Gluten Free For Good


 

More About Melissa

Posts Tagged ‘yoga’



metabolism, weight loss, yoga & flexible genes

Warning: science post, no recipe, bail out now unless you have a curious personality. You know the type. Always asking questions, perpetually wondering, head-in-the-clouds explorer. I’ll post a follow-up recipe to my healthy breakfast series next week, but for now, I’m on a mission.

I’ve gained several pounds over the past few weeks and I did it quite easily, which surprised me. Check here to see why I gained the weight. I’m determined to lose it before it becomes my new normal, but I’ve also been curious as to why I gained it so easily. My eating habits didn’t change that much. My exercise routine was slightly different, but I kept up with my yoga practice.

Are you still with me?

Let’s start at the beginning. Literally.

I love this video from Virginia Hughes at The Last Word On Nothing because it’s short, charming, and incredibly creative. If you want a better understanding of your irregularly arranged DNA and how your unique version of this dynamic, coiled jumble of genes makes you the special (or quirky) person you are, watch this short (less than 2 minutes) video.

(Please scroll down, this isn’t the end of the blog post. Click the start button on the video to watch the magic of DNA coiling. The rest of my rambling continues after the video.)

See? Wasn’t that awesome?

In a nutshell (or nucleus in this case): DNA forms the inherited genetic material found inside our cells. Genes are the hereditary units that form our DNA. Our genes tell our cells how to function and what traits to express.

And guess what? We have some control over that. A good example is the genetic predisposition for celiac disease. Say you have the gene that codes for celiac disease (DQ2 or DQ8), but you live on some isolated island and you’re never exposed to gluten. That gene would not be expressed. It would stay turned off. On the other hand, if you eat a lot of gluten and the stars align, you’ll end up hitting the switch and turning the gene on. I have DQ2 genes and celiac disease, but I’ve been living gluten-free for so long now, I feel like my celiac gene is on dim mode. It’s not turned on, but it’s also not totally turned off either. Eating a big plate of gluten-filled pasta would be the equivalent of hitting the on switch and re-expressing the gene. I don’t want to do that.

On another note, I have this theory that I’ve tweaked a different genetic predisposition of mine in a healthy way and although that’s a good thing, there have been some unintended consequences. We have about 20,000 genes so there’s lots of potential for shenanigans.

Let me explain. That’s if you’re still here.

My mom says I was born running (much to her dismay). I grew up in the 50s and 60s and had they coined the term at that time, I probably would have been called ADD-ish. I rarely sat down long enough to eat a full meal, never took naps, was always fidgeting, ran up and down stairs, twirled, jumped off things, climbed over furniture and so on. If you ask my mom, she’ll say I was a royal pain in the neck.

Jump ahead to the year 2000. I’m hitting midlife, am still very active, but I’ve never really learned to relax. High blood pressure is common in my family and mine had been inching up over the years. Not bad, but it was making a move. I decided I had no desire to express (turn on) that high blood pressure gene that seems so prevalent on my dad’s side of the family. I decided to turn it off by practicing yoga and meditation. And guess what? A decade later, I don’t have high blood pressure, I’m calmer, I don’t fidget as much, and I no longer drive people crazy with my speed walking. Instead, I float around chanting in Sanskrit. No worries. Peace, love, and tie dyes.

One more time, but now jump ahead to 2011. I’m busy co-writing a book* with my friend and colleague Pete Bronski of No Gluten-No Problem, so I sit at my computer for long hours each day. I don’t change my eating habits (which are good for the most part), but my intense hiking, skiing, dog walking, etc. go by the wayside. I’m still committed to yoga, but to keep from being too stressed from my work, I practice a more restorative style. Yikes, I gain 5 or 6 pounds in short order. I’ve never done that before.

Here’s how it happened. I’m in midlife (okay, late midlife, late-late midlife) and I’m now practicing a more calming style of yoga. Both my age and my yoga have contributed to a reduction in my metabolism. That’s the point of yoga—relaxation, lower heart-rate, deeper breathing, lower blood pressure, less caloric need, and hence a lower metabolic rate.

Yikes! The perfect storm. I’m mellow, I don’t fidget, I’m older, I do restorative yoga, and I’m working long hours sitting at my computer. The result is weight gain, even though I’m eating well. And because of my age (which will remain untyped) and the fact that I’ve intentionally shifted my metabolism down a notch with all the yoga, it’s been harder to lose the weight. My muscle to fat ratio has changed. I don’t want these extra pounds to become my new set point, so what can I do?

