Defining the Core

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Anyone interested in fitness lingo, or has sustained a back injury, has likely encountered a therapist or fitness enthusiast who loves telling people about the importance of “the Core.”  This mysterious and powerfully functional aspect of the body has nothing do with eating apples, and everything to do with developing efficient & stable muscles.  Although professionals tend to overuse the word, the idea behind core stabilization remains significant, and understanding it can help individuals develop muscle strength, and reduce injury risk.  Today we’ll look at a basic “core” definition, explain some reasons for it’s importance, and provide a few basic exercises to help develop the area.

In Certified News of American Council on Exercise (ACE) June/July 2008, contributer Fabio Comana, M.A, M.S. describes the core as “the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk relative to the pelvis and legs (9). ” This means that the core of the body functions the same way as a building foundation; it provides stabilization for the major muscle groups (back, pelvis, legs).  The strength & efficiency of these major muscle groups contributes to postural control, balance, coordination and overall movement.   Incorporating core exercises into daily regiments can greatly enhance functional activities, as well as overall health.

The authors of the Second Edition of The Essentials of Strength & Conditioning define core exercises as those which “recruit one or more large muscle areas (i.e. chest, shoulder, back, hip, or thigh), involve two or more primary joints, and receive priority when selecting exercises because of their direct application to the sport.” This definition may appear somewhat vague, until compared with the idea of “assistance exercises,” exercises that recruit smaller muscles (neck, biceps) and involve only one primary joint (Baechle & Earle 398).  Single-joint exercises include some basics, like bicep curls, knee extensions, shoulder rows, ab crunches & neck circles.

Core exercises, on the other hand, involve the cooperation of 2+ large muscle groups, and can work in several planes.  A lunge, for example, is a core exercise because when performed correctly, it recruits the quadriceps muscles as the knee flexes, and also the glute muscles as the posterior hip extends.

Another component to core exercises involves the idea of stabilization, or developing supportive muscles.  The concept here is explained in the 3rd Ed. ACE Personal Trainer Manual as exercises that “challenge the abdominal and back muscles to hold the spine in the appropriate position during movement of the extremities (Bryant & Green 271).”  Basically this means that to develop the support of large muscle groups, there must be tests of muscular endurance, often in static positions, and involving more than one plane.

A few examples of this concept would be a single-leg balance pose, bird-dog pose (see below), and the basic plank position (see below).

The importance of core exercises comes into play when paired with daily activities, & common muscle functions.  How often, for example, do people go up & down stairs, putting their bodies through a modified version of a reverse lunge?  Or down to the toilet or chair & back up, for a squat?  Or reaching behind furniture to pick up something hard to reach, much like a single-leg deadlift?  Some of these basic movements often become difficult when the muscles become shortened, underused or injured.  Performing core strengthening & stabilizing exercises regularly reduces the pain and/or inability of basic tasks.

For fitness novices & experts alike, core exercises remain vital to the overall longevity and health of muscles.  Performing exercises like the ones below can help almost anyone develop a strong & stable foundation for the rest of their body to live in.  Individuals at any fitness level can perform core exercises, as modifications or challenges can usually be incorporated.  Start with the basics, and gradually progress to greater challenges.  And as always, consider it a joy that you have the ability to exercise!

All images are property of ACE Fitness.  Complete descriptions of exercises can be found at the ACE Fitness website.

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Thanksgiving Success: Mini Pumpkin Pies, Vegan and Dairy Free

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Thanksgiving provides a great opportunity to reflect on gratitude, especially for the seemingly little things in life.  When it comes to healthy baking, I am constantly grateful for the pioneers who ventured before me, who revamped and tested staple recipes themselves so that I don’t waste my pricey ingredients on trial baking sessions. Yet I always approach the new recipes with slight trepidation that if I miss a step or don’t have the right ingredients, a recipe fail will still end up in my oven. So it is with great joy and gratitude that I submit a humble as pie Thanksgiving recipe that arises partly from another baker (pie crust), and partly from my own concoctions (pie filling).

A little background for the adventure, if anyone wants a story…. I tend to be a last-minute, when-the-mood-strikes type of baker, which means it doesn’t happen too often. If you read my last post on the effects of sugar on the body, you get an idea why I stopped baking. But then Fall comes around, and inevitably I buy a pumpkin or two, starting off as decoration in my yard before progressing to decoration on my pie plate. (If you’ve never baked a pumpkin or squash, I recommend giving it a try…it’s very easy, plus the seeds make a nice toasted snack as well!)  And now that my son is old enough to think he is a professional chef, he also knows that pumpkins need to be made into pumpkin pies.

So of course I added an unplanned incentive to the potty training begging routine…after you go, you can help me make a pumpkin pie.  (Let’s face it, food is an incentive at any age, right?)

But then I start to follow through on my incentive, and start checking cupboards and fridges…butter? Not much. Condensed milk? Nada. Sugar? Honey, liquid stevia and small amount of brown sugar…not really pie material.

Next step: Google.

Answer: Coconut Oil Pie Crust and Almond Milk Pumpkin Pie filling.

Jackpot.

