Thursday, December 27, 2012

New Years Goals

What if this year, instead of creating the same list of New Years Resolutions you simply changed your lifestyle? What if instead of making goals, you changed your attitude about life? What if instead of trying to fit into a size smaller pants, you tried to have a healthy body? And why don't those New Year's Resolutions ever stick past March!??

Goals are Temporary
While there's nothing wrong with wanting to lose those last stubborn 5 lbs, that's a temporary fix. You cut calories for a few weeks and hit the gym a little longer on cardio days and voila! 5 lbs are gone! Yet, you resume your former habits and boom! 5 lbs are back! Seems like an endless cycle, right? You know what to do, you know how to do it, but nothing changes year after year.

That's because goals are temporary. 

Goals are Narrow-Focused
Wanting to have thinner thighs, a skinnier waist, well developed arms, put on muscle mass...these are all common goals, but at what cost? The other day my sister told me that one of her clients (she's a personal trainer) asked her what a good weight loss supplement was to get rid of the minimal weight she's carrying. Sure, you can take a weight loss supplement, but that's going to damage numerous other parts of your body and usually if they even work, it's only temporary and that weight comes right back. It's just another cycle that takes you (and your body) nowhere fast.

That's because these goals are narrow-focused.

Goals are Band-Aids
You want to be in shape. You want to have energy. You want to feel vibrant and alive and excited! So what's the problem? You're always tired. Too tired to go to the gym. Too tired to wake up early. Too tired even to sleep well at night! That workout plan fails the first week because you're too tired to get it done. What's the point in trying, right?

That's because these goals are band-aids that treat the symptom instead of the cause.

So what can we do to change this? What's a lasting approach?

Take a wide view approach -  what kind of life would you like to live? 

  • Be Healthy (or rarely be sick)
  • Feel happy and able to handle stress
  • Look good, feel toned and fit
  • Be strong
  • Be motivated
  • Live a long life to spend with family
  • Set a good example for kids
  • Have energy to tackle multiple projects, hobbies, and your job
  • Feel rested daily
What's inhibiting you from feeling that way now (note: these are usually the symptoms we try to treat with band-aids)?
  • Too tired
  • Too flabby
  • Feel sluggish
  • Rely on caffeine to get me up, keep going
  • Can't wake up in the a.m. to get workouts in before work/kids/school
  • Too tired in the the afternoon to get workouts in
  • No time to cook
  • Have to get food at take-out or drive-through because I'm too busy
  • My medicine makes me tired/not feel good
How can I overcome these recurring issues and get on track to a healthier me?
  • Commit to the exceptionally complex and expensive plan below (hint: real change is priceless and free!)
    1. Get 8-9 hours of sleep every night
    2. Exercise for at least 30 minutes daily
    3. Eat a well-balanced diet that includes only whole, unprocessed foods and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
    4. Reduce toxins in your body (alcohol, drugs, prescription medication, caffeine, cigarettes, animal fats)
    5. Play - with family, with friends, with kids, with pets.
Think that sounds too simple? Think you don't have the time? To paraphrase H. Jackson Brown Jr., you have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein. You have the time. You need to find the will.

Like any new habit, this is a huge change and takes time, but by focusing on broad-scope goals you will remind yourself that this change is forever. Not just until you're a size whatever or you weigh however many pounds. As you make those 5 changes in the "exceptionally complex plan" you'll feel the pieces click into place and your body (that naturally wants to be healthy) will automatically begin to fall in line. When you work out, you sleep better. When you sleep better, you wake up refreshed. Then you can keep your workout for the morning. And since you feel good, you'll reach for a healthy shake or fruit topped oatmeal instead of coffee and a sugar-crusted muffin. Then you won't crash in the afternoon and you'll be able to handle the rest of the work day with a smile - AND play with your kids. And fit into that nice outfit to go out to dinner with your friends or family. It's a cycle of feeling good, all the time. That is something you can and will stick to all year long!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Cortisol, Stress, Diet and Your Body

A friend texted me last night to say that her cortisol levels came back as exceedingly high and wanted to know what (if anything) diet could do to bring this back into balance. I love a good challenge, and the minute I heard "cortisol" I thought "stress" and given her busy life, high-responsibility job, being a mom, wife and it being the holiday season it made perfect sense. Instead of just sharing it with her, I thought this would be a great place to talk about the connection between cortisol, stress, diet and your body.

