Blame it on the Alcohol?

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Image source: pixabay.com

Jamie Foxx’s song “Blame it” encourages blaming alcohol for all ruined relationships, unsafe situations, and perceived enhancement of other’s attractiveness. Outside of the many issues and poor decisions can that can result from a night of boozing, including a high credit card bill, higher risk for accidents, and even a 2am Taco Bell run…there are more. During Covid-19, some are hitting the wine and beer harder.

Let’s review the basics: alcohol interferes with communication between nerve cells and all other cells in the body. Moderation (the amount considered to not contribute to any major health concerns) for the average woman is defined by the CDC as not more than one drink per day and for the average man as not having more than two.

A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics asserts, “there has been an increase in the proportion of US adults who drink on any given day and an increase in calories consumed from alcoholic beverages when drinking occurs.”

What effect is this having on us from a weight loss perspective? Or a liver-health one?

Now we appreciate the humor some of you bring to our appointments:

“I think I’m drinking enough water. There’s water in beer, right?”

“I’m not too concerned. It’s called a liver, not a die-er”

“Wine-o? Maybe; I prefer ‘wine-yes'”

With alcoholic beverages being among the top five contributors to total caloric intake among US adults, this is something we need to talk about. But beyond calories, here are more reasons to explore your relationship with alcohol:

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Reward ≠ Food

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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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Halfway to 2020: Finish Strong, Achieve your Goals

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Does it flabbergast anyone else that it’s already early July and we are officially more than halfway through 2019? Remember back in January when we had plans for changing everything: improving our diets, exercising more, and experiencing weight loss? We were determined to arrive on December 31st of 2019 feeling better and looking great. 

Having done this work long enough, we know that it’s typical to feel disappointed or frustrated with your progress and worried about the future. The common question: “will I ever be able to achieve this goal of _______ (i.e. balance, a healthier relationship with food, better digestion/skin/energy)?” We beat ourselves up with the thought: “what’s wrong with me that I can’t seem to start and STICK WITH an exercise regimen/ put down the pint of ice cream when I’m emotionally out-of-sorts/ follow an eating plan that would benefit my health?”

You may find yourself wondering:

  • do I start now or wait until summer is over?
  • why haven’t I been able to make the changes I set out for myself?
  • should I follow the diet my neighbor/best friend/favorite celebrity is doing?
  • is this how I’m supposed to feel at my age? Is it possible to have more energy and be at a comfortable weight?
  • how do I actually create better balance in my life and see results?

It can feel like there are 900 skills you need in order to reach your goals. Some include meal-planning, combating emotional eating & self-sabotage, changing your mindset, monitoring your progress, establishing effective systems and routines, and engaging your mind and body in making the transition so that your process produces the transformation you desire. So how do you know where to start or what’s next?

On the way to 2020, take a minute to reflect on a few things:

  • how badly do I want to see my goal achieved?
  • do I have the time and resources to make it happen?
  • with all these articles/books/courses on different diets, how do I know what is best for me and my body? Is there a better way?

Be honest with yourself. If you’re going through a tumultuous divorce, maybe now is not the time to focus your attention on lowering your cholesterol. If the kids are keeping you on the go during summer vacation, fall might be a better time to check in and see what reasonable changes you can make during the last quarter of the year. Or maybe the 10 extra pounds on your body are killing your confidence and making your clothes uncomfortable to wear; you know it’s time to make a change.

You still have 175 days left of 2019. Are you ready to achieve your desired results and finish strong? It all starts with a chance to connect with your personal nutritionist and lifestyle coach during a complimentary 20-minute discovery call. Schedule it this week and uncover your skill gap so that you can make the BEST choice for beginning your sustainable lifestyle transformation!

How to Handle Holiday Eating

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During a recent interview for an AARP article we were asked quite a few questions and here’s a full scoop of answers to help you handle your holiday eating.

How to handle buffets and cocktail parties:

When it comes to holiday parties where buffets are a feature, it’s best to eat a sensible snack beforehand so you’re not ravenous when you arrive.

At cocktail parties, where cheese cubes, salty snacks, and sweet treats are ubiquitous, it’s a good idea to grab a small plate and find the veggie tray first before choosing one or two favorite treats to add. Also, have a game plan with alcohol- perhaps you limit yourself to one drink and two treats. Without this guideline, or with extra alcohol involved, the intake of calories can go haywire.

