Reward ≠ Food

rewardnotfood

Patient and client conversations can be a rich source of writing inspiration to address common concerns. As we discuss new changes, cravings, accomplishments and challenges, ideas start to percolate as we work together to find the best solution for the individual. If the same issue is mentioned by different individuals more than three times in relatively short succession, we can almost *feel* the universe tapping on our shoulder.

The latest recurrent theme among us all seems to be regarding emotional eating, over-eating, and reward-eating.

Let’s break this last one down. Why would we associate certain foods with a reward?

    • With thousands of years of evolution working for (or against) us, humans naturally crave sweet flavor. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would get a little *ping* of dopamine by eating berries and other naturally sweet substances. The brain would reward eating this food, which some argue helped our ancestors survive by promoting fat storage to see them through the leaner times. This survival mechanism is all but unnecessary during the times in which we live, with plentiful food stores and sedentary lifestyles (when was the last time we burnt 2000+ calories a day hunting down buffalo?).
    • An ostensible lack of other options or ideas for rewarding ourselves. We’ve leaned on food to give ourselves a pat on the back after a hard day in the office, for finishing a big project, or to relax after a full day with the kids finally in bed. After many years of this, we may have forgotten how to celebrate our accomplishments without cake, doughnuts, french fries, or chips.

After the sleeve of cookies is finished, there can be a poignant anxiety that settles in. Guilt and shame follow soon after and we feel terrible about ourselves. Then we say “what the Hades, I’m probably never going to lose the weight anyway” and keep going or we decide with firmness and determination, “starting tomorrow, no cookies ever again!” However, we all know how this plays out; the deprivation leads to cravings and the whole cycle begins anew.

When you eat, try eating to nourish your body and experience pleasure. Tying food to your reward-system will unravel advances in your health goals and, here’s the kicker, it doesn’t even work. By the time we are done with the chocolate chip cookie party, we only temporarily feel sated before we either look for more sugar (during the ‘down’ of our blood sugar rollercoaster) or we feel guilty…..which drowns out what ephemeral feeling of pleasure we got from the food in the first place.

By having some non-food rewards instead, or at least sprinkling them into your current routine, you can start to challenge the ‘need’ for something sweet and, instead, ‘treat’ yourself ‘sweetly’ (double puns, couldn’t resist :D). Here are a few ideas to get your started on non-food rewards:

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5 Immunity Boosters: Foods & Herbs

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Herbs and spices have been used since antiquity and are time-tested natural remedies for a variety of illnesses and diseases, including viral infections. There are therapeutically active constituents of these plants which exhibit anti-viral action and protection.

Sometimes science takes awhile to catch up with proving the healing benefits of plants. A simple example here is that cranberry juice helping urinary tract infections was considered an “old wives tale” until scientific research a couple decades ago found it to be true – cranberries have a property that prevents the adhesion of pathogens (e.g. E. coli) to the bladder wall.

Because of lack of interest in funding research on non-patentable compounds, be aware that the research on benefits of some herbs may be scant and have limited human research.  On the other side, many of these herbs and spices have been studied for a few millenia (far longer that most pharmaceuticals) so…

Do your due diligence. Research and consult with your healthcare provider as certain health conditions and potential drug-interactions need to be evaluated. And now, without further ado…

Garlic

Garlic has a special place in our hearts. Ever since we were broke college students, we have relished the power, ubiquity and inexpensive nature of this plant. It has antibacterial, anti-viral, and anti-parasitic properties (to say nothing of its ability to ward off vampires). It also acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Garlic a common ingredient and easy addition to a variety of dishes. For about a cost of only fifty cents per bulb, it’s a worthy purchase.

Elderberries

The plant family ‘elder’ is also known as sambucus. Native American tribes and even ancient Egyptians used this plant to treat infections and heal the skin. Today these elderberries are most often found available in the form of syrups and lozenges and are used to ameliorate cold and flu symptoms. A mouse study published on PubMed found that concentrated elderberry juice exhibited a “beneficial effect by the stimulating immune response and preventing viral infection” while in a review of human studies, “supplementation with elderberry was found to substantially reduce upper respiratory symptoms [emphasis added].” Is anyone else Team Elderberry right now?

Ginger

Zingiber officinale, also known as ginger, is found in its whole form and in products such as teas, lozenges, and tinctures. Being helpful to pregnant women experiencing nausea is just one of ginger’s impressive resume qualifications. Its potent plant compounds, including gingerols and zingerone, contribute to ginger’s impressive antiviral activity. If ginger were a person, we wouldn’t let this coronavirus-related recession stop us from hiring him/her as an essential employee of our anti-viral unit.

