Wednesday, September 28

Aging, Schmaging

With age comes wisdom
                                          — Oscar Wilde

“...and crappy eyesight, weight gain, menopause and a pillbox that looks like a candy store.”
                                         — Dianna Stiles

This November I’ll have a milestone birthday, 45, and honestly, I’m kind of freaking out. Up until now I could say, “I’m 40-ish” or “early 40s.” But now, 50 is looming.

I try and rationalize with myself. “Remember how young, inexperienced and scared you were in your 20s (and 30s), Dianna? You’re so much stronger now, more confident, more in control.” I reassure myself.

Yes, I definitely wouldn’t want to go back there mentally, but physically…you betcha!

Just last week I told my personal trainer Will, “I would love to go back to my 20s but with the mind of my 40s.”

That, my friends, would be something.

Of course it’s just a fantasy. My time travel machine isn’t up and running yet. (I’m having trouble procuring enriched uranium from my Iranian contacts.) So I’m stuck here, with my almost 45-year-old brain and body. And I swear, I’m deteriorating at the speed of light.

You know how kids grow in spurts? I’m wondering, do we degenerate in spurts too?

Since last year, I can’t read the dosage requirements on a medicine bottle unless there’s so much light in the room you’d think I was standing on the sun. My Lasik surgery that I had years ago is starting to wane as I need glasses to drive at night. Even though my eating and exercise habits have been stable over the last 12 months I put on a couple of pounds. And I’m always, always cold. I’m going to be one of those old ladies that wears a down parka in Florida.

You’d think that all of this would get me down. And sometimes it does. There are days when I want to throw in the towel, plop down on the couch with a Costco-sized bag of Cheetos, a box of Kleenex and a dozen chick flicks. But I don't. 

I’ve decided that my new motto is: “With age comes belligerence.”

If aging wants to try and bring me down, then fine, give it your best shot.

I’ve just loaded up my yellow pillbox with a multi-vitamin. I’m stepping up my number of weekly workouts. I’ve got a 32 oz cup of water next to my desk to remind me to hydrate. And I’m thinking about getting one of those big, bouncy exercise balls to sit on instead of my desk chair.

I will not go quietly into the night. I might be almost-45, but I’m still full of energy, and anger, yeah, mostly anger. But that rage fuels me.

If you’re struggling to maintain your healthy habits, if the process of aging makes you feel like you can’t win, don’t give up. Just get belligerent. You can do this. You can kick aging’s butt too.

Friday, September 23

Reward Yourself

You just nailed a difficult presentation. Made a tough sale. Negotiated a raise. Or got your picky toddler to eat carrots. Woo hoo! It’s time to celebrate. What do you choose?

Pop the cork on some nice vino? Splurge with dinner and dessert at your favorite restaurant? Or, skip dinner and just go for dessert?

When I think of rewarding myself it’s always with food. Why is that?

Just yesterday, I caught myself in the following internal dialogue. I had just completed a hour-long cycle class and on the drive home said to myself,  “Wow, you did  a great job, probably burned a lot of calories. You should stop by Chick Fil A and grab your favorite drink—a large half-sweet, half-unsweetened iced tea. You’ve earned it.”

You might be thinking, so what? Right. How can one big ol’ tea hurt?

Well, I know from experience that once I start that kind of self-talk, I end up in the drive-thru lane every day for about a week. And my workout schedule does not compensate for the huge amounts of tea I will drink. Thank God Chick Fil A is closed on Sunday, that usually breaks the spell.

I’m learning to reward myself differently. I’m trying (sometimes not so successfully) to break this cycle because it’s sabotaging my healthy habits.

If you’re struggling with the same issue, here are some ideas on non-food related rewards.

     Schedule and hour-long massage or other spa service
     Get a manicure or pedicure at your favorite salon
     Buy some new exercise clothes
     Buy a new shade of lipstick (Or for the boys, a new cologne. I guess boys can buy lipstick too. I would just stick to a clear matte finish. Just sayin’.)
     Purchase some new jewelry or other fun accessories (belts, purses and oh my God, shoes! New shoes are the best.)
     Download some new music
     Plan an active weekend getaway (Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway are less than two hours away and beautiful!)
     Go to a sporting event (just steer clear of the nachos and beer. And the hot dogs. And burgers.)

Got any to add to the list? I’m always looking for new ideas.

