Thursday, February 26, 2009

Draw Your Own Line

I just read an article online about how to trim your budget by $18,500 a year. The only reason I clicked on the link was because I figured it wasn't really realistic. It wasn't. Well, I guess it depends on your priorities...

The author suggested that you could save almost a $1000 a year if you ate food from bar menus and meals at quick sit-down restaurants instead of full-service restaurants. Am I crazy, or does that sound like they're suggesting we eat more fast food and greasy fried bar food?!

I'm not saying we should always eat healthy foods, but I do think the priority for saving money should be balanced with our own values of how much and when to make healthy choices. I think you can still go to the full-service restaurant and use strategies (like ordering appetizers instead of an entree) to lower your bill and still have quality food.

It does take some strategizing. But it's worth it. If you save $1000 a year by eating fast food, but you've damaged your health...and then eventually spend all your money on healthcare expenses---where did the kind of advice in that article get you?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Doing and Getting

I spoke with someone today who is a behavioral psychologist, and we talked about what makes people do what they do... a deep subject, for sure.
This is what she said about behavior change--

"If you keep doing what you're doing, you'll keep getting what you're getting."

I'm not sure why, but this felt like a significant revelation to me even though I already know it. It's similar to the definition of insanity--doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Sometimes when you put things into words they start to become real and make sense all at once.

So the next time I sit down to talk with someone who wants to be fit/lose weight/manage stress, and they tell me there's nothing they can change about how they live.... maybe I'll just give that line. Or maybe I'll try and be more tactful about it. Maybe.

p.s. It's no easier for the behavioral psychologist to improve her wellness than it is for the rest of us, she just happens to have an advantage of knowing how behaviors work.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Face the Dragon

So you want to change your health?! I’m here for you, friend. I am your biggest supporter, your #1 advocate, and I want nothing more than for you to have and be whatever and whomever you want. Seriously. I am and I do.

What do you do, Knight, when its time to face the dragon? When your plan didn’t work or you’re overwhelmed with the magnitude of your goals? Do you face it head-on or do you run?

I can’t want your goals to be reached more than you want them. When I spend time and energy helping you I need a certain level of response for me to keep coming back with the same enthusiasm. I’m not saying your plan has to work, because I do believe wellness is a personal experiment and a trial and error journey from point A to point B. It’s ongoing and cyclic, and it has its own ups and downs.

What I need from you is for you to figure out how to sustain the determination---and get it back when you lose it for a minute.

Plan. Try. Repeat.

Life is continuous. So is wellness. Value yourself enough to improve--over and over again.

Sometimes You're the Windshield

And sometimes you're the bug.

Does your life feel like a rollercoaster sometimes? I don't mean an unstable-need-therapy kind of rollercoaster, but just an up-and-down-and-around kind of ride. Sometimes I take on the feelings of people I talk to--I've cried and laughed with you, and I've felt your pain and your happiness. This, honestly, can make or break my work day (I try really hard to have my own life when I go home and let all of it go!). The past two days have swung me between ecstatic bliss and heart wrenching sadness as I rode other peoples' rollercoasters.

Generally, we view life through our own personal lenses. We are focused on our own little rollercoasters, and we ride them at our own pace and with varying levels of interpretation and coping skills. Being a wellness coach, I get to see life from many varying perspectives. One thing I have realized is that our feelings are all the same, regardless of what causes them. One person's grief regarding death is as real as another person's grief regarding the loss of a job or fight with a friend. We can't change what life deals to us (I don't think), but we can work at opening our perspective up beyond our own bubble of life.

There is a movie called Elizabethtown (the movie is terrible, but this message struck me as important) with a line of advice saying, "take 5 minutes to wallow in melancholy, then get over it and move on."

Sometimes you can do this.

Sometimes you can't.

The most important part seems to be distinguishing between the two types of situations for yourself. If and when you can, smooth out the rollercoaster for yourself. If and when you can't, just ride it through in whatever way you need to.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Is Antibacterial Soap Necessary?

Antibacterial soap was developed to prevent the spread of infection in hospitals, and has edged its way into our everyday lives---hand soap, hand sanitzer, and bathroom and kitchen cleansers. In addition to controversy about our culture's overprescribing of antibiotics, there is also reason for concern about antibacterial soap. Last year, when I was teaching at Keuka College, the Science Department Division Chair and her upper level students were working to petition the school to remove hand sanitizer dispensers from around campus because of the risks.