Despite the sugar shortage, we made it through the first trial run with an actual pie. However the next day we still had leftover pumpkin and pie crust dough. Plus I had already donated my test pie to a willing friend, so now I had no pie, and no pie plate. So we made an actual trip to the store to buy more sugar, although not “real sugar;” a mix of cane sugar, stevia and erythritol (sugar alcohol).

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Although there is some disagreement out there, the general consensus seems to be in favor of sugar alcohols providing a safe and lower-calorie option to regular sugar (does not raise blood sugar or impede weight loss). So  I decided to give this option a shot for my baking experiment.

And I’m happy to report that with my baking adventures, I produced a tasty pie treat for almost half the calories of a regular slice of pie! According to my recipe input on MyFitnessPal, this recipe should yield 180 calories per serving, and only 3.8g of sugar, compared to 323 cal for a slice of pie (not including whip cream!) and 25g of sugar!

So take a look around the house, you might have the ingredients on hand to serve a lower calorie, lower sugar, and much cuter version of the pumpkin pie this Thanksgiving.

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Vegan Mini Pumpkin Pies

Serves: 14

Pie Crust (as adapted from the Minimalist Baker

2 Cups Unbleached White Flour

2/3 Cup Organic, Virgin Coconut Oil, softened, not liquid

3-6T Ice Water

Pumpkin Pie Filling

3 Cups Fresh Pumpkin Puree (or 2- 15oz canned pumpkin)

1/2 C Truvia Sugar Cane Blend

2 Tsp Ground Cinnamon

1/4 Tsp Ground Nutmeg

1/4 Tsp Ground Ginger

1/2 Tsp Sea Salt

1 C  Unsweetened Almond Milk

Directions:

Preheat Oven to 350 F.

*Pie Crust: In a large bowl, gradually scoop in coconut oil and mix either by hand or with fork into the flour until it resembles sand texture. Gradually add in water to bind dough together until it forms a ball. Transfer to floured surface to roll into a medium sized disc, then use a knife to cut the disc into 14 strips. Form each strip into a ball, and on a floured surface, roll each one into a small disc. Transfer the discs to a greased or non-stick muffin pan, patting dough into the pan to form muffin shells.

Filling:  In another large bowl, mix the pumpkin and spices together first, then add the milk and whisk until smooth. Using a ladle, scoop filling into each pie shell. Bake for 45 min or until toothpick comes out clean from the pie filling. Let cool and Enjoy!

*The crust ingredients can also be used to make one regular 10 inch pie crust instead of mini pies.

Nutrition info:

Serving Size: 1 pie

Calories: 180

Carbs: 21.8g              Fat: 11.4g             Protein: 2.7g              Sugar: 3.8g

Cholesterol: 0g          Sodium: 12.8g       Potassium: 106.3g   Dietary Fiber: 1.1g

Vitamin A: 39.9%         Vitamin C: 3.9%     Calcium:   4.2%      Iron: 8.8%

Percent Daily Values Based on 2000 Calorie Diet.

Shipwrecked by Sugar

I’ve been clean for nine months (except for occasional bites). I’ve managed to walk past bowls of my past addiction without a second glance. The plates sitting on every table at church don’t even whisper my name anymore. And all the Sirens at the grocery store have silenced their enchanting songs to lure me into their islands. The shipwreck of sugar cravings finally got lost at sea, and I’m not headed back to find where it landed.

It’s not easy to own up to one’s destructive habits, especially if you have a career in health and wellness. Yet for that very reason, I knew it was imperative to find a solution so I could effectively coach others to find it themselves. And one week after Halloween, I’m happy to  report that we have only one Tupperware of chocolates in the house (primarily for potty training purposes), and of those, I’ve eaten maybe 3. And not out of cravings, mostly boredom.

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So I want to tell you that breaking sugar cravings is possible.

 

But before I talk about solutions, let’s review why added sugar is a killer for any healthy diet, and why life is better without them. Let’s talk a few numbers and examine the typical American diet. Although the USDA recommended sugar intake is no more than 6-10% of the daily caloric consumption, most Americans consume 16-20% of their daily calories from added sugar.  What that means in real numbers is that while no more than 6-9 teaspoons, or less than 25g, should be consumed in a typical day (for a typical 2000 daily calorie diet) the typical American is consuming 32g of sugar EVERY day!

 

 

Along with that, added sugar consumption is linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk 38% compared to those who follow low-sugar food plans.  It can also negatively impair memory, artificially increase appetite, decrease energy levels, lead to diabetes, increase body weight and cause joint inflammation.

Why? How does such a sweet tasting additive bring so much suffering to our lives? The answer lies in its metabolism process, and the fact that the ingredients find their way into the majority of packaged foods. In the body, sugar is metabolized in the liver, but when the liver is overloaded, it turns it into fat. This is where it leads to a myriad of problems as fat cells inhibit regular cell function.

