Monthly Archives: July 2013

Make Your Environment Work For You – #10 Ten Actions To Improve Health

Habits are like magnets; the stronger the habit, the stronger the force it takes to undo it.  The more we change our environment to repel the habit, the more likely the power of the habit will be weakened.  Making your environment work for you will help you reach your health goal.

Triggers In The Environment

Habits are behavioral patterns that are imprinted in our neural pathways that are automatic and are triggered by a stimulus.   The alarm goes off, we get out of bed (or maybe hit the snooze three times).  There is a trigger, in this case the alarm, and the automatic action or habit – getting out of bed.  When changing habits that lead to weight gain or are barriers to weight loss, try to reduce the triggers that stimulate the unhealthy habits.  Triggers can be smells, places, times of day, certain activities or even certain people.   When we come in contact with this cue or trigger it stimulates a reaction.  Trying to live a healthier lifestyle means addressing each of these cues that may stimulate an unhealthy reaction.   For example, if you’re in the habit of coming home from work and opening up a bag of chips, figure out the trigger.  Is it that you are coming home from work hungry?  Is it a coworker who makes you angry?  Is it because it’s what you’ve always done the minute you put your keys down?  Is it because you opened up the closet and you saw the chips?  Is it because your kids went shopping with you and you gave in to their demands?  Is it because you went shopping while you were hungry?  Determine your triggers and gradually replace them one at a time.

How To Get Your Environment to Work For You

Create an environment that will limit triggers to unhealthy habits.


Notice how the orange painted daisy flowers and tall grass on the right of the hydrangea are much taller than the ones on the left. See what a healthier environment can do to plants!

1.  Find less tempting substitutes for the foods you crave.  If you are a potato chip lover then try black bean chips or popcorn.  If you love mint chocolate chip ice cream, then try freezing small servings of yogurt. If you love Peppermint Patties then try some mint tea and spearmint gum.

2.  Break up routines.  If you are in the habit of going to Starbucks on your way to work, then find a different route and substitute a plain coffee or tea instead of a drink
packed with cream and sugar .  If you are trying to break the chip habit, then keep a healthy snack in the car and run an errand before you go home or go for a walk right when you get home.

3.  Do not shop when you are hungry and always shop with a list.  Grocery stores are set up to entice people to shop for food they were not planning on buying.  Some grocery stores emit aromas of fresh bread or keep freshly roasted chicken by the entrance.  Shop after eating and shop with a list.  Focus on the healthy food around the perimeter of the store then go down the center aisles buying only what is on the list.

4.  Buy individual portion sizes of snack and treats when possible or put foods from larger bags into zip lock bags to create your own individual portions.  Eating from a large bag or box is a recipe for disaster.   There are individual portions available for ice cream, chips, nuts and even cookies.  Individual portion sizes are like a period at the end of a sentence.  They tell us when to quit.

5.  Limit your TV time to no more than two hours a day.  Too much TV watching leads to mindless eating and timeless sitting.  There are too many snack commercials that stimulate visual cues.  At a minimum mute the TV and walk around the room during commercials or do some strengthening exercises.

Create an environment that will foster the development of positive habits.

1.  Schedule your exercise.  Schedule it the same time of day and protect it so that it gets linked to other actions. The more a new behavior is linked to another activity, the more likely it will become automatic.  Setting the alarm earlier the night before, hearing the alarm go off, seeing the exercise clothes laid out the night before, and having the IPod or TV show predetermined will help the exercise regimen stick.  Or coming home from work and seeing the sneakers, the water bottle and IPod all ready can be the cues to go for a walk (instead of opening the closet!).

2.  Go out to eat with a strategy.  With the average person going out to eat almost 30% of the time and spending nearly 50% of their food budget eating in restaurants, eating out can be a challenge.  First try reducing going out to eat by doing a healthy pot luck or picnic instead of going out to eat one of those meals each week.  When you do go out, try to look at the menu ahead of time.  When you call for reservations check their willingness to prepare things your way.   Eat a healthy snack like a small handful of nuts before going so that you are not starving.  Choose a restaurant with a salad bar and avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants.   Be the first to order – you will be less likely to be tempted by what others order.  Ask for what you want – grilled instead of fried, dressing and sauces on the side, no butter on the meat, and extra veggie instead of fries or split on order with someone.  Ask for bread to come with the meal and keep it out of reach. If meal portions are large ask for a take home container to come with the meal, share a meal, or order a salad and appetizer for your meal.  If dessert is ordered ask for a serving of fresh fruit or split a dessert with several people.  Click here for more eating out tips from SparkPeople.

