Monday, November 23, 2009

An Attitude of Gratitude

Dear in. Wellness readers,

Please forgive my brief hiatus from posting, but I have some exciting news to share.

A little over a week ago, I got engaged! You have heard me refer to my boyfriend "B" or Brian. Well, now he is my fiance B.

It's been a very exciting week and two days, but I must admit that in the meantime I let some of my responsibilities go. The dishes piled up, the dust bunnies gathered, and the blog posts went unwritten. We were out and about relishing this fun stage of our relationship and lives.

And now I'm back. Ready to tackle our wellness.

This coming Thursday is Thanksgiving.

I have a friend who each year on Thanksgiving has an eating competition with his brother. They both weigh in before and after the big meal. Whoever has gained the most weight, wins.

Now these two brothers have fast metabolisms, so they can afford to play such games. For most of us, this is not an option.

Did you know that the average American eats 4000 calories on Thanksgiving? And gains 7-10 pounds during November and December?

In our culture, celebrating the holidays has become almost entirely equated with eating.

In these past two weeks, I have been giving workshops around the city on how to have healthy holidays, and sharing tips about portion control, etc. I'll share a few of these tips towards the end of the post, but first I want to discuss how we can connect having a healthy holiday to the larger meaning of the particular holiday.

I love Thanksgiving for this reason. Despite the complex political history of the holiday, it has now become a day dedicated to Gratitude. Expressing appreciation is one of the most powerful ways you can transform your health and your life. I am a strong believer that what you focus on is what you will create. Focus on what's wrong and that's what you are going to see. Focus on what you already have,  and more abundance will surely follow.

"In our daily lives, we must see that it 
is not happiness that makes us grateful, 
but the gratefulness that makes us happy." 
—Albert Clarke

How can gratitude help you to stay healthy through the holidays? Well, rather than approach this Thursday with an "I get to stuff my face" attitude, try a "I am going to celebrate all that I am thankful for and this beautiful food and my healthy body" attitude. By connecting to the larger meaning of the holiday, your food choices will naturally reflect this joy and appreciation. If we are truly stopping to give thanks for our health, we will be much less likely to eat so much that our poor digestive system goes into shock.

I'm not trying to spoil your fun. In general my feeling is that if you are normally eating well and caring for yourself, it's more than OK to go a little overboard on the holidays.  You better believe that I will be indulging in a full plate this Thursday, and I never say no to sweets. But there is celebratory indulging and then there is indulging that edges towards destructive. I am simply suggesting that you stay mindful of the big picture, and approach the holiday with a healthy attitude and a game plan.

Here are some tips that will help:

1.    Choose your indulgences. Indulging is fun and it’s important to relax and ENJOY the holidays. Pick some of your favorites and allow yourself to indulge in them. But try to compensate by skipping something else. Love egg-nog? Go ahead and have a glass just try to have a smaller portion of mashed potatoes. Etc.

2.    Salad and veggie dishes first. When creating your plate, load up on salad and veggies first then add just a small amount of meat, stuffing, etc. Limit fried or creamy appetizers, sauces, high-calorie side dishes, and desserts.

3.    Chew your food. By eating slowly and chewing your food, you get to enjoy it for longer and it helps you feel full faster. Experts say you should chew one bite 32 times! Don't worry yourself with counting, but do slow down and chew. Your food should be in almost liquid form but by the time it enters your stomach.

4.    Don't starve yourself. Many people will not eat all day on Thanksgiving so they can go to town when they sit down for the big meal. This strategy usually backfires and leads to over-indulging and eating even more calories than you would have if you just had three square meals. Eating a satisfying breakfast can ward off the temptation to overindulge later in the day.

5.    Put your hands up and walk away from the table… Many families like to sit around the table when they are done eating. This can be a lovely time for chatter and laughter, but it can lead to 2nd helpings that you aren’t even hungry for. See if your family is willing to move the party to another room away from the food.

6.    Take a walk. Walking helps you digest your food. This can also be a great way to spend time with your family that doesn’t involve eating or watching TV, etc. Create a tradition around the walk; use it as your time to reminisce about the past year. Have each family member say one thing they remember from last Thanksgiving, etc.

7.    Watch your alcohol consumption. Alcohol itself has calories, and mixing it with soda or juice adds even more. Limit these and other sweet drinks such as eggnog, and stick to a glass of wine or two. Try alternating your alcoholic beverage with a glass of seltzer.

