Happy. New. YOU! (This is the goal for 2021!)
I think that we can all agree that 2020 was a rough, rough year.
And if there is anything that 2020 has driven home, it is that self-care must be a priority.
Snapshot of Our Collective “Health”
For decades, Americans have been conditioned to outsource their health to a conventional medical approach of symptom management through prescription drugs and surgery—now, to masks, social distancing and vaccines, as well.
But the root causes are never addressed. As a nation, we suffer from an epidemic of food- and lifestyle-related chronic diseases, including: obesity, Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular, liver and kidney diseases, some types of cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease (experts classify Alzheimer’s as Type 3 diabetes since this type of dementia is triggered by insulin resistance and insulin-like growth factor, specific to the brain).1, 2
The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines “chronic diseases” as conditions that last 1-plus years and that require ongoing medical attention or limit activities of daily living—or both. In the US, chronic diseases, like heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the leading causes of death and disability…to the tune of $3.8 trillion in annual health care costs.3
Six in 10 American adults have a chronic disease; 4 in 10 adults have two or more chronic diseases.4
According to the CDC, the 4 main risk factors that cause preventable chronic diseases include:
- Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke. Cigarette smoke causes 480,000 deaths every year, including 41,000 deaths from secondhand smoke.5
- Poor nutrition. Fewer than 1 in 10 US adults and children eat enough vegetables and fruits. The U.S. diet is high in sugar, sodium and unhealthy fats.6
- Lack of physical activity. Only 1 in 4 US adults and 1 in 5 high school students get the recommended levels of physical activity.7
- Excessive alcohol use. Excess alcohol use is responsible for 95,000 deaths every year.8
One complex chronic disease that significantly increases your risk for other chronic diseases is obesity. Adult obesity rates have more than doubled since the 1980s: today, 42.4% of Americans are obese.9, 10 New research shows that approximately 1 in 4 women, and 1 in 8 men gain 44 pounds or more between the ages of 18 and 55.11
In addition, 31% of Americans are overweight with a BMI of 25 to 29.12
Unfortunately, you can’t expect your medical doctor to give you food and lifestyle guidance. If a doctor has ever told you to “lose weight”, and that’s the end of his or her advice…you’ll understand. Despite the connection between poor diet and many chronic diseases and conditions, most medical schools in the U.S. teach less than 25 hours of nutrition over 4 years—and less than 20 percent of medical schools have ONE single required course in nutrition, according to Dr. David Eisenberg, adjunct associate professor of nutrition at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health.13
This is why self-care is so important.
Self-Care As the New Health Care
What exactly is ”self-care”? Self-care is about identifying what you need to feel your best mentally, emotionally and physically; then, taking steps to meet those needs. Think of your own body as a child assigned to your care. How would you treat yourself then? By creating a healthy physical foundation for your body, you will understand what gives you energy and what naturally feels “good”. You will also become attuned to when your body feels “off”, and can take proper steps to course correct. Good self-care can help reduce anxiety and depression, increase productivity, and improve the quality of relationships.
Self-care is also a state of mind. You must be willing to take responsibility for your health. It involves addressing what you have likely been putting off until “tomorrow”, “Monday” or “when I have the time”….things like, cooking more meals at home; reducing your dependence on “food” out of a bag, box or can; eating more vegetables; cutting down sugar intake; moving more; getting quality sleep; reducing online screen time; setting boundaries with toxic people; taking the time to relax and unwind; and more.
I had my own wake-up call with self-care. Last month, right before the holidays, I was feeling stressed, tired and rushed—and I just wanted to get dinner on the table. While chopping onions hurriedly—in a distracted, Type A frame of mind—I accidentally sliced my finger. It was a DEEP cut. Blood spewed everywhere. By the time I cleaned and bandaged the wound, it had taken me three times longer to make dinner than if I had simply relaxed and focused on the task at hand.