3.  Reward yourself.  That money not spent on snack food or a dessert or a meal out can go in a jar to be spent on a fun activity later.  Watch TV or go on the computer after you have exercised.  After a week of exercise reward yourself with a nice book, fun activity or a date night.  After a month reward yourself with a massage or a new outfit.

4.  Get support.  Get coworkers, friends, or family members to buddy up with you.   Create a healthy work environment by having only healthy foods at work, creating five minute walk breaks, or a monthly health discussion.   When you are feeling tempted, call your buddy to delay, distract, and increase your determination.

5.  Eat a healthy breakfast with whole grain breads or cereal and protein from eggs, lean meat, Greek yogurt, low fat cheese, nut butters or even beans.   A bowl of old fashioned oatmeal with ground flax seed, a bit of honey, a sprinkle of nuts and a dollop of fat free plain Greek yogurt is a perfect example!  Choose a low fat Greek yogurt with a handful of nuts and a fruit for something quick. There is a link between skipping breakfast and eating more calories later at night.

6.  Start a hobby.  Many times people eat out of boredom or habit, not hunger.  Having a fun hobby to distract and also calm your mind will help you to stay focused on your health goal.

7.  Drink more water.  Our body is composed of 60% water and we need it for circulation, digestion, kidney function, transport of nutrients, skin tone and temperature control.  Water can be from coffee, tea, seltzer water or even milk and juices in moderation.   Water helps to fill us up with fewer calories especially when substituted for a caloric drink or consuming vegetable based soups, oatmeal, beans, fruit and vegetables that are naturally high in water.  Water also energizes our muscles by maintaining a fluid and electrolyte balance important for their function.  If your urine is not light yellow, then you are not drinking enough water.

8.  Be mindful.  Notice your physical and psychological changes daily.  At the end of the day review the positive changes you notice.   Notice your energy level, the good feeling you get when you avoid a tempting situation, the confidence you gain as you conquer a healthier habit.  Thinking of these when you go to bed will help further imprint them on your neural pathways.

9.  Have a plan for the holidays, vacations or special events.  Do not let go of all the new habits you have created.  They will be very difficult to resume.  Even if you can’t exercise for the 30 minutes you had been doing, then at least go for ten minutes.  Think of it as earmarking the habit so it does not lose its place.  At family gatherings bring the healthy side dish or appetizer.  Find healthier versions of family recipes.  Do not go hungry to the gathering, eat a healthy snack before going.  Sit away from tempting foods and allow yourself just one spoonful of your favorites.  Focus on the people rather than the food.

Making lasting lifestyle changes means changing the way you have done things in the past.  Start with getting your environment to work for you as you gradually replace unhealthy habits with lasting positive habits that will last a lifetime!


Lose 7% of Your Weight, #9 of Ten Actions to Improve Health

IMG_0165Many of my clients initially say that they want to lose weight to look good for that cruise, the big wedding, or the family reunion.  They start with great gusto and often times meet their weight loss goal.   But once the event is over the weight comes back on.  The extreme change in lifestyle worked for a defined time but was not sustainable once the goal was met.  I encourage my clients to look beyond the short term goal and to make lifestyle changes for their health as well as their appearance.  I stress the importance of losing as little as 7% of their weight and how that can dramatically improve energy level, health numbers and appearance.

A Little Goes A Long Way – Lose 7%

When it comes to losing weight we know that losing as little as 7% can dramatically decrease the likelihood of diabetes.   The Diabetes Prevention Program looked at participants from over 27 clinical centers who already had pre-diabetes, a metabolic impairment in insulin sensitivity.  The study revealed that the most effective way of keeping this population from developing diabetes was to lose 7% of their weight.   This was found to be more effective than prescribing the most popular medication used for diabetes, Metformin.

David Katz, MD, MPH, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center says that ”lifestyle changes that include healthier diets, regular physical activity, and weight loss of 7%-10% have shown phenomenal health benefits that can be more effective than medications”.  Lowering body weight can reverse or prevent diabetes; lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels; and improve sleep apnea and other sleep problems — along with helping you feel better about yourself.  Blood pressure and cholesterol lowering medications can be reduced or stopped with a 5-10% weight loss.