Healthy ways to handle sit-down dinners:

Some ideas for smart side dish swaps include having roasted Brussels sprouts, mashed rutabaga, or mashed cauliflower. All of these have fiber and are great source of antioxidants.

Generally, fasting earlier in the day leads to over-eating later when the large meal is served. I always suggest eating a healthy breakfast and lunch, and to treat Thanksgiving dinner as you would most dinners. Enjoy one plate and focus on the conversation. There’s no requirement to eat all you can and overly stuff yourself.

Smart holiday drinking:

Q: Is it true that drinking alcohol can stimulate your appetite?
A: The main problem with drinking alcohol is its well-known effect of impairing our judgment. After a few drinks, we find it easier to ‘justify’ having more cheese cubes, salty or sweet treats. Think of the number or holiday parties you’ll be attending this year and how much this could impact your health goals or weight loss/maintenance.

General nutrition for the holiday season:

Q: Can you offer some healthy foods that are at their peak in November/December for people to take advantage of?
A: When it comes to seasonal produce, it depends on which region of the United States you are in. California has a lot of fantastic offerings during November and December, including avocados. In the midwest, Brussels sprouts, garlic, rapini, and horseradish are seasonal in late November.

Q: Is it true that stress can cause cravings?
A: Stress in general – and especially during the holidays – can trigger more emotional eating. More than foods that help reduce stress, lifestyle factors are very key in keeping  on track. Ensuring that you get enough sleep, keep up with exercise, take a bath or participating other self-care activities, is particularly effective in reducing stress-related cravings.

Shopping at the mall:

Q: Are there any tricks for surviving a day at the mall, where temptations—from food courts, to Godiva shops, to “gotta buy” seasonal goodies at Williams-Sonoma—abound?
A: For keeping on track when it comes to shopping malls and their abundance of food court options and other temptations, the same tip applies as for going grocery shopping. It’s best to go shopping after you’ve recently eaten a meal, such as lunch, and to carry snacks that are high in protein and fiber because they will fill you up. 

So often we focus on what to do during a particular holiday meal, when what we’re doing the other 99% of the year with our food choices and behaviors actually matters more. Going a bit overboard, once or twice, during the holiday season is not going to dramatically throw you off your goals. On the other hand, working with your nutritionist to improve the other 99% of the year can show dramatic benefit.

Emotional Ice Cream

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It starts at a young age with associations we can’t remember making. But by this point in our short lives, we have engineered quite a few if-then connections.

If I throw my food on the floor, then mommy will be upset.

If I behave while at preschool today, the teacher will give me a sticker.

Perhaps there was a time where you fell, scraped your knee and began to cry because of the pain and shock. Maybe an adult offered you a lollipop to help cheer you up. Bam! Neural pathway made: “okay, so when I feel hurt, eating sweets is an acceptable solution”

Fast-forward decades years later and it’s still going on. A difficult conversation with your boss or spouse become an excuse, albeit mostly unconscious, to indulge in some ice cream. A night out drinking with friends is a ‘reward’ for a hellish, stressful week. And it’s OKAY to treat ourselves, but there’s a distinct mindlessness involved in emotional eating. Very few people think to themselves, “boy do these feelings hurt, perhaps I’ll eat enough chocolate chip cookies to squash them down.” And yet that unconscious belief can be at play, creating patterns that are deeply ingrained.

What to do?

The first step is awareness.

Perhaps the next time you find yourself reaching in the freezer for ice cream, ask yourself why you think you’re doing it. Perhaps you’ll reflect upon your day and remember that your boss assigned a short deadline for your next project, you’re completely overwhelmed by responsibilities, or that your mother-in-law criticized your parenting. Ice cream can seem like a balm for these ‘ouch’ moments, but there is more shame than comfort at the bottom of a pint of rocky road. Even if you find the answer to your question, you may not be able to change the behavior just yet. That’s okay. It’s something we can work on together; schedule your complimentary 20-minutes Discovery Call to get started.

Self-sabotage: Nutrition Behaviors

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As nutrition specialists, the advice most people seek is directly related to food and the client’s current diet. What should we eat? How much and how often? Is the newest fad diet deserving of the hype? While being worthwhile questions, what most people are completely unaware of are the problems stemming from nutrition behaviors rather than the food itself. For example, a person who chooses to have a snack while watching TV as a way to ‘unwind’ after a hard day, is developing a potentially dangerous nutrition behavior….even if it’s healthy food! 

