How Can I Boost Metabolism?

I know most people asking this question are hitting the end of their willpower for their weight loss goals and just want to see some progress. How can they turn up the heat on this fat so it will go away? I hear the frustration loud and clear. We all want to drink another cup of coffee and watch our waistlines melt. It’s just not that simple.

Metabolism is, fundamentally, the rate at which you convert food into energy.

This does not mean calories in = calories out. Far from it. A calorie burned in the lab is a unit used for measurement; a calorie in your food is information that your body uses based on its needs. That calorie could fuel your labors, heal an injury, carry out a larger load of trash, or even build some new muscle. The goal is to achieve efficiency in bodily function, to make sure that every bit of fuel is used productively.

It would seem, especially with all the talk about keto dieting, that excess fat would translate into excess energy. It makes sense that finding the burn switch would be the simplest way to use all that storage. But not everything we take in, or store, is useful.

Author’s photo

I live in the country, where garbage is reduced, reused or burned. If I’ve been inefficient with the first two R’s, my burning will be, to a certain extent, useless. There’s too much in my pile that won’t burn. It’s obvious to the neighbors that I didn’t grow up here. My burn bin is full of charred cans and bottles. They will have to be taken away because they are not fuel for fire. Interestingly, the litter from my daughter’s rodent cage should be pure flammability: just dirty wood shavings and shredded cotton. But it is damp, and packed tightly into a bag for disposal. It remains after burning because the fire can’t stay lit long enough to actually use it. There’s too much junk.

Likewise, much of what is sold as food in our stores is either not actual food, or is difficult to use because of how it’s been treated. Many so-called foods have been devised in a laboratory or processed into oblivion, and there is no energy present to convert. In order for food to be truly considered food, it must be viable. That is, there must be some life within it. Life can be destroyed, or it can be multiplied, but life is never stagnant. It will not wait on a shelf until needed.

If we want our bodies to haul off the junk, we must provide actual life. With more vital foods going in to fuel the work, more gets accomplished. If too many deadbeats come on board, less gets done as more is required. This is why sometimes high fat, high calorie foods are more efficient. They work in the body.

What’s the bottom line?

-Be intentional about what you do. Eat quality foods and devote time to sleep. But don’t do a major overhaul overnight. Your body needs to prepare for a different style of working. A proper approach to achieving efficiency in the body is to recognize that your body is unique. There is no ideal diet that works for everyone. You must start where you are, and begin to make good choices based on your needs, tastes and abilities. If you don’t like meat, don’t think you have to eat it. Give your body some security, so it knows that it will have what it needs when it needs it. Pushing yourself too hard to do something unfamiliar triggers hormones that effectively stop digestion and fat burning. Give body what it needs, and it will begin to handle things properly. Know that it will take time – no truly good thing happens overnight. You are building a new body.

-Choose fresh foods over frozen ones, choose frozen over canned. Fresh foods have enzymes that assist the body with assimilation. The more of these you can get, the healthier you’ll be. Cook vegetables gently, to where the color is bright. If a vegetable looks dull, it’s lost a lot of the valuable nutrition that your body could put to use righting wrongs. Canned food is ok, but it’s designed for storage, not ideal health. If you’re trying to declutter, more storage foods aren’t the solution. The same goes for boxed “foods.”

-Sleep well. The fastest way to create havoc in the digestive process is messing with the sleep cycle. Sleep is when your body does repair work and takes trash to the curb. Just like in the kitchen, when your body runs short on time, trash is pushed aside until there are more resources to deal with it. Give your body time to do maintenance and take out the trash. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime and don’t rush for breakfast in the morning so your body has uninterrupted time to do its work. Aim for 12 – 16 hours between dinner and breakfast. As your body gets used to burning more than it took in, it will become easier to go longer. If you do shift work, take time to nurture yourself on your days off.

-Fats are necessary to burn fat. Don’t buy into the line that all fat is bad. Margarine is cheap for a reason. Real foods contain real life, and they will break down and expire. If it won’t go bad, know that it will become part of that unburned pile of garbage over your hips. If you don’t like fish oil or butter, don’t eat it. But opt for coconut oil over shortening, and olive oil over generic vegetable oils. Vegetable and corn oils are added to cattle feeds to fatten them. Don’t think they won’t do the same to you.

Metabolism is more than burning fat faster. It’s about the efficient use of whole foods to build wellness. As fewer non-fuels are consumed, the body is enabled to begin taking care of useless debris that has collected.

Do you have questions on any of this? Comment below and I’ll try to answer them or write further on this subject.

Fasting, whole foods and being a work in progress

I came down sick over the weekend. It was fairly obviously something I’d eaten, but that wasn’t so easy to track down. Two lovely ladies, out of the goodness of their hearts, had offered to cook for me, giving me two days off of meal responsibilities. What a blessing!! Everything was delicious, but my stomach was not happy and I wasn’t willing to insult it further. So I took advantage of almost my entire family having other places to be and extended that vacation two more days. I got better. I pondered the nature of disease and recovery, and noted that I had no sign of bacteria or virus, and no medications were involved in healing. As is so often the case, it was all food that made the difference.