Where?  If you think you are following a healthy diet, yet still raging against a constant sweet tooth, it may be time to take inventory of your food intake.  Consider that a typical “healthy” flavored Greek yogurt yields 20g of sugar by itself, and you start to see where part of the problem comes from.  Other common “healthy” food saboteurs include protein bars/shakes, cereal, sauces, applesauce, sweetened nut milks, beverages, breads, low-fat foods and condiments (ketchup, peanut butter, jams). The more obvious not-so-healthy products include creamers, pastries, sodas/sports drinks, candy, fruit snacks, ice cream and alcohol.

A great handout I use regularly for my clients gives an overview of typical sugar content in various foods. In it, you see that iced tea can have almost 10g per 16oz bottle, 20 oz soda almost the equivalent in g/oz at 19.25g, and some kids cereals coming in at 10g/serving! So imagine if you consumed one serving of each of these per day…you’d be already at almost 40g of sugar, and you haven’t even enjoyed your evening bowl of ice cream yet!

Help!  By now you may be realizing that your diet is leading you too for a major shipwreck, as it was doing to me.  Or you might be at that point already if you experience the myriad of maladies pointed out earlier. So it’s time to get to the solutions!

1-Nutrition Labels: If you haven’t picked up on in yet, the biggest habit you should start doing is READING LABELS!!! I can’t emphasize this enough, as this small rectangle on your package will literally tell you if what you hold in your hands will help or hinder your health. After looking at the calorie count per serving, scan to the sugar section. You might even notice an update from previous years, as many manufacturers are switching to the new mandate for 2018 to state the amount of added sugars in the product. This helps the consumer differentiate between natural occurring sugars (as in fruit) and all other sweeteners.

The next step is to check the Ingredients. If you see sugar as the first ingredient (unless of course, it IS sugar), PLEASE put it back on the shelf! This part of the label tells you everything you need to know about content, because sometimes certain ingredients (like trans fat) don’t have to be reported numerically if they fall under a certain percentage of the overall content. Knowing where sugar falls in the lineup will help you determine if the item is as “healthy” as it’s designed to be.

2-Drink More Water.  I’m sure you’ve heard this mantra a million times in your life, but that doesn’t make it any less true. Not only does drinking water curb your overall appetite, it can also keep you from consuming other sugar laden beverages that derail your best sugar-fasting intentions.

 

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Natural Peanut Butter, only 2g/ 2T

3-Proper Diet…Keep it Simple: I doubt anyone really needed me to say this, but sometimes it’s hard to decipher what actually are healthy food choices on the store shelves, since manufacturers design products to make them seem nutritious. So follow a few guidelines: 1- buy A LOT of produce;  2-eat 100% whole grains (multi-grain, whole wheat, bran cereal), not refined grains (bleached flour); 3-Avoid Low-Fat foods (especially in the dairy section), as they typically hold more sugar to offset the lower fat content; 4-Avoid artificial sweeteners, although low in calories, they inhibit weight loss and the body does not metabolize them well, which leads to weight gain.

 

 

 

4-Exercise. Of course, I have to say that…it’s my job. But the reality is that in addition to curbing appetite, exercise can also increase your mitochondria metabolism, which means your body doesn’t have to work as hard to process sugar, especially when it becomes overloaded (hello Holiday season!).  Also on a diabetic note, walking after eating has been shown to decrease glucose levels. And realistically speaking, hopefully going for a walk will distract you from satisfying the sweet tooth!

5-Eliminate Pastries. Last but not least, the inevitable target of sugar fails starts either in the oven or on our grocery list. It doesn’t matter if the label or recipe says honey, agave, maple syrup, organic cane sugar or regular ol’ molasses…it’s all added sugar and the body digests it the same way.  So even as the holiday season begs us to celebrate with heaven’s buffet of pastries, I’m telling you it’s not in the best interest of your body, and your body does NOT take a holiday. In fact, I would argue you need your energy levels to be at its peak over these next two months for an enjoyable holiday season. So take a nibble if you must, or eat a small butter cookie, but leave the whipped cream desserts and banket for someone else.

And to weave a parenting note in all of this, your eating habits influence the little ones around you. It’s understandable that potty-training bribery plays a role in parenting, but the rest of the eating habits literally determine a child’s nutrient profile and can set them up for medical problems later if sugar intake isn’t controlled. And of course, as parents, we need all the energy we can get to keep up with those rascals, so don’t let sugar rob you of living the good life…including during the little years!

 

 

References:

American Council on Exercise. “How Sugar Affects Your Body.” https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5128/how-sugar-affects-your-body. Oct. 28, 2014.

Asp, Karen. “Sugar Shock: Why Experts Say It’s Time to Get Serious About Taming That Sweet Tooth.” https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/prosource/april-2014/3767/sugar-shock-why-experts-say-it-s-time-to-get-serious-about-taming-that-sweet-tooth. April 2014.

Halvorson, Ryan. “Why Those With Type 2 Diabetes Should Walk After Dinner.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/why-those-with-type-2-diabetes-should-walk-after-dinner. Dec. 14, 2016.

Webster, Sandy Todd. “Nutrition Facts Panel Puts Spotlight on Added Sugars.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/nutrition-facts-panel-puts-spotlight-on-added-sugars-0. Aug. 19, 2016.

Webster, Sandy Todd. “When Sugar isn’t Sweet.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/when-sugar-isnt-sweet-0. April 16, 2014.