Friday, September 16

Life Support, We All Need It to be Successful

A couple of studies were just released stating that commercial weight loss programs (like In8) were more successful at getting people to lose weight than simply following a doctor’s advice.
I hate to be flip, but, duh.
Doctors can’t mandate change. When’s the last time a doctor said, “You should quit smoking” and the patient responded, “Oh my God! That’s a great idea. I’ll quit now,” and it worked? If it was that simple we wouldn’t have obesity, addiction problems or a host of other lifestyle illnesses.
We know what we should be doing, the struggle is how to do it.
And primary care doctors are not really in a position to help us. They don’t have the time, or frankly the bedside manner, to assist someone through a lifestyle change.
That’s why commercial programs are better. When you’re trying to make a significant change in your life—quit smoking, lose weight, eat better, increase your physical activity—you need to be surrounded by people that are encouraging, informed and hold you accountable. It’s like boot camp or being in the trenches of war. You bond through adversity, celebrating successes, picking each other up after you fall down and providing encouragment when you need it most. A well-timed, "You can do this." or "I believe in you."goes a long way.
Everyone needs that kind of life support.

One of the key components of my success in the In8 program has been their personal trainer, Marq Mckenney. He has the unique gift of pushing me right to the edge of my abilities but never lets me fail. His constant support and encouragement have kept me motivated for over a year. I’ve never stuck with anything that long! Well, except my marriage, but that’s a legal contract so I’m not sure that counts.

Unfortunately for me and the other members of the In8 program, Marq is leaving us. With the impending addition of a baby boy, he’s accepted a position that will allow him to spend more time with his growing family. (I’ve told him how selfish that is but he’s steadfast on putting his family first.)

While I will miss him, I’m excited to welcome Will Parker, Marq’s replacement. Young and energetic, Will has already said he’s got plans for me. Something to do with kettlebells? (Dear God help me!)

To start things off right, I figure I’ll give Will a little hazing. After all, he’s got some big shoes to fill.

For my first trick, I’ve developed a list of exercises I’m incapable of doing. And by “incapable” I mean, “I hate them and would really prefer not to do them.” I’ll make something up for Will about why I can’t do these (sore shoulder, weak heart, bad hair day), but listed below are the real reasons I hate them.

Why I’m “incapable” of doing them

Jump squats
They make my heart beat faster than a hummingbird’s. I’m sure they’re a pre-cursor to a heart attack.

Ball pass
The constant contraction of my abdominal muscles causes them to seize up. That can’t be a good thing.

Reverse pull-up
These are just mean.

Fast feet
See excuse under “jump squats.”

I’ve had three children. You cannot make me jump up and down repeatedly without prior warning. And a trip to the bathroom.

Dear Will, my young apprentice, take note. You’ve got your hands full with me. I will test the boundaries of your supportiveness. Good luck.

Thursday, September 8

Food Spotlight: Sweet Potato

After two days of steady rain, we’re finally getting a break.

I was certainly ready for autumn. Ready for the kids to go back to school. Ready for a bit of scheduled normalcy. But cold, rainy days, um, no. That I hadn’t prepared for. That’s November weather, not September.

The one good thing about cold weather is soup. I love its warmth on a cold day.

So, in honor of the start of soup season, I’m sharing one of my favorite recipes, Sweet Potato Chowder. It’s creamy, delicious and since it’s mostly a broth-based soup, a good option for those of us watching our waistlines.

Before I get to the recipe, read through this list of the health benefits of sweet potatoes. They just might surprise you, and hopefully encourage you to make them a regular part of your diet.

They contain beta carotene.

The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A which is necessary for healthy eyes and skin. One sweet potato provides 260% of the daily recommended intake of vitamin A.

They help regulate blood sugar.

What? You say. How is that possible, it’s got carbohydrates? Don’t those spike your blood sugar levels? While sweet potatoes are mostly carbs, when they are boiled, they have a glycemic index (GI) rating of 46. Which is considered low. That’s a good thing since low GI foods break down carbohydrates more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, helping to stabilize your blood sugar levels.

Researchers believe it’s not just the low GI rating in sweet potatoes that impacts blood sugar levels. There’s something in sweet potatoes called adiponectin. Adiponectin is important because it helps our bodies metabolize insulin. People with diabetes tend to have lower levels of adiponectin and sweet potato extracts have been shown to significantly increase adiponectin levels in persons with type 2 diabetes.

They are a good source of other important nutrients.