First, let's look at how soap works:
1. It's made out of sodium hydroxide and fat
2. When these are combined, fatty acids separate from triglycerides and bind to hydroxide--making a salt we call "soap"
3. One part of the soap attracts water and the other part repels it
4. The hydrophobic fatty acids bind to other hydrophobic substances (dirt, bacteria, etc)
5. The bound dirt and bacteria become encapsulated in water droplets and are washed away

Ordinary soap does get rid of bacteria. So the real question is whether or not antibacterial soap does a better job, and if so, do we need that?

Support for regular soap use:

  • Having some bacteria is beneficial to us because it "eats" sweat and protects against some dangerous bacteria
  • bacteria may develop resistance to antibacterial agents over time
  • antibacterial agents in soap actually need to be left on the skin for 2 minutes to work---who washes their hands for two minutes!?
  • many sicknesses we experience are viruses and antibacterial soaps are useless against a virus

Considering these points, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that washing your hands with warm water and soap is the best method. Wash for at least 20 seconds (sing the ABCs if you'd rather not count!). It makes a difference when you do wash, but hesitate before you reach for the antibacterial soap.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Be a Cheater

I'm learning American Sign Language (ASL) for work, and it has been very interesting and fun so far. At first, I was thinking I was doing pretty well at interpreting what the teacher was signing, but then I had a small part of me that felt like I was cheating----I read lips. When I admitted this to the instructor, she said, "Be a cheater!" Deaf people read lips too, and reading hands, lips, and other non-verbal cues is all part of the process.

I think wellness can be viewed in a similar way---use the contexts you have to be healthier without always having to put "wellness" into a whole different compartment of your day (i.e going to the gym). For example, don't be one of those people who hits the handicap button to open doors instead of using your own arm to do it! Maybe it only burns 4 calories to open a door, but what if you open 5 doors, walk up 3 flights of stairs, and take the long way to the restroom throughout the day? You didn't change the outcome of your day, you just snuck in extra tasks within the context of what you already do.

Add veggies to recipes that don't call for them. Do some deep breathing while you're waiting in line at the DMV. Do you have any other ideas?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Give Yourself Credit

We have been trained to recognize our "failures" and things we don't do well. We often forget to give ourselves credit for the progress we've made. Instead of being proud of cutting back to 5 cigarettes a day we beat ourselves up for not quittng altogether.

I was reminded of this yesterday morning in the locker room at the gym. A woman came in ranting and raving about how ridiculous the Democrat and Chronicle is because she needs to have her paper and it was not delivered by the time she left for the gym. She announced to the entire room about why she needed the paper and how unacceptable it was that when she called the D&C, they told her they would deliver it the next day.

I was really uncomfortable with this rant, and kept thinking about how insignificant and unimportant the problem was. I was starting to compare it to real things that may warrant becoming so upset. Then, I thought about it, and realized that ten years ago I may have been that upset about something so insignificant (although I would never yell it out to people I didn't know---but the feelings would have been the same). I can't pinpoint the process of me relaxing about the stuff I have no control over, but I think I'm pretty good at it now.

What do you do better now that you didn't excel at in the past? Do you eat fewer refined carbs? Smoke less? Work out more? Manage stress better? Have better manners on the road? Drink more water? You get the idea...

Try making a list of all the things you do well (or better) compared to how you did them in the past.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Challenge Yourself!

It's that time of year when many people are feeling a little blah. It's not always the easiest time to stay motivated to excel at our wellness pursuits---in fact, I noticed this morning that the New Year's Resolution people seem to have completely disappeared from the gym.

One way to try and keep your motivation going is to set a challenge for yourself. You can do this alone or with other people, and first try it with setting time limits so it doesn't feel like such a big thing (i.e. I'll start taking the stairs forever vs. I'll take the stairs at work for the next 5 days).
Challenges I've heard lately:
  • going to the gym twice in one week
  • walking up and down the stairs at work instead of taking the elevator
  • preparing produce and having it available in the fridge for a pre-dinner snack
  • eating 25 types of produce in one week
  • not eating after 9pm
  • walking for 10 minutes at lunch time
  • only eating prepared foods that have 5 ingredients or less
  • not checking email after 10pm
  • doing one exercise video on the weekend

Pick something that makes sense and is reasonable for you and your lifestyle. Make it interesting (and rewards can be helpful too!).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't Be a Pill Bug

Today my yoga instructor described how important it is for us to keep our spine "inside" our bodies (think good posture). She said she learned from a first grader this week that a pill bug has an exoskeleton, meaning its skeleton is on the outside of its body instead of on the inside like humans. In yoga, spinal alignment is pretty important, and having the visualization reminder throughout class to keep my spine inside my body was very helpful.

