Sunday, June 24, 2012

"On the Way to Wellness" Group Eats Out

Eating out is simply part of life for many, if not most, people these days. That holds true for our Tuesday evening's On the Way to Wellness group members. They enjoy sharing their experiences at different restaurants and providing their assessment of how well it fits in their healthy living plan. More nutritious menu items are a great find, while huge portion sizes bring a warning. I think they could easily be dubbed the restaurant critics for healthy eating in the area!

During one meeting's discussion of restaurants, Marcia and Jean, who love Mediterranean food, discovered that others had no idea how tasty and healthy these foods could be. I offered to take our group on their first field trip to their favorite Mediterranean spot: Woody's Oasis.
Marie, Woody's manager

Our field trip turned out to be even more than I'd hoped for. The manager, Marie, spent lots of time with us explaining what was in each dish and how it was prepared, answering our many questions. Fried foods were noted, and the healthy fats used in hummus were hi-lighted. We first were served various salads, types of hummus, and pita. We thought that was our entire meal since it was certainly plentiful enough! To our surprise, dishes of entrees arrived for us to share family style. When we were done, she brought in mini servings of baklava and an almond pastry.

And I think quite a few eyes were opened to some great new food choices and ways to make restaurant eating healthy.  Among the many comments:
  • "Hey, take a look at every one's plates!" Some were completely empty when we finished each course, while others had left food behind.
  • "I ate too much. I'm stuffed!" She realized that she was very hungry when she got there. She now knows that a little healthy snack before eating out can calm the tendency to eat too fast & eat too much.
  • "I really like this food! I've got a new place to choose healthy foods." I loved that she was making notes in her smart phone of which foods she really liked. 
  • "They're going to have at least 6 more regulars here!"
  • "________is so good" and"I don't care for/like _________ as well." Learning to evaluate flavors, textures and the whole food package is part of mindful eating. 
I think the favorite dishes that night included smeed, baba ghanoush, Mediterranean salad, mujadara, kafta beef, vegetable lentil soup, kafta, fattouch salad, and beef kibbee. And those of us who really love lemon enjoyed tabbouli and the rice & lentil soup.

Lots of sharing, smiles, laughter and talking went on throughout the meal, with a little learning taking place on the side. Perfect!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Exercising For A Pain in the Neck

My Snorkel and Me
It's not a new problem to me, but it seem to ramp up this year. Pain in the neck. (No, not "I am a pain in the neck," though at times my husband may have a different opinion.) I have pain in my neck. Who knew that stress, a lifetime of holding my neck too upright (I thought it was good posture!) tight muscles, and getting older could actually end up causing a couple of discs to misbehave? And it turns out some of the same culprits seem to be connected to my headache challenges...

After the worst of the pain, nine weeks were dedicated to calming and loosening the tight muscles with myofascial release by my wonderful physical therapist. Light exercises were slowly added and increased, but walking was the only other approved exercise for me at at that point. Eventually, I had the approval for swimming, but back stroke only. That was good, but certainly not the only stroke I wanted to use in the pool.

I kept thinking and trying to figure out a way to use a snorkel without the typical big, bulky face mask. I eventually started searching for snorkels online and came across the Finis snorkel. Yes! The lap swimming snorkel was already invented! The snorkel itself is attached to a split strap that wraps around the head, just like swim goggles. The snorkel is centered on the face instead of to the side. One positive user review actually mentioned having severe neck pain. Sold! (I featured it on the "Great Stuff" wheel at the left of the page.)

It took just a few minutes to get used to the new head gear and breathing continually through the snorkel instead of turning my head to the side. As I did lap after lap, I found myself relaxing my neck and immersing myself into the rhythm of my strokes and gliding through the cool water. Absolutely perfect. Maybe it's the Pieces in me, or that my high school sports were swimming and synchronized swimming. Heck, I was even a lifeguard and swimming instructor (see a theme here?) But, I feel a peaceful connection with the water.

On my road trip, I missed it so much that I bought a one-day pass at a local gym in order to swam laps. The ladies in the water aeorbics class were so entertained that they grabbed me in the locker room and wanted to know all about my unique snorkle. I think one gal was ready to buy one that day. And, the aches in my back from driving so much were totally gone afterward.