Belly  Fat

Are you an apple or a pear?  We know that the fat stored around the middle, or visceral fat, is more metabolically active and is cancer promoting, insulin desensitizing and artery clogging.  If your waist circumference is greater than 35″ for a woman or 40″ for a man, then you are at high risk for heart disease, diabetes and even cancer.   Losing as little of 2% of your weight can greatly reduce these risks.

The Nitty-Gritty

So what does 7-10% weight loss look like?  If someone weighed 200 pounds that means losing 14-20 pounds.  This is not an earth shattering amount!   A natural way to lose weight is to lose about 1/2-2 pounds a week in order to achieve a 7% weight loss in about 3 months. With about 3500 calories in a pound that would mean reducing daily caloric intake by 250-1000 calories.  By making small diet changes and walking one mile at a moderate pace, losing a pound or two weekly is possible.  Some small changes include:

  • Switching from 1 oz. half and half to 1 oz. whole milk will save you 20 calories per cup.
  • Measuring and reducing the oil you cook with can add up quickly with each tablespoon being 120 calories.
  • Keeping a portion of potato chips to the 1 oz. serving size can add up quickly at 150 calories a serving.   Don’t be in the “eat out of the bag, I’ll just eat a few” club;  those small handfuls can add up quickly, and the bag is tempting.
  • Switching from the salad dressing bottle to the spritzers can save you over 200 calories, especially if you use a lot of dressing.
  • Switching all dairy – spreads, milk, cheese, and yogurt – to low fat can also save you hundreds of calories a day, depending on your portions.
  • Reducing desserts to no more than one serving a day can also save you over 200 calories for each additional serving.

You can see how all these small steps can add up to a measurable weight loss within a few months.

It’s ok to lose weight for that big event in your near future, but make sure the real motivation is for your health.  It will be the best investment you have ever made.




Be The Artist of Your Life! #8 of Ten Actions To Improve Health

Blog 8The Artist Needs a Colorful Palette

Your life is an open canvas ready to be painted!  Our thoughts become the color in our palette.  If we ruminate over events of the past or worry too much about the future, not only does our palette become gray but the present is neglected, opportunities are halted and our canvas remains uncreated.  What we choose to think about becomes the palette and the picture we paint.  The more we live in the past or the future, the more the canvas of today is left unpainted.  Living in this moment, discovering what you want to create, believing you can accomplish it and focusing on taking the steps to develop it, the more colorful and beautiful your canvas will become. You are the artist of your life!

We Are Our Thoughts

Our reality is based on what is taken in through our senses and how we perceive that data based on Gray palettepast experiences, self image, and choice.  I add choice because in almost every situation there is more than one way to interpret situations.  The “negative” voice comes out when there is fear, doubt, anger or jealousy.   The “positive” voice comes out when there is confidence, tranquility, success and happiness.  We can choose whether to look at any situation in a positive or a negative light.  When more time is spent being positive, the more colorful the palette, the more beautiful the picture. Take your positivity test with Barbara Frederickson’s, an expert on being positive.

How Do We Become More Positive?

Let go of negative thoughts.  What has happened in the past is unfixable and the future hasn’t happened yet.  When those thoughts or worries appear, acknowledge them but don’t grasp them.  Let them flow through your brain and then replace it with a positive thought.  Notice your current environment and find what is going well.  Perhaps a friend or coworker has said something nice  and you didn’t really acknowledge it.  Listen to complements and say thank you.  Perhaps that coworker said something hurtful.  Did you take it personally or did you try to walk in his shoes to see what may be going on with him?  Do you feel anger at him or can you offer understanding.  Perhaps there is a beautiful flower or view in your eyesight.  Take in the sight.  Perhaps you have more energy because you ate a good breakfast.  Notice your energy, your fullness.  Perhaps there is an upbeat song in the background that is massaging your ears.  Close your eyes for a second and listen to the beat.  Perhaps you notice that your back is hurting.  Then notice that your arms, legs, head, neck and feet feel really good.  Perhaps you notice your shirt you are wearing is soft and makes your feel good.  Perhaps you are having a good hair day.  Now fill your mind with as many good thoughts as you can find.   Focus on them.  Focus on how they make you feel.  Focus how you become lighter, happier, and your palette brightens.  Begin to paint your canvas of today.  What do you want your canvas to be today?