Fasting has become a hot topic as the global obesity rates continue to rise and impact chronic disease rates. The assumption is that, if people are overweight, then they must be eating too much. Complete fasting, or at least limiting food intake to a shorter window of time each day, is seen as the long-lost key to perfect health. I wish it were that simple. If there were a magic bullet of health, a fountain of youth we just had to drink from, this wouldn’t be a worldwide issue.

According to Dr. Jason Fung, the de facto expert on fasting, many chronic diseases can be reversed by stopping eating. Giving our body a chance to process what we’ve taken in each day allows us to better utilize the next day’s portions. Cycling food and rest, which promotes assimilation, is the biggest secret to health. I fully agree.

But there’s a simple point I want to make. Most modern diseases are caused by nutritional deficiencies – malnutrition. Not enough good quality food. Merely cutting back what you eat without changing what you eat isn’t going to solve the problem of poor health.

Many years ago (over 100, as I see it), food was made from whole ingredients: ground grains, fresh butter and milk, grass fed meats and locally grown vegetables. Processing was initially instituted to remove molds on grains, which made for a safer product. As processing improved and became more widespread, glaring deficiency diseases appeared. The government decided to replace the lost nutrients in flour, and Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B9, along with iron and sometimes calcium, were added back in. But let’s look at what really happened. A grain of wheat, when refined, has the outer 2/3 removed. This includes all the fiber and B vitamins, about 17 nutrients in all. All that’s left is the starch and most (not all) of the original protein. Then the denuded grain is “enriched” with five, maybe six, synthetic replicas of what was taken out. That’s hardly what most people think enrichment means. And, as nutrition expert Sally Fallon explains, digesting enriched flour requires more B vitamins from your body than it gave you. That’s not how eating is supposed to work.

According to some estimates, refined white flour in bread, pasta and cookies makes up about 1/5 of the American diet. Think about that a second: if 20% of what I eat depletes my body of more nutrients than it gives, then ceasing to eat those foods may cut the depletion, but I’m still hungry. I’m still not getting what I need. More to the point: if a good proportion of the diet does nothing more than promote malnutrition, then cutting back isn’t solving the problem. There’s still not enough nutrition to produce health.

Fasting, in any form, is a good rest from a basically whole diet. But most of us grew up on the standard American junk food diet, which we’ve already seen doesn’t sustain us well. A better solution than trying to cut out the bad stuff (a losing proposition, in my mind) is switching to whole foods. Freshly prepared ingredients from the farmer’s market provide more nutrients and fill you up faster, for longer. You may actually eat less because non-processed food contains all the necessary fiber, vitamins and cofactors required to synthesize them. Your body is satisfied because it has what it needs and doesn’t have to waste resources on detoxifying chemistry experiments disguised as dinner.

Know that this doesn’t happen immediately. If you’ve ever had a plate of brown rice after growing up on Minute rice, you know what I’m talking about. The flavors are different. You may have to mix the two for a couple weeks to start adjusting. (My poor mother was not happy after I proudly served her whole grain everything for a weekend. It tasted good, but later – !!! Lessons learned.) We’re all works in progress, and fast food is a fact of life. Just do the best you can with the meal in front of you – add more veggies and opt for real foods over processed as much as possible. Don’t sweat the poor choices and celebrate the good ones, especially as they add up. Don’t judge your progress by a particular meal, but how the meals add up. What does your diet over the entire week look like? Are there more leafy greens and water, or french toast and soda?

Turning our diet around is the key to health. I’m not arguing that you move to Pennsylvania and buy a plow and a Morgan. Whole foods are still obtainable in your grocery store – you just have to stay out of the middle aisles. Learn to cook, if you don’t know how. Cooking videos on YouTube are a great way to learn and be inspired to try new foods.

Greek salad with balsamic rubbed tilapia

Have questions about how to turn your diet around? Comment below and I’ll do my best to help you tailor your diet to your needs.

Histamine Intolerance?

I’m starting to see some talk about Histamine Intolerance. The list of symptoms is long and vague, most doctors don’t recognize it, and standard tests don’t conclusively diagnose it, but the people who are suffering from it are really suffering. What is it? And what can you do if you suspect it?

Officially, histamine intolerance is an imbalance of histamine in the body with an inability to break down excess. Many of the symptoms are classic allergy indicators, but they don’t point to one specific trigger. The diagnosis rests on many symptoms together, and because there is no test to definitively determine it, most patients are self-diagnosed.

Histamines are hormones that are part of the body’s defense system, breaking down food, alerting the body to invaders, and beginning the inflammatory response that deactivates biological malware of many types. They are part of many different functions in the body from a runny nose to vascular dilation to the sleep-wake cycle. Histamines are naturally occurring and part of a healthy immune system. Until it’s not so healthy anymore.

Histamine reactions could look like an allergy (breaking out in hives or stopping breathing) or food intolerance (inflammation or gastric disturbance which shows up several hours or days later). Sensitivities to other things besides food (pollen, medications or mold in your home) can also trigger histamine reactions and symptoms could show up, change, compound, or abate with absolutely no apparent cause. The compounding of triggers is where things get rough: multiple small things that don’t cause a problem on their own can pile up on each other and cause fatigue, high or low blood pressure, or dizziness, among a host of symptoms the body has to choose from. The mix of ingredients with your personal makeup determines the outcome. So how do you determine the difference between compounded sensitivities and an overload of histamine itself?