Last summer, I discovered running was out of my life. Early this year, I couldn't even walk without pain. And now, not only can I walk for exercise again, but I can actually swim without stressing my arthritic neck.

When life hits you with tough setbacks, don't give up and meld into a couch potato. The trick is to figure what you are able to do at that point, then work to improve from there. Then, keep on keeping on.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Triumphs and Trials of a Road Trip: From Here to There

I just got back last night, and I'm in recovery mode today. My 8-day road trip started off a day late, as I was giving myself an extra day of rest to help me bounce back from an illness. (I have yet to figure out how not to get so exhausted before trips that I end up sick---definitely not a good way to start.)

The first day my daughter and I shared driving as we left with coffee in hand.  I had planned our healthy snacks bag that included 100-calorie packs of Emerald almonds (cinnamon and cocoa), grapes, apples, baggies of whole grain crackers, cans of V-8 juice and a case of water in the trunk. Unfortunately, I forgot the cooler with our yogurt, string cheese sticks, and cut up veggies! Oops.

One rest stop included a Starbucks that was perfect for us: one soy caramel frappucino light (sugar-free syrup/no whipped cream), one large black coffee, and two big fresh fruit cups that were so good. Starbucks gets a gold star for offering a few healthier options.

Dinner with family that night was at Spats, a nice restaurant in State College, Pennsylvania. I knew it may be challenging for me, since my warning signs were on: I was really tired and my neck was really starting to hurt. I realized long ago that I am at risk for losing control of food when I am both tired and stressed. Thankfully, my mom was thinking light and asked me to split a meal of crab cakes.  I absolutely love crab cakes. We both ordered our own salads and I chose a field green salad with a vinaigrette on the side. I  smiled to myself when I heard my daughter do the same.  I consciously focused on eating slowly and enjoying the flavors and textures. Those huge lumps of crab were amazing! No dessert for me, just a decaf coffee and one bite of the creme brulee that my kids shared. Gold star to the restaurant for being so willing to serve my mom and I half servings of our entree at no extra charge, and maybe I'll take one for myself for being making healthy choices while so tired.

After resting and recuperating for a few days, we got back on the road and headed to JFK airport. The stress really kicked up as we unfortunately hit New York City during rush hour. Not the best timing. our Garmin ended up getting us there, but that little "recalculating" machine chose to take us through 2 tunnels that came with big pricey tolls. Heading for the Lincoln tunnel, I pulled toward the left lanes, following the signs directing the cash-only cars that way. As we got closer, all the cash lanes were actually on the RIGHT! So many lanes, so many cars honking everywhere. Panic!  Looking around, I saw that each lane was marked with orange cones to discourage lane changes. Do I crash the cones or make the drivers even madder while I stopped at the E-Z Pass lane without a pass? When I noticed the traffic cleared for a bit on my right, I made a quick decision and zipped through the cones (I may have knocked down one in the process,) successfully entering a cash-only lane. I luckily got by with only a warning from the woman at the toll booth, and a few honks.

We actually got to the airport in plenty of time. Unfortunately, there were no decent places to eat dinner until after the security check, which meant I wasn't able to eat with my daughter before she left. She was on her own. With a few tears, I headed back to my car, with 3 hours of driving ahead of me. My daughter was on her way to Ireland for a summer internship, and I was driving to my parent's home in Connecticut. I didn't feel like stopping by myself for dinner, and fast food didn't sound good.  I just  sipped on a V-8 juice and munched on 2 packs of nuts and 1 of crackers while I drove, realizing that mindful eating was not happening at all. It should have been enough to eat, but I still didn't feel full.  I ended up zipping into a drive-thru for coffee and a hot fudge sundae. Not proud of that one. I wish I had stopped the car and bought some sort of grilled chicken salad to make me feel fuller, and then made a decision on the the ice cream.

I was a bit achy and very tired, but I made it there! (What is this getting stiff and sore while driving stuff?)

Score: 2 gold stars and one red (needs improvement!)

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Are You Addicted to Food?

