emptive bad decisions led to an inevitably bad result. In a similar way, willpower is not just about avoiding eating “bad foods.” It’s about doing what you can to set yourself up to not be tempted in the first place. Relatively speaking, I’m reasonably strong in the “willpower” department; however, like our gentleman in the first paragraph, even the strongest will fail when they make preemptive decisions to put themselves in bad situations.

My “kryptonite foods” include chex mix, dark chocolate and ice cream. My in-laws can attest that when the chex mix is out at Christmas, once I start eating it somehow time elapses and I find myself in front of an empty bowl before I even realize what I was doing. So guess, what? We don’t keep it in the house. (except at holidays, of course 😉

So here’s my advice:

  1. Don’t go to the grocery store hungry. You’ll make better decisions.
  2. Make a grocery list before you leave for the store. Don’t buy anything off the list. This will help your food choices as well as your budget.
  3. Find a healthy snack that will satisfy your craving, and be sure to have that on hand. Try an apple with natural peanut butter. Filling, healthy, and the peanut butter makes it feel slightly more indulgent.
  4. If you do have favorite snack foods (like chex mix) that you’re not ready to give up, the minute you get home, put them in individually proportioned snack bags so you can at least have speed bumps along your path of consumption. Maybe it will at least slow you down?

In summary, give yourself the chance to succeed at this crazy thing called “willpower”. The better decisions you make leading up to the snack, the better chance you’ll have of setting yourself up for success.

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Week 3: Move for 20 minutes each day.

Elementary, right? Maybe not.

It’s really amazing how sedentary our culture has become. Worse yet, did you know the average American spends 90% of their time indoors? We’ll talk in later posts about true “work out” options, but to start, challenge yourself to move for 20 consecutive minutes in some way every day. –If that can be outside, even better! The benefits of fresh air and exercise are countless from better sleep to reduced stress and beyond.

Depending where you are in your health journey will depend what this could look like. It could be as simple as taking the dog (or kids + stroller) out for a walk, it could be 20 minutes of relaxation Yoga before bed or first thing in the morning, or even just walking around an open area on your lunch break.

According to the CDC, physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health. It can help:

And who doesn’t want those things? The trouble is, “real life” gets in the way. Schedules get busy making it difficult to find the time, weather gets bad making it difficult to find a place to walk, money is tight so there’s nothing extra to pay for that gym membership… STOP! I consciously avoid the phrase “I didn’t have time to…” because the truth is “I didn’t make time to…” Now, there are times when other priorities do take precedence in the short term, but in the grand picture, what’s more important than your health? If you don’t make time to help yourself, no one is going to be able to do it for you.

This isn’t a 90 day workout plan. It shouldn’t overwhelm you. It shouldn’t be upsetting to you if you miss a day. (No one is tracking you.) This is a general goal for a general life change. Try it. See how you feel? (And keep tracking that yourself 🙂

So get up, get out there, move and get healthy!

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Week 2: Drink Water

The water topic is a running joke in our house. They hammered it into my husband’s head so hard in ARMY Ranger school that my husband now seems to think it can fix any ailment. Headache? Drink water. Feeling sick? Drink water. Broken leg? Drink water.

While I am not quite as obsessed with water consumption as he is, someone once told me that drinking water is the key to any diet. Note previous post, I hate the word “diet”, but if you are trying to lose weight, in my experience absolutely true! And it makes sense.

Up to 60% of the human body is water, the brain is composed of 70% water, and the lungs are nearly 90% water. Lean muscle tissue contains about 75% water by weight, as is the brain; body fat contains 10% water and bone has 22% water. (Read, fat has less water, lean has more water)  The same article even states that “People with more fatty tissue have have less water than people with less fatty tissue (as a percentage).” So there you have it.

 “About 83% of our blood is water, which helps digest our food, transport waste, and control body temperature.” Taking the “fat” side out of the equation and going back to the health side. The more efficient your body is, naturally you’ll be healthier, so again, drinking water makes sense. (Source: http://ga.water.usgs.gov/edu/propertyyou.html)

So how much water is enough? You usually read eight 8 oz glasses per day, simply because the numbers are easy to remember. According to the Mayo Clinic, “The Institute of Medicine determined that an adequate intake (AI) for men is roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day. The AI for women is 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. ”  That’s a lot of water! I have also read that for every caffeinated beverage, you should add another 8 ounce glass since caffeine dehydrates. Of course other factors also influence like workouts, hot weather, etc… so it only goes up from there. So really, consider the above guidelines a MINIMUM. For some of us, that’s a lot of water! And I’d argue to get that amount of water in without moving your desk to the bathroom stall, there’s not room for many other liquids (coffee, soda, etc…)

So how do you get this quantity of water in? My advice is get a water bottle that you really like. Something that doesn’t leak if in a bag, has a straw so you can drink and drive, and fits into the cup holder of your car. For me, this is always key to getting enough water intake. It maybe tough at first, but again, measure it. Keep it included in your journal. You’ve got to start somewhere so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get there in the first week. Note how you feel. If you do need that cup of coffee in the morning, have it! Just be sure you add more water to your quota.

