Ask yourself this question at your next meal. It is a very simple way to take a pause and check-in. You can do this in a number of ways:
This is an example of the approach that Andrea Lieberstein takes in her new book Well Nourished. Based on principles of mindfulness, this book guides you through a complete evaluation of the health of your life; using straight-forward exercises to increase awareness of patterns of thinking around food and consumption and so much more. Andrea takes a holistic view of nourishment, recognizing that we need to address the health of not just our physical body but also our social, intellectual, spiritual, psychological and emotional selves as well. Creating wellness in all these aspects of our lives helps us heal underlying issues that may be holding us back from accomplishing our goals. As she states:
“Practicing mindful awareness opens the door to experiencing the piece and spaciousness that are available to you as you identify with awareness the unchanging part of you, rather than over-identifying with the changing nature of your thoughts, feelings, struggles, and experiences. This helps free you from the part of yourself that struggles with food and eating and opens up the space to make true change.”
Just like the wellness program at the San Francisco Free Clinic, this is not a diet book. Instead you will be exploring, experimenting, and finding the right way for you to eat, move, think, and be in the world that supports your life of health and happiness. Using concepts like “beginner’s mind” to see your present moment experiences with a fresh perspective and an ever present intention of kindness towards your self to break free from the struggles we tend to spend much of our energy on.
This kind of deep change doesn’t happen quickly, nor does it fade quickly like most diets. Mindful awareness is a way to be in your body and relate to your mind that takes practice. Andrea provides worksheets and techniques for journaling, meditation, and nurturing social support to make it easier for you to succeed.
“This awareness helps to bring a sense of perspective in the challenging moments…and help connect us to our essential self.”
Do you struggle with:
If so, this book has a path to help you uncover the root of what is holding you back and a way to make daily changes in your habits, behaviors, and patterns of thinking to improve your relationship to food and your health.
The way we categorize body weight makes it appear that you have to fall into a certain range to be healthy. Based on BMI (an estimation of body fat based on weight in relation to height), it is officially know as “normal weight”. But is this true?
One way to evaluate this question is to look at what is going on inside the body. Last year I wrote about a study where researchers evaluated progressive weight loss in overweight people on markers of disease (inflammation, blood sugar control, abdominal fat); finding the largest improvement in the first 5% of weight lost. While the metabolic effect continued with further weight loss, the initial 5% was enough to make clinically significant improvements to health. This does not mean getting to a certain healthy weight. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, losing 10 pounds will give you this result. Think of the lily pads floating in the pond, their health is dependent on what you can’t see; the health of the water underneath that nourishes them.
Additionally, studies of overweight people indicate that about half the increased risk for heart disease and stroke is due to these metabolic dysfunctions and half to excess body fat.
Another way to evaluate the relationship between body weight and health is to look at the correlation between disease and BMI. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine this month analyzed data from 68.5 million people around the world and reported that 70% of deaths attributed to excess body weight (overweight or obese on the BMI scale) were caused by heart disease. This makes sense as heart disease risk increases with elevated blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar- the metabolic dysfunctions common with excess body fat. In fact, the authors suggest that health promotion efforts should focus on reducing these risk factors and not on weight loss.
Why do they make this statement in an article showing the strong connection between excessive body weight and disease? They point to two key factors:
The reality is that while most people struggle with weight loss, success rates at controlling the internal markers of disease are much more promising.
So health is not dependent on a specific body size. While there is a strong correlation between increasing body weight and risk for disease and death, the number on the scale only tells you part of the story. How much you move, what you eat and how you manage stress in your life contribute more to your health than the number on the scale.
Here is one simple way to get started improving your metabolic health- the unseen factors that nourish your life.
Welcome to the second half of the year. Summer brings longer days, warmer weather- except for us coastsiders where the fog has set in- and maybe a chance to slow down and reflect on the year so far. I am taking advantage of this calendar moment to look back at some of the highlights in health and nutrition that I’ve been focused on this year:
Happy eating in the second half of the year –
We do it 16 times a minute, 960 times an hour, and 23,040 times a day. While breathing is an automatic function of the body, several factors impact lung function and when working well can have a powerful impact on how we feel physically and mentally. While you can exert some control over your breath, how you live- eat, move, manage stress, and your exposure to toxins impacts both the breath and the health of your lungs. The key is keeping your cells happy – avoiding inflammation and damage from unhealthy foods- namely excessive sugar, high fat animal meats, and some processed food additives.
A good way to evaluate the impact of lifestyle on lung health is to study conditions that impact the most common lung disease- asthma. A recently published study in the Journal Thorax found a direct association between cured meat intake and asthma symptoms. This study followed 971 French adults for an average of 7 years and used the most commonly consumed processed meats in France: ham and sausage. Those who consumed the most cured meats (defined as more than 4 servings per week) had the worst symptoms over time. While they found no association between cured meat intake and body weight, they did report that 14% of the asthma worsening affect of cured meat was related to obesity. That is, excessive body weight makes the impact of eating cured meats worse.