Licorice

Whether you love or hate the taste, licorice has some tools to help keep you safe from viral infection. Used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and elsewhere for hundreds of years, licorice root contains active antiviral compounds called glycyrrhizin, liquiritigenin, and glabridin (say those three times fast, geez). In vitro (test-tube) studies show licorice root’s effectiveness against herpes virus, HIV, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and, wait for it……..SARS-associated coronavirus infection.

Echinacea

Very popular in herbal medicine, Echinacea is one of the best all-around plants because of its extensive healing properties. The entirety of the plant is used – roots, leaves, flowers- in a variety of natural remedy preparations. It’s also a beautiful, purple plant that you may see roadside or in a metro park. Another trusted and time-tested plant used by Native Americans, it has been used to allay a number of conditions, including viral infections, and is immune-modulating. Several in-vitro studies found that a variety of types of echinacea plants (including E. pallida, E. angustifolia, and E. purpurea) effectively knock-out herpes and influenza viral infections.

Remember, these foods and herbs can only really work their ‘magic’ within the context of a body otherwise supported by good nutrition. A diet high in added sugars, mucous-producing foods, and low in vitamins and minerals won’t help your immune system power-up and effectively take on coronavirus or any other infections.

Ready to talk more to a nutrition expert and lay firm foundations for your health for the short- and long-term? Schedule for your complimentary 20-minute Discovery Call and take control of your health and wellness.

Butterflies & Zombies: Story of Coronavirus

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A lot can change in a little over a week. For us, we marveled at how quickly news about the coronavirus shrouds and alters both excitement over buying a house and planning a fall wedding. Such is life, and we all must adapt….and even metamorphose a bit. Speaking of which, let’s review the butterfly lifecycle and see how it relates to us with this current public health crisis. As you may remember from second grade, the egg becomes larva (a caterpillar) and then its pupa stage operating in a cocoon. Finally the butterfly emerges from the chrysalis state, dries its wings and flies.

Sometimes things need to get worse before they get better. Like a scab or a detox-reaction, things can appear ugly and hopeless during transition but then metamorphize into something more vibrant and beautiful. The scab of society is such that, despite Eleanor Roosevelt reminding us that, “with freedom comes responsibility,” we haven’t been responsible to or for each other in awhile. It has been within the past couple of years that the only ‘epidemic’ the government seemed to be reporting on was the ‘loneliness epidemic’ (1), and it’s not just been a problem for the elderly; an article on Forbes.com last year mentioned how lonely millennials have been (2). We can change this now, despite ‘social distancing’ and re-connect with our loved ones and our communities.

For those of you who’ve seen zombie movies, you know that there are two threats – not just one – to overcome. The first and immediate threat is the virus or catastrophic event that turns the people into zombies. The second and possibly bigger threat is the zombies themselves, the people who inspire and perpetuate fear and distrust through their selfish actions.

We will see the best and worst parts of our communities; the best thing we can do is look out for ourselves and other people. Some people are hoarding and taking advantage. This is part of the reason why there were rations for sugar, bread, meat, milk, and flour during the World Wars, to help people share food fairly. When human ‘zombies’ fail to regulate themselves and their fears, sometimes outside regulations help.

This is the best time to slow down, self-regulate, and prevent harm from spreading throughout the community.  One thing we can do during social distancing is to love people from afar – calls, texts, sending groceries, and supporting our local businesses by buying gift cards or ordering carry-out.

Remember the butterfly stages? What we didn’t mention before is that things get really gross and discombobulated during the pupa phase. The chrysalis acts as a container and protects the butterfly-to-be as the body digests itself from the inside out and becomes a soupy substance. From these parts, new cells for the butterfly’s wings, organs, and antennae form. How creepy and yet marvelous a process this is!

How can we turn this challenging time to our advantage? By thinking of this as our ‘chrysalis’ time – a period where things are creepy, gross, and scary – but also full of exactly what we need to transform ourselves and our lives. This is an excellent time for:

