Naturally Healthy 4 Life's Blog

A blog about health, nutrition, fitness and wellness

The Trinity of Wellness: Body, Mind and Spirit

body-mind-spirit

At the end of each year, like everyone else, I find myself reflecting on the past year and thinking about where I was then compared to today.

Last December, I was in the middle of a long taper Prednisone treatment, following another terrible spike in my flare-up. Hydroxyzine proved to be the magic medicine. I tapered off the Prednisone and each day the hives and swelling were smaller and smaller until they disappeared altogether (mid-February). I have been in remission since. It was the longest stretch of CIU (Chronic Idiopathic Urticaria) that I have ever had, spanning a year and a half this flare.

I am not a sickly person. In fact, I have been very physically fit for the last 15-20 years. While I no longer run (too hard on the knees!), I regularly strength train and do cardio, I practice yoga daily, and I eat extraordinarily healthfully and mindfully.

However, in the years preceding this flare, three of our children left home for college (leaving us with an empty nest), we lost two beloved family pets, my husband and I both changed jobs (with my husband becoming an independent contractor) – all of which caused incredible stress and put a strain on my closest relationships. I denied it existed – particularly to myself. Instead, I buried it all deep inside (“I’m strong – I can handle anything!”). The cortisol in my body continued to build. Cortisol (aka the “stress hormone”) usually fluctuates throughout the day and night, rising in response to a stressful event, then returns to a normal level following the stressful event. However, my cortisol level went up and never went down, causing my immune system to go BANANAS. My body began attacking itself and nearly everything I touched or ingested. Writing about it now actually makes my chest tight. It was a terrible couple of years and I am so grateful to now feel SO good.

The life lesson I finally learned while trying to recover from this flare is that true health is more than just the fitness of my physical body. It includes the health of my mind and my soul, as well. Until this year, I was truly unhealthy in that sense, and it is what ultimately led to this flare.

During the flare, I underwent counseling with a gifted psychologist. I insisted that treatment not include pills. Instead, we talked about how I got here, and he taught me how to listen to my body in response to my emotions – breathing, meditation, and being present – and how to forgive myself for not being perfect.

I am not big on New Year’s resolutions, but last January, I made a decision that 2016 was going to be the healthiest year of my life.   I think I succeeded.

I know I am not as healthy as I could be, and some days are harder than others, but 2016 HAS been the healthiest year of my life thus far. I will certainly try to top it in 2017.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2017 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s the holiday season…

Happy holidays!  This time of year is filled with holiday parties, eating out, cooking and baking holiday foods.   If you are anything like me, it seems that everywhere you look is another tempting treat – candy, cookies, bread, cocktails.  And for many of us, it is a busy (and cold) time of year, so we are not working out like we did a few months ago.

Here are my top tips for navigating healthfully through the season.

Food

Obviously, avoid the high calorie items like cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream.  But if you simply cannot resist, try to limit how much you eat and use some of the following “tricks.”

  • Eat something healthy and filling before you leave the house. You will be less interested in the decadent foods or you will eat less of them.
  • Nothing good to eat at home?  Load up on the crudités (raw vegetables) first.  Raw vegetables have high water content and are high in fiber, so they will make you feel fuller longer.
  • Use a small plate, take your time and do not go back for a second helping.  Using a small plate is tricks your brain – it sees a full plate (even if it’s small) and you will likely eat less.
  • Be a food snob.   Do not sample everything – rather, choose those foods that are not always available to you and savor them.  Skip foods that you can eat any other day of the year.

Cocktails

It goes without saying that you should always drink responsibly, including a designated driver, if necessary.  In addition to lowering your inhibitions, alcohol lowers your cortisol (the “stress hormone”) levels.  We need a sufficient release of cortisol to make us feel hungry, so when it drops, we feel hungry and we eat more than we should.

  • Avoid specialty drinks that are made with syrups and/or liqueurs (which are often made with cream and added sugar).  These cocktails go down easily and are  unbelievably high in calories.
  • Dilute the alcohol.  Mix hard liquor with a low-sugar mixer or drink wine spritzers.  (Using soda pop as a mixer is a bad idea – very high in calories and loaded with corn syrup and additives.  And don’t be fooled by “sugar free” – artificial sweeteners actually increase your appetite.)
  • And if you decide to imbibe, always make sure you are drinking plenty of water so you don’t get dehydrated.  Alternate each alcoholic drink with at least one full glass of water.

Find time for some exercise

In addition to helping maintain your weight, exercise will help you cope with the stress you may feel during the season.  If your workout schedule is kaput during the holidays, be creative.

  • While you are running all of your errands, walk as much as possible.  Use the stairs, walk extra laps in the mall, take the dog for walks, etc.
  • Shovel the snow (instead of plowing it).
  • If you are traveling over the holidays, note that most hotels now have fitness centers.  You can also pack fitness equipment in your suitcase – resistance bands, a workout DVD (if you have a laptop that plays DVD), running shoes, yoga clothes, etc.