The Basics:
Cortisol is the hormone that is released when your adrenal glands are stimulated due to stress. Oftentimes we think of stress as external (my boss is yelling at me! I'm stuck in traffic! I've got a flat tire! I'm LATE! These kids are driving me nuts!) yet up to 40% of stress we experience is dietary (caffeine, refined sugars, saturated fatty foods, fatty meats, sweet desserts, lack of quality food). The average person experiences about 22 external stressors daily in addition to the internal stress placed on our body by nutritional choices, and often they are interrelated. Take a look at this day:

  • You sleep through your alarm because you didn't sleep well last night and get going late.
  • Your kids are fighting in the car.
  • You grab a coffee (double shot) and a packaged muffin on the way.
  • You get cut off by somebody while taking them to school.
  • You show up to work (late) and already there's an issue.
  • Your boss calls you into his office and tells you that you cannot take time off over the holidays.
  • So you cancel your family trip and your family is upset with you.
  • You skip lunch since you are bogged down with work.
  • You have another cup of coffee since you're beat!
  • You leave work to pick the kids up, then take them to soccer.
  • You have no time to workout since you have to get home and make dinner.
  • You throw a packaged family dinner in the microwave to get the kids fed and tucked in ASAP.
  • You sit down to unwind with the TV, treat yourself to a glass of wine (or two) and dessert.
  • You're up until 11:30 pm even though the alarm goes off at 6:00 am meaning you'll only get 6.5 hours of sleep (but you never do since you usually have struggle falling and staying asleep).
Does that sound like anyone you know? Day after day your body is under attack. Each time you are stressed, your body reacts in a "fight or flight" manner and releases cortisol into your blood stream. 

What Does Cortisol Do?
As cortisol increases:
  • Your body switches to burning carbohydrates (for quick energy) instead of fat, leading to a build up of fat in the body.
  • Your immune system function decreases leaving you prone to illness.
  • Your inflammation levels rise also leaving you prone to illness
  • You turn to dietary crutches (sugar, refined carbohydrates, caffeine) and your dependency increases
  • Your sleep quality and quantity decrease, leaving you more prone to stress.

What Can YOU Do?
1.) Find BALANCE

  • work, home, diet, exercise, sleep, play, family


  • Cortisol levels rise and metabolism slows within 5 hours since the last meal.

3.) Exercise REGULARLY

  • Just 15-30 minutes 4-5 days a week will help do a few things - exercise trains your body to respond efficiently to cortisol (so that you don't hit fight or flight), it releases dopamine + seratonin so that you feel good instead of stressed.


  •  8-9 hours a night. Every night. 
  • Prepare for bed by turning the TV and iPhone/iPad devices off for at least a half hour before bed. 
  • Wind down with herbal tea, meditation, journaling, or stretching. This signals to your body that it can begin to unwind and your body will naturally get on it's cycle of decreasing cortisol at night to allow sleep. 
  • Watching an emotional or action packed TV show before bed? Does just the opposite.

5.) Healthy, Balanced DIET

  • Whole, unprocessed complex carbohydrates. Take out the white junk (refined sugar, refined flours, refined milk).
  • Give your body the fuel it needs to feel good and provide you with the energy you need.
  • Lean protein slows down carbohydrate absorption, decreases blood sugar levels and balances cortisol. Healthy unsaturated fat cuts down on cortisol production. Vegetables and fruits provide you with necessary minerals, vitamins and fibers.
  • Adaptogens - try a food source of an adaptogen - a metabolic regulator that helps your body adapt to stressors. Two of the more easily found adaptogens are maca root (a cruciferous root vegetable from Peru) and Goji Berries. Try adding a serving of these to your food daily. The maca root works well in shakes or baked goods and the goji berries are delicious in trail mix or on a salad!