  • Reflection – unplugging from ‘group-think’ and the typical consumerist tendencies to over-buy and play into the hands of fear. Self-reflection during this time can help you listen to that which is habitually drowned-out: your inner guidance. Just because others are buying tons of stuff, like Black Friday, you can opt-out. Be conscious and live mindfully.
  • Minimalism and decluttering. Minimalism helps self-regulation and temptation to follow the whims of others. If you haven’t learned some of the philosophies and principles, this may be worth looking into. Decluttering – if it’s been on your mind for awhile and you just haven’t had the time, now is a wonderful opportunity. For the hoarders out there, just remember that a lot what you’ve purchased may need to be discarded eventually through food expiration/waste, lack of space in the home, or sheer ability to individually utilize 17,000 bottles of hand sanitizer. If you have extra toothpaste, canned or other goods, consider donating and helping others.
  • House cleaning and projects. The lightbulb that needs to be replaced. The wood that needs to be sealed. The niggling list of to-dos can be dealt with during this time of self-quarantine.
  • Checking in with family and friends more. Calling or video chatting with your parents and siblings, even if you can’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, or birthdays in-person together. Speaking of birthdays, if you have a friend who has a birthday during this time, offer to have food from a favorite restaurant delivered to them (you’d be helping a small business too!) and to yourself; then have lunch together, via video-conference.
  • Mental health. Keep your hands clean and your head clean. How many people say, “I need to meditate more” but never do? Lots. So start with 5 minutes or use an app (Headspace is quite popular). How else can we improve mental health during this time? We can still go outside and walk in nature. Listen to music, positive podcasts. Your mental diet matters just as much as your physical diet, though the food you eat will also impact your mood and cognition. If you have fur babies, give them extra cuddles and both of you will feel better. Consider a ratio of 1:2 for your mental ‘food’ intake. For every 10 minutes of reading terrible news stories, meditate for 20. Read an inspiring novel; watch baby bunny or funny animal video compilations.
  • Sleep. All of the sleep-deprived ‘zombies’ out there, this is for you. If you are working from home, that’s an automatic 1-2 hour time savings from driving in traffic five times per week. You’ve just gained 5-10 hours a week that you can put towards sleeping more. Score!  If you’re still going to the office or aren’t currently able to work, routine is still important to keep up and sleep is foundational to good health. Prioritize this as much as possible.
  • Netflix or new hobby? There is room for both. Have a Pinterest board of recipes to explore? Pick one or two and have an adventure. As a friend pointed out, a lot of the Standard American Diet (read: S.A.D.) is what is missing from the shelves but the ethnic foods were still amply stocked. Experiment with some miso, mirin, nori in a Japanese stirfry or asafoetida in your Indian or Mexican cuisine. Have a shelf full of books? Pull one out and read for an evening. Want to make your own lip balm and bodycare? Learn about herbs, personal finance, computer programming?  Thank the internet gods for still working and get going on your chosen syllabus. Netflix has its place – it can be great to get swept into a silly, romantic comedy series where all the conflicts are neatly tied up at the end. Or you could watching documentaries about tragic events in the past (e.g. the Holocaust, Titanic, etc) and thank your lucky stars that you never had to endure those events; it can put help put things into perspective.
  • Skill-building. Always wanted to learn to cook or can? There’s a cookbook, Pinterest Pin or app for it. If you’ve been laid off, there are things you can do to bolster your resume. Learn graphic design, take an online course, practice time management as you look for jobs (and for those of you working from home). Learn another language. One of our medical patient’s goals is to be able to converse in French by the time this coronavirus has started to fade into public memory – it’s a positive goal she has to better herself and use this time well.
  • Take care of your health now. There’s something you know you could be doing that you haven’t done yet. Whether that’s sleep, meditation, learning how to cook (or cook healthier), taking walks or working out at home, stopping smoking, or actually practicing managing your stress, choose one thing and work from there. Remember, though coronavirus is an acute disease which can kill, we still have the big three ‘killer’ chronic diseases to continue to contend with: heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. They may not seem as dramatic as Covid-19 right now, but we can take steps to address them, while improving our immune systems, during this time.

Remember, we will all be called to account for our behavior during this time. Would you like to be able to, truthfully, say you one of the zombie hoarders or one of the brave helpers

Actions speak louder than words so put into play one or more of these suggestions mentioned above and you will emerge from this cocoon-time having a clean, uncluttered, updated abode with routines in place for the future. You’ll open the front door and be ready to embrace opportunities in your business or obtain a new job with your impressive resume. Crawl out of your chryalis not as an unfit coach potato, but a creature who is stronger and fitter, competent and skilled, a confident, vibrantly healthy and attractive better-you butterfly. Now is the time. Choose wisely….

 

…..we so badly wanted to put a gif from the Indiana Jones’ movie Temple of Doom but resisted :D.

Works Cited

(1) Health Resources & Services Administration. The “Loneliness Epidemic.” https://www.hrsa.gov/enews/past-issues/2019/january-17/loneliness-epidemic

(2) Neil Howe. “Millennials and the Loneliness Epidemic.” 3 May 2019, https://www.forbes.com/sites/neilhowe/2019/05/03/millennials-and-the-loneliness-epidemic/#430350127676