I notice that it’s one of those things, the more water I drink, the more water I want to drink. The more coffee, soda, etc… I drink the moreI want to drink. In contrast, now that I typically intake this much water and drink almost no soda and only the occasional half cup of coffee, when I do drink any of these I start to get a weird headache. Try it for yourself and see…

You’re challenge this week? Drink water. Happy drinking! (And, of course peeing…)


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Week 1: Write it down.

One of the most important lessons I learned in my MBA program was this: You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Now this question is a lot like the old saying, “If a tree falls in the woods, but there is nobody there to hear, does it make a sound?” The answer doesn’t really matter, but the point is, you must have some sort of starting point to know you have improved.

A lot of “diets” focus on counting calories, carbs, points, etc… which can get overwhelming. When you’re hungry, it can be frustrating to stop, think, count, total, etc… before you get to enjoy the food your body is telling you it wants to eat.  I should also clarify; I hate the word “diet.” Diets don’t work, because that implies you’re done with it at a certain point. Call it what you want, but to get and stay healthy, you’ve got to figure out something that works for you on an ongoing basis. If you deprived, or worst of all hungry, you’re not going to be able to stick to it.

Your first challenge is to begin recording what you eat. It’s a simple exercise really, and requires no change to your current eating habits, no calorie counting, and no excessive hunger. (Referring to the typical side effects associated with “dieting.”) Simply get a small notebook, and write everything you eat. –and I do mean EVERYTHING. It’s amazing how fast those mail room M&M’s can add up. Be sure to include portions. If you made hamburger helper for dinner, would you say you ate 1 cup or 2? Note the serving size on the box, or the serving size in the recipe and be honest. This whole effort is for you and your health, so don’t cheat yourself!

Your first challenge is to gain awareness of where you are today. Now if your goals are truly to lose a significant amount of weight, you may want to consider a program like weight watchers, which significantly helps with understanding portion sizes, trade-offs in food choices, and helps to numerically develop this awareness of where you are today and where you want to be. Our simpler version is just to record what you eat with portion sizes as you eat it. Do not wait until the end of each day to do this or you are likely to miss things. Carry your notebook in your purse, your briefcase or your diaper bag.  

At the end of the first week, take a look back. Would you consider this healthy eating? Would you consider your portion sizes to be appropriate or did you find yourself overeating a lot? What would you like to change? What are the things you’d like to keep on your menus, and what are some things you think you should eat less of? We’ll focus more in later posts about those decisions, but in general are you surprised?

I would encourage you to keep up this exercise as you go. My goal for all of my readers is to get you in touch with your own body, and the best way to do that is to start this journal that will give you some data to work from. This activity takes very little time, and should help you to identify patterns looking backwards over time. What are your goals? To feel better? To lose weight? To lose inches? Be sure to make some notes about your goals each day as well. If your goal is to feel better, note each day how you felt. You may also include your exercise habits. If you chose to weigh yourself and record that, too, it could be informative to see what patterns emerge as you change your health habits. You’re first challenge: Write it down.   

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Happy New Year!

Like every other year, many of us make resolutions every January 1st to be healthier. Your inspiration could be losing weight, fitting into those skinny jeans you keep in the back of your closet, or maybe you are truly just trying to get healthier regardless of the physical changes that may accompany that. This year, I am starting a blog aimed at helping my family and friends to get healthier. I think lots of people intend to get healthier, but don’t always know how. This blog will be written with a weekly challenge. There is no pass or fail, no one will be measuring you, weighing you or quizzing you on your weekly behavior. My hope is I can share some simple suggestions, and that when you try them you’ll start to feel so great, you’ll want to keep some of them up. I want to share m own passion on a topic developed from years and years of reading, trying new diets, and my personal quest to get healthier. I’ll provide the suggestions, but you, the reader need to bring your own passion and an open mind to try. My greatest hope is not that we all conform to my ideals, but that you can learn ways to listen to your own body, and define your best route to get (and stay!) healthy in 2013 and beyond.

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