By the time most people reach their 40’s or 50’s, the buildup of toxic substances in their bodies slows down the normally efficient response to invaders. In a world of plastics, electromagnetic fields, and GMO-laden foods, it doesn’t take much more to tip the boat. Every toxic ingredient the body takes in disrupts the internal workings of each cell, in addition to the bodily system as a whole. With histamine intolerance, the thought is that eating certain foods that contain histamines overwhelms your already overtaxed body. It’s a valid hypothesis that German researchers have been studying for several years.

But at the point of being unable to eat without discomfort, sleep through the night, or make it through the week without a headache – you need answers, not theories.

You must determine the cause. One way that’s often recommended is an elimination diet. While I’ve done this, and it can be very informative, I do not recommend it without medical supervision. In someone who is severely affected, many reactions may be suppressed by the sheer overload of stored and incoming toxins. By eliminating the influx and giving the body’s defense systems a rest, you allow the body to release the toxicity – causing an overload of the body’s processing systems, which can turn into a very severe allergic reaction or even anaphylactic shock. Better to keep a food journal to help locate triggers. As each suspicious food comes to light, eliminate it for two weeks and then re-introduce it to see what it does. This can be a frustrating time of waiting and hoping on answers.

And, according to a 2017 German study of histamine intolerance, only half of the adults who addressed their symptoms with dietary changes made a difference. Determining which foods to avoid apparently isn’t a solution for everyone.

The source of the problem needs to be found conclusively. Skin prick tests can be very expensive if you don’t have a clue what’s causing the problem – and they are inaccurate for food sensitivities. Better is the ELISA test that measures every reaction in your blood. While this is also a bit costly, the tests and resources through PerQue are more likely to be covered by insurance plans and available through conventional MDs. For a less expensive and non-invasive option, many chiropractors, naturopaths and nutritionists use Nutrition Response Testing or Applied Kinesiology to analyze the body for underlying causes of poor health and pinpoint precisely what the body needs to start the healing process. There is no guesswork involved, and the healing can begin before you ever leave the office.

Essentially, with anything systemic like histamine intolerance, chronic fatigue, or fibromyalgia, you won’t find your diagnosis on your own. A natural health practitioner using in-office diagnostics can sort out the body’s cries for help and respond immediately to your unique needs, so your healing can be much more targeted and effective.

I pray that this information can help you to heal and get back to your normal, productive life quickly. Also, if you have other suggestions or experiences, please comment them below – I’d love to know what’s worked for others!

Health: More than just food & exercise

When we think of health, we often think of food and exercise. If both are perfect, then I’ll be healthy – right? But it’s just not that simple. Food and exercise are the best places to start for most people, but often other factors will make the difference.

True wellness is a lifestyle. Many wellness advocates now teach that there are seven factors to complete health: physical, intellectual, emotional, spiritual, financial, social and environmental. Each piece hinges on and impacts the others.

Physical. This is what we first think of as health: the absence of injury and the presence of every proper function. I remember two boys when I was in high school who’d both lost the use of their legs in accidents, who switched gears and became athletes, accomplishing more in their handicaps than they ever had before. It made me rethink my definition of health and wholeness. Physical health is using what you have to the best of your ability. It is also caring for the seemingly lesser parts of you so that they can continue being the unseen necessity (because your pancreas may seem insignificant until it doesn’t work.) This means watching your food intake and your exercise output, and being intentional about what you do with your vessel.

Intellectual. This is making sure your mind is stimulated, that you are learning new things and using your mind productively. It usually has to do with your career path, and making sure that you aren’t allowing your knowledge base to stagnate. Keeping your mind healthy also means that you aren’t allowing negative voices (your own or others’) to stifle your efforts toward productivity.

Emotional. Are you solid? Or do you fall asleep too many nights worrying? Emotional health impacts your nervous system, your bodily pH, and the strength of your immune system. Love heals a multitude of ills. Depression affects your sleep and eating habits, most notably, and other aspects of overall health, which then impacts your physical health and contribution to society. Anything that takes you down emotionally literally drains your life. Alternatively, anything that feeds your soul really does build you up.

Spiritual. This is where you stand with your god. Either you follow your own god or you follow the one God. Whatever you choose, this will govern your worldview and priorities. Are you living according to what you believe? If there is discord here – like when I professed to be a Christian during college, I was doing Campus Crusade rallies on Tuesday and frat parties on Thursday – I couldn’t stand myself. Your body is a sensible organism, taking cues from all sources and deriving balance and health from every input. With contradictory inputs, health suffers. Choose your way and ensure that all of your beliefs and actions are in accord with one another.

Financial. If you don’t have enough money to get by, you cannot eat well or sleep in security. The worries of daily necessities will overwhelm your best intentions, if you even have the energy for good intentions. You’re more likely just trying to make ends come together. Your financial health can make or break the best health regime.

Social. Do you have people who care about you, who will be there if you have a flat tire or a birth to celebrate? Loneliness is a disease of epidemic proportions in our media-saturated world. Although it hinges on the mental and emotional factors, it has more to do with the support structure of your safety net. We were designed for communication, with language and a need to love and be loved, face to face. Social contact helps us to know that we exist, and that we matter. It is a foundational need. This is also where the need to give back, be productive and make a positive difference in our world comes into play. A peaceful, interworking internal environment is a reflection of a strong, solid external network.