“Sugar Facts & Fiction.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/sugar-facts-fiction. Aug. 15, 2008.

Keller, Joy and Judy Meyer. “What Added Sugar Looks Like.” http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/what-added-sugar-looks-like. Oct. 23, 2015.

 

Souped-Up Soup

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With Fall weather attempting to breeze it’s way in (although summer is fighting a valiant battle yet), it’s time for us mammals to start winterizing our homes. Or at least our pantries. And in this home, that means stocking up on seasonal soups to warm our bodies when the outside temperature drops.

Now lest you think that buying soup is not a worthwhile purchase to feed a family, allow me to let you in on our family’s simple and hearty soup secret…Soup Bulking.  This simple concept allows for an easy meal (soup in a can) to be transformed into a hearty dish that feeds several people.

Add fresh ingredients to canned soup to make it hearty.

The only thing thing you do differently is saute extra ingredients before adding the main soup. For me, that typically involves 1/4 of an onion, clove of garlic, a carrot or two, a potato, and seasonings to match the soup’s flavor. My latest favorites are Aldi’s German soups, and I see that they added two new flavors this year (one is German Bean).  I have tested out the Pea Soup, German Bean, and the Lentil Soup…and I recommend them all!

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Look for soups with hearty ingredients to fill you up faster!

If you want a step-by-step recipe-like guide, keep reading. As a side dish, I typically make  a varied ethnic food (which will be another post) that provides a satisfying helping of whole grains. However another option is simply make grilled cheese sandwiches on whole grain bread to serve with the soup. Can’t go wrong with grilled cheese. Happy Eating!

Ingredients

1-2 T Olive Oil

1/4-1/2 Onion, chopped

1-2 Carrots, peeled and chopped

1 Potato, chopped

Handful of Mushrooms, chopped

Can of Hearty Soup (the more bulk, the better)

Directions: Heat Oil in medium sized pot on medium heat. While it’s heating, chop your fresh ingredients and add all but the mushrooms to the pot. Saute for about 2 min, then add the mushrooms, and saute again for about a minute. Add the can of soup, cover and bring to a boil. If soup has a lot of water in it, simmer uncovered until it reaches desired thickness. Serve over rice or with polenta/ugali (cornmeal dishes) or injera (Ethiopian bread) for hearty and healthy warm winter meal!

Serves 2-4 people.

 

Bon Appetit…Slowly! A Case Study to Test the Feasibility of Mindful Eating

It’s been said that in France, people eat a bit differently than in the US. I hear that meals take longer (2+ hours), they share meals, they eat three main meals (not many snacks), and do not house many fast food joints. All these factors seem to contribute to the fact that the French boast lower obesity rates than their Western counterparts of Canada, UK and the USA, at around 23% (compared to 34% in the US.)  In addition to these differences, a key factor supposedly accounts for their leanness: Eating Slowly.

Intuitive Eatingas it’s called, is the idea of eating for satisfaction, focusing on balanced nutrition, but not dieting, on fullness but not restriction. In their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, authors Evelyn Tribole (MS, RD) and Elyse Resche (MS, RDN) highlight three aspects to eating, including Slow, Savor and Sensual, in that “by slowing down and savoring, we can notice the enjoyable qualities of food and recognize when we’re comfortably satisfied (Brown, Kelsey, MEd, CHES Stop Dieting, Start Intuitive Eating).”

Indeed, the research backs up this theory as well. In a Pediatric Obesity Journal report, children who chewed each bite for 30 seconds as instructed, and drank water before each meal, lost more weight than the control group. And another study in the Obesity Journal notes that after a one-year intervention, obese participants in a mindfulness centered eating plan improved fasting glucose and HDL cholesterol levels better than their counterparts.

All great news for those of us who like to enjoy a calm, leisurely meal.

 

It sounded so easy, in fact, that when I returned home from a mini family vacation in the down-home, slow-paced cornfields of Iowa, that I determined to give this cow-paced eating a try.  So what follows is a Day-by-Day recap and case study toIMG_20170805_150114565_HDR determine if it is actually possible to enjoy (and even SAVOR!) your meals while eating with your children. Young children, I might add.

 

 

Originally the case study ran seven days. But unfortunately I failed to keep up with my log after Day 4, and due to the mental deterioration associated with motherhood.  I can only offer you my incomplete, yet scientifically grounded yet-to-be-officially-published, 4-Day study. The guidelines for my trial included chewing each bite completely, preferably at least 10 times; no reading of paper or using the phone during meals; sit-down at the table; and occasionally put down utensils to emphasize mindfulness.

 

 

 

For no apparent reason, I included my actual meal for you, maybe to inspire, maybe to intrigue.

DAY 1 (Sunday): BreakfastOatmeal, Smoothie and Tea

*Note* Recovering from respiratory infection.

ResultSUCCESS! Due to being sick, I had no appetite, so what I did eat, I had to force myself to eat.

Lunch: Ugali with Lentil Soup 

Result: Appetite apparently improving, as my husband reminds me that I’m supposed to be eating slowly.