Enjoy the season.  See you next year!

Angela, Party Grrrl 🙂

  1. “Alcohol Can Impact Your Appetite,” MedIndia, August 27, 2009 (www.medindia.net)
  2. “Alcohol Metabolism,” Dr. Dan Rutherford (www.netdoctor.com)
  3. “Calories in Popular Alcoholic Drinks & Alcohol Calories Chart” (www.fatburn-secrets.com)

December 11, 2011 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Health and the Holidays

 

I woke up to a blizzard today – literally (we do have them on occasion in Minnesota), so I think it is a great day to blog!

In December, the temperatures drop significantly, the sun does not stay in the sky for long, and there are plenty of holiday treats and foods and parties to tempt us.  We move less, and we eat and drink more.  This is not a good recipe for good health.

Food, food and more food

At this time of year, there are so many parties – those you host and those hosted by friends and family.  There are treats at the office – the potlucks, the treat table, the Secret Santa, etc.  You are most likely cooking and baking something for all of these gatherings, and probably sampling the goods along the way!  Our bodies are not able to handle the increase in sugar, fat and calories, and the increased amount of these foods we eat, so it is the hardest time of year to stay healthy.

I like Bethany Frankel’s (author of Naturally Thin) theory:  your diet is a bank account.  So you balance your diet like you do your bank account.  For example, if you eat pancakes for breakfast, you do not then eat pasta for lunch; rather, you have a salad with chicken and veggies.  This is how naturally thin people eat – in BALANCE.

So how can you navigate through all the temptations of the holidays?  Here are a few of my own tips:

  • Eat something healthy and filling before you leave the house.  If you are not hungry, you are less likely to be interested in the decadent foods offered to you OR if you cannot help but partake (which is often my issue), you will eat less of them.
  • Load up on the crudités (raw vegetables) first.  Raw vegetables have high water content and are high in fiber, so they will make you feel fuller longer.
  • Use a small plate, take your time and do not go back for a second helping.  Using a small plate is a psychological trick; your brain sees a full plate (even if it’s small) and you will eat less.
  • Be snobby about the food you choose to eat.  Do not sample everything – rather, choose those foods that are not always available to you and savor them.  Skip foods that you can eat any other day of the year.
  • Avoid the high calorie items like cheese, cream sauces, gravy, butter and whipped cream.
  • When signing up for the office potluck, be the one that brings the vegetable tray or bowl of cut up fruit.  People will be very grateful for the “guilt free” addition to the potluck.

The Cocktail Party

Alcohol is very high in calories.  Period.  For instance:  One glass of red wine is 120 calories; one pint of beer is 180 calories; one ounce of cream liqueur is 160 calories; and one shot of hard alcohol (vodka, rum, whiskey) is 50 calories.  If you are not careful, you can easily drink a meal’s worth of calories in a very short amount of time.

In addition to lowering your inhibitions, alcohol lowers your cortisol (a/k/a the “stress hormone”) levels.  We need a sufficient release of cortisol to make us feel hungry, so when it drops, we feel hungry and we eat more than we should.

My tips for holiday beverages:

  • Avoid specialty drinks that are made with sugary syrups and/or liqueurs (often made with cream and added sugar).  These cocktails go down very easily and are unbelievably high in calories.
  • Dilute the alcohol.  Mix hard liquor with a low-sugar mixer and drink wine spritzers.  (Keep in mind – using soda pop as a mixer is a bad idea – very high in calories and loaded with corn syrup and additives.)
  • And if you decide to imbibe, always make sure you are drinking plenty of water.  Alternate each alcoholic drink with at least one full glass of water.

Finding time to work your body

Our schedules fill up quickly during the holiday season and for many of us, holidays can be very stressful.  That is why it is very important that you keep your body moving, not only to burn off the extra calories, but to help cope with the added stress. 

Some tips:

  • While you are running all of your errands, walk as much as possible.  Use the stairs, walk extra laps in the mall, take the dog for walks, etc.
  • Shovel the snow (instead of plowing it).  Today is a great opportunity for that if you are one of us lucky mid-westerners!
  • Embrace winter – try snow-shoeing, cross-country and/or downhill skiing.  Sledding is a great opportunity for an awesome workout – once you slide down the hill, you have to climb back up!
  • If you are traveling over the holidays, plan ahead.  Find hotels that have fitness centers (most now do).  Check with family and friends with whom you might be staying to see if they have fitness equipment that you can use during your stay.  You can also pack fitness equipment in your suitcase – resistance bands, a workout DVD (if you have a laptop that plays DVD), running shoes, yoga clothes, etc.

The best gift you can give yourself and those you love is health.  Take care of yourselves.  Happy holidays!!