In fact, obesity can worsen, and in some cases cause asthma. There appears to be a direct connection between increasing body weight and development of this breathing disorder.
Why processed meats?
Both red and cured meats have been getting lots of attention lately, a highly publicized report by the World Health Association (WHO) identified them as carcinogenic (processed meats as a class 1 carcinogen, the highest level due to strong evidence of colon cancer). Their consumption is also linked to earlier death as well as several chronic diseases. It is likely that every organ in the body is negatively affected by frequent cured meat consumption, impaired lung function may lead to lung cancer and obstructive lung diseases.
Cured meats are high in nitrates which are associated with increased inflammation and cell damage (through oxidative stress) and may be the culprit driving this disease process. These foods are also high in salt and saturated fats which may also contribute to asthma risk and increased symptoms.
What are processed meats?
The WHO classifies processed meats as being salted, cured, fermented or smoked. Meats included in this group:
What you can do to breath better
While avoiding processed meats is clearly a wise health choice, what you eat, how you move, and how much you weigh can also promote healthy lung function.
Happy eating and breathing,
Do you like the taste of black coffee? How about Brussels sprouts? Or dark chocolate? While these bitter foods and drinks can be a challenge to enjoy, research consistently points to these compounds as some of the most beneficial to our health. The taste of bitter is complex and a bit of a catch-all, as there are thousands of bitter compounds in nature; some of which have specific genes identified with their taste perception. So you may like some, but find others overpowering. However, abandoning bitter will cut you off from some of the healthiest foods in nature.
Why are bitter flavors unpleasant and yet healthy?
Compounds in fruits and vegetables protective of health are part of the plants defense mechanisms- its immune function. By consuming them, we incorporate these chemicals into our immune systems as anti-oxidants, anti-tumor factors, and anti-inflammatories. These compounds protect plants from insects by either being unappealing or even toxic. Not surprisingly, we interpret bitter flavors as potentially dangerous, a sign that we may be consuming a poison. Additionally, strong bitter flavors don’t always appeal to modern pallets used to sweet tastes.
And yet, the very compounds associated wth danger in the short term, are highly protective of health in the long term. Perhaps to help us navigate this seeming contradiction between life and death, humans developed nearly ten times as many taste buds for bitter flavors as sweet ones. As a result, the taste of bitter is more complex and nuanced than sweet.
Bitter flavors are also digestive stimulants. Bitter drinks are traditionally used both before and after meals, promoting digestion in two ways:
How you can embrace the bitter
Some bitter plant foods to keep you healthy
What to know more about these mysterious health promoting compounds and how we relate to them in our food? One of my favorite podcasts about food, Gastropod has an entertaining episode all about bitter.
As a nation, we don’t eat enough fruit- less than 1/3 of US adults consume at least 2 cups per day. What? Given our desire for sweet flavors and convenient, ready to eat food, you might assume we eat too much fruit. Not only is that not happening, but it may not even be possible, as the health benefits of fruit are legion. Imagine a sweet burst of juicy flavor that helps to control blood sugar, maintain fullness, regulate digestion, keep skin clear and reduces the risk of heart disease and some cancers. Oh yes, pass that bowl of fruit!
But wait, doesn’t fruit have too much sugar?
This is a common question and one that makes sense given the push to reduce our sugar and carbohydrate intake with programs like the Whole 30 and paleo diets. Partially this is a consequence of our reliance on reductionism, where the health impact of food is reduced to its component parts. In this line of reasoning, the sugars and carbs in fruit are to be avoided like added sugar in sodas or refined carbs in breakfast cereals. But as the research consistently shows, fruit does not impair health, it promotes it. Here are a few reasons why:
What does the research say?
As with all things food, it is difficult to parse the health impact of one specific nutrient or food group since we eat a wide variety of foods and it may take decades to see an impact on chronic disease. However, here are some of the results from studies on fruit:
The take away
Early summer is the best time for ripe, seasonal fruit. Citrus is still going strong while berries are at their peak and stone fruit is ripening away. Here’s how to ensure that you get the most from these natural bundles of healthful sweetness:
Since 2011 Gallop has been polling US adults about their perceptions of well being. To understand physical health, they ask questions about exercise, disease, and diet. Their recent report on these interviews conducted with over 350 thousand people in 2015 and 2016 indicates that many healthy lifestyle factors have actually improved:
Some not so good news on the other hand:
Of course, these are self reports so do not provide an objective view of health. However, they are useful to see trends over time and illuminate factors associated with healthier behaviors; helping us answer the question, how do people who eat healthy live their lives differently from those who don’t?
This isn’t surprising, as research consistently shows a link between health, longevity and social connections. Of course, there are many ways to connect with others, but finding social groups (either in person or over social media) who practice healthy habits is a key, according to this well-being poll. Some other ideas for cultivating healthy social connections around food:
Additionally, respondents indicate that health is associated with feeling that personal goals are being achieved and that learning is a regular part of life. Having a sense that we can improve our lives and make a difference in our communities reinforces motivation and may lead to taking better care of ourselves.