Of course you want to be healthy – but everywhere you look, diet culture’s miserable mandates run wild. How are you to know what healthy really looks like? Look no further.
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Your mental and emotional health are just as important as your physical health – possibly more! Being mentally healthy makes it much easier to stay regularly active and choose healthful and nutritious foods. Exercise is a wonderful and necessary thing to keep your body feeling well and maintaining muscle tone; however, there are so many more beautiful things about exercising. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that exercise is only good for “staying trim” or losing weight, and definitely don’t berate someone who is physically slim for exercising. Do you know how many times I’ve heard, “why do you exercise? You’re already skinny!”
The benefits of physical activity and exercise go far beyond the physical aesthetic. In fact, that’s one of the least important aspects of exercise. That “skinny exerciser” may use her regular workout as a way to stave off crippling fatigue or anxiety. Exercise is particularly great for a whole spectrum of areas of emotional and mental health. Particularly right now, as so many of us are struggling with extra stress and irregular routines, you can find some healing in physical activity.
Physical exercise can encourage socialization. Even solitary, non-competitive sports like running can be done in groups, and many people find this helps motivate them – not to mention it’s more fun. Finding a community within your sport which helps connect you to the sport and to others on a deeper level is amazing. Exercising in a group can make you feel like you’re part of something – this in itself is a great thing for your mind and body alike.
Stave off Depression and Anxiety
Exercise is fantastic for mental wellbeing. The science is all there – human beings are designed for movement, mobility, and activity. We thrive on being able to run, walk, jump, climb, swim and exert our muscles. Even if hardcore exercise isn’t for you, simple stretching or less intense sports such as walking and gentle swimming can release endorphins in your brain and give you an incredible feeling. Give activity the chance to help you feel as renewed and refreshed as you deserve.
Try Something New and Promote Brain Function
Trying a new activity is great for both your mind and your body. If you love sports and practice your favorite sport regularly, you might be tempted just to stick with what you know. However, trying cost-effective new activities which require learning a new skill, such as hand-eye coordination, helps your mind adapt, stretch and overcome new challenges. This is highly beneficial for your development, and has been strongly connected with lower occurrence of cognitive conditions such as Alzheimer’s or dementia. Stuck on what to try? Check out this list of options:
- Pickleball – Pickleball is a mixture of tennis and badminton, and requires a teammate. All you need is a buddy, a paddle, and a whiffleball. While you’re at it, pick you up some court shoes for pickleball. My mom’s been playing pickleball at her local gym for a few years and I’ve joined her a few times. It’s a great workout and a ton of fun!
- Pilates – Mostly mat work, pilates is great for low-impact strengthening work for core and back stability, as well as lower body strengthening. It is an excellent way to stabilize joints and prevent back pain.
- Rock Climbing – If you have a local gym with a climbing wall, give it a go! There are few equivalent exercises for functional upper body work. The key, though, is to work on using your lower body whenever possible so you can climb for more than a few minutes before your arms give out!
- Dancing – It doesn’t matter if you don’t feel like dancing in front of others, you can try hip hop, Latin, or cardio dance from the comfort of your living room with free Youtube dance workouts. Who cares how you look? Just move and have fun!
- Martial Arts – From Tai Chi to Muy Thai and everything in between, martial arts have so many benefits: balance, flexibility, discipline, and self-defense skills.
There are so many more ways to stay active, you’d be surprised! I even had a client recently who participates in arm wrestling competitions! Whatever you think you might be interested in, there’s a group of people out there doing it. If you haven’t find your “thing” yet, don’t give up. Your mental health (not to mention the physical health benefits) is worth the journey to find an activity you’ll enjoy doing long-term. Keep at it!
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One of the great joys of being a dietitian is dispelling wellness-related myths. These bits of misinformation make people feel as though being healthy is unattainable, unrealistic, or downright impossible. Not to mention miserable! What is the point of being healthy if you’re living a miserable, restricted life? In the end, constantly hearing these myths leaves people feeling trapped! If they can’t meet these strict (and let’s face it, no fun) standards, then why even try to be healthier?
This list includes the wellness-related myths I hear most frequently from clients. I love to talk these through with my clients, explain what is actually true, and help them find realistic, healthy lifestyles they truly enjoy. Hopefully some of these explanations will give you a giggle and who knows? Maybe they’ll empower you to rock a healthy life you enjoy.
