Why is diet change so hard?

I think I went home and cried the day my doctor told me I needed to cut gluten and dairy out of my diet. So, believe me that I know how hard it is to make a lifestyle change.

Behavior change is something I’m studying in my Nutrition master’s program. I have a lot of empathy for my hypothetical dietary clients. I’m a quarter of the way through the program and am not qualified to give you dietary advice, so I’m telling you what has worked for me.

Here’s what I learned through the program and my own experience. The No. 1 thing I’ve learned is that proper nutrition makes our bodies operate so much better. We recover from illness quicker, things don’t hurt as much. Even mental health issues can fade. Here are some tips I’ve learned:

  1. Don’t try to be perfect. Even trained professionals struggle to put together diet plans with the perfect balance of macro and micronutrients each day. Just aim for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and some whole grains each day. Add in couple handfuls of nuts and servings of legumes and lean protein each week. Try to cut down on red and processed meat and sugar. I’m sorry to tell you that there’s really no good that can come from red and processed meat or sugar. A little is fine, but a lot is really not.
  2. If you’re not getting your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, pop a multi vitamin. Getting your vitamins is that important. Though, in my opinion, it’s better to supplement just the vitamins you need, which you would know from a blood test.
  3. Making diet and lifestyle changes is never going to be easy. It’s totally OK to mourn the loss of your beloved whatever-you-love. But, making changes before you have a diagnosis really is key. Once you’re diabetic or have heart disease, you’re likely to have to stop cold turkey. If you can learn to eat more beans now or make your beloved food more of a once-in-a-while treat, it won’t be so hard later.
  4. It’s not all or nothing. How about trying to consume 30% less meat and dairy than you currently do? That could be as simple as swapping breakfast meats for oatmeal (I looooove oatmeal with its fun toppings!) or trying some Mediterranean dinner ideas. Mediterranean cooking incorporates more grains and veggies than the standard American diet. Meat is stretched over a few meals instead of a slab on each person’s plate.
  5. Don’t make it a habit: If you have a cookie Tuesday at 3:00 and you crave a cookie again Wednesday afternoon, don’t eat it. Tell yourself you can have it tomorrow. If you make it routine to eat sugar (or alcohol or coffee or whatever) every day, it won’t be a treat anymore. It’ll be a habit.
  6. Carbs are good. Bread and potatoes aren’t evil. Refined and white breads aren’t great. Most cereals are 30% sugar, so they’re no good. But whole-grain breads, rice, oats, potatoes (not the fried ones) are good. Eat them, guilt-free (assuming you don’t have a health condition that restricts your consumption).
  7. Once I started watching what I eat, I became much more tuned-into my body. I now notice how my skin feels tingly after a dairy milk latte. After a sugary dessert, like a cookie, I struggle to keep my eyes open. Two or more alcoholic drinks lead to a sleepless night. It’s been much easier to pass on things when I know how they’ll affect me. Before I didn’t take the time to notice.
  8. Expect to revert. Sometimes when Nick is away, I like to treat myself with dinner from the market hot bar and cupcake or tiramisu. Sometimes I crave one more glass of wine when I’m home writing. About once a month, I want a really good burger. I’m not even ashamed about any of this.

Know that you’re not alone. Diet and lifestyle are hard for everyone to change and most of us could really benefit from some tweaks. I’ve been there. I still am.

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Hope!

If you’re like me, the recent climate change report has made you anxious the last couple of days. I’m not going to get into the science here, instead I’m going to give you hope.

The report says we can do something, but we need to do it now.

I have hope that you’ll join me. Please, share what you’re doing. I’ll share what I’m doing. I hope we can inspire one another and do our part.

For starters, I’ll give you my to-do list:

  1. Plan meals. When I don’t plan meals, I tend to rely on prepared foods that are harder on the planet. The more I plan, the more sustainable my diet.
  2. Write letters. One thing that drives me crazy is throwing away packaging. When I’m out of makeup, I just need the little thing of makeup. I don’t need a new compact with a mirror. I’m going to write letters (or maybe email?) to the companies that make these products and ask them for a better way.
  3. Share templates. Once I write those letters, I’ll share them with you, so you can use it as a template to write your own letters to send to the companies you do business with.
  4. Unfortunately a bus commute isn’t an option where I live BUT I know 4 other women who live near me and work at the same company. We carpool occasionally, but it’s time to step it up. There’s no reason to drive 5 cars the same place every day.
  5. Reduce my plastic. This is about 10 blog posts alone.

Your turn. Please tell me what you do and how I can do more.