First off, I can’t get all worked up about it as I have that high blood pressure gene just waiting for an excuse to turn on. I’m continuing with my meditative yoga, but I’m making sure I get a couple of power yoga classes in per week. I’ve added mountain biking into my schedule to boost my metabolism and burn some calories and I’ve added some round-about weight training. I’m not into going to the gym and lifting weights, but I’m aware that I need to build muscle, which is more metabolically active than fat. I do my yoga in the morning, my biking whenever I can, and I’m periodically doing some at-home strength training.

One last thing. I don’t think it’s a big deal to gain a few pounds. I have motivations other than being the “right” weight. I want to do some climbing this summer and I need to be in good shape for that. Extra weight makes climbing 14,000 foot peaks more difficult. Yoga inversions and arm balances are harder on my body if I weigh more. A few pounds makes a difference in the activities that are important to me. If you want to lose weight, you have to evaluate what your genetic predispositions might be, what you eat (quality and quantity), and what you do (sit, stand, run, what type of yoga, etc.) and adjust according to your age and lifestyle factors. Life is definitely an ever-evolving journey.

I promise a breakfast recipe for next week. A nutrient-dense, low calorie one.

Peace, love, and flexible genes!
Melissa

* When I wrote this blog post last March our book had not been released. The Gluten-Free Edge: A Nutrition and Training Guide for Peak Athletic Performance and an Active Gluten-Free Life is now available on Amazon.com and at various bookstores. Yeah!

brain health – part 1

In case you’re wondering, that’s a brain reading an anatomy book. I’ll get back to that in a minute, but first I’d like to set the stage with a little yogic diversion.

I have a long-standing, very committed yoga practice and spend a good deal of my time in yoga-induced, la-la-land. Quite often upside down.

Wait, keep reading.

I’m not enlightened or anything. Far from it. I don’t sprinkle cosmic fairy dust around and although I’ve completed hundreds of hours of yoga teacher training, I still can’t pronounce most of the Sanskrit blah-blah-blahsanas. But, I’m serious when I say that yoga is my medicine. I mean that in a practical and qualitative sense. I was diagnosed with celiac disease many years ago and the healing power yoga has had on my life is profound. Plus, it’s cognitive therapy for my billions of neurons. Who wouldn’t benefit from that? Especially if gluten has played havoc on those neurons. 

But — meditation to go with my yoga?

Now that’s a different story. Although I’ve meditated on and off for decades (honestly, decades), I’m a fairly incompetent meditator. I need to be moving to clear my mind and find a peaceful rhythm for my ricocheting thoughts. Moving meditation is intensely satisfying, but I find it very difficult to sit in sukhasana (ironically called easy pose) in a silent attempt to clear my mind and be present. Don’t get me wrong, I think meditation is an amazing opportunity for positive transformation, I just like to move and let my neurons play pin-ball while I’m transforming.

Yes, I’m a touch ADD-ish. You know, that’s not always a bad thing. Mind-wandering research (imagine that) suggests that day-dreaming activates different problem-solving areas of the brain that don’t normally work together. It’s a good way to foster bipartisan, across the aisle (or hemispheres in this case), neural networking. Some of our most insightful moments come when we allow our thoughts to surf, drift and bounce around.

I say, let that ship sail.

But I digress.

This post is about healthy neurological function, but the above preamble is an important piece to the puzzle. Everything goes together. Nutrient-dense foods, movement, balance, mind-body connections, quality sleep, stress reduction, brain gymnastics, mind wandering. They’re all part of healing and thriving and every puzzle piece plays an important role in overall health and neurological aging. One of my interests is how gluten, as a neurotoxin, impacts mental and physical health, but regardless, this is pertinent information for anyone with a brain.

I’ll get to the nutrition piece in brain health – part 2, a post that will follow, so stay tuned. But first I’d like to set the stage with a few points to ponder. Put on your geek hat and fire up those neurons – this is interesting stuff (at least in my nerdy world).

Awe-inspiring brain facts (random stuff to blow your mind)

The human brain contains about 100 billion neurons (yes, that’s billion with a b). A neuron is a specialized cell that transfers information via electrical and chemical signaling. We want to keep our neurons happy and healthy so they can chat with each other in zippy harmony.