Dinner: Veggie Burgers with roasted veggies and a salad

Result: Success! Day 1 Complete! This will be a breeze.

DAY 2: Breakfast: Scrambled egg wraps and fruit medley 

Result: Half-Success. Enjoyed half of breakfast in peace until the toddler came in to attack the fruit. Potty training mode begins. Extra challenge to eat slowly upon return to the table, knowing the electric company was scheduled to come at 9!

Lunch: Boiled egg sandwich, salad, orange

Result: Success! Due to electric company invading our home, we lunched at my parents. Not much going on, so a very mindful meal.

Dinner: Leftover Soup and Ugali

Result: Half-Success. I successfully put my utensil down often during my meal, so as to accommodate the insistent 9 month old piranha  baby, who also wanted to eat, but apparently not following our slow-eating trial.

DAY 3: Breakfast: Leftover Oatmeal with Banana, with Tea

Result: FAIL. Needed to be at work by 5:45 for my first client, so needless to say I chose extra sleep over rising early. Did not finish breakfast until mid-morning.

Lunch: Cereal with strawberries

Result: Fail. Read the paper while trying to eat, then just read paper as baby decided she wanted mama’s milk NOW. An attempt to continue eating resulted in the piranha baby abruptly stopping to investigate what I put in my mouth. Finished my lunch (quickly) after she went down for her nap.

Dinner: Fish, baked potatoes, steamed carrots

Result: Fail. Issued one toddler timeout due to unruly behavior, with a continued battle to sit still, while simultaneously finger feeding the piranha baby and utensil feeding myself.

DAY 4: Breakfast: (memory loss…coffee?)

Lunch: Leftover veggies with a peanut butter & banana wrap

Result: Fail. Upon returning from work, my first parental duty involved enforcing nap time. This began around 2pm (after I heated up lunch), and ended a little after 3, at which point I ate my meal sporadically standing up, while repeatedly chasing toddler back to his lair.

Supper: Pasta with broccoli

Result: Semi-Success! Enjoyed a relatively calm meal for half of the time, while spoon feeding baby. Also felt satisfactorily full upon completion.

Conclusion: Luckily for you, there’s really no need to see the rest of the week’s study, since it basically repeated itself.  Surprisingly, the biggest challenge actually involved me not reading the paper, or reading anything, actually. To sit, and just munch. Munch. Munch. I suppose it might have knit my heart more closely to my meal, but in reality I found it very boring. I can’t say why, but reading while eating (alone) is a cherished pastime, one that happens less frequently than I prefer.

So if mindful eating requires deliberate chomps, fork table touches, and staring blissfully across the room for an hour, I think I might have to take early retirement from parenting.

In the meantime, I might take a trip to France to find a mom’s group, and gather empirical evidence on this mindful eating nonsense concept.

 

*As a follow up, I must say I just enjoyed a slow-paced dinner (while reading the paper). The trick? Put the kids in bed early. Then go eat supper. 🙂

 

 

 

References: ProCon. The Leading Source for Controversial Issues. Global Obesity Levels. http://obesity.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006032#global-levels. 4/28/2016.

Archer, Shirley. Mindful Eating and Type 2 Diabetes. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/mindful-eating-and-type-2-diabetes. 9/22/2016.

Brown, Kelsey. Stop Dieting, Start Intuitive Eating. Idea Fitness Journal, February 2017.

Webster. Sandy Todd. Coaching Kids to Eat More Slowly Can Slash Weight. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/coaching-kids-to-eat-more-slowly-can-slash-weight-0. 04/21/2016.

 

 

 

Bon Appetit…Slowly! A Case Study to Test the Feasibility of Mindful Eating

It’s been said that in France, people eat a bit differently than in the US. I hear that meals take longer (2+ hours), they share meals, they eat three main meals (not many snacks), and do not house many fast food joints. All these factors seem to contribute to the fact that the French boast lower obesity rates than their Western counterparts of Canada, UK and the USA, at around 23% (compared to 34% in the US.)  In addition to these differences, a key factor supposedly accounts for their leanness: Eating Slowly.

Intuitive Eatingas it’s called, is the idea of eating for satisfaction, focusing on balanced nutrition, but not dieting, on fullness but not restriction. In their book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works, authors Evelyn Tribole (MS, RD) and Elyse Resche (MS, RDN) highlight three aspects to eating, including Slow, Savor and Sensual, in that “by slowing down and savoring, we can notice the enjoyable qualities of food and recognize when we’re comfortably satisfied (Brown, Kelsey, MEd, CHES Stop Dieting, Start Intuitive Eating).”

Indeed, the research backs up this theory as well. In a Pediatric Obesity Journal report, children who chewed each bite for 30 seconds as instructed, and drank water before each meal, lost more weight than the control group. And another study in the Obesity Journal notes that after a one-year intervention, obese participants in a mindfulness centered eating plan improved fasting glucose and HDL cholesterol levels better than their counterparts.

All great news for those of us who like to enjoy a calm, leisurely meal.

It sounded so easy, in fact, that when I returned home from a mini-family vacation in the down-home, slow-paced cornfields of Iowa, that I determined to give this cow-paced eating a try.  So what follows is a Day-by-Day recap and case study to determine if it is actually possible to enjoy (and even SAVOR!) your meals while eating with your children. Young children, I might add.

