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.

 

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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

 

 

Fun-tastic Fitness: Making Exercise Fun for the Whole Family (Part 1)

If you’re like many parents, a quiet house at the end of the day or for a few hours during nap time brings great delight that we can finally enjoy “me” time. That could mean a variety of things, such as checking in with social media or writing blogs, or catching up on the endless list of chores around the house. Rarely, this might be used as the time to get in an exercise routine.  But movin’ and groovin’ to our workout playlist might arouse the youngsters from their slumbers, and that’s not a risk most parents want to take.

Fortunately, for the many parents grieving the loss of their workout days, or for those wishing for extra time and energy to fit a routine into their day…hope exists. And even better news…for those who conjure up images of slow-motion minutes on the treadmill and weight-lifting boredom, exercising does not have to be a chore. Movement brings joy, and when you do it with kids, it usually brings some laughs too.

A recent article reminded me of how far we have strayed from this concept. “Embracing the Joy of Movement,” by fitness pro Ryan Halvorson (http://bit.ly/2qkCu2t), brings many thoughts together about why the vast majority of Americans don’t get enough exercise. Indeed 80% of the Americans don’t meet the physical activity recommendations (21 min/day or 150 min/wk) and only 55% are active enough to make health improvements. The bottom line reason for inactivity is that individuals don’t find it fun. As Halvorson quotes from Michelle Segar, PhD, MPH fitness expert and author at University of Michigan, “The core issue is that in our society, our prescription/lecturing perspective has turned exercise into a chore…the vast majority of people don’t exercise, and the reason they don’t is because we [fitness industry] have alienated them by limiting its purpose in their lives.”

Sadly, much truth rings from those words. We often feel guilty about missing “workouts,” rather than valuing the amount of movement we already put into a day.  And we lament each day that passes without exercise, dreaming of a period where free time comes in abundance.

Another challenge, as Halvorson points out, by quoting another expert, Katy Bowman (biochemist and author), “Traditional training programs require exercise to occur outside of your house. They require extra money, special outfits and shoes, arrangements for someone to watch our children, and an instructor or trainer.” Of course I don’t want to downplay the importance of trainers and fitness professionals (hello, job security!); yet it’s important to recognize the barriers that keep inactive individuals from engaging in movement. In addition, I want to encourage parents, especially of young children, that you might already be more active than you realize. (There’s a reason we don’t get enough sleep!)

So if you’re looking for simple and fun ways to add or enhance your physical activity levels, and perhaps bring it up to the moderate-vigorous intensity to warrant health benefits, I want to provide you some ideas that I’ve used, some from growing up with my many siblings (9!), where we invented cheap forms of entertainment by necessity; and others with my own two children (2 and 7 months). Hopefully you find yourself inspired to create new activities…you are only limited by your imagination! In Part 1, I will share outdoor fun fitness activities. Next week I plan to share successful indoor fun fitness ideas!

OUTDOOR FITNESS FUN

IMG_20170421_164629499Monkey bars–adult favorites at the park!
 

  • Parks: The obvious outdoor movement choice. Familiarize yourself with your local parks, many of them provide challenges for adults too (think Monkey bars). Plus the added bonus of enjoying nature will give you an energy boost too.
  • Biking: one word, Hills
  • Tee-ball, catch, Softball 500 game in park or back yard: 500: batter self-pitches, outfielders battle for the ball, 100pts for fly ball, 75 for one bounce grounder, 50 for two bounces, 25 for three or more. First to 500 pts becomes the batter.
  • Running bases: Two people throw a ball back and forth between “safe” areas; runners run back and forth avoiding a tag from person with the ball. Three tags requires runner to switch with tagger.
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    Creative park ideas—practice balance or jump over the bench.
  • Tag…so many variations of this game and the game is timelessly fun
  • Mother May I? “Mother” faces away from participants who start at a distance away. One at a time, each person asks “Mother may I [insert activity]? Options include run, skip, hop, etc. Mother approves or denies request (if denied, offers another option). Once approved, requester begins moving and Mother turns around at any moment to “catch” the person in movement. If caught, mover returns to start and next person makes a request. First person to reach Mother switches places.
  • Jump rope: Grab two ropes and make it a double-Dutch fun, or competitions of who can jump the most before snagging it with the foot. Use variations of two feet, single feet, backwards, boxer hop, eyes closed, double-jump and more!
  • Soccer/Kickball: Sprinting, kicking, chasing…heart’s racing in minutes!
  • Trampoline: Ok, I know it’s #1 on the pediatrician’s “Don’t get this Toy for Kids” list, but wow, we had a lot of fun on this as kids. And zero broken bones or serious injuries. Just a lot of good times. For
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    Perhaps a little extreme…but the fun on the trampoline is simply endless.

    liability purposes, of course, I am not responsible for any injuries you may incur on this device (it’s 2017, after all…gotta cover all my bases)!