I think it also applies to life in general---do you find yourself slouching? Your shoulders curving forward? If you looked at your body profile in the mirror, what would it look like?
Next time you're around a 7-month old baby, check out how she sits---she's so erect that you can't even see her spine. We train ourselves over the years (with the help of sitting at desks, sedentary lives, and gravity) to curve our spines as if we're trying to morph into a pill bug (thankfully, that's totally not possible!). As you sit there reading this, sit up a little straighter on your sit-bones and not rolled onto the back of your pelvis, tuck in your spine, roll your shoulders back and down, and don't let your chin jut out quite so far...

How does it feel? I recently read something that said --- we must all die someday, but the quality of our life will be directly related to the health of our spines.

It's worth practicing good posture. Set up your workspace to promote good posture, try stretching during the day and walking around once in a while. Try yoga and/or pilates.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Should I Splurge on Organic?

Theoretically, organic products are healthier than non-organic because there is a reduction in the introduction of foreign chemicals/carcinogens into the body---things like growth hormones from cows, pesticides, etc. Organic products are also supposed to be better for the environment. I often get questions regarding the value of something being "organic."

I think it's important to assess what the organic label actually means on a case-by-case basis. Let's use organic milk as an example.

Research has shown that organic milk is higher in omega-3 fatty acids (by an average of 68%)--but this would not be the case in fat-free milk due to it being fat free. There are other benefits/nutrients in the milk from cows that have been free-range-grass-fed, especially if they ate clover (which is higher in cows raised for organic milk).

The problem with organic milk is that even though the cows were fed organic feed (which is better for the environment and does not contribute to passing pesticides onto humans), they are still usually just factory farmed cows, with minimal field-time. In addition, organic milk farms are less prevalent, and so the product has to travel further to get to the consumer. This means it is often the same or more processed (heated to a higher temperature) than regular homogenized milk. Some people find that their organic milk lasts longer in the fridge than regular milk, and other people find the opposite.

I think the bottom line is that buying organic fat-free milk would just cost you more, and there could be a minimal health (but no real environmental) benefit. The Natural Health experts would say the best thing to do would be to find a certified raw milk producer locally (and make sure its clean and reputable), then you've minimized the health and environmental issues associated with both homogenized and organic milk. However, you wouldn't find fat-free milk that way! So that was a really long way to say-----personally, I wouldn't pay for the tiny benefit, but those who are passionate about it say its worth it. That being said, I may feel totally differently about organic grapes.

No Free Lunches

I have a friend who always used to say "There are no free lunches!" What he meant was that you can't expect to find free stuff and shortcuts that actually work. A few months ago, someone from work emailed me to ask about whether or not I thought there were any weight loss supplements that work. So I responded...(can you tell I'm busy this week?)

What I have found over the years is that there isn't one supplement that makes "the" difference for weight loss. There are many supplements that support metabolism, and this is usually specific to an individual's needs. For example, some people find Chlorella supplements help with digestion and energy levels, and this ultimately helps them lose weight (maybe indirectly).

Other people have found that green tea supplements have a made a difference, but I don't have a lot of faith in this method because green tea is not regulated (different brands have different amounts of the EGCG that promotes healthy metabolism).

Then there are those ads you see all over the internet for the natural solutions---right now I keep seeing the acai berry pills being sold in conjunction with colon cleansing pills. It is true that both of those things could promote weight loss, but the company selling them are roping people into automatic monthly refills charging $89 to your credit card each month!

There are also pills (i.e. Jet Fuel, Hydroxycut, etc) that say they promote weight loss. Some of them are stimulants, which have not been approved by the FDA, so I don't recommend these. In the past, things like ephedra worked, but were also potentially dangerous.

I think the bottom line is that there is no one thing you can take to cause weight loss safely (especially if you don't plan to take it for the rest of your life to maintain the results). In the end, having a healthy diet with lots of vegetables and greens and lean proteins is both the healthiest for all of your body systems and for your weight.