Environmental. This is our world. If the skies or soils are full of poison, nobody is healthy. I live in Central Texas, where seasons are determined by which tree is debilitating the population. If the world outside (or inside your house) isn’t conducive to being well, our bodily systems are completely occupied with maintaining homeostasis. The slightest bacteria or virus, when the body is already drowning in toxins, can become the final straw. Clean air and pure water are the baseline from which we derive vitality in all other areas.

True health comes from taking care of what matters. Making sure that you are fed and clothed well enough to do what you love for people who matter. It means doing what is right when nobody sees. It’s being able to look yourself in the mirror and achieving your purpose in life. It’s finding the road of life to be rough and long and desolate and finishing well anyway. True health is looking at the endgame and doing what needs done today to reach it.

Do the best you can with what you have today.

It’s all you have to work with.

Getting the Most Out of Your Food: Practical Nutrition

Celeste is a beautiful young lady who is going places. She probably has too many irons in the fire, but that’s what the college years are about. The only thing that holds her back is her energy level – and, if you talk to others, she’s a bit snappy at times. She doesn’t handle stress well. I talked with her a bit, and she said she ate well, with very little soda or sugar, and took her daily multi-vitamin. She couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

The more I talked with her, I found that she had a very routine diet, nearly the same every day, heavy on pasta with few vegetables and no shortage of ice cream. I suggested she try to eat something colorful – explore new foods – several times a week. She instantly snapped, and insisted her daily vitamin was sufficient to cover anything she’d missed. She wanted help, but didn’t want to change anything.

I understand that change is hard, especially if you’re low on energy. But in some respects, the body isn’t much different from a car: if you don’t have the output you expect, you need to start running premium fuels.

Being healthy is about more than popping a Hit-What’s-Missing pill on the way to wherever. Multi-vitamins are designed to fill the needs of a statistical norm. But statistical norms are numbers, not actual persons. Your personal needs change with the seasons, with the years, and with the demands placed on you. There may be nutrients in the formulation that you don’t need, or not enough of what you do. Most multi-vitamins also contain synthetic nutrients, which your body may or may not be able to utilize the same way as their naturally occurring counterparts.

Proper nutrition is a keystone of health, and comes from fresh, colorful foods and pure water. Just like us as the seasons change, different vegetables wax and wane. Lettuce, for instance, is pitiful through the winter and irresistible in the spring. Oranges contain abundant Vitamin C and pure hydration to carry us through the cold and flu season when we don’t want a glass of water. In this way, our foods themselves encourage us to diversify what we eat. Knowing what you need is simple, too. If it doesn’t taste good or upsets your stomach, you don’t need it. If it tastes amazing, you probably do.

Of course, this doesn’t work with processed “junk” foods, which trick your system with chemically engineered tastes. Processed foods, in effect, “steal” good nutrients from your body: they displace better foods from your diet and require extra effort to process through your body.

Sugar is not among the recommended foods. Its recent rationing will not provoke a hardship, for sugar supplies nothing in nutrition but calories, and the vitamins provided by other foods are sapped by sugar to liberate these calories. (Wilder—Handbook of Nutrition)*

Simply put, the sugar we know today is a highly concentrated byproduct of the original plants from which it comes. It is closer to a drug than a food. It promises much and demands more. Devoid of any accompanying fiber or nutrients, the sheer flood of pure crystalline sugar overwhelms our metabolic processes. (The average person consumes 800 calories of sugar daily. On a 2,000 calorie/day diet, that represents 40% displacement of actual food.) B-vitamins and phosphates, necessary for the mitigation of stress and production of energy, are used up in its digestion. Sugar contributes nothing to the transaction but a short burst of energy, then nothing more. The body has no choice but to store the excess calories as fat as actual energy becomes more depleted.

In order to get the best transfer of energy, we must eat real food, defined as “material consisting essentially of protein, carbohydrate, and fat used in the body of an organism to sustain growth, repair, and vital processes and to furnish energy.” Sugar flaunts the defining characteristics of real food and hijacks the body’s natural response to it.. We are then less able to sense what is good, what is not, and when we’ve had enough. Real food provides everything we need for productive living and doesn’t require more than it gives. Real food doesn’t wear an ingredient label. Real food obviously goes bad after a few days.

The body requires glucose for life, but there is no evidence that dietary sugar is necessary. Most diets attribute their successes to limitation of sugars, whether they are for losing weight or controlling blood pressure or other issues that define metabolic syndrome. With a proper diet of real foods, your body can produce exactly what it needs for real health – along with plenty of energy to get everything done.

If you’re struggling with flagging energy, stop and calculate what percentage of your food today came from the outside perimeter of the grocery store and how much from the interior aisles. The higher the first number is will probably tell you a lot about your health and weight. But if you’re like me, this is a number that can improve. Because your health is not fixed in stone; it is a work in progress. Make it your aim to try something new from the produce section this week!