Originally the case study ran seven days. But unfortunately I failed to keep up with my log after Day 4, and due to the mental deterioration associated with motherhood, I can only offer you my incomplete, yet scientifically grounded yet-to-be-officially-published, 4-Day study. The guidelines for my trial included chewing each bite completely, preferably at least 10 times; no reading of paper or using the phone during meals; sit-down at the table; and occasionally put down utensils to emphasize mindfulness.

For no apparent reason, I included my actual meal for you, maybe to inspire, maybe to intrigue.

DAY 1 (Sunday): BreakfastOatmeal, Smoothie and Tea

*Note* Recovering from respiratory infection.

ResultSUCCESS! Due to being sick, I had no appetite, so what I did eat, I had to force myself to eat.

Lunch: Ugali with Lentil Soup 

Result: Appetite apparently improving, as my husband reminds me that I’m supposed to be eating slowly.

Dinner: Veggie Burgers with roasted veggies and a salad

Result: Success! Day 1 Complete! This will be a breeze.

DAY 2: Breakfast: Scrambled egg wraps and fruit medley 

Result: Half-Success. Enjoyed half of breakfast in peace until the toddler came in to attack the fruit. Potty training mode begins. Extra challenge to eat slowly upon return to the table, knowing the electric company was scheduled to come at 9!

Lunch: Boiled egg sandwich, salad, orange

Result: Success! Due to electric company invading our home, we lunched at my parents. Not much going on, so a very mindful meal.

Dinner: Leftover Soup and Ugali

Result: Half-Success. I successfully put my utensil down often during my meal, so as to accommodate the insistent 9 month old piranha  baby, who also wanted to eat, but apparently not following our slow-eating trial.

DAY 3: Breakfast: Leftover Oatmeal with Banana, with Tea

Result: FAIL. Needed to be at work by 5:45 for my first client, so needless to say I chose extra sleep over rising early. Did not finish breakfast until mid-morning.

Lunch: Cereal with strawberries

Result: Fail. Read the paper while trying to eat, then just read paper as baby decided she wanted mama’s milk NOW. An attempt to continue eating resulted in the piranha baby abruptly stopping to investigate what I put in my mouth. Finished my lunch (quickly) after she went down for her nap.

Dinner: Fish, baked potatoes, steamed carrots

Result: Fail. Issued one toddler timeout due to unruly behavior, with a continued battle to sit still, while simultaneously finger feeding the piranha baby and utensil feeding myself.

DAY 4: Breakfast: (memory loss…coffee?)

Lunch: Leftover veggies with a peanut butter & banana wrap

Result: Fail. Upon returning from work, my first parental duty involved enforcing nap time. This began around 2pm (after I heated up lunch), and ended a little after 3, at which point I ate my meal sporadically standing up, while repeatedly chasing toddler back to his lair.

Supper: Pasta with broccoli

Result: Semi-Success! Enjoyed a relatively calm meal for half of the time, while spoon feeding baby. Also felt satisfactorily full upon completion.

Conclusion: Luckily for you, there’s really no need to see the rest of the week’s study, since it basically repeated itself.  Surprisingly, the biggest challenge actually involved me not reading the paper, or reading anything, actually. To sit, and just munch. Munch. Munch. I suppose it might have knit my heart more closely to my meal, but in reality I found it very boring. I can’t say why, but reading while eating (alone) is a cherished pastime, one that happens less frequently than I prefer.

So if mindful eating requires deliberate chomps, fork table touches, and staring blissfully across the room for an hour, I think I might have to take early retirement from parenting.

In the meantime, I might take a trip to France to find a mom’s group, and gather empirical evidence on this mindful eating nonsense concept.

 

*As a follow up, I must say I just enjoyed a slow-paced dinner (while reading the paper). The trick? Put the kids in bed early. Then go eat supper. 🙂

 

 

 

References: ProCon. The Leading Source for Controversial Issues. Global Obesity Levels. http://obesity.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=006032#global-levels. 4/28/2016.

Archer, Shirley. Mindful Eating and Type 2 Diabetes. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/mindful-eating-and-type-2-diabetes. 9/22/2016.

Brown, Kelsey. Stop Dieting, Start Intuitive Eating. Idea Fitness Journal, February 2017.

Webster. Sandy Todd. Coaching Kids to Eat More Slowly Can Slash Weight. http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/coaching-kids-to-eat-more-slowly-can-slash-weight-0. 04/21/2016.

 

 

 

Flexitarian Eating: Five Reasons to Hop on this Bandwagon.

Summer 2017 has officially started, despite the 90 degree days that already occupied much of June before the kickoff. Along with summer heat from above, we can expect plenty of heat from grills down below, as Americans cook up deliciously sauced and cheesed meats from all backgrounds…pigs, cow, chicken, lamb, bison, turkey and even goat.  Indeed, what would be a 4th of July celebration without grilled steak and burgers? And perhaps that is too grand of a thought to consider at this point…a summer holiday without meat? Perhaps we can scale it back a bit: how about a few days each week without meat?