I usually recommend people try and change small things gradually about their diet in order for it to become a lifestyle, and integrate "superfoods" as much as possible. My favorites are goji berries, raw cacao (but this has a very strong taste, so ease it into things), blueberries, raw pumpkin seeds, and all green vegetables.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Gratitude Revisited

Last night I went to a movie with five of my friends. We walked out of the movie, and within a couple minutes, one friend got a phone call that a close family member had died unexpectedly. Ten minutes later, the same thing happened to another friend as we stood there in the parking lot.

We discussed briefly how strange life can be sometimes, made sure the two friends were on their way to the places they needed to be, and called it a night. As I was driving home, I was thinking about how I wasn't feeling badly for the two people who had died, but I visualized what it is going to be like for the two families who now have to deal with their losses. One friend had mentioned that life was unpredictable--we could be out at a movie tonight and get hit by a car tomorrow---and not have told our friends how much fun we had or how much we love them.

I feel pretty content that my family and friends know how I feel about them, but I still called both my parents on my way home. I really started to think more about the whole gratitude concept---it is important to identify what you're grateful for, but I think it might be just as important to let it be known.

Luckily, most of us won't experience loss and death of friends and family very often, so it's not about telling someone you love them "just in case" something happens. It's about telling them and showing it because you are grateful for sharing life with them. Then, once in a while, be sure to remind yourself and those people for whom you are grateful. It feels good, it adds value to your life, and it helps keep perspective on the things and people who are most important.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Small Success...Big Deal

Today at Rotork we did a "yogurt tasting." It's a lot like wine tasting, only with a slightly different purpose. My motives for introducing people to yogurt made with vegetables is not to sell a product. I think it's important in wellness (as I've mentioned before) to try new things, and even if you are so grossed out that you don't try the yogurt----by seeing other people try it and like it, you are opening yourself up to accepting new things as potential options. There were a couple people who asked me why I was pushing the product---my response was that I wasn't pushing anything. If you don't want to try it, don't. If you do, and you like it, I am not going to follow up with you and see if you bought any later. It's not about veggie yogurt! It's about trying something new.

The veggie yogurt received an overwhelmingly positive response. Only two people who tried it said they didn't really care for it (they didn't hate it), and those people also admitted that they don't like yogurt in general.

The flavors we tried:
Butternut Squash

I would have liked to offer the beet and sweet potato flavors too, but there weren't any available when I purchased it.
If you're interested in more information about this product, visit

Where can you get it in the Rochester area?
Lori's Natural Foods
900 Jefferson Rd
Henrietta, NY 14623

Abundance Co-Op
62 Marshall St.
Rochester, NY 14607

Wednesday, February 4, 2009


One of my unintentional roles as a wellness coach is to validate excuses. It's something I do really well----you tell me all the reasons why you cannot change (i.e. no time, too busy, too tired, kids, job, spouse, injuries, stress, lack of resources.....etc.), and then I tell you you're right. You're right that barriers make it more difficult to change anything about your lifestyle.

You're right. You win. You've been validated!

What next? Do you feel better?

I will be the first person to acknowledge that changing something about your lifestyle isn't simple, automatic, or instant---things get in the way. I do know from experience that if you want to change, you can. It may take extra strategizing and determination, but you can take baby steps and still make a difference.

One of the most common questions I ask people as they navigate through lifestyle change is whether or not the plan they've come up with feels manageable. If not, we need to re-evaluate it. Compromise. Choose something that doesn't sound dreadful. If you're monitoring your blood pressure, and you haven't been able to meet your goal for checking it twice a day---commit to just checking it just one time. Then do it, even if the conditions aren't ideal. Maybe you're doing it not wanting to, but doing it once is a compromise, and quite often you see it's not so bad or inconvenient. The same principle applies to most wellness concepts--exercise, stress, nutrition, and more.

If your plan isn't working, and you find yourself not sticking to it---validate your reasons (if you need to), and then adjust your plan. Validating and then not changing anything does not get you anywhere.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Liverwurst and Cucumbers

Human beings are creatures of habit, and as such, we tend to stick to what we know in nutrition and food. One of the things I try and do as a wellness coach is introduce new ideas and different ways of doing familiar things.

