What’s Your Word for 2014?

Enough about New Year’s Resolutions, already. Though I’d hate to miss an opportunity for a little self-reflection and goal setting. Instead of a resolution, how about choosing a single word, a mini mantra, that can be your touchstone throughout the year? It can encapsulate your goal(s), and maybe conjure the big picture of who you want to be and where you want to go in the coming year.

My friend shared this idea with me. Her word for 2014 is “march” as in marching forward in a positive direction. On the spot, another friend chose “perseverance.” She’s currently up against a few obstacles and needs to remind herself to hang tough.

After some thought, I’ve chosen “core” as in what’s at the center of me. I hope it will remind me to be true to my core values, and to stick to my path regardless of pressures, temptations and doubts.

created by Wordle

Try it. Find a word that captures your dreams for the future. Post it on your refrigerator or bulletin board. Make it the screen saver on your phone. Keep it at the ready whenever you might need a little direction and reassurance.

Have a happy and healthy 2014!

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The Holiday Host/Hostess Syndrome

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PLEASE REMEMBER – if you have family or friends visiting you this holiday season, it’s OKAY to get in a workout, get a good night’s sleep, serve a light, simple, healthy meal, take a nap, take a walk, or abstain from alcohol. It’s OKAY to take care of yourself while you have guests. You CAN be a good hostess and good to yourself at the same time.

That’s my gift to you — permission for those of us who usually put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own.

Happy Holidays. Truly enjoy the spirit of the season and let the angst and perfectionism go!

Lack of Sleep Sabotages Health and Fitness

Sleep is highly underrated. Before the invention of electric lights (1879), humans slept an average of 10 hours each night. And lo and behold, scientists have found this amount of shuteye is optimal for human performance. The prevailing wisdom today is that we need somewhere between 7 and 9 hours, but at least 1/3 of us sleep fewer than 6 hours each night. We are chalking up sleep debt at an alarming rate. Why and what’s the cost to our bodies?

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Sleep simply isn’t valued by our society. We respect busyness, productivity, and many of us are addicted to stress. It’s no surprise that we admire the 1-3% who can consistently perform on little sleep (think Martha Stewart, Bill Clinton, Barak Obama and Donald Trump).

It’s somehow been overlooked, but sleep is just as important to our well-being as a healthy diet, regular exercise and a positive outlook. The good news is that relative to the other three, sleep is often the easiest factor to improve. Since sleep, food, mood and exercise are tied together by our bodies’ biochemistry (the stress hormones as well as the feel-good chemicals), improving your sleep is going to pay off big time in your health and well-being.

Below are 8 key benefits of a good and long night’s sleep. Each of them is directly related to levels of the hormone cortisol in our bodies. Stress ramps up cortisol, while sleep (and exercise) bring it back under control. Too little sleep, too much cortisol, lots of problems! Regular and adequate sleep will help you to:

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation1)  Protect you from Chronic Disease – According to Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, “Treating sleep as a priority, rather than a luxury, may be an important step in preventing a number of chronic medical conditions.” These include diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke.

2)  Be Mentally Sharp– Sleep allows us to make decisions quickly and easily, make fewer mistakes, and boosts our short-term memory.

3)   Improve Efficiency – More time in bed may feel like wasted productivity, but a good night’s sleep helps us complete tasks faster.

3)   Strengthen the Body – Sleep helps us cope with pain and strengthens our immune system.

4)   Make Better Food Choices – Lack of sleep causes us to crave fatty and sugary comfort foods. A well-rested mind means willpower is fully available, and healthy food choices come much more easily.

5)   Exercise Regularly – How often do you skip your workout after a bad night’s sleep? Motivation and willpower are highest when we’ve slept well.

6)   Lower Levels of Frustration and Anxiety – Just like a cranky toddler in need of a nap, when we feel tired we are more easily frustrated and less able to relax.

7)   Prevent Premature Aging – Too little sleep slows the skin’s recovery from sun damage and other environmental toxins.

Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and ExerciseNow you know the benefits; however, sleep doesn’t come easy to all of us. In my upcoming Smarts and Stamina online workshop, Safeguarding your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise, we’ll delve further into the value of sleep. We’ll also explore a number of scientifically proven ways to help you improve the quality and quantity of your slumber. Sign up by December 20th to get an early bird discount!

TED talk, Arianna Huffington, How to Succeed? Get More Sleep. Jan 3, 2011.

SOURCES

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Why Sleep Matters – Sleep and Disease Risk.

Maas, James B., Wherry, Megan L., Axelrod, David J., Hogan, Barbara R., Blumin, Jennifer A. (1998) Power Sleep: The Revolutionary Program that Prepares Your Mind for Peak Performance. William Morrow.

Shaar, M.J. & Britton, K. (2011). Smarts and Stamina: The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. Philadelphia, PA: Positive Psychology Press.

Science Daily, Sleep Deprivation Linked to Aging Skin, Study Suggests. July 23, 2013.

WebMD, The Benefits of a Good Night’s Sleep. The Healing Power of Sleep. by Gina Shaw.

WebMD, Sleep Disorders Health Center, The Toll of Sleep Loss in America. by Jeanie Lerche Davis

Dr. Andrew Weil’s Daily Health Tips, How Lack of Sleep Can Ruin Your Diet. October 22, 2013.

Smarts & Stamina Online – Workshop and Workbook

smart-stamina-online-program-header-with-wheelIf you’re a fan of self-improvement books, podcasts, blogs, you’ll want to try the latest e-craze, the online workshop. I am a regular participant in these type of classes, and I am hooked! For me, online workshops are an ideal way to take a deeper dive into topics that interest you, and in doing so, connect and communicate with like-minded people. The real beauty is in that you can do all of this entirely on your own schedule, and usually at a very reasonable cost.