*Moose RM. Sugar a “diluting agent”. JAMA 1944;125:738–9. 10.1001/jama.1944.02850280054021

(For further details on what I’ve written here, see https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4975866/)

Healing Prolapse: Why Squats are the Best Exercise for Women

The floor doesn’t have to be out of reach, and getting up from the floor shouldn’t be a team activity. Squats are a fundamental, full body exercise for balance, flexibility and strength that allow you to do more, better, and look good in the process.

In the pursuit of wellness, your foundation has to be solid. Inner strength and the ability to weather storms is more important than merely looking good. Squats are the bedrock of fitness. They develop the fundamental muscles necessary for security and strength in daily life.

I did not grow up knowing how to use my body properly. Exercise wasn’t really my gig. I didn’t realize how much could go wrong without a base fitness plan. After the birth of my second son, I was advised to not pick up my children. That was not good advice. Our inner organs are held in place by ligaments and the surrounding muscles of the core and pelvic floor. The diaphragm regulates pressure in the cavity, which helps to support the spine and pelvic floor while lifting heavy objects. Without proper breathing and muscle tone all the way around, back pain is likely and a hernia or prolapse will appear. A minor slip on a wet floor could turn into a major injury. Proper core fitness is crucial to moving and accomplishing daily activities safely.

But I didn’t know all that, so I’ll skip ahead and tell you that four more children didn’t make anything better. Groceries and babies still needed lifting, regardless of how much it damaged my body. Although I never mentioned it, I was not alone. Depending on the source, anywhere from 20-50% of women have some sort of pelvic floor disorder or outright prolapse. Surgery is available, but again, depending on the source, failure rates for the different surgeries are 37-60%. This is deplorable. Like most ailments on the rise today, these are almost completely preventable.

Losing tone in your body doesn’t come from age – it comes from lack of proper use. Our bodies are designed to maintain integrity, heal from injury and continue to work well through the years. Yet, I struggled with the fact that, although my chiropractor could adjust everything back into place, it wouldn’t stay. Kegels were good, but insufficient. They only work the bottom sling of the torso, not the supporting structure. In order to strengthen the internal web holding organs in place- tighten the puppeteer’s strings, if you will – squats need to be incorporated.

Squatting is a natural human movement, and should be a part of our everyday activities. Somehow, though, the western world has nearly eliminated the need for squatting with the invention of toilets and EZLift recliners – much to our detriment. A squat, done properly, maintains flexibility of the ankles, knees, hips and shoulders. With proper flexibility comes solid muscle tone to hold those major joints in alignment. It is really a whole body exercise that strengthens and stabilizes the foundational muscles. With a strong core and rear end, falls are more easily avoided and getting back up from a fall is much easier.

It was hard at first. I didn’t see much change, and if anything, it seemed like I got worse. My knees hurt and my heels would not stay down. I found out how little I actually flex my hips, and had to learn where my glute muscles were. My breathing while lifting was actually pushing my organs out of place. I worked to match my form to the fitness experts on youTube. I was motivated by seeing disability rails next to every toilet in America and photos of people in foreign countries happily squatting for hours next to their wares at the market or over their work. I couldn’t even get in that position, much less hold it for hours AND get back up!!

Several sites helped me immensely. The first, to help me bring that prolapse under control and learn proper breathing, was the “Lift” series by FemFusion Fitness, which is a treasure trove of everything women’s fitness. The second, to improve strength and posture, was Foundation Training. His 12-minute workout is one of the best I’ve ever found for keeping my body working well. The biggest thing in learning to squat properly was to realize that the hips are a big hinge: start by bending there and pushing your weight back. Keep your weight in your heels, don’t let your knees go past your toes or fall inward, and try to make strong angles with hips and shoulders (curving your lower back or shoulders signals a need for better strength.) Work on form first, and depth of squat later. Here’s a good example –

Don’t think you have to join a gym to do this. I began doing a little each day, whatever I could fit in or felt like doing (or remembered to do.) Within two weeks, my kids commented that my posture had changed. I looked stronger. Whenever kids notice Mom, that’s significant. It took a few more months, but prolapse is no longer something that bothers me. Every week I am stronger and feel more secure. I don’t worry about picking up a child or a bag of dog food.

Fitness is a choice. It is up to you what you choose to lose or to keep. The floor doesn’t have to be out of reach, and getting up from ground level shouldn’t be a team activity. Squats are a fundamental, full body exercise for building balance, flexibility and strength, allowing you to do more, better, and look good in the process. Add a set or two into your day for 30 days, and see if it doesn’t change your baseline fitness. Your body was designed to work, and work well for many years. With the right foundation and maintenance, it will do so for a lifetime.

Getting it Done: Achieving the Goals You Set

You had great intentions. Two weeks ago, you set a goal to become a better person, and you threw yourself into it. But now a few days have been missed, and rationalizations have dismissed much of the initial importance. It’s beginning to look like you’re just like everyone else, after all. Another week and what was so important three weeks ago is about to be another embarrassing failure.

It doesn’t have to be. The question is: “How do I break down my goal into achievable steps and then, how do I follow through on them?” There are so many facets here. I’ll try to hit the ones I see and hopefully have something that helps you.

Specific steps depend on what the big goal is, of course. But determining what those steps are is somewhat generalizable. For anything new to become a habit, the old way of doing things has to change. Something has to drop, and a better routine must take its place. Wholesome foods must replace junk food, and a reading or exercise plan will have to supercede another, less productive activity.