Taking in IN:

What are you thankful for this year? Many families have a tradition of sharing their thanks at the dinner table. If you don't already do this, perhaps it's something you can suggest this year? If you don't think this will fly with your particular family, that doesn't mean you can't take a few minutes on your own to look at your life with the lens of gratitude. Once you get going, you may be surprised by how much you have to be grateful for.

Post one thing you are grateful for as a comment below!  Every person who posts will receive a surprising, intangible prize (This was my fiance, B's, idea.  Prizes will be awarded by B.).

I have gotten some questions about how to place comments. You have click on "Comments" below and follow the prompts.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

I don't know if you can make it out fully (this picture was taken with my phone), but there is a rainbow up there.

The other day I found myself with some extra time on my hands.  I decided to walk to my afternoon meeting rather than take the subway. Walking meant that I got to cross one of my favorite bridges in Brooklyn, the Carroll St. Bridge.

It's not the Golden Gate, I know.  The river it spans is not the Rio Grande.  It crosses the Gowanus Canal, which is an industrial waterway made infamous a while back by housing a lost whale Brooklynites nicknamed Murky.

To us New Yorkers, though, the Carroll St. Bridge is quaint and pretty. It's made of wooden slats.  Real wood! And the canal is lined with trees and dirt. Real dirt!  We even love the oil spills in the water.  They reflect, you guessed it:  rainbows.

When I walk over the bridge I am transported. I imagine that I am in a small Vermont town, on my way to the market to pick up fresh vegetables, waving hello to my neighbors who drive by in their trucks.  Life feels simpler. I feel like I can breathe easier and that there is just a little bit more room around me.

On this particular day, I was treated to a rainbow.  It was a special moment for me. I have been so busy lately and not planning enough down time for myself. The experience rejuvenated me and reminded me that we don't need to escape the city to find inspiration in nature. Beauty is everywhere, you just have to look for it and be willing to make believe just a little.

Lately I have been trying to come up with little sayings that guide people to make healthy choices, but that are easy to remember. One I really like is, "If you are not hungry enough to eat an apple, you're not hungry". 

"Eat a rainbow" is the one I want to talk about today. I loved painting rainbows as a kid, and this is a way I get to do it as an adult, only now the canvas is my plate, and my food choices are my medium.

Color is a great guide to choosing nutrient dense food. We are talking "whole" foods here. My boyfriend was quite disappointed to learn that even though CheeseWiz was orange it was not, in fact, a healthy choice. He is also now obsessed with finding more options in the elusive "blue" category.

Here are some examples of how color can help you eat wholesome and healthy:

Red fruits and veggies contain the plant pigment lycopene which is a powerful anti-oxidant and helps the body fight against cancer, cell damage, and promotes a healthy heart.
  • Tomatoes
  • Cherries
  • Cranberries
  • Strawberries
  • Radishes
  • Etc.
Orange frutis and veggies contain carotenoids, vitamin A, and beta-carotene all of which help the body with eye and heart health and immune function.
  • Butternut squash
  • Carrots
  • Apricots
  • Oranges
  • Etc.
Green fruit and veggies contain chlorophyll. Leafy greens (like spinach and kale) contain lutein. These greens can help with eye health, cancer prevention and much more. Cruciferous greens (think broccoli and brussel sprouts) contain folate which can help prevent birth defects.
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Apples
  • Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Etc.
Blue/Purple  fruits and veggies contain the pigment anthocyanins, also powerful anti-oxiants. Studies also show that eating blueberries can lead to increased mental function. I think I need some of those right now.
  • Blackberries
  • Egglplant
  • Figs
  • Plums
  • Etc.
White fruits and veggetables contain anthoxanthins which may help lower cholesterol and reduce the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Bananas
  • Cauliflower
  • Parsnips
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Etc.
Above adapted from What Color is Your Food by Julie Garden-Robinson

Taking it IN:

See how colorful you can make your meals this week.  Can you design a meal with every color represented?

Contest alert! Send me a picture of your most colorful creation for a chance to win The Kripalu Cookbook.

To get the inspiration flowing, here is a salad that I made tonight. I think I am only missing the Blue/Purple group:

Salad: baby arugula, shredded carrots and beets, avocado, topped with fried tofu and sunflower seeds.

For the tofu: heal olive oil in a skillet, cut tofu into medium sized slices, douse with spices of your choosing (I go with whatever I grab off the shelf - tonight it was garlic, oregano and paprika), flip and coat the other side, flip again until both sides are slightly browned.