Nutrient-dense foods, exercise, yoga, meditation and cognitive activity can stimulate the creation of new neurons throughout life. You’re never too old to improve your brain function or your neurological health. Play chess, do crossword puzzles, skip, bend, twist and watch Jeopardy while balancing in tree pose.

Research suggests that yoga increases GABA levels. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is the brain’s primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. It’s the anti-anxiety, mellow-mood neurotransmitter. More is good, especially if you can boost your GABA levels in non-pharmacological ways. Yoga as valium.

Stress and poor sleep can contribute to cognitive decline. Yoga and meditation help reduce stress and promote quality sleep. Ommmm = Zzzzzz. I’m working on the meditation part.

Pull out your map and compass. Brain scans of elite London taxi drivers revealed a much larger hippocampus than in normal subjects. The hippocampus is the area of the brain associated with memory retention and navigation. These taxi drivers have a detailed mental map of the convoluted London streets stored in their grey matter. More evidence that the actual structure of the brain can change. This is called neuro-plasticity – changes in brain cells and the connection between them to encode new information. Beware, driving in London can cause severe stress. Breathe in, breathe out.

The human brain uses 20% of the body’s energy, but comprises only 2% of its mass and on average weighs about 3 pounds. Lots of bang for your buck in that little package.

At only 4 weeks from conception, a human fetus is producing 250,000 brain cells every minute. WOW!

Exercise is linked to the growth of new brain cells.

Your brain uses about 12 watts of power, less than your refrigerator light.

The human brain produces an average of 70,000 thoughts per day. How do they know that? Really.

The olfactory neurons in your nose die off on a regular basis, but are continually replaced. Humans have 12 million smell receptor cells. Sounds like a lot, right? Bloodhounds have 4 billion. Sniff, sniff.

Research shows that meditation boosts attention, processing speed and response times.

Think about how you think (or something like that). The power of positive thought and the intention of mind-body harmony can be more effective than drugs. See Professor Funk’s video below about shiny shit – his words, not mine. This is called the placebo effect. Our beliefs and thoughts directly impact our cellular physiology, so have a good attitude.

Thank you to my friends at I Heart Guts for the use of that handsome little brain reading Gray’s Anatomy and to the folks at Lumosity for some of the brainy fun facts.

Peace, love and joyous neurons!
Melissa

are you craving a healthier 2011

What would your life be like if you never engaged in this health-zapping cycle of overeating, fatigue, craving and weight gain. What if you never again treated your body like a trash can?

Thank you to the lovely Heidi B for that analogy. Heidi is a full-time yoga teacher. A smart, spiritual, beautiful, India-visiting, committed yogi on a seeker’s path.

She walked into the studio at 6:30 AM the other morning to teach her class and asked if anyone else felt like they had been overdoing it during the holidays? She said she was treating her body like a trash can and wondered who else might be struggling with the same thing.

Wow, I respect her honesty. My gosh, she’s a yoga teacher. She’s supposed to be drinking filtered water with a squeeze of organic lemon and eating farm-fresh veggies every day. Not candy, French fries and red wine.

Yes, I did relate and waved my arm in the air from child’s pose, indicating I was guilty of the “trash can” phenomenon as well. I’m a nutritionist and Heidi’s a yoga teacher. We’re not supposed to do that, right?

Wrong.

Almost everyone wanders down that road on occasion. We both ate too much of whatever it is we eat too much of at times like this. We all have our personal comfort cravings. Add in the stress of the holidays (even the good stress) and you’ve got a “recipe” for a food-filled train wreck. I’m typically seduced by pie, muffins, pancakes, syrup and red wine.

Oh, and for the record, I’ll take this opportunity to pat myself on the back for never drinking red wine with pancakes. I do have standards.

Pie and red wine? Now that’s another story.

Here’s my problem (not that you asked). Most of the time my over-indulging takes the form of fairly healthy food, in fact “real” food. Organic food. Often times, it’s even local food. How cool is that? But that can be a faulty premise. Or, at least one that is easy to justify, defend and make excuses for.

Pastured, organic butter and whipping cream, rich in CLA. Local, organic CSA potatoes and pumpkins from Grant Family Farms. Raw, organic cheese. Locally made, organic chocolate bars (73% organic dark cocoa). Smooth, velvety, sulfite-free red wine. Organic, whole grain, gluten-free flour. Local, Rocky Mountain wildflower honey. It’s not like I’m eating fast food. Lovingly put this stuff together and you have the most amazing muffins, twice-baked potatoes, home-cooked French fries, cookies or pumpkin pie.