Tap into something that already works.

Think about what’s working already. If you have a good morning routine of shower, shave and shine, then tap into it. Add exercise to the front of it, or a devotional time to the end of it. Some years ago, my exercise plan fell apart. My lifelong walk-the-dog-after-dinner habit went down the drain with the advent of children. I had to rethink it. It was harder, but it worked. I woke up with my husband’s alarm and went for a walk while he got ready in the morning. I already had an accomplishment under my belt by the time I’d entered the shower.

Another idea I came across last year was to do a few exercises every time you go to the bathroom. Ten squats, 10 sink push-ups and 10 tricep dips on the edge of the counter – then wash your hands and walk out. Depending how many times you visit the restroom, you could get a decent amount of exercise in this way. If you’re doing this in the company restroom, you may get some strange looks on occasion; but hey – we all need a good laugh, right?

If you don’t have something good you can tag onto, start one. One very cold winter, I could not get outside. My attitude was in the toilet and I had no motivation for anything. I needed an infusion of positivity. I chose a book (it could be anything, but mine was a Bible study) and made myself a warm, health-inspired mocha and nestled into a sunny corner. I couldn’t believe it when the dog curled up on my feet. It was perfect. And it was easy to remember to do the next day – it has now been my habit for several years.

Make it rewarding.

Do you see the magic bullet that made each of my strategies stick? It’s the reward. With my morning walk, it was the feeling of accomplishment during a time I normally wasted waiting for the shower. In my bathroom scenario, little snippets of exercise add up quickly – when else was I going to fit 50 squats and push-ups into my day?? And the Bible study hit my positivity button before I ever opened the Book. Seek steps that reward the effort.

This is harder with food. You have to be careful not to take the cheap reward. Choosing something smarter that still hits the spot but does not trigger an insulin response is tricky. Grabbing a Snickers bar is reward in itself. But 20 minutes later, the body is craving another sugar hit. You have to find something with a similar mouthfeel without the carbs. I keep a pretty bowl of something on my desk, usually raw cashews, that is easier to snitch than getting up to get what I don’t need.

Plan ahead, and commit to the plan.

So here’s the next tip that I just alluded to: Plan ahead. If it’s for exercise, lay out your clothes and sneakers the night before. I have been waylaid by something as simple as my elderly dog asleep across the door of the closet. It’s easier for me to go back to bed than move him. Clothes laid out take away any excuse and guilt-trip you into working the plan. For reading goals, make sure to set up your desk or reading area the night before. Make it comfortable and welcoming, with a special coaster for the coffee cup. Dust and bills gleaming in the morning sun are not welcoming. Keeping those at bay become secondary goals – that must be addressed, too.

And this is where solid intentions make the difference. It is your goal to actually do this, so the clothes must be laid out, the dust must be abated and the bills have to be under control (or at least elsewhere.) Setting aside a minute to do the supplementary goals makes the primary goal more likely to happen. If any one of these things gets done, you need to recognize it as an accomplishment. You are further ahead than yesterday!! (You may not have gotten out the door for that run, but you’ve now figured out what you’re going to wear to run tomorrow. You are a step ahead!) Little strides make big changes.

Make a plan for your plan. Know which route you’re taking, or how far you intend to read. Have a backup plan for illness or setbacks (There are plenty of options for even seated yoga moves at Darebee.com) Set out the recipe for the new meal. Remember, it’s easier to just do the plan in the morning than to come up with a new idea. My grandmother always set out an egg the night before for her breakfast. She had to use it now that it had sat out all night. She committed herself to her plan, and it worked.

Notice the progress.

We are all works in progress. With intentional effort each day toward the goal, however little, overall improvement happens. If you realize later in the day that you forgot to (whatever it is), then at your next moment, do it. Even if you have to get back up out of bed to do it before you go to sleep, that’s where the real progress happens. At this point, partial completion sometimes has to be enough. Five chapters won’t happen at bedtime, and 45 minutes of cardio probably isn’t smart. But one chapter, or one set of squats moves you toward the goal and does not allow an inch of failure.

And that inch forward is what gets you there. Don’t worry about the day you fall down. You’re bigger than that setback. Get back in the saddle in the morning. If something isn’t working, sit down and rework the plan. I’ve reset my exercise goal three times already this year. But it’s okay, because I’ve exercised every day. The goal wasn’t to complete X workout; it was to exercise daily.

Stop and assess every night before bed or at the end of every Friday. What have you done? Did you get 3 days in? How does that compare to where you were before you started? If it’s an improvement, you are making strides. If you’re losing ground, assess that, too. If boredom is getting you down, change the plan for next week. You are not failing; you are finding what works. Boredom is similar to muscle fatigue: you’ve accomplished what you set out to do and it’s time to step up your game. You have achieved your initial goal! Mark this on your Achieved list!

Every day, every Monday is a new beginning. Be intentional about getting better and becoming the best you possible. Because it is possible. You are worth the investment. You just have to go out there and do it. And then you just must celebrate the victory. Comment below with your victory – I’d love to celebrate with you!!

My son, celebrating his way.