I was lucky. I did not have to make a trip to the emergency room and deal with all the complicated COVID restrictions. Not to mention, I would have also had to spend a lot more time, money and energy on something that—had I simply taken my time —I could have avoided altogether. Simply walking into an Urgent Care center is no longer an easy option.
My lesson? I needed to slow down. To be mindful. To be present in the moment. Yes, accidents happen. But more often than not, we are in an overwhelmed, distracted state because of pressure that we put on ourselves.
At a time when we are dealing with restricted access to medical care, no insurance due to lost jobs, and high deductibles with insurance, why not focus on self-care, the strongest form of preventative health care? Self-care is a must if you have any kind of health condition, whether it is high blood pressure, heart disease, overweight/obesity, cancer, or an autoimmune condition. The goal of self-care is to learn how to reconnect with your body; listen to—and respect—its needs (e.g., for quality, nourishing food, sleep and movement); and trust its innate ability to heal.
Happy outcomes of daily self-care include: releasing unwanted weight, more energy, clear focus and productivity.
Here are 10 important ways to take care of yourself:
1. Know your risk for Metabolic Syndrome.
Did you know: only 12% of American adults, aged 20 and over, are metabolically healthy?!14
Optimal metabolic health is defined as having optimal levels of 1) blood glucose, 2) triglycerides, 3) HDL cholesterol, 4) blood pressure, and 5) waist circumference—without the need for medications.
Poor metabolic health can lead to “metabolic syndrome’, a group of 5 risk factors associated with increased risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. You will be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome if you present with three or more of the above listed risk factors.
Personally, in addition to weighing myself regularly using this scale, which measures both weight and body fat percentage, I also track my waist size.
Waist size is significant. If most of your body fat is around the waist—meaning a waist circumference that is greater than 35 inches for women and greater than 40 inches for men—you are at increased risk for heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.15 What is considered a healthy waist circumference? For men: less than 37 inches. And, for women: less than 31.5 inches.
How to measure your waist? Your natural waistline is the narrowest part of your torso. It is often located approximately 1/2 to 1-inch above the belly button and below the base of your rib cage. When you measure, breathe in, then gently exhale (avoid sucking in your stomach, or you get a false measurement). Circle the soft tape measure around your natural waistline, making sure that the tape lays flat and evenly around your waist.
If you are looking for guidance on improving metabolic health, click on Optimize Your Wellness to learn how I can support you.
2. Know your blood sugar numbers.
Type 2 diabetes (T2DM) is a modern-day epidemic. While being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk of diabetes, thin people can—and do—get diabetes.16, 17 That’s why it’s important to know your fasting blood glucose and your hemoglobin A1c.
–Optimal fasting blood glucose: 70 to 85 mg/dL
–Optimal Hemoglobin A1c: Less than 5.4%
3. Get a full work-up (blood testing) at least annually.
Most people associate going to the doctor and getting bloodwork done only when something is “wrong”. Getting regular bloodwork done, however, can be a powerful way of staying on top of your health and to prevent or reverse health problems. Blood testing gives valuable insight into how well your body is functioning at a particular point in time, including: immune function, organ health, degree of inflammation, hormone balance and nutrient deficiencies. Blood testing can also confirm whether the medications and supplements you take or lifestyle changes you’ve made (e.g., increasing strength training, eating less sugar, etc. are effective—or not.)
As someone with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, I take thyroid hormone. In addition to have comprehensive bloodwork done annually, I also have thyroid bloodwork done every few months. The thyroid is exquisitely sensitive to seasonal changes and stress, and my functional medicine doctor may adjust my dosage, depending on the results of my bloodwork. As I have received training in interpreting bloodwork, I know when I am close to or straying from optimal health.
Blood testing is an invaluable tool that can help optimize wellness and performance. Reviewing, assessing and providing suggested labwork is one of the first things I address with my clients. If you are due for an annual physical or want to get comprehensive lab work done as part of your health overhaul in the New Year, I offer a one-time Lab Review as well as two-part Lab Consultation package to help you navigate and understand labwork. Please contact me here to schedule a free 15-minute phone consultation if you are interested.