Get my drift?

Healthy, real food ingredients, but no excuse to shovel it in. Or, stand with the refrigerator door open, eating giant spoonfuls of home-made, organic whipped cream right out of the bowl (conveniently perched at arm level). Maybe dabbing some on a random, nearby muffin.

Not that I know anyone who would do that.

With 2011 upon us, most people have written up lists of New Year’s resolutions. Exercise more. Eat more veggies. Don’t over-eat. Lose weight. Meditate. Do yoga. Same story each year.

What would your life be like if you really believed that everything you needed, you already had? What would your life be like if you simply spent the year treating your body like the temple that it is? No lists, no resolutions, just respect and commitment.

In the spirit of honesty, I do have a few resolutions, but rather than list them, I’m going to keep them to myself and take this time to express gratitude for my health and make a silent promise (over and over) to honor that through awareness, healthy choices and moderation.

And thank God, there’s no more pumpkin pie and whipped cream.

If you’re interested in increasing your mind/body/food awareness, please check here for a past post I did on food, fuzz, movement and inner space. It includes information on how to incorporate healthy eating habits into your life. It’s also a guideline to an anti-inflammatory diet and includes a video that will take you deep inside.

* I can’t end this without a footnote from Heidi B. When I thought about writing this post, I emailed Heidi to ask permission to use her name and comments. Her response to my email was, “Sure! You can use me. I’m still struggling, but totally aware. Yea!”

I love that.

Awareness. That’s the key. The more we understand the magic of what’s going on inside our bodies, the more likely we are to appreciate and take care of this wonderful creation, even as we struggle along.

Wishing you peace, love, awareness and small steps towards more radiant health in 2011.
Melissa
P.S. Please ignore the fact that my last 3 posts were for gluten-free cherry cobbler, pumpkin pie muffins (the boyfriend bait version) and pistachio cranberry brownies. Hey, this food blogging thing is a struggle.

fuzz food inflammation and movement

If I had more room in the title bar, I’d call this post, “inflammation, fuzz, food, inner space, enlightenment, movement, and twisty-bendy stuff.”

In case you’re wondering about the photo, cotton candy has nothing to do with this post, other than it looks exactly like fuzz. I wanted something that would visually compare to fuzz in case you wanted to opt out of the cadaver video.

I bet you’re curious, though.

I’m a nutritionist, but my college education began with a degree in exercise physiology. Because both disciplines are science-based, I’ve ended up taking anatomy, physiology, and bio-chem two different times, from different teachers, at different institutions. My first semester (20-some years ago) of anatomy included a cadaver lab. It was there that I found my religion (seriously) and began my intense fascination with how our bodies work from the inside out.

Before I was diagnosed with celiac disease, joint pain and inflammation where a daily thing for me. Nothing debilitating, but it was annoying and constant. I even slept with my arms in a pillow-version of traction because my shoulders hurt so much. I attributed the pain to a lifetime of physical activity and overuse. To make a long story short, a gluten-free, whole foods diet and lots of yoga solved my problems. No more inflammation and very little pain — as long as I eat well and move often. Bend, stretch, twist, twirl, and dance.

I’ll let somanaut Gil Hedley explain why. His approach to teaching anatomy and physiology is humorous, creative, and spiritually enlightening. He’s also brilliant and charmingly geeky, which I absolutely love.

Did that help (and isn’t Gil charming)? Doesn’t fuzz look like cotton candy? Well, there’s no need for either.

Movement is key, but so is food.

On to inflammation, which isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a natural and protective response by the immune system to infectious agents, toxins, tissue injury, temperature extremes, cooties and other icky things. It’s a bad thing when the response is misdirected, never shuts off and targets healthy tissue. Because inflammation is a general and non-specific protective mechanism, the response is similar whether the damage is caused by gluten cooties, poor diet, disease, a fall down the stairs or a misdirected hammer.

So — what can we do to decrease inflammation and enhance our health?

Make anti-inflammatory foods your foundation and twist, bend, stretch, twirl, and shake your booty every day. You might also consider some beneficial body work.

Here are 10 tips to get you started.