The great September transition

IMG_2374I always loved going back to school as a kid. When July turned into August, the school supplies were moved to their own hectic corner at Target stores and the September issue of Teen magazine filled with fall fashion arrived in my mailbox. I started counting down the days until I could walk down my school’s halls. I thought about what I aspired to do each year. I’d be super organized and a straight-A student. I’d become more popular or athletic. I’d be the kind of person who is kind to everyone and wears the coolest clothes from Kohl’s.

That September glow has never disappeared from my life. My heart swooned a couple of Septembers ago when Nick told me he’s a September person. He didn’t have to explain. I knew exactly what he meant because I’m a September person, too.

That’s not to say I don’t love summer. I love the long hours of sunshine and the effortless feeling of leaving the house in flip-flops for a coffee run or to walk along the canal. I love the array of colors as flowers bloom randomly on lawns or neatly in window boxes. I love fires on the beach with my friends and lingering after sunset. I love ordering a whole bottle of chilled rosé and sipping with my girls on a patio. I love how my parents’ living space doubles as the deck, patio, and pool area become an extension of the house.

Summer is what we train for. We show off our winter’s work at the gym. Without guilt, we push aside books and turn off TVs. That can wait until October when it’s dark, but right now it’s summer and we must enjoy it.

But in the fall, we return to that structure and the activities that make us stronger, fitter, more educated for next summer. I crave the sense of accomplishment I get each time I finish a workout or a book.

September is transition month when we get to make choices. We can choose how to reinvent ourselves for the school year. We can choose what we want to focus on during the cold months. We even get to  choose whether to get a jump on fall with chunky-knit everything and pumpkin-spice everything. We can also choose to enjoy every second of the diminishing daylight of summer before fully surrendering to closed-toe shoes, crunchy leaves, and cozy blankets by the fireplace.

I’ll do both. I’ll take my paddleboard out to the lake and wear my summer dresses a couple more times, but I’ve also got a pot of chili on the stove and football on the TV.

 

It’s just 8 weeks

I’ve been procrastinating all week on my research assignment for class. This class is so out of my comfort zone.

Research Methods.

Just the name makes me shudder. It’s not about going to the library or how to interview people. It’s about Quantitative data. I even half-jokingly asked the research manager at my office if one of his interns could tutor me. He’s yet to assign anyone.

Last week, I submitted my first assignment – a short paper about my intended research project for the class and my professor ripped it apart. Your topic is too broad. Don’t use first person in your writing ever again.

So now it’s time for the next assignment and I don’t want to. This is the class in the program that I was dreading the most. It’s the one I’m just certain will break my 4.0. Just get through it, I keep telling myself. It’s 8 weeks. Seven to go.

And it’s a topic I know I’m weak in and want to learn more about. As I mentioned, I work with researchers every day on my job.

Saturday, 7:30 a.m. Cat under chair. Nick still sleeping. Coffee in hand. Cozy sweatshirt on. I can do this!

There’s a real person here

I’m guessing the guy who sent me the disgusting message at work on Monday didn’t take a minute to think about how his words, emoticon, and “lol” would make me feel.

He probably didn’t expect me to cry in the women’s bathroom. He probably doesn’t know that I left early and my best friend at work walked me out, gave me several hugs, and was concerned that I was too upset to drive. He probably didn’t expect that I wouldn’t be able to get my schoolwork done Monday night because I was so upset and couldn’t focus. He probably didn’t expect that as a result of not getting it done Monday, I had to get up early Tuesday morning to finish it.

He probably didn’t expect that I would feel so anxious standing in front of my closet to get dressed for work and didn’t know what would be hideous enough that he would leave me alone, so I left my pajamas on and worked from home. He probably didn’t expect that I would end up with my laptop in bed and crying throughout the day because I felt so gross and violated.

When I went back to the office on Wednesday, he probably didn’t know that I would make a beeline for an empty cubicle downstairs. I opted to work without a mouse and monitors, just so I wouldn’t have to see him. He probably doesn’t know that I pinged my friend upstairs asking her to bring me my water bottle, so I wouldn’t have to go to my desk.

He probably doesn’t know that after I saw him sign off for the day, I ran up to my desk to reunite with my teammates and finally put lip balm on lips that had been dry all day.

Thursday morning, in a moment of empowerment, I went directly to my desk and settled in. I didn’t raise it up to stand as I usually do in the mornings because that would reveal too much of my backside to him. Instead, I made myself as tiny as possible and shielded myself with the back of the chair. I smelled the red rose on my desk. It was the sweetest smell. It reminded me to be courageous. Then I opened an email about an interview loop I was participating on that day and saw his name on the email, too.