4. Water yourself.
Clients often tell me that they “forget” to drink water. This can seem like a no-big-deal oversight. Yet, dehydration, can lead to fatigue, headaches, constipation, muscle cramping, irritability and/or mental confusion, rapid heartbeat and rapid breathing, among other symptoms. Chronic dehydration can lead to kidney stones and liver and muscle damage. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces. I like this easy-to-tote 22 ounce BPA-free glass water bottle for hydrating on-the-go.
5. Swap out a high-sugar breakfast for a protein-rich first meal of the day.
A “high sugar” breakfast can look like a bagel, toast, cereal, muffins, fruit smoothie, commercial green juices, fat-free yogurt with fruit, or flavored instant oatmeal. Whether you eat your first meal at 6am or 10:30am, include protein to help stabilize blood sugar and to ward off afternoon sugar cravings. Some ways to work in protein: Hard-boiled eggs, a zucchini-tarragon frittata, coconut flour pancakes, spiced apple-turkey ragu, hot quinoa porridge, spicy ginger turkey noodle soup, or cast-iron skillet bison burgers. I, personally, like sardines and avocado, poached salmon, or cast-iron skillet cardamom-spiced chicken tenderloins, paired with leafy greens, for breakfast.
If one of your New Year’s goals is to eat more healthfully, but you find yourself struggling to make healthy food choices (left to your own devices), consider this Do-It-Yourself Winter Cleanse (on sale now!) to jumpstart your efforts. The cleanse includes a program guide, whole foods-based eating plan, food diary, shopping list and recipes (and the recipes are delicious). No powders, pills or potions necessary. Click here to learn more about my Winter Cleanse.
6. Cook for yourself and/or your family.
Preparing home-cooked meals is a nourishing act of self-love. “Cooking” can be as simple as baking a salmon fillet, sprinkled with dried herbs and drizzled with lemon juice, for 10 minutes. And while it’s baking, you open a bag of organic baby arugula, wash and spin it dry, then dress with olive oil and lemon juice, for a salad. Simple, easy and no-fuss.
Here is why I cook—even when I least feel like it. Start with one home-cooked meal a week and work your way up. Having a slow cooker, cast-iron skillet and salad spinner makes it easy to batch-cook in advance or to prepare quick and healthy meals on the fly.
Eating more home-cooked meals is associated with less weight gain and a higher likelihood that your BMI and body fat percentage will be in “normal” range.18
7. Move your body—not too much, not too little….just right.
Humans are designed to move. Our bodies crave movement. Our ancestors were in constant motion—walking, sprinting, carrying (food, wares, their children), chopping and gathering wood, and preparing food. Excessive sitting (8 to 9 hours a day) is associated with a slower metabolism, higher blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, reduced insulin sensitivity, increased risk of heart disease and weakens the bones.19
Studies suggest that 30 to 60 minute of vigorous exercise alone doesn’t eliminate the health risks of prolonged sitting.20 Even though most gyms are closed due to COVID, you can still move your body. Find your favorite workout class or trainer online. Invest in dumb bells or resistance bands. Or, put on your shoes and head out the door for a walk. Walking confers excellent health benefits. I don’t have a treadmill at home, but I work out with weights in my bedroom, and I walk 4 to 6 miles daily, often spread throughout the day.
8. Choose to buy and eat organic foods.
Feed your body quality food. We often forget that food is medicine: these are the benefits of eating whole foods. Organic foods, especially, contain more nutrients, such as antioxidants and other beneficial compounds, than conventionally grown produce.
A meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition found pesticide residue to be four times higher in conventional crops, which also contained a significantly higher concentration of cadmium, a toxic metal and known carcinogen.21 Unfortunately, pesticides are absorbed by plants and cannot be “washed off”. Characterized as endocrine (hormone) disruptors and obesogens, pesticides have been linked to decreased sperm count, erectile dysfunction, male infertility, ovarian disorders, thyroid problems, decreased fertility in women, low birthweight, obesity and diabetes. The good news? Today, affordably priced organic produce can be found in stores, like Whole Foods, or ordered via online markets.