1. Eliminate or minimize processed foods, fast food and junk food. Avoid products containing trans-fats, partially hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, chemicals, additives and other “non-food” ingredients. Sugar is also pro-inflammatory.
2. Choose healthy fats such as extra-virgin olive oil, coconut, avocados, nuts and seeds.
3. Avoid soda pop and opt for old-fashioned water or green tea. If you choose to drink alcohol, an occasional glass of red wine has been shown to be beneficial.
4. Choose a wide variety of fresh, colorful fruits and vegetables. Organic is best. Strive for 9 to 10 servings per day. Eat more veggies than fruit (5-6 servings of veggies, 3-4 servings of fruit). This is just a guideline.
5. Eat healthy non-gluten grains like teff, montina, quinoa, amaranth and brown rice. Legumes (beans, peas, lentils) are also a rich source of high-quality plant protein.
6. Choose nuts, seeds, raisins and dates for snacks or an occasional small serving of dark chocolate when you need a “sweet fix.”
7. Season foods with health-enhancing herbs and spices like garlic, capsicum, turmeric, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, parsley and cilantro. This list is endless.
8. The right balance of EFAs (essential fatty acids) is important. In general, omega-3s are anti-inflammatory and omega-6s are pro-inflammatory. I’ll do an entire post on this one of these days.
9. If you choose to eat animal products, 100% grass-fed, organic choices are best. Meat and dairy products from 100% grass-fed animals contain higher levels of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid), which studies show may fight inflammation and have anti-cancer properties.
10. Reduce stress, think positive thoughts, get adequate sleep and exercise.

Bottom line?

Your body truly is a temple. Treat it as such. Go inside, learn as much as you can about the inner workings that make up the divine space in which you live. As Gil so eloquently expresses in his book, Reconceiving My Body – Take Two, From The Heart, “I realized that I had been sitting for my whole life outside the doorsteps of the most finely wrought Cathedral ever built, without ever having gotten off my arse to walk through the doors and have a look about. My body in all its complexity represented the wonders and workings of God’s creation. Rather than being some insufferable obstacle to spiritual growth, my body as a temple could become my greatest resource for beholding the hidden face of the Divine within me.”

Go forth and explore inner space. The more we understand the magic of what’s going on inside our bodies, the more likely we are to appreciate and take care of this wonderful creation.

Peace, love and inner space!
Melissa

springtime renewal & detox guidelines

Spring is the season of awakening, time to crawl out from under the weight of winter and transition into summer. It’s a perfect time to move away from heavy foods to lighter fare and commit to a mild cleanse to refresh, renew and revitalize. My form of detoxifying is simple and easy (except for that no wine, no coffee thing). Nothing extreme, nothing weird, nothing expensive – just a chance to focus on nourishing foods and get rid of the bad habits that periodically creep back in.

My dictionary describes detoxification as, the metabolic process of removing toxic substances or neutralizing toxic properties from the body (normally a function of the liver); an application that is intended to relieve illness or injury.

Detoxifying cleanses are normally safe and very beneficial, but check with your health care professional first, especially if you’re pregnant, nursing or have a chronic disease.

Melissa’s spring cleanse/detox
guidelines

1. Organic
Organic food is free of chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, hormones, antibiotics and is generally easier for the body to break down, absorb and assimilate. Some studies show organic foods to be higher in nutritional value, but what they lack is almost more important, especially while cleansing. The point of detoxifying is to get rid of the nasty stuff from your system, not add to it. We’re living in a different world than our ancestors did and are exposed to 40,000 – 50,000 chemicals that didn’t exist decades ago. The average American (eating the Standard American Diet, also known as the SAD diet) ingests around 120 pounds of additives per year. Choose organic, whole foods whenever possible.

2. Avoid
Eliminate all gluten-containing grains (whether you need to in normal life or not), dairy (with a few exceptions); most soy foods; sugar; caffeine; soda; alcohol; meat; all processed, packaged, and fast food. Cut back on starches (potatoes, yams, peas and beans) and nightshades (tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplant).

3. The base
Eat a combination of fresh organic vegetables, a good portion of them raw. Eat more vegetables than fruit and choose fresh fruit over dried (although unsulphered, unsweetened dried fruit is fine in moderation). Use olive oil for salad dressings, coconut oil for cooking and ghee for other uses (if you like ghee, which is clarified butter). Unfiltered raw honey or stevia can be used for occasional sweetening. Pastured organic eggs, naturally sweetened goat yogurt or kefir, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and teff are fine in moderation. So are raw cheese, nuts and seeds (again, in moderation).