He probably doesn’t know that I panicked. I couldn’t be in a room with him. I couldn’t make nice conversation with him and a young woman who wants to work here. My eyes filled with hot tears. Luckily, it turned out all right because we weren’t in the same sessions with the interviewee, so I just had to make eye contact with him as I was leaving the interview and he was coming in.

He probably doesn’t know that later in the afternoon, I wanted tea. I saw that he wasn’t at his desk, so I hurried to mine to get my mug and green tea bag. I considered going upstairs to the weird kitchen for hot water, but again, didn’t want to change my life because of this incident, so I went to the regular kitchen downstairs.

He probably doesn’t know that my heart raced ask I neared the kitchen. What if he’s in there? Is that why he wasn’t at his desk? He doesn’t know that I carefully peeked around the corner and breathed a sigh of relief when the café was empty. While pouring my water, I heard someone come in and tensed up. I carefully turned my head and again was relieved it wasn’t him. I hurried back upstairs to my makeshift desk.

He probably doesn’t know that today I’m exhausted. All the crying and panicking has taken a toll. Again, I stood in front of the closet wondering what I could wear on this hot day that wouldn’t encourage him to stare. I also have the feeling that it’s going to be a hard day because most of my friends at work who know what’s going on aren’t there today to run interference.

I just wanted you to know that there’s a real person on the receiving end of your words and actions. Next time take a minute to consider that.

I’m not whispering. I’m screaming

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On Monday a colleague who sits behind me felt it was appropriate to send me an instant message telling me he was bummed that I wouldn’t be sitting in his line of vision anymore.

He basically told me he looks at me from behind while I work. Disgusting. For context, this is NOT a friend of mine. He’s a guy I’ve barely said more than good morning to.

I left the office with tears running down my face. I tried to shield my red eyes with sunglasses, but anyone who encountered me saw me crying. I cried much of the evening and the following day. I felt violated and ashamed. Had I done something to provoke this? Were my heels too high or my jeans too flattering? I have been crushing it at the gym  lately.

The same guy pinged me a couple weeks prior to tell me he noticed that I’m always working really hard. I said thank you and that I appreciated that he noticed. Did that somehow open the door to him—a married man with a baby on the way—feeling it appropriate to let me know he likes looking at me?

Tuesday, I felt so nauseated that I couldn’t bring myself to go to the office. Instead, I played a video my sister-in-law posted of my niece, 4, giggling as she innocently drove her toy car around the yard. All I could think about in that moment was my sweet girl growing up and having a slime bag stare at her ass while she tries to do her job.

Oh, hell no! Not on my watch!

So I fired off an email to the slime bag letting him know that what he said was disgusting and it affected my day. I told him not to bother me again. All I want to do is my job–making healthcare work better. A mission I’m very passionate about.

I also took it to the whisper network at my company. Even without mentioning his name, I got responses of “I know exactly who you’re talking about because he’s done it to me, too.”

Well, that got me really fired up. I’m not going to whisper for another second. I’m going to scream and yell.

There is no reason anyone should feel uncomfortable going to their job or sitting at their desk. There is no reason I should be searching my closet for unflattering articles of clothing to wear. There is no reason a slime bag should feel comfortable telling a coworker he (or she) likes to stare at them from behind. THIS IS NOT OK!

So today I held my head high, and I went to work. Obviously I didn’t sit at my desk in his eye line. But anyone who asked why I wasn’t sitting at my desk was told exactly why I wasn’t sitting at my desk. I even spun my laptop around and let them read the exchange (posted above, in its entirety) for themselves.

And I got a ton of support from my colleagues. Men and women promised to report any inappropriate behavior they see. They offered to have a conversation with him on my behalf. One even put a red rose on my desk. “The color of courage,” she explained.

Tonight I’m so grateful to all the supporters. To every man who asked how to navigate in the #metoo era and all the brave victims who are using their voice– who are turning their whispers into shouts. You all inspire me. And if I go home crying again tomorrow, it’ll be for a completely different reason.

Seriously though, cut the sugar

I’m addicted to sugar and odds are you are, too. One reason is that nutrition labels make it really difficult to determine  how much we’re getting. As a nutrition student 3 classes in, it would be irresponsible for me to advise you on your specific needs, so I’ll just tell you what I’ve been reading in general terms.