Enter Flexitarian Eating. No, it’s not about flexing your biceps doing the beer can curl; nor is it about increasing your flexibility so you can reach forgotten food in dark corners. Flexitarian Eating involves an eating plan that focuses on increasing consumption of plant-based meals, while still allowing for consumption of meat on a periodic basis. For people who want to improve their eating habits, it provides a wealth of health benefits, and for people who desire to transition to vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, it makes the transition easier because it’s not a total sacrifice at one time. In a word, it’s flexible. 

And it’s resourceful. Even if you aren’t a believer in global warming at this point, it’s not hard to see why eating plants is more economical and much more energy efficient than raising livestock.

Consider, for example, that according to the USDA Energy Research Service, a whopping 95% of animal feed is composed of corn. In addition, more than 90 million acres of land in the US grows corn, primarily for use as feed and for ethanol. Even admitted by the Iowa Corn Growers Association in their “Corn Facts” website, a puny 1% of corn grown in the US is actually human edible. Sweet corn, the nostalgic summer food prominent at every reunion and cookout, is by no means the farmers’ cash crop.

Another important fact to consider is the volume of space and water supply needed to raise livestock and grow feed for them. For example, one acre of land can grow up to 61,000 pounds of potatoes (for humans), while it takes 1-2 acres of land to sustain one cow and calf for a year (approximately 1200 lbs). Furthermore, at least 30% of water usage in the US is for livestock production, with beef requiring 1847 lb/gal (in comparison, broccoli requires about 34 lb/gal).

All of this does not even include the energy costs of slaughter, transportation, processing and packaging. In comparison, production of fruits and vegetables requires much less energy and processing when sold as whole foods.

So it’s easy to see why eating plant-based makes environmental sense.

But if you’re like most of my family, those numbers barely fazed you as you munched on your beef jerky stick. So let’s talk about you. Why does plant based eating benefit you?  You might be surprised by the reasons.

  1. Weight Loss. If you resemble 70% of the American population, then you might have a few extra pounds to shed. Part of that problem is due to an over consumption of animal products and protein. According to Sanna Delmonico (MS, RDN), in “The Protein Shift: Plant-Based Options” from  Idea Fitness Food and Nutrition Nov-Dec 2016 Issue, “Evidence suggests that American’s protein intake ranges from 1-1.3 g/kg per day, well above the RDA (Recommended Dietary Allowance) [of .8 g/kg].”

In addition, some research indicates that the average American consumes 62% of their diets from animal products, at more than 3x the global average. Consider that animal protein can often carry more calories per ounce than plant based products. For example, 3 oz of 85% lean ground beef carries about 197 calories, while tofu packs just 77 cal for the same amount (Robinson, Dorene. “The NEW Healthy Eating & Weight Management Guide.” 2012.)

So if you a person who eats meat at every meal, consider dropping to one meal a day, and substitute lower calorie plant products to decrease your overall caloric consumption, which may help with weight loss.
2. Live Longer. If you possess a competitive streak, and hope to outlive your peers, then here’s what you need to know: Compared with vegetarian eaters in various study groups, meat-eaters tend to die sooner, and part of that reason may be linked to chronic conditions often associated with eating animal products. In fact, I found in fascinating to learn that the people group in the US with the highest life expectancy are Seventh-Day Adventists, a Christian and vegetarian cohort, living approximately 10 years longer than their American counterparts.

3. Save Money. When I first got married in 2009 and finally started my own real grocery shopping (meal planning vs snack planning), the sticker shock of the meat section hit me fairly hard. At that time, my husband and I were also “broke as a Kenyan joke” (as my husband says), and living on a single, part-time income.  Fairly quickly I learned to start making meat-less meals, borrowing ideas from the Internet and also from international cuisine, from countries with people facing similar money plights as myself, where food had to go a long way.

Both of us cooked up some pretty stellar meals, and continue to do so, on a limited budget. So I’m usually somewhat perplexed when I hear, “It’s so expensive to eat healthy!” If you consider only organic food to be healthy, then that may be so. But when you shop for seasonal produce and buy from wholesale shops, that’s not necessarily the case.

4. Improve your Palate. Another memory from our first married year involves understanding my husband’s taste buds.  He grew up on fresh food from market and slaughter, and would frequently comment on the quality of food in a meal (old produce, cheap meat, cheap oil, etc). I grew up with a typical American quasi-healthy, mostly processed food, consumed the same meal with no complaints. Fast forward a few years, and I began to realize that (gasp!) my husband might actually be right. The same Sloppy Joe, Mac n Cheese or typical church potluck of ham buns didn’t pack the same satisfying punch as our multi-ingredient and spice laden meals at home. I began to experience a shifting palate in my mouth, heightening my awareness of quality food.

Interestingly, many restaurants noticed this type of consumer shift in reformed palates, and as such, have begun adding fresh and sustainable ingredients to the menus to enhance the dining out experience.