Become Grateful

At then end of the day, as you are lying in bed, review all the good things that you felt, heard, or saw today.  Were there only a few things that came to mind? colorful palette Where was your head today?  Were you looking for opportunities or were you using a gray palette and not creating a beautiful image on your canvas?  Each evening see if that list can expand.  And when you wake up in the morning notice how much more refreshed you will feel, how others you see will notice your positive energy and how new possibilities will arise.  Your palette will be bright and your canvas will be full of color, clarity and beauty!

Know Your Health Numbers – #7 of Ten Actions To Improve Health

Health Numbers: Waist Circumference, LDL, HDL, Triglycerides, Fasting Blood Sugar, Blood Pressure

The American Medical Association no recognizes obesity as a disease. IMG_0198 The focus on obesity goes way beyond appearance.  We know that when waist circumference goes up, the cost of providing health care goes up as well.  When waist circumference goes above 35″ for women and 40″ for men, there are metabolic and hormonal changes that increase systemic inflammation, weaken the immune system, and increase the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer.  At a healthy weight, our bodies are like a symphony with metabolism and other physiologic activities happening efficiently and responsively.  But when waist circumference becomes unhealthy, the body becomes less efficient and less responsive setting up for a cascade of events that lead to heart disease, diabetes and cancer, especially when coupled with family history.  Knowing your health numbers – your waist circumference, lipids, fasting blood sugar and blood pressure, can give you an indication of how your body is performing and what is your health risk.


It’s more than just total cholesterol.  Know what your LDL or “bad” cholesterol is.  This cholesterol is what creates plaque and hardening of the arteries.  Eating a diet high in saturated and trans fats does to your arteries what pouring bacon fat down your kitchen sink does to your drain.  Eventually you get narrowing and clogging leading to poor nourishment below the clog and increased work load for the heart as it is forced to pump harder to get blood and nutrients to all parts of the body.  Ideally LDL should be below 100, for those with heart disease or diabetes the goal is to get it to below 70.   The HDL or “good” cholesterol is the happy garbage truck that takes the LDL back to the liver where it is eliminated from the body.  It protects the heart and the arteries.  It should be greater than 40 and really greater than 60 to be protective.   Elevated triglycerides occur when too many calories are eaten than what the body needs at one time.  The extra fat is stored as triglycerides in fat cells and can be used for energy between meals.  But when people regularly eat too many calories – particularly those with high carbohydrate and fat, then this leads to chronically high triglyceride levels and hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis.  The American Heart Association recommends a triglyceride level below 100 for optimal heart health.

Fasting Blood Sugar

Type 2 diabetes has a story; it does not just appear suddenly.  If somebody has a family history of type 2 diabetes then we know they have a stronger likelihood of developing it as well.  When family history is combined with obesity, inactivity and a diet with excessive refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats, we know the “perfect storm” is created leading to type 2 diabetes.  We can tell that this is developing by looking at fasting blood sugars over time.  Gradually the blood sugars will go from 70’s, to 80’s then 90’s and then over 100.   If someone has a fasting blood sugar 100 or greater on 2 occasions then they have prediabetes, a preventable precursor to diabetes.  This can also be tested using a lab test called HbA1c that looks at an average of blood sugars over a 2-3 month period.  A result of 5.7 or greater indicates prediabetes.  A result of 6.5 or greater indicates diabetes.

Blood Pressure

A healthy blood pressure protects the heart muscle as well as the walls of our arteries.  The top number or systolic number represents the pressure your heart has to pump against inside your arteries.  The higher the number, the harder your heart has to pump.  Over time this can lead to thickening and weakening of the heart muscle.   The bottom number or diastolic number represents the pressure between beats of the heart.  This number is important because this is when the heart itself gets its nutrients.   Consistent numbers greater than 120/80 indicate some concern and need for intervention in order to avoid long term damage to the heart and arteries.

Your Life Is In Your Hands

I tell my clients that we can not choose the cards we are dealt – meaning we can’t change our family health history – but we can affect how those cards are played.  Knowing your numbers is like knowing all the strengths and weaknesses of your hand, not just working with wild cards.  This can motivate you to gradually change unhealthy habits and to protect your health.   Unfortunately we do not feel whether blood pressure, lipids or blood sugars are elevated.  We only know when we have them checked, understand their significance and play our cards wisely.