  • You should probably be consuming less added sugar than you do now. Way less!
  • There is no recommended amount of added sugar on food labels because there is no recommended amount. You don’t need any! You get the sugar you need from natural sources like milk, blueberries, and tomatoes.
  • On that note, don’t worry about the sugar you get from natural sources.
  • When you consume sugar, the reward center of your brain lights up. We like sugar. Once we get it, we want more of it. It works just the same as alcohol, gambling, or heroin addiction. Getting more dulls our sensitivity to it, so it takes more and more and more to get the same reaction.

A couple years ago, my doctor had me eliminate added sugar from my diet for 6 weeks. I distinctly remember the first day of my no-sugar diet. I had a headache and was grouchy. I laid on the couch watching the Katy Perry documentary and felt sorry for myself. I promise you, it gets better after Day 1.

After just a few days without added sugar, I started noticing the natural sweetness in the foods I was consuming. Bananas were suddenly like candy. My favorite treat was a smoothie of coconut milk, banana, and a handful of cashews. Try it!

Our bodies crave sweetness, but when we dull our senses with excessive sugar, we don’t notice that banana’s sweetness. Instead we crave Lucky Charms, Frappuccinos, and sweet cocktails. Cutting sugar isn’t about weight loss or vanity. Sugar consumption is a serious health epidemic. On an individual basis, it leads to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and so many more bad things no one wants to go through. So what can you do?

Step one is to cut out sugar sweetened beverages, such as lemonade, soda, fruit juice, iced tea, energy drinks, all of it! Your body even processes calorie-free diet drinks the same way. You can’t fool it with a Diet Coke.

After that, look at other places to cut down on added sugar. Did you know that 30% of many cereals are sugar? When I buy cereal, I get the plain corn flakes (literally, the only ingredient is corn) from a natural market and shake on some cinnamon. You could switch to oatmeal— again, I recommend buying plain oats rather than the flavored packets. I keep a big bag of blueberries in the freezer and put a handful on my oatmeal. Those little guys defrost fast. Then I grab a spoonful of non-sweetened almond butter to stir in. Breakfast is on the table within 5 minutes.

Next, swap out sugary snacks for fruit and nuts. This has been a total game-changer for me. My sugar-dense snacks used to leave me feeling nauseous and hungry again soon. A handful of nuts keeps me satiated through my afternoon.

Finally, pay attention to what you’re eating for meals. We all expect a sugar hit when we eat a creamy tiramisu, but not when we eat Pad Thai or spaghetti and meatballs, right? Well, those sauces contain a boatload of sugar. So does commercial salad dressing, fruity-on-the-bottom yogurt cups, and more. Look for sugar where you don’t expect it. When you find it, consider workaround. Maybe instead of that bottle of Kraft dressing, you could drizzle some olive oil and balsamic on your salad. Or next time make your own Pad Thai sauce sans sugar (or with just a bit.)

It’s still a work in progress for me. Here are a few principles that help me.

  1. I try to only have dessert items a few times a week, and make it count. That means I don’t eat mass-produced doughnuts with a long shelf life that come in a box. If it’s a doughnut I crave, I go to a good bakery and get the best one I can find. A good rule is if it doesn’t rot that’s because bacteria doesn’t want to eat it — and you shouldn’t either.
  2. I aim to eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. With that baseline, I know I have less room for empty calories.
  3. I try not to keep sweets in the house — or just pick one thing at a time. That way if I want a cupcake, I have to put on my shoes, walk out of the house, lock the door behind me, and go down the street to the store to get it. That makes me question if it’s worth it. (And sometimes it totally is!)

My main downfall right now is that my desk is right next to the table where people leave snacks to share at work. It’s hard to look past that plate of scones or package of cookies. Sometimes I indulge and I often regret it when I feel sluggish 30 minutes later.

Believe me, I know cutting down on sugar is hard (I remember every time I hear a Katy Perry song), but little changes do add up. I beg you to start now because it won’t get easier next year. And tell me how it’s going and if you have any advice for me.

For more science-backed advice, I recommend talking to your doctor about your specific needs and reading Daily Intake of Sugar — How Much Sugar Should You Eat Per Day?

REFERENCES

  1. DiNicolantonio JJ, O’Keefe JH, Wilson WL. Sugar addiction: is it real? A narrative review Br J Sports Med 2018;52:910-913.
  2. Bremer, Andrew A.,M.D., PhD., Lustig RH, M.D. Effects of sugar-sweetened beverages on children. Pediatr Ann. 2012;41(1):26-30. https://une.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.une.idm.oclc.org/docview/914325607?accountid=12756. doi: http://dx.doi.org.une.idm.oclc.org/10.3928/00904481-20111209-09.