** Personal note: Some years ago, I was coming off a pretty serious ankle injury. I was given a camera, which set in motion what has since become this article. I set myself a goal of finding one photo-worthy thing each day. I had to walk to find it, and was not allowed to photograph the same thing twice. In just a few months, I went from walking to the end of my driveway to several miles a day, renewed my love of photography and conquered depression – all from that one goal.

All photos in this blog are mine unless otherwise noted, and are copyrighted.

Achieving Real Health

Who are you? How do others see you? Do you reflect everything you were created to be?

We’re embarking on the second week of 2019. The ramifications of our resolutions are becoming clear, and making this change permanent is looking to be more difficult than we’d hoped. Resolutions, because they are effecting change, take us out of our comfort zone. But if it were easy, we would not be making progress. But what is the real goal, and what will carry us through the obstacles on our path?

The reason for any lasting change has to be solid. Just fitting into that sexy dress isn’t enough – at the moment of truth, I don’t care about that dress. I care about who I am, and how I am perceived by others. I want people to treat me with respect because of what they see. A person with presence doesn’t deal with the same petty nuisances that others do.

So who are you? How do others see you? I knew a man who stopped to look at himself and the imprint he made on his young daughter. Did he want her growing up with a picture of Dad in her head, looking for a similar foul-mouthed, beer drinking jerk for a husband? He changed overnight and never looked back.

He knew that his image was not how he wanted to be remembered. But more, he cared about who she saw herself to be, how worthy she was, and what her children would become. How often do we stop and wonder how that amazing ancestor we all have would think about us? Are we everything he dreamed we would be? Do we represent his lineage well?

Life is a gift. We did not create ourselves. All we can do is maintain what we have, and maybe do a complete restoration at some point (or points.) Many years ago, my dad gave me an old bicycle. He had picked it up at a garage sale some time back, a few years old but very neglected. He stripped it to its beautiful frame, painted it black, and applied the decals that would’ve been proper when it was new. He polished its chrome rims and fenders, and bought new whitewall tires. That bike was gorgeous, and I received lots of compliments. But it’s been hanging in my shed for a long time now. The decals are chipped, the chain and hubs are dry, and the rims no longer shine. It now shows my neglect more clearly than my dad’s handiwork.

Has putting others’ needs ahead of your own left you forgotten and rusty? It may be time for a resto. But to what? If you were stripped down to the basics of who you should be, what would you build on?

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.  – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20

Scripture says your body is a temple, in which God’s Spirit lives. I picture the supermodel that a company hires to be the faceplate for the brand. God chose you as His faceplate. You are the very image of God. That is buildable.

God is the author of health. If we are reflecting Him properly in the world, we should look like the intricately designed and tuned vessels they are. It’s more than just food and exercise that makes us healthy. Professional, social and spiritual pursuits also impact who we are. Everything we put into our lives should be whole, hearty and life-giving if we are to truly shine with health. Health, like beauty, is a total package, both inside and out.

The image must have integrity.

Once you recognize who you really are, who you were created to be, and how important you are, resolutions become more achievable. Stop and think, at various points in the day, if you are reflecting your design clearly. Is this what a temple of God looks like and accomplishes? Is this how a temple of God stands in the midst of trouble? Is this what a temple of God is used for? The closer you get to ‘yes’ on these questions, the closer you are to real health.

Dehydration in Winter?

I was fine. Two days of holiday cooking and entertaining were successfully under my belt, and we were now leaving to visit relatives for the day. I felt a small cramp in my lower back, but thought nothing of it. Still working out the kinks of sleep, I thought. But then my left knee gave out. My son asked if I was all right – I’m fine, I replied, there was no pain and I didn’t fall. It’s all good. But within ten minutes, I could feel the nerve that ran from the center of my back down into that knee plainly. It wasn’t overly painful, but I was quickly discovering that standing up straight stabbed my back and disabled my knee simultaneously. Everything was fine if I sat down, so we continued with our day – driving didn’t bother me a bit. We joked about how I’d like my disability scooter equipped. By the next morning, though, I was stuck in a hunched-over, 80 year-old woman stance with limited ability to move anything. I headed over to the chiropractor.

I knew he’d fix me in a jiffy, like always, but he surprised me with his first treatment. He handed me a cup of water with a superdose of electrolytes in it. He chastised me for not immediately drinking when the first back cramp struck. I should’ve known that.

Most people know what dehydration looks like in the middle of heat and exercise, but winter dehydration comes on more gradually and is a bit different. I had none of the signs my quick Google search gave me to look for with dehydration. What I did have:

  • cramps across the lower back
  • vision had been worse for several days
  • thigh muscles were hard as rocks
  • craving sweets
  • constipation
  • a headache (I didn’t have this one, but it’s quite common)

Who hasn’t felt like this after a day of working on our feet? None of these are overly notable in the midst of the holidays. These are actually the most common symptoms of low intakes of water and electrolytes.

Calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride work together in your body to make sure the water pressures inside and surrounding your cells are perfect so that the cells don’t shrivel up or explode. When dissolved in water, the minerals develop electrical charges which regulate whether water flows into our out of the cells, lubricating our joints and operating nerve impulses. This is what keeps our hearts pumping and everything else in the body working.