Shortchanging yourself on sleep means that you’re cheating yourself out of good health. If you’re doing everything right—in terms of diet and daily movement—but you still struggle with losing weight or healing from an autoimmune disease or chronic health condition, look at your sleep. Studies link regular, insufficient sleep (less than 6 hours per night) with weight gain, higher body mass index (BMI), obesity and diabetes. Chronic sleep deficiency can affect mood, weaken your immune system, elevate blood pressure and increase risk of heart disease.22
For many people, alcohol—a glass of wine or a nightcap—is a go-to sedative. Yes, alcohol can make you feel relaxed and drowsy. But…in addition to contributing excess sugar calories and placing additional burden on your liver to process it, alcohol disrupts sleep by exacerbating sleep apnea and breathing disorders and by causing fragmented sleep, decreasing the amount of REM sleep you get. REM is important for memory and processing learning.23
Women absorb more alcohol and are especially vulnerable to the sleep-robbing effects of alcohol. Aim for 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep.
10. Cultivate healthy ways to express or release your emotions.
With lockdowns amid ever-changing protocols, economic free fall, and perpetual uncertainty in 2020, many of us stuffed down feelings of anxiety, depression, grief, anger, even boredom—with food, alcohol, sugar and all sources of electronic distraction. Connecting with your emotions is an important part of self-care. Repressing emotions takes a physical toll on your body, manifesting as aches and pains, weight gain, hormonal imbalances and chronic fatigue.
You can address your emotional and mental well-being by working with a therapist who feels right for you. In my own health journey, I worked through a deep sense of unrelenting grief with a holistic therapist and reiki practitioner to release and heal that emotion. You can also express or release your emotions through dance, photography, painting, music, writing or meditation. Journaling is also a powerful way to release emotions from mind and body. In his research, Dr. James Pennebaker found that “expressive writing”—writing your thoughts and feelings about emotionally challenging or traumatic experiences—can help boost immune function, lower blood pressure, reduce symptoms of asthma and arthritis, and improve sleep in cancer patients.24
Want to make healthier food and lifestyle choices, but just not sure how to start, left to your own devices?! Try this delicious do-it-yourself 7-day winter cleanse that gently helps reduce inflammation, leaving you feeling lighter, clearer and calmer.
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–Are you tired of experiencing chronic body aches and pains; digestive distress (e.g., bloating, gas, constipation, diarrhea, IBS, acid reflux); allergies and/or food sensitivities?
–Are you frustrated about being hormonally out-of-balance (e.g., acne, weight gain, belly fat, poor sleep, low energy, irregular periods or bad PMS)?
–Are you confused about how to “eat healthy” in a way that works for your body?
–Do you feel challenged about how to create a healthy lifestyle and way of eating that is sustainable?
–Are you tired of feeling sick and tired?!
Even if you think you are “doing everything right”, we are often unable see our own blind spots. If you’re ready stop the overwhelm and get clarity around your health concerns, Optimize Your Wellness, my video-only service wellness assessment, can give you insight and guidance that help you move toward your health goal(s).
2 Journal of Diabetes Science and Technology. Nov. 1, 2008
3, 4 Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
5 CDC. Tobacco Use
6 CDC. Poor Nutrition
7 CDC. Lack of Nutrition
8 CDC. Excessive Alcohol Use
9, 11 STOP Obesity Alliance
10 CDC. Adult Obesity
12 CDC. Overweight
13 Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health
14 Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders. Vol. 17, No. 1
15 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
16 Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, Jul 15, 2011
17 World Journal of Diabetes, May 15, 2015
18 International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2017; 14: 109
19, 20 Chris Kresser, The Paleo Cure, 2014
21 British Journal of Nutrition 2014 Sep 14;112(5):794-811
22 Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School
23 Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research
24 American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology, June 2002