Throw that scorecard away

IMG_1813“Everyone you meet always asks if you have a career, are married, or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy” – Heath Ledger

I came across this quote today and gave a “yeah buddy” to the late Heath Ledger.

He’s absolutely right. The movies, society, our grandparents all want us to do things in some “right” order as we were told to do.

Plenty of people who have checked those boxes uncheck them and then check them again. Some check a few and leave others unchecked. Some are desperate to check them, but it’s not happening for them.

Regardless, life isn’t a score card. You don’t get to yell bingo and collect your prize basket. You don’t win happiness for checking anything off the list. Plenty of people check their boxes and wake up the next day absolutely miserable, wishing they could get out from under this giant mortgage and away from these whiney children.

Many of us don’t even slow down long enough to ask ourselves if we even want to check those boxes.

On this Pride Day, I think it’s important to give a high-five to everyone out there being themselves or taking baby steps toward living their best life.

At the very least, slow down for a minute and ask yourself what you want to be doing.

Me? Thanks for asking. I am happy. I thought long and hard about my checklist. I want to:

  • Go to my storage unit to get my turquoise chair, so I can set it up at home.
  • Finish reading a book.
  • Use the new Aveda lotion I got this morning.
  • Have a glass of white wine.
  • Make fajitas for dinner with Nick.

What’ve you got?

A lump you can’t ignore

If you don’t want to read about my boobs, I suggest checking out This Old House instead. They have some good stuff there. https://www.thisoldhouse.com/

 

The rest of you might remember from my post 5 years ago when my doctor felt a “tumor” in my breast during a routine check up and sent me to a radiology clinic for imaging. For a week or so until my appointment I was freaking out because as I said, my doctor told me she felt a “tumor.”

Turns out “tumor” is a catchall term meaning mass of some sort that isn’t usually there. Obviously I got a new doctor after that experience. One who doesn’t casually drop the word tumor.

This time I felt the lump first. My primary care doctor — who I love  — was calm and told me it’s probably a cyst. But get it checked out anyway. I did get it checked out and it is a cyst.

Great story, right?

Stick with me. There’s a reason I’m telling it to you. The doctor at the breast clinic told me

  1. I’m not doing anything to cause these things
  2. It’s really important not to get complacent after a couple “it’s just a cyst” diagnoses because next time it might not be just a cyst, so if I feel a lump, I have to get it checked out.

I’m passing along that information to all of you. There are plenty of non-scary reasons why a lump might form. None of them is a good reason to ignore it. Even the mammogram experience isn’t so bad. I heard horror stories of boobs getting smooshed in devices that look like they should be used for pressing paninis. So here are 3 reasons to get your mammo:

  1. The new 3-D machines are not exactly fun, but they’re not at all painful either.
  2. Your health plan probably pays for a preventive mammogram in full, if it’s done for preventive reasons. If you’re getting it because you found a lump already, it’s diagnostic and subject to copay and deductible, but still covered.
  3. It could save your life!

A show about women

I hate, hate, hate shows that feature 3 men and one woman. Why is that the accepted ratio? So I’m always happy to find a show led by ladies! I came home from work today, changed into my yoga pants and snuggled up on the couch with my cat to finish season 1 of The Bold Type, a show about three millennial women who started together at a Cosmopolitan-inspired magazine as assistants.

I just found out about the show yesterday, when I was clicking around Hulu. I love magazines and Chick Lit, so it seemed like a fun show to get lost in while I recovered from a Saturday of cooking and morning of back day at the gym.

Was I ever surprised that the show isn’t some dumb show with clueless, stereotypical characters moping after their loser boyfriends and comedically messing up their lives at every turn. The show actually has strong, female-empowering writing. Here are a few things I loved about it.

  1. The editor-in-chief character Jacqueline who raises her young staffers up. She challenges them to be the best version of themselves possible and supports them when they mess up. Shouldn’t we all be so lucky to have a boss like this?
  2. The three main characters are not jealous, back-stabby mean girls. They are legitimately happy for one another as one by one they get promoted or have steamy hot shower sex.
  3. The show takes on powerful topics such as BRCA testing (for the breast cancer-causing gene mutation), Muslim immigration, and the #metoo movement.
  4. Obviously, the show celebrates strong, female characters, which the world needs more of.

I have some critiques, too. First, Sutton and Jane’s apartment is not the apartment of young Manhattan magazine staffers. No, I know what that salary is and it doesn’t afford you an apartment like that.

Second, Sutton is having that aforementioned steamy hot sex with the company attorney. For the love of Pete, this doesn’t happen in real life. Why must it happen on every TV show?

OK season 2 starts tomorrow, so get binging.