4. Rough it up
Eat lots of whole, high-fiber foods. Fiber in the form of raw veggies and fruit is instrumental in helping to move toxins out of the body. Fiber is high on my list of important substances, but add it slowly or you’ll explode (and it won’t be pretty). At the least, you’ll be feeling icky until you get used to the sweeping effects on your digestive system.

5. Flush it out
Drink lots of water while cleansing, especially since you’ll be increasing your fiber intake. Water, water, water! Divide your weight in half — that’s the amount of water in ounces you should drink daily. If you weigh 150 pounds, that’s 75 ounces of water per day, which is about nine or ten 8-ounce glasses.

6. Turn up the heat
Not in your house, but in your body. Exercise daily and sweat it out. I love yoga for detoxifying as it’s bendy and twisty and stimulates fluid movement in the body. It helps wring things out. Sweating and deep breathing helps eliminate toxins via the breath and skin. This is one of the most important components of detoxifying, healthy living and thriving – movement and developing a conscious mind/body connection. Skip the high-powered pounding on the stairmaster or the 80s-style aerobics classes and opt for yoga, walking, hiking, dancing or tai chi (choose less intense and more calming exercise). Most importantly, have fun and choose activities you enjoy and will do daily.

7. Eat less
According to my Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition book, if you live for 65 years or longer, you will have consumed more than 70,000 meals and disposed of 50 tons of food. FIFTY TONS OF FOOD?! Wow, that’s almost creepy. Actually, it is creepy. Okay, I will admit to eating more calories than I need a good part of the time, but spending a little less time at the trough makes us realize that we’ll not only survive, but we’ll be much healthier if we don’t super-size everything.

8. Just say no to stress
Stress can sabotage your good intentions, so emphasize rest, relaxation and positive emotions. Yoga, meditation and deep breathing help eliminate stress.

9. Sleep 7 to 9 hours per night
Uninterrupted, rejuvenating, high-quality sleep is essential for good health. Naps are also good, but try to get consistent and sound sleep at night. This is important on so many levels – from slowing the aging process to losing weight. For a detailed post on sleep, please check here. (This is a tough one for me as I don’t want to miss anything!)

Go forth and nourish your own personal garden (that would be your body, mind and spirit)!
Melissa

Tempting foods part 2

The competition was fierce (see prior post), but in the end, the brownie sundae took the crown. It didn’t seem to matter that it’s now winter and half the country is experiencing record lows, people have an unrestrained and almost delirious passion for ice cream.

I’m a nutritionist, but half the time I feel like an investigative reporter or an underpaid research geek. My last post and your amazing response sent me into overdrive. I’m obsessed with books, obsessed with research and my office is a study in organized chaos. And although I’m not proud of this, I’ve had an intimate relationship (a serious love affair) with Amazon.com since 1995. I’m a charter mistress. Talk about insatiable appetites – I have one for books. And damn that Amazon, their one-click ordering with free shipping makes it nearly impossible for me to resist. My UPS guy just shakes his head. I’ll get to why and how this ties in with brownie sundaes in a moment, but for now, let’s just say this whole dang thing with over-indulging is complicated business.

The brownie sundae was the hand’s down favorite, followed by the bacon cheeseburger and the chocolate cake. It’s no surprise that raw broccoli came in last. Other than being the choice of some of my hyper-healthy readers, it had no chance against ice cream and chocolate. I like broccoli, but when I’m craving a blissful treat, raw cruciferous veggies don’t jump to mind.

Why is that? Why do we choose to pig-out on ice cream and not bok choy? Who obsesses over Brussels sprouts?

Not me.

Studies show that we’re more apt to crave fat, sugar, salt and more fat, sugar and salt. A few of you did said you might choose the broccoli if it was covered with cheese sauce. And a few others mentioned that I failed to include nachos. You’re right, chips or cheese fries should have been on my “tempting foods” menu. But no one suggested parsnips or beet greens.

We’re almost three weeks into the new year and many of us started 2010 with intentions of eating better, losing weight and exercising more. I did, and right now I’m doing fairly well with my intention, mainly I believe, because I’m focusing on something that trumps the feel-good sensation I get from eating tempting treats. I have a goal and it has nothing to do with conventional dieting.

Diets are bad and they don’t work. Changing what you eat, how you think about food and replacing the buzz you get from over-indulging with something physical, is good. And don’t count on the food industry to help you out. In fact, be very suspicious of them, very suspicious indeed.