Years ago, I often wondered if I could possibly be addicted to cookies and peanut M&M's. I craved them so much. I seemed to "use" them to calm my anxiety, stress and negatives emotions. All those sweets did tend to "work" or do the trick, at least for a few minutes. Then I would start feeling guilty and angry at myself for eating all those cookies, which would make me want more. I have gotten over using sweets as a band-aid, at least for the most part. 

I knew that experts discounted the theory that food could possibly be addictive, primarily because when you stopped eating a particular food, no withdrawal symptoms seemed to be presented. So I kept focusing on helping people change their eating behaviors. But I still wondered why some people had more trouble than others with food. People who experienced the urges and cravings with certain foods that seemed to fit every other criteria for addiction:

Diagnostic criteria for substance dependence or addiction (DSM)

  1.  Substance is taken in larger amount and for longer period than intended.
  2. Persistent desire or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit.
  3.  Much time/activity is spent to obtain, use, or recover.
  4.  Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced.
  5. Use continues despite knowledge of adverse consequences (e.g., failure to fulfill role or obligation, use when physically hazardous.)
  6. Tolerance (marked increase in amount; marked decrease in effect).
  7. Characteristic withdrawal symptoms; substance taken to relieve withdrawal.
  8. New research suggests that certain foods may act as addictive substances in some people, much like nicotine, heroin, or other drugs.
New research suggests that certain foods may indeed act as addictive substances in some people, much like nicotine, heroin, or other drugs. The key is in the response of a neurotransmitter called dopamine. A rise in dopamine acts to motivate us to engage in rewarding behaviors, and at times can override willpower. "Wanting something more than liking.”
Brain scans show that obese people had lower amounts of dopamine in the reward areas of the brain than did people at normal weight. Researchers theorize that obese people have fewer dopamine receptors, or that the receptors in the neurons themselves don't work as well, much like cells that become resistant to insulin in Insulin Resistance and type 2 diabetes. They are currently looking into whether obese people are born with slow dopamine response or if overeating somehow over-stimulates the dopamine system, resulting in fewer receptors. Perhaps overeating calorie-dense foods tempers the receptors, and fewer dopamine receptors create the urge to overeat foods that provide the dopamine response. Though this research is in it's infancy, it is exciting to me, and perhaps a bit comforting. It seems to explain my past history quite well...

Which foods can be addictive? Calorie dense foods seem to be the norm: in particular foods high in sugar and fat. Highly processed foods or "hyper palatable” foods are also described as most likely to be targeted. For example, potato chips, candy, cookies or ice cream.

The Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity has created a questionnaire to determine food addiction:
Food Addiction Scale
  1. I find that when I start eating certain foods, I end up eating much more than I had planned.
  2. Not eating certain types of food or cutting down on certain types of food is something I worry about.
  3. I spend a lot of time feeling sluggish or lethargic from overeating.
  4.  There have been times when I consumed certain foods so often or in such large quantities that I spent time dealing with negative feelings from overeating instead of working, spending time with my family or friends, or engaging in other important activities or recreational activities that I enjoy.
  5.  I kept consuming the same types of food or the same amount of food even though I was having emotional and/or physical problems.
  6. Over time, I have found that I need to eat more and more to get the feeling I want, such as reduced negative emotions or increased pleasure
  7.   I have had withdrawal symptoms when I cut down or stopped eating certain foods, including physical symptoms, agitation, or anxiety. (Please do not include withdrawal symptoms caused by cutting down on caffeinated beverages such as soda pop, coffee, tea, energy drinks, etc.)
  8. My behavior with respect to food and eating causes significant distress.
  9.  I experience significant problems in my ability to function effectively (daily routine, job/school, social activities, family activities, health difficulties) because of food and eating.
If you think you may have a food addiction, it's time to start managing it.  Experts recommend:

  •  Beware of cues
  •  Avoid triggers
  •  Eat healthy foods
  • Distract yourself
  • Manage stress
  • Exercise
    •  Aerobic exercise increases brain cortex volume, which is the control center, or executive branch that houses willpower. This means that EXERCISE STRENGTHENS WILLPOWER!!
  • And I will add, eat regular meals and healthy snacks to keep your blood sugar levels steady!
Fire UP! You can do this!