  • Ladder/Hopscotch: The agility ladder is a great tool that conditioning coaches use for athletes, especially for sports that require quick reflexes (basketball, tennis, etc). But you don’t need to buy a ladder to get the same results. All you need is some sidewalk chalk to draw boxes on the ground and use your imagination for creating ways to get quickly through the ladder during various things (hopping, running, shuffling). Or you can get some ideas from YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67XP-AekUoA
  • Racing: Anything! Kids, especially little kids, are naturally social, so they consider most interaction, including competition, fun. You can make a game of just about anything. Few examples: We have two toy lawn mowers and my son would frequently ask me to “mow” with him. This was not overly appealing to me since I had to hunch over to use it, and pretend mowing is well, pretend. So I instead invented a new game…race the lawn mowers down the driveway! He loved it andIMG_20161125_140356562 so did I (for awhile, anyway).  Another example is our “Catch you” Game (explained more in Inside Fun). But the main gist is the cue phrase “Catch you” turns whatever we are doing into a game of chase, and we have to catch him as he runs. This is a great tool for pokey bike riders and daydreaming walkers.
  • Forest Preserves/Nature Centers: Often overlooked and underused (in my opinion), a serene getaway and nature hike is often only minutes away. Although maybe more ideal for walking aged children, I’ve hiked with the baby carrier also, which adds additional benefit for resistance training.
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Bundle up and pull in the laundry basket! 
  •  Winter activities: Sledding, Snowmen (and women), forts…in fact just getting all the winter gear on and sweating from it seems beneficial. And I seriously forgot until this past year how much a snowman’s torso weighs.

Hopefully you benefit from some of these ideas and even create your own ideas from what you see around you. Come back next week to check out Indoor Fitness Fun Ideas! In the meantime, I would love to know what other ideas people have for outdoor family fun!

 

Back…with Babies!

Once again, my blogging ambitions took a lengthy hiatus, although I’m doubtful many people noticed. But this time I have a good excuse (at least that’s what I’ve been told…this excuse works for just about anything you avoid doing).

Yes, I’ve entered the world where babbles, coos, spit-ups, diapers, time-outs, messy floors, sticky fingers, child locks, car seats, and every thing else baby runs my life. I never imagined the real Little People could consume so much attention while simultaneously unearthing a full spectrum of emotions from the adults called parents. Yes, indeed, I continue to learn daily about my own emotional shortcomings, especially in the area of patience.

Yet I have to admit, most of the time I actually enjoy this life. True, it involves a lot of work and discipline. But I still spend more time laughin
g, smiling and playing than being annoyed. For me, the two words often on my mind

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Free Entertainment: A walking blanket disguised as a child supposedly taking a nap.

 

watching these bambinos (as my husband calls them)…Free Entertainment! 

So with the change of lifestyle, I felt moved to change the direction of the blog, andgear it towards a specific audience that I’ve come to know better. As I continue personal training on the side, I am constantly hearing from moms looking for fitness help after baby. And let’s face it, parenting is overwhelming. A single day just doing chores and keeping kids alive would earn us a CEO ranking for work ethic in any corporate company. It’s no wonder we put our health on the back burner while we strive to raise responsible citizens.

Yet I believe it is possible (and even fun!) to live healthy and fit as a parent. And this lifestyle can be achieved even with infants who demand constant attention and sedentary positions for feeding. What makes success possible? Two things:

  1. Goals: Just like raising kids, we don’t expect them to perfect motor skills in one day, or even a week. Setting baby steps for achievable goals slowly transforms our wellness from periodic salads to intentional, nutritional meals.
  2. Education: When we bring home a baby, we have Google at our fingertips to advise us on every movement the baby makes. The same is true for health…the more you know, the more you grow (your mind), which in turn changes behavior.

So I hope as you read this re-branded blog, if you are a parent, that you find helpful advice for your home life. And if you are not a parent but reading this blog, I hope you find solid health tips, and maybe even an awareness to the challenges your parenting friends may be going through. We could all use a helping hand, right?

Tune in next week as I discuss how to put Fun into Fitness (kid involvement highly recommended)!

 

FITNESS AGON

The place of struggle

“Run with endurance the race that is set before you.” Running the race is the culmination of months of sweat & struggle.

It’s tricky to come up with a title that embodies catchiness, meaning, thought, intrigue and relevance…all pre-requisites for an effective blog or book title.  “Fitness Agon” is my attempt to convey these traits for the purposes of this blog.
So what does it mean?  “Agon” represents a Greek concept, referred to in a few places in the Bible, that captures the idea of conflict or struggle. Used in Hebrews 12:1-2, “agon” is translated to race in English, so in many Bible translations, the verse reads something like this:
“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith….”
I don’t claim to be a Bible scholar or have much knowledge of Greek; I do however, own a book that makes up for my inadequacies.  If you are a Bible reader and desire to get a comprehensive look at Scripture passages, I encourage you to use a book like Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  This book shows where every word of text in the Bible is used, and also offers dictionaries for Hebrew and Greek words of the original words, with references to the English words.  My personal copy is based off the KJV version, but you can get other versions as well.

The start of a new endeavor can be thrilling and daunting at the same time, but to finish the race, starting is an must.

So as I looked into a new title for the blog, I simply referred to the concordance for references to “race” in the Bible, and looked at the Greek root.  That is where I learned about “Agon.”  In Greek context, it refers to the place where the national fitness contests took place, or the struggle that embodies the competition.  In English, “agon” refers a literary conflict between the protagonist and antagonist.
For my purposes, I am using “agon” to represent the struggles and challenges associated with living a fit and strong life.  As many of you know, this lifestyle is not easy; in fact, it’s a battle!  Daily we war against the temptations of food, depression, self-worth, pain, negativity and more as we pursue wholeness.  But if you are in the midst of that conflict, take heart.  The battle is not without a payoff.  While the external milestones (losing weight, getting off meds, finishing a contest, etc.) teach us valuable life lessons, the best lesson is that our successes will be remembered.  “Agon” used in 2 Timothy 4:7-8 gives us this promise:
 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.
God sees your struggle and hears your cries of pain, despair and discouragement and he does not ignore you.  Keep fighting, and he will reward you better than you can ever imagine.

The pain and struggle of the race will always be worth the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction when we cross the finish line.