Why would snacking on a nutritious item, such as fruit or nuts, be considered unhealthy? Nutrition behaviors can manifest and translate in a variety of forms. Let’s say that the late-night snacker started correlating this time as a type of soothing therapy. Eventually, this could become a habit of snacking as a way to relax – which could then lead to emotional over-eating. Does it seem unrealistic? It’s not – and, on the contrary, is quite common. Throughout the course of many years of nutrition coaching, we have witnessed a plethora of nutrition behaviors – many of which negatively influenced the diets of those displaying the behaviors. Our intern relays a particularly significant encounter:

“I had the honor of meeting a very determined, hard-working, and joyful man currently dealing with type 2 diabetes. It should be noted this man was cognitively disabled and required the aid of home-health nurses to make sure he kept up with his personal hygiene, medication regimen, etc. Prior to my encounter with him, he saw great progress with his HgbA1C test results (an average blood glucose over the span of 3 months) – nearly a 3% drop. When I met him, however, his HgbA1C showed a semi-significant spike. I was left baffled. This man has shown much improvement in his nutrition behaviors (in terms of diabetic control), so why has he now started to digress?

I started the counseling session reviewing the basic information that was initially covered in his sessions– what are carbohydrates, what foods have carbohydrates, how much carbohydrates should he eat. He answered every question without hesitation. I then shifted the focus of the counseling sessions away from his diabetes to his nutrition behaviors. I started to realize a trend. He would eat more sweets when he was alone. Initially I thought this was because he was not being monitored so he could get away with eating whatever and whenever he wanted. An interesting fact then surfaced – he was making so much progress that his home-health nurse visits were going to become more seldom. And that’s when it hit me…he was sabotaging his own blood sugars so he would qualify for more home-health nurse visits because he was lonely. He did so completely unable to bridge the concept that, while he was being very clever, he was doing so at the cost of his own health. His nutrition behaviors turned literally destructive so that he would not have to be so lonely.”

This is a powerful example of how we can use food as so much more than fuel for our bodies. In fact, it’s often the case that nutrition behaviors and the relationship people have with food that are the problem rather than the actual food itself.

5 Mindful Eating Tips for Everyone

For a majority of those living in the U.S., the action of eating is seen typically as a task– something usually done in the span of 10-15 minutes with the location often being in a car or in front of a screen. The three-plus meals a day are thrown down the hatch and often in such quantities as to cause discomfort about 20 minutes later along with the realization of having over-eaten. In times of stress or emotional unrest, eating is seen as a comforting activity. The good news: eating mindfully can start with the next meal. Here’s how:

  • Eat your meals together – not only will this help maintain a cohesive family and social life but it gets everyone away from the pervasive screens of everyday life, at least during mealtime. Bring attention to the sight, textures, and taste of food while you converse and share with others.
  • Check in with yourself to assess hunger level and then serve the amount of food needed to satiate. This improves connection between mind and body as an association is made with serving sizes and satiety levels.
  • Reduce temptation to over-eat by serving meals in the kitchen and eating at the dining room, rather than keeping bowls and platters of food on the table. Try not to keep many leftovers as that can be a temptation for distracted eating later on in the day.
  • Don’t be the food police. People have to learn for themselves how much food it takes to feel physically satisfied. It can be a challenge not to try to control, especially when trying to ‘help’ child stay thin or healthy. Often, when mealtimes and amounts are controlled, a child may resort to sneaking food and can develop unhealthy eating patterns later in life.
  • Ask yourself important questions. Do you only eat healthily when trying to lose weight? Are children and friends hearing disparaging comments you make about your body? Do you feel ashamed when you choose certain foods or eat too much? If so, tackling these problems by enlisting the support of a health coach can help you create positive changes and prevent passing on these issues to other family members, especially children.

Mindfulness techniques, over time, will help establish emotional hunger versus physical hunger. Discover food intolerances and allergies by becoming more aware of how food makes you feel during this process as well.

We all want to be comfortable in our own skin. Be honest & compassionate towards yourself with the quality and quantity of foods you eat, as well as the motivation behind eating.