Angela, Santa’s Healthy Elf 🙂

References:

  1. “Naturally Thin,” by Bethany Frankel
  2. “Alcohol Can Impact Your Appetite,” MedIndia, August 27, 2009 (www.medindia.net)
  3. “Alcohol Metabolism,” Dr. Dan Rutherford (www.netdoctor.com)
  4. “Calories in Popular Alcoholic Drinks & Alcohol Calories Chart” (www.fatburn-secrets.com)

December 11, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Stress Monster

There is more to life than increasing its speed.  ~Mohandas K. Gandhi

We all experience stress on a daily basis – mostly on a small-scale.  It’s part of life.  The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it (physically, mentally and emotionally).  It can be positive in the fact that it keeps us alert and ready to avoid danger (the “fight or flight” response).  It is difficult for scientists to define, as the effects differ for each of us.  Something that is distressful for me may be very pleasurable for another (i.e. public speaking – enjoyable for some, terrifying for others).  It can result from external challenges (major life changes, work, financial problems) or be self-generated (pessimism, perfectionism, negative self-talk).

However, when stress becomes continuous or chronic, without relaxation between challenges, it leads to distress.  Mentally, it can cause difficulty in concentration, trouble learning new information, forgetfulness, difficulty making decisions, feeling overwhelmed, social withdrawal, panic attacks – just to name a few!  It can manifest itself physically, causing headaches, upset stomach, elevated blood pressure, chest pain, difficulty sleeping, etc., etc….  The effects are different for everyone.  Consider the following:

  • Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.

When we experience stress, our body releases a hormone called “Cortisol.”  It helps metabolize glucose, regulates blood pressure, assists with insulin release for blood sugar maintenance, and is involved in immune function and inflammatory response.  Small increases in cortisol can provide a quick burst of energy, heightened memory functions, a burst of increased immunity, lower sensitivity to pain, and assistance in maintaining homeostasis (the physiology of internal stability) in the body.

However, prolonged levels of cortisol in the bloodstream (chronic stress) can cause a multitude of physical problems, including (but not limited to!) the following:

  • Impaired cognitive performance
  • Suppressed thyroid function
  • Blood sugar imbalances such as hyperglycemia
  • Decreased bone density
  • Decrease in muscle tissue
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Lowered immunity and inflammatory responses in the body, slowed wound healing, and other health consequences
  • Increased abdominal fat, which is associated with a greater amount of health problems than fat deposited in other areas of the body. Some of the health problems associated with increased stomach fat are heart attacks, strokes, the development of metabolic syndrome, higher levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and lower levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL), which can lead to other health problems!
  • The effects of stress often look like symptoms of other illnesses (partially due to the fact that stress lowers immunity and makes us vulnerable to many things), sometimes people mistake symptoms of illness for stress and vice versa.

In my case, stress ran my immune system into the ground.

About a year ago, I had a lot going on in my life – good and bad.  I had a very stressful job, I was caring for a sick, elderly pet and I was planning my wedding.  My entire life up to that point had required that I push through whatever stress was taking place at any given moment – I had to in order to survive.  This was natural for me.  However, while I took care of my body – ate healthfully, exercised regularly – my mind was spinning out of control.  I was able to maintain a remarkably calm exterior.  Based on my appearance and composure, no one could tell (including me) that the suppression of these stresses was making me very sick.

I started having panic attacks, chest pains, and I was sleeping very little.  This led to a complete meltdown of my immune system.  Within a few months, I developed urticaria and giant hives on a daily basis.  My body was suddenly allergic to foods I used to eat several times a week, if not every day – peanuts (and other tree nuts), berries, shellfish, and sulfates.  The medical doctors that treated me were perplexed.  They refused to believe that stress alone could be the cause of my many ailments, ordering test after test, sending me to specialists – all of which resulted in a diagnosis of something like “unspecified immune system dysfunction,” with no idea of how to treat it.  (Unfortunately, I spent a lot of money for that diagnosis!)  They prescribed various medications – steroids (when my life was at risk from the urticaria) to antihistamines.  At one point, I was taking four different medications to control the physical symptoms that were causing me pain and disrupting my life.

My body was in such terrible shape that a lifestyle change was necessary.  After the wedding, I quit my stressful job and focused on getting healthy – emotionally, physically, mentally.  It took about a month after leaving my job for the symptoms to start to dissipate.  While I am now quite healthy, I still have a long way to go in my journey; I spent a lifetime telling myself to “suck it up and move on!”  I know now that the stress does not go away; if you don’t address it, it festers and grows.  This year has been both incredibly blessed and terribly difficult – and an incredible learning experience!

The following are some ways that you can relax your body and mind to keep cortisol levels at bay:

  • Journaling
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Breathing exercises
  • Listening to music
  • Acupuncture
  • Sex

Don’t let the Stress Monster get the best of you!

Angela, Chillin’ Chica 🙂

References:

  1. http://www.webmd.com
  2. http://www.stress.org
  3. http://stress.about.com

March 29, 2010 Posted by | Fitness, Health, Nutrition | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

   

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