While I was happily celebrating the holidays, my water levels were getting low. Sugar and alcohol depleted my minerals while replacing my normal water intake. My eyes, which rely on moisture to focus, tried to alert me, but I ignored them and put glasses on to continue with my work. Then everything came to a screeching halt after my morning coffee, a diuretic which depleted both minerals and water a little further. Muscles cramped, nerves fired with pain but not for movement, and there was no more lubrication for the bones in the area.

Normally, a whole food diet supplies enough minerals and electrolytes to keep a non-athlete hydrated. But in a recovery situation like this, supplements are in order. Power Pak or Emergen-C are your best options, and are easy to find in stores. Trace Minerals Research has a whole line of sugar-free products designed for rehydration based on your needs. Nuun sells a purse or backpack-friendly plastic vial of ten tablets. It’s very easy to keep little packets or a small bottle on hand to be mixed with water as needed. There are others, but I cannot speak from experience of using them.

How much water do you need? A basic rule of thumb is to drink half of your bodyweight (in pounds) in ounces of water. That means that if you weigh 170 lbs, you’ll want 85 oz, or about 10-1/2 glasses of water daily. This doesn’t have to mean that you’ll be running to the restroom every 20 minutes. Ensuring that you have enough minerals in your system holds the water where it needs to be.

Celtic Sea Salt (which is not standard table salt, but a natural mineral mix) is a delicious way to make sure you’re getting the trace minerals your body needs for maintenance. Just season your food to taste at every meal and drink a glass of pure water alongside. I keep a large glass of water on my desk to remind me to hydrate. I just need to find a new trigger for when I’m in the kitchen (or stay at my desk!)

Dehydration shouldn’t be a normal part of winter. With a little attention to eating whole foods and drinking plenty of pure water, the body can be properly nourished so we can do what we want to do well.

Do you have a question about this post, or about another issue you’d like to know about? Comment below, and I’ll try to answer your question directly or in another post.  Like what you see?  Subscribe to my blog!

What diet is best for me? or, How to use a Food Journal

What diet is best for me? 

Which supplement should I take?

How do I know which brands are best?

These are such common questions, and very good ones to be asking.  The problem is, there’s no right-and-done answer.  People are complex organisms, and what works for one individual may not work so well for the next.  Bio-individuality explains the differences in individuals as well as the plethora of supplements on the shelves and the number of diet plans that all seem to work for somebody.

How do you find what will actually work for you?

The honest truth is that no one knows but you. 

Your body is unique, and like no one else’s. You have different parents, different eating and stress patterns, different energy levels, different chromosomes from every other person on this planet.  We are all similar, yet each of us is a one-off creation with custom requirements.

The only way to know what your body needs is to test and see what works and what doesn’t.

It’s simple, yet very scientific.  Experiment, observe, and document – the fundamentals of science are the basics of keeping a health journal.  Writing down what you observe – a journal – is key to gaining success in personal health.

Basically, you need to note what you do and how you feel each day until you get a clear picture of what foods cause fatigue or constant cravings for more, and which ones energize you.  It’s important to note the times of everything, even if it’s just morning or evening.  You will begin to see how particular foods impact you.  You can also note exercise and sleep, as foods often affect the quality of both. Moods are very important to watch.  I was in high school when I noticed that I often fought with my mom in the mornings before school, leaving me crying bitterly all the way to school. By the time I arrived at school, I was exhausted and snacking on my lunch, leaving me not enough food to get through the day.  It didn’t take long to isolate a particular breakfast cereal which caused me major mood swings – which combined with a milk sensitivity to ruin my day.  When I ceased having cereal with milk for breakfast, all that drama ceased.

It’s not difficult, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You’re just looking for patterns.

First thing in the morning, note your baseline: how do you feel before adding food? Fill in the time and whether you’re energetic, motivated, well-rested or feel run over by a truck.  Then have breakfast and note what you had, and how you feel immediately afterward. Are you satisfied? Or are you craving sweets or something else? If there was much time between waking and eating, note the time you ate. One or two hours later, note again the time and how you’re feeling. Are you tired, or still energetic? Grouchy or content? Needing a cup of coffee or a treat?

Repeat this for everything you eat for one week, including the weekend: the time, what you ate, and how you feel, both immediately and several hours later. Put each entry on a new line to make it easier to spot similarities. Figuring out supplements will require you to treat them like a food, isolating different supplements from each other by several hours or alternate days. You will begin to see patterns after several days (maybe sooner!) of how each food or supplement impacts your energy levels and moods, both immediately and over time. Bloating and nasal stuffiness, for instance, often happen hours later or the next day.

As you begin seeing that protein for breakfast leads to a productive day, or a smoothie turns you into a snackaholic, you will learn what works and what doesn’t.  Experiment with new eating patterns.  Pretty soon, you will have a custom-made, workable diet plan that is tailored to your individual needs.

You don’t have to do this forever – just until you find what you’re looking for. The more you track, the better picture you will have. And keep in mind, as your needs change, you may want to repeat this exercise to see why old patterns are no longer working. Fine-tuning is part of staying healthy over the long term.

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The first journal I used for my son. It took years to correlate foods and moods because I didn’t note times of both. It still helped me find intolerances and develop a diet for him.

Let me know if you try this, and what you find!!

 

I found this post really fun inspiration for watching my health:  http://steadystrength.com/10-motivational-nutrition-quotes/