One potato provides about 100 calories, 2 grams of protein, 22 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, 0 grams of fat, 12.5% of RDA of vitamin B6 and 28% of RDA of vitamin C. 

Sweet Potato Chowder (Adapted from The Daily Soup Cookbook by Leslie Kaul)

1 TBLS unsalted butter
1 small Spanish onion, chopped
1 ½ tsps sugar
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper
3 cups vegetable stock
4 sweet potatoes, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 ear fresh corn, kernels sliced from the cob, about ½ cup
½ cup Half-and-Half*
½ tsp minced fresh garlic
¼ cup chopped fresh curly parsley

1.     Melt the butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onions and sugar and caramelize for 10 minutes, until tender and golden.
2.     Add the thyme, bay leaf, salt and pepper and stir to coat the onion.
3.     Add the stock, sweet potatoes, corn and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover and simmer for 20 minutes until the potatoes are tender.
4.     Stir in the Half-and-Half
5.     Remove the bay leaf and puree about a quarter of the chowder in a blender or food processor until smooth. (Note: I puree the whole pot since I like an overall smooth consistency.)
6.     Return the puree to the pot and stir in the garlic.
7.     To serve, ladle the chowder into bowls and top with the chopped parsley.

* You could substitute skim milk here to cut down further on the fat content, but research has shown that cooking sweet potatoes with a little bit of fat helps the body absorb beta carotene. 

Saturday, September 3

Welcome to the new look of The Wellness Project

It's fall. A time for new beginnings—school, football and thankfully, sweater season. To get things off to a good start I thought I'd freshen up the site. I'll still be discussing health, applying the principals of the In8 lifestyle change program into my everyday activities, just from a cleaner more serene screen.

As they say, change is good.
Unless of course it's bad. Then it stinks. Here's hoping this doesn't stink.

Happy Labor Day.

Thursday, September 1

Just Breathe

Earthquakes, hurricanes and a potential nuclear crisis. Who knew Richmond, Virginia was a magnet for natural disasters?

Last week we had a 5.8 magnitude earthquake shake the house and more disturbingly, shut down the Lake Anna nuclear power facility. Only 10 miles from the earthquake’s epicenter, (and only 40 miles from my house) the facility is still offline as officials check for damage. That was last Tuesday. On Saturday, hurricane Irene blew through town, blowing debris all over the city, knocking down trees and leaving thousands of Richmonders without power.

What’s a neurotic mother of three, located in the shadow of a potentially disabled nuclear power plant to do?

Now is a great time to call upon one of the tenets of the In8 lifestyle change program— stress relief.

The program emphasizes the benefits of meditation—and there are many—but for me, it’s impossible to sit quietly in a room. My thoughts are too numerous. They race around my head like the ever-changing news ticker at the bottom of the TV screen on CNN. My personal news ticker screams, “Dow plummets, Stiles family loses entire 401k.”  “School starts Tuesday. Get supplies.” “You really shouldn’t have eaten that muffin.” “Call your sister.” “Call your mother.” "Lose weight." "Workout more." 

And so on, and so on.

Always on the lookout for a stress relieving alternative, I found something I can actually do. Deep breathing. 

According to Nancy Zi, a Glendale, California-based breathing expert and author of the book and video set, The Art of Breathing, “Breathing incorrectly can produce tension, exhaustion and vocal strain, interfere with athletic activity and encourage aches and illnesses.” While breathing correctly can “melt away tension and stress, improve energy or simply relax and unwind.”

Dr. Andrew Weil, the famed alternative health care doctor, recommends the following deep breathing technique for
 stress relief and relaxation.
The 4-7-8 Exercise
Sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth, and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward.
·      Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
·      Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
·      Hold your breath for a count of seven.
·      Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
·      This is one breath. Now inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.

Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed the exercise up but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply.
This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system. Unlike tranquilizing drugs, which are often effective when you first take them but then lose their power over time, this exercise is subtle when you first try it but gains in power with repetition and practice. Do it at least twice a day. You cannot do it too frequently. Do not do more than four breaths at one time for the first month of practice. Later, if you wish, you can extend it to eight breaths. If you feel a little lightheaded when you first breathe this way, do not be concerned; it will pass.

I think this might be the best stress relief activity EVER since it allows me to multitask. I can keep myself alive by breathing and calm my mind at the same time. Awesome.

Now if I could also check email simultaneously I think I’d really be on to something.