Dress lightly with olive oil and rice vinegar, salt & pepper.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Notice anything new about me?

So, In. Wellness Community (IWC), do you notice anything new about me?
IWC: Did you get a new hair cut?
IWC: Are you wearing different makeup?
Wrong again!

Give up?

I've got some new flair! You can check it out to the right of this post. I was awarded "Top Health Blogger" status by Wellsphere.

This is one of those things that sounds much more impressive than it actually is (though I did have to apply), but what it does mean is that each and every In. Wellness post will now automatically be re-posted on the Wellsphere site for thousands to read. Very exciting. Plus, I have started making B call me "America's Next Top Health Blogger" which I find very funny.

I mention this not to toot my own horn, but, as I will now be reaching a broader audience, I will be altering how I post a bit. From time to time, I may need to explain a bit more about myself and what I do.  And, while my posts will still be personal, I'll also want to take some steps to preserve my privacy and the privacy of others in my life.

So, that's that! Let's get on with this weeks post.

This past Sunday was Daylight Savings Time and I, for one, loved it.

Most mornings, I get out of bed feeling (and sort-of looking) like this kid:

But on Saturday night, I got into bed at midnight, which became 11pm, then slept until 8am which felt like 9am! I popped out of bed feeling as sprightly as a bunny.

What followed was an incredibly productive day. I exercised, went to the farmers' market, made a delicious breakfast for B & I (scrambled eggs with zucchini, mushrooms, and Parmesan cheese - on top of a slice of sprouted grain bread, served with a dash of sriracha hot sauce on the side), did laundry, met with a coworker to plan our after-school program, ate dinner with B (yummy falafel he brought home from some place in Williamsburg), watched a movie, and was back in bed by 10pm.

It felt like I finally had enough time in the day.

As our bodies readjust to the time change, and our "I'll just hit the snooze button once more" instincts creep back in, it seems worthwhile to revisit some of the principles of time management.  Lest we squander our gained hour.

The secret to managing your time is about working smarter, not harder. It is about prioritizing the important things and learning to use your time effectively.

Some of us, by nature, organize and get tasks out of the way before we relax, while others of us play first and work later. It is important to know which type you are and whether your style is allowing you to have the life you really want.

Maybe you are the super-organized type but need to learn to schedule more time for relaxing and fun.

Or perhaps you are a naturally less organized person who needs to click off the TV and write that grad-school application.

Rather than beating yourself up, realize that time management is an area of your life that you can strengthen. Like a new muscle, it takes practice and repetition to make it stronger. To help you get started, here are some steps to streamline your days at work and at home.
  • Allocate time for planning and organizing. Sunday afternoons are good for this. Create a to-do list for the week. Start by just listing everything you want to accomplish during the week from grocery shopping, to painting your toenails, to calling your grandmother. Then start breaking the list down by spreading the items out over the course of your week. Remember, we usually don't get to everything on the list. Keep it manageable and put the most important things at the top.
  • Under-schedule your time: Leave time for the unexpected and for interruptions. When you estimate how long something will take, add on a third of that time.
  • Bundle like tasks together.
  • Look for hidden pockets of time - (waiting in line, subway rides, lunch breaks)
  • Practice the art of intelligent neglect: Eliminate trivial tasks.
  • Consider your biological prime time: At what time of day do you work best? Plan to do your most important work at that time.
  • Learn to say no and set boundaries around your time.
  • Where possible, ask for help and delegate.
  • In the evening, revisit your to-do list for that day and acknowledge yourself for what you have accomplished. Forgive yourself if you didn't get to something. You're human. Review the next days list so that you can end your day with a clear head (this can help a lot with nighttime anxiety and sleep problems).
Make sure to examine the biggest hindrances to using time effectively: procrastinating and lacking purpose.

Procrastinating: We usually procrastinate when a task seems too daunting and complex and we feel we won’t be able to handle it. When you get that “deer in the headlights” feeling, try “chunking”: break the large task into smaller, manageable action steps and start with the first one.

Lacking purpose: We often drag our heels when we view a task as boring or uninspired. Stay connected to how even the most menial tasks help you accomplish your larger goal. I may hate the act of balancing my finances, but I love when I have saved responsibly and can go and buy some new clothes. (Confession: I really should never be buying new clothes... I have plenty... See future post on learning how to say no to yourself!)

As you strengthen your new time management muscle, be patient and play around! Good time management can be your ticket to greater satisfaction, increased effectiveness and a more peaceful and fun-filled life.