5. Improved Nutrient Profile. I think it goes without saying that fruits and vegetables improve your health…it’s an instinctive parental command to children: Eat your vegetables! But beyond those food groups, meat-less meals offer so much more to the eaters. As pointed out by Christopher Gardiner (PhD at Standford), in Delmonico’s article, “plant foods are also rich in fiber, which helps lower cholesterol and keep your microbiota and digestive tract healthy, and they’re rich in phytochemicals, the biologically active compounds found only in plants.”

Since fiber can only be found in plant foods, it makes sense to consume higher quantities of it, as fiber consumption is also linked to deceased risk for chronic conditions.

At this point, hopefully your interests shifted even slightly to consider meat-less meals. While I have a few recipes I can recommend, I think you may find increased benefit searching for some yourself, using ingredients you know that you like. But if you absolutely need suggestions, I’ll list a few titles from my recipe collection book that sparked a fire in my own kitchen. In the meantime, I hope this summer finds you firing up the grill to test out the latest garden and bean burgers on the market!

The Eat Clean DIET Cookbook, by Tosca Reno

Seven Secrets Cookbook, by Neva & Jim Brackett

Students Go Vegan Cookbook, by Carole Raymond

www.Tablespoon.com has also given several ideas for innovative recipes.
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Fun-tastic Fitness, Part 2. Indoor Fitness Fun

In my last post, I shared the grim statistics that most Americans are not getting enough daily physical activity to warrant health benefits, and also that most people see exercise as a chore, which decreases the likelihood that they will engage in it. In an encouraging light, research also confirms what we suspected was true… that “the health status of the parents is intricately linked to that of their children.” In other words, the health habits of children typically reflect the habits of the parents (with the exception of the bottomless intake of sugar a child can ingest, particularly after a parade).

The encouragement in this type of research reflects the power of influence that parents have over their children’s healthy habits.  Possibly more than education, income, zip code, peer influence and other factors, parents wield power to show children wellness by living it out for them to see on a daily basis.  Even if unhealthy habits are being practiced, the effect of seeing parents battle their habits and eventually win sends powerful and lasting messages to the child that individuals have control over their wellness.

So in light of that hopeful news, I want to continue to Part 2 of Fun-tastic Fitness Ideas. Last time I offered you some fun outdoor exercise ideas, and this time I want to highlight some indoor fitness ideas. These are some of my tried and true experiences with my kids and also with my siblings growing up. I would love to hear what other ideas parents, caregivers or babysitters have come up with!

  • Catch You: As mentioned in last post, this game works great inside also, often dispelling whiny toddler moods into giggles. Just use the cue words, “Catch You!” and start chasing the child. Once caught, tickle or toss the child onto the bed. This usually turns into the next activity…
  • Airplanes: Laying on a bed, have the child stand by your feet and you hold his hands and slowly lift him up, keeping your feet pressed up against his torso, til he is over you in the air, like a plane. Gently bring the plane down to either side for a landing. (Not a recommended activity shortly after eating!)
  • Dancing: Turn on some upbeat music and have a jam session. Actually even mellow music is fine too. I invented my own style of ballroom dance with my 2 year old to the tune of Pachelbel on our keyboard’s song list. Now he turns it on and dances on his own.
  • London Bridges: Classic game of London Bridge Falling Down…you rest your head, neck and shoulders on couch or stability ball while kids crawl under you as you hold the glute bridge position. When you finish the song, you drop (lightly) down on the unfortunate child caught underneath you. Variation: Do Marches in the bridge position.
  • Ping-Pongballoon
  • Balloon Volley-Wally-ball: Divide a room in half with pillows/blankets/scarves, and use an inflated balloon to play volleyball. All the rules of regular volleyball apply
    (except net rules, since there’s no net), in addition to playing the “ball” off of furniture & walls. Set one boundary in the back for service line and the out-of-bounds area. General rule of thumb, anything is a legit hit until it hits the floor!
  • Basket rides: Similar to weighted sled pushes for athletes, this variation puts the child (and likely stuffed animals) in a laundry basket and you push them around the house. Be prepared for tired hamstrings.
  • Jumping contests: Use a broom or yardstick to challenge children and adults alike to see how high they can jump over the stick. Another option is long jump contests..see who can jump the farthest.
  • Stability ball or Bosu bouncing and balancing: Bouncing—Place child on ball but hold it steady with your feet (if sitting) as you bounce them up and down. Balancing—Kneeling on the ball and using wall or couch for support as needed, compete to see who can kneel the longest without holding on or falling off (recommended for older kids).
  • Family Challenge Chart: Pick various exercises (squats, planks, pushups) and make a chart for daily or weekly challenges. Either on the honor policy or with a witness, record each performer to see how many he can do in a minute, or how long she can hold a plank.
  • Whippa!: A true home-spun game that will one day be patented…use two pieces of furniture (ideally couches) as the safe areas. One person is “it” wielding a winter scarf, and must be kneeling while she is it. Runners dash back and forth between couches trying to avoid getting “whipped” by the scarf. If tagged 3 times, the runner becomes it.

 

 

References: Vedanthan et al. April 12, 2016. Cardiovascular Health PromotionFamily-Based Approaches to Cardiovascular Health. promotionhttp://www.onlinejacc.org/content/accj/67/14/1725.full.pdf