This began about a year ago when I stopped at my grandma's house for lunch. She and grandpa were having liverwurst and cucumber sandwiches---and although I was thoroughly disgusted by this, I knew if I wanted to eat I didn't have a choice...I was really hungry!

The idea of liverwurst is not appealing to me, but it actually didn't taste that bad (the nutritional details of this strange meat product are another story). Cucumbers on a sandwich---not something I usually did, but it made a lot of sense after trying it. So I started thinking about our concept of what makes up a sandwich: bread, meat, cheese, condiments...maybe some version of lettuce or tomato.

Consider how many times you have ordered a sub or made a sandwich and you did not taste the cheese. So, why did you put cheese on it? Well, because cheese is supposed to be on a sandwich. Certain things are acceptible as sandwich ingredients and certain other things are not. I like to encourage people to think outside of their idea of "normal" food. The next time you make a sandwich, consider avocado, cucumbers, hummus, and other weird stuff. You might be surprised at how good it tastes (and how healthy it is)!

I'll post more ideas for new twists on familiar things later.

Monday, February 2, 2009


The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith
People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.
The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.
The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.
People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.
© Copyright Kent M. Keith 1968, renewed 2001

Stupor Bowl

Did you enjoy the Super Bowl last night? What kind of night was it----A quiet evening at home with the family? Out at a bar/restaurant? At a friend’s house for a party?

I went to yoga class yesterday morning, and spoke to one of my fellow yogis, the owner of The Distillery and Pellegrino’s. He was there to de-stress and gear-up for a busy evening. He said the Super Bowl is not the busiest game night of the year at The Distillery, but it’s a night heavy on the reservations. This made me think about what people were really doing last night and why.

The Super Bowl is one of those occasions people use as a reason to go all out, for all its cheesy, fatty, chips ‘n beer glory. Whether you rode the Stupor Bowl gorge-fest wave for the sake of the game, the commercials, the company, the excuse to eat badly, or some other reason—it’s all over by now. Today is a good day to get back to basics.

If you’re feeling the Stupor today: a little sleepy, puffy, hungover, blah, or all of the above; don’t get down on yourself. Drink a little extra water and eat a few more vegetables throughout the day. If you have the chance, get up away from your desk and take a 10-15 minute walk outside (or inside, depending on the weather). Remember that you can’t possibly have thrown off your progress toward your wellness goals all in one salty night---so, remember how much fun you had and move on in a positive way.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Arsenic Hour

Between the nap and the twilight.
When blood sugar is becoming lower,
Comes a pause in the day's occupations,
That is known as Arsenic Hour.
—Marguerite Kelly and Elia Parsons, The Mother's Almanac I, 1975

Why is it called Arsenic Hour? It's that time of day when you may be tempted to dispense it to your children or take some yourself. If you google arsenic hour, you'll find a lot of advice and information for parents on how to avoid tears, chaos, and general mayem circa dinnertime.

Obviously, dispensing arsenic is not something people do (arsenic is lethal at very small exposure levels), but if you're a parent, you may relate to the feeling!

I think of this term for individuals and non-parents as well. Personally, I often experience a time of day when I just really lose all steam and hope of productivity, usually late in the afternoon. If I don't do anything to get myself going again, it's quite possible I will end up being useless for the whole evening. For many busy people, that is just not an option.

So what are things you can do to get your mojo back when you're losing your ability to hold it together and get things done?

1. Drink caffeine (common, not necessarily advisable because you will just crash later)
2. Get your blood and oxygen flowing (Get up and move around! Do jumping jacks or go to the gym.)
3. Eat some carbs and drink some water or tea (The healthy kind of carbs---raw veggies or fruit, a high-fiber light snack like popcorn, etc.)
4. Stretch
5. Listen to motivating music
6. Take 5-10 minutes for a break and specifically think about something that motivates you to be productive (i.e. re-visit your list of goals)
7. Call a friend who will give you a pep talk (for me this is my mom, and I usually get the "Do it not wanting to" speech)

Do you have other ideas? Truck drivers ask me about this for staying awake on the road; office workers, parents, and students ask me about this in their own contexts. In the end, you have to find something that works for you. I believe that having a good baseline of health and wellness is key for setting yourself up to have the energy you need to meet your responsibilities on any given day. It's not always easy, but it is easier if you strategize!