I grew up in Colorado and back in the 50s and 60s, hardly anyone was overweight. I look at old photos from my parents’ generation and from when I was a little girl and everyone appears to be a “normal” weight. Our serious weight gain has happened in the last couple of decades and along with it, a rapid rise in lifestyle-related diseases. Two new studies suggest that 2/3rds of adults are now overweight or obese. Check out these guys in the photo above. These are many of the men who lived in a small Colorado mountain community where my dad grew up. The photo was taken sometime in the 1940s. My dad is 4th from the left in the bottom row. Healthy looking guys, right? Fit, handsome characters. If you took the same sampling now, many would be overweight and out of shape. We don’t exercise as much and we eat totally different foods from what these guys ate.

There’s a variety of reasons we’re becoming a nation of overeaters, one of them being what is available to us now. Ridiculous “foods” that weren’t around back then. Quick-fix breakfast cereals that turn milk weird shades of pink and purple. Ding Dongs that never spoil. Irresistible brownie ice cream sundaes that are absolutely loaded with sugar, fat and salt and designed to make you want more. That kind of food gives us a sweet rush of dopamine, the “reward” neurotransmitter. We like that feeling and seek out the foods that give us that high. In fact, so much so that we often can’t think of anything other than the plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table or the brownie sundae on the menu. Add in the perceived depravation of having celiac disease (no gluten means less treat options) and all the sudden that gluten-free brownie sundae at the chain restaurant (I won’t name names) takes on monumental importance. If you feel deprived, you think you need and deserve the “reward” even more. The food industry knows this and has figured out the right mixtures to make us obsess over the brownie sundae or double whopper with fries. Fat, sugar and salt. It’s “almost” not our fault. We can “almost” blame the food industry, much like we blamed the tobacco industry. They are a sneaky bunch and they want you to want more of what they’re selling. Here’s the catch though, if you believe it’s not your fault, you have no control.

Power to the people, as Flo says on the Progressive ads! We get to choose.

Now, what do we do instead of overeating and then dieting and depriving ourselves? This one’s tough because we have imbedded in our neural pathways the delicious dopamine spike we get when we eat the tempting foods. It’s hard to replace that with a handful of raw broccoli. That doesn’t work for most people. We need something that trumps the buzz we get from the fat, sugar and salt. Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix. No pill, no diet, no magic formula. We have to take control, retrain our neural patterns, adjust our lifestyle habits and change our perceptions. We have to find something physical that makes us want to eat better. That’s especially hard when there’s a donut shop, a burger joint or a chain restaurant on every corner. It’s way too easy to get the fix, just like it’s way too easy for me to hit “one click ordering.” (Ooh, but I get so excited when I do that.)

Does this make sense?

Yoga helps me overcome the food part because it connects me on a deeper level with my body. I have a greater respect and appreciation for what’s going on inside, even on a cellular level. I feel stronger, healthier and have more energy. I like that, it feels better than eating the brownie sundae.

I feel better, I look better, so I continue to eat better. And on it goes.

I’m taking a 4 week arm balancing class right now from one of my favorite yoga instructors. A 4 week inversion class will follow. It’s hard to do these poses if I weigh just 5 pounds more than my normal weight, it hurts my wrists and I find I’m not strong enough to hold that much weight upside down (or sideways). Five extra pounds is too much. That’s my “tipping point.” I need to weigh less and that is my motivation, that is my reward. Yoga trumps my desire to eat high-calorie, low-nutrition food. Most of the time, anyway.

Maybe this will add fuel to your motivational fire. Here’s the breakdown of what’s in that irresistible brownie sundae that is served at a major US restaurant chain.

Calories: 1911
Carbohydrates: 135 g
Dietary fiber: 13 g
Total fat: 153.8 g
Saturated fat: 88 g
Protein: 26.9 g
Cholesterol: 426.3 mg
Sodium: 401.4 mg

So, skip the brownie sundae and take a yoga class. Or ride your bike to the farmer’s market and buy some broccoli. You’ll feel much better if you do.

Melissa
P.S. Forgive me Lord, for I have rambled.

References:
1. Nutrition Action Health Letter (Dr. David Kessler)
2. Deconstructing the Vanilla Milkshake

Disclaimer: All material on this website is provided for informational and educational use only and should not be used for diagnostic purposes. Consult with your physician regarding any health or medical concerns you may have.
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