If you like the topics I explore on this blog, then I’m sure you’ll be interested in my newest offering, a Smarts and Stamina workshop — Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise. It begins January 14th, and is six-week, self-paced online workshop based on the Smarts and Stamina model (more about that below). The platform is very easy to use, password protected, and for anyone who’s more comfortable being incognito, you can take part anonymously (using a generic online i.d.) and can share as much or as little as you like.

  • WEEK 1 – offers participants a chance to share their stories, to learn what the latest research tells us about the synergistic relationship between our lifestyle and increasingly serious burdens of chronic disease.
  • WEEKS 2 3, 4, & 5 – The next four weeks explore the four key areas; sleep, food, mood, and exercise. Participants can choose from many exercises to find the ones that will help them optimize their own habits.
  • WEEK 6 – The last week is all about sharing what did and didn’t work, what to do next, and how to maintain the momentum.
  • ALONG THE WAY, I will facilitate online discussions, and 2 conference calls to answer questions from the group.

Smarts and StaminaThe model for the workshop is from a recent book by positive psychologists, Marie-Josée Shaar and Kathryn Britton, called Smarts and Stamina, The Busy Person’s Guide to Optimal Health and Performance. I first became aware of Marie-Josée while listening to her many guest appearances on an awesome podcast, Karel Vredenburg’s Life Habits. She manages to make the neurobiology behind sleep and exercise crystal clear and fascinating. For example, “the greater or sleep deficit, the more we tend to revert to automatic behaviors, and the more difficult it is to change our habits.” She has an amazing vision of how we can strengthen our fundamental habits, each area reinforcing the other, and so creating a synergy of wellness and happiness. There’s no single solution, but there is a solution for each of us.

With the help of Kathryn Britton, she put this model into a workbook form, that has made it onto Amazon’s healthy living bestseller list. More recently the two have licensed the Smarts and Stamina model in the form of this workshop. I am so excited to offer it, and to put my twist on it — disease prevention. I’ve added some materials and resources, so that we can focus on how our positive habits directly benefit our health and well-being.

Safeguarding Your Health: Disease Prevention through Sleep, Food, Mood and Exercise

So if you feel like your destined to suffer from heart disease because of your family history, or carry extra weight because you always have, or to develop cancer because you carry the gene, there is a lot of research-based information to share that underscores the critical role each of us play in our own health. It’s not all up to medical care, prescription drugs, surgery, or even fate — it’s largely up to you.

Any questions, please leave a comment below or send me an email. Sign up before December 20th to take advantage of the early bird price of $89. I hope to meet you online in January!

Chicken Lovers — Know the Source Whenever You Eat Meat

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photo by Emily Brower

When I talk to kids about healthy eating, I always manage to get their attention with my little spiel on “the truth about chicken nuggets.” Do you like to think they consist of a tender piece of pure white chicken meat surrounded by tasty breading? If so, keep reading.

A recent study at the University of Mississippi Medical Center looked at slices of chicken nuggets from two fast food restaurants under the microscope. (This was a very small study and the chains were not named.) What they found “astounded” and “floored” the lead researcher, Dr. Richard deShazo. Chicken meat (or muscle) was not the major component of either nugget. Forty to 50% of the nugget was breast or thigh meat, with a nearly equally proportion being chicken fat. The rest contained bits of bone, cartilage, skin, and gut lining. Add to that the breading and frying of the “nugget” and you have a fat-laden hunk of animal byproducts. The scary thing is, kids love them.

DeShazo described the processing of the chicken carcass after most meat has been removed. It is vibrated so that all remaining tissues fall off the bone. This forms a “goo” (think pink slime that was recently in the media), which is formed into nuggets.

Keep in mind that because we’re not really starting with chicken and it’s natural flavors, a host of flavor-enhancing chemicals are added, along with everyone’s favorites – fat and salt.

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Before I get off my soapbox for the day, I have to mention that it’s not just chicken nuggets consumers should be concerned about. The majority of the meat we buy in the grocery store and in restaurants has been produced in factory farms. We also import meat from Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and now China. A representative of the inspectors union in New Zealand, Ian Baldick, was quoted in a Washington Post article saying private company inspectors don’t properly oversee the production because the lines move too quickly. As a result, “tremendous amounts of fecal matter remain on the carcasses. Not small bits, but chunks.”

If you enjoy meat, take the time to know where it comes from. Support small farmers who raise poultry, beef, or pork organically. You can read more here: Top 10 Eco-Friendly Reasons to Buy Organic Meat & Dairy. Then do a bit more research to find reputable meat sources in your area. Farmer’s Markets are a great place to start. And, an added bonus, you’ll be amazed at how much tastier organic meats can be. They are worth every extra penny.

SOURCES

Decoded Science, What’s in Your Chicken Nugget: Ingredients Will Surprise You, October 7, 2013, by Janelle Vaesa.

Nutrition Facts.org, Autopsy of Chicken Nuggets, December 4, 2013, Michael Greger, M.D.

The Washington Post, USDA Pilot Program Fails to Stop Contaminated Meat, September 08, 2013, by Kimberly Kindy.

PHOTOS

Chicken Girl, by Emily Brower – http://bebrower.blogspot.com/2013/02/chicken-girl.html

Pink Slime – Pre-Chicken Nugget Meat Paste, AKA Mechanically Separated Poultry