1. Carbs are bad for you and cause weight gain
This is probably the big kahuna and the myth I most frequently hear. Most of this is just couched in misunderstanding of what carbohydrates are and what they do in your body. Carbs are any food that breaks down into blood sugar. For some reason, society has collectively decided that blood sugar is evil. In fact, blood sugar is the fuel that our bodies use for energy. The truth is, if we undereat carbs, we are underfueling our brains and bodies. Often that underfueling leads to brain fog, slowed metabolism, low energy, depression, and/or anxiety. Also sadness, because carbohydrates are delicious. The metabolic effects of low carb diets lead people to gain more weight afterward than they ever lost in the first place, and that restriction is tough on our relationships with food. The solution is not to eat low carb.
Carbs themselves are not the problem. Overeating carbs, just like overeating in general, can lead to weight gain. The reason carbs get such a bad rap is because they are so easy to overeat. They are shelf stable, tasty, and not very filling. It is completely possible to regulate weight and blood sugar while including several portions of carb-containing foods per day. The key is to balance those carb foods with more filling foods like protein, healthy fats, and fiber to keep you full and fueled without weight gain.
2. Salad is pointless if you put toppings on it
Or any other incarnation of this statement – what’s the point of a healthy dinner if you eat dessert? Why bother ordering a water to drink with your burger and fries? Umm…because they are healthy options. Why not choose them? Having something that’s higher calorie or less “perfect” to eat does not eliminate the nutrition of something you eat with it. Adding croutons and dressing does not vacuum the vitamin K out of your greens or the fiber out of your snap peas. Eating dessert does not neutralize the healthy nutrients from your balanced dinner. The burger and fries do not somehow make healthful hydration irrelevant. Honestly, I would rather someone eat veggies with some butter or salad dressing than not eat veggies at all!
I frequently encourage my clients to prioritize the foods they love and make healthful changes in areas that they don’t hold as dear. Don’t discourage others (or yourself) from making the healthful choices that you prefer and choosing the delicious foods you enjoy. These are perfect examples of balance.
3. Fruit has too much sugar (carrots too)
This one is an offshoot of #1. Fear of carbs = fear of sugar. Most fruits and vegetables have some naturally-occurring sugars. Some believe they are to be avoided, primarily out of fear they will cause weight gain or blood sugar spikes. The good news is that the amounts of carbs and sugar in a serving of these foods is completely appropriate and does not cause these problems for most people. For example, most people need 30-60 grams of carbohydrate per meal, and 1/2 cup of most fruits contains 7-15 grams. One cup of carrots contains about 10 grams. You’d have to eat a LOT of carrots to exceed your carb needs – most people don’t have that problem!
On top of that, fruits and vegetables tend to have a built-in blood sugar buffer – fiber! Fiber has a complex structure that slows digestion and helps carbohydrates go into the blood stream at a much slower rate. That helps prevent blood sugar spikes and fat storage. Fear of sugar is no reason to pass up the vitamin and mineral benefits fruit has to offer. The take-home message: don’t fear fruit!
4. Fitness “doesn’t count” if you aren’t sweating
This one really torques me off. I recently had a sedentary client with chronic pain whose doctor told her that her newly established walking habit didn’t “count” because she wasn’t sweating for 30 minutes, 5 days per week. She came to me feeling so defeated (despite the fact that in two weeks she had worked up from 5 to 15 minutes of walking and had lost 7 lbs)! This isn’t the first case I’ve seen where people feel that because of their pain or fitness limitations that there’s “no point” to exercising. Even small bouts of movement carry myriads of benefits! Plus, when you haven’t been exercising regularly, your body is not efficient with movement and burns more calories doing less activity. As you gradually work up to more time or intensity, you adjust to your body’s needs. It’s a well-designed system. 🙂
5. Eggs are bad for you
Ahh the great misunderstanding of the 1990s. It’s pretty cut-and-dried at this point: egg yolks have a lot of cholesterol. We used to think eating cholesterol would raise our blood cholesterol. Turns out it doesn’t! Plus, eggs are a great complete protein source. Scramble away!
6. Eating “clean” and the all-or-nothing mentality
What does “eating clean” even mean? And how subjective a term is that anyway? Terms like that have formed this idea that being healthy is a wagon that you are either on or you’re off. This is SUCH a damaging mindset because it sets us up completely to fail. If we expect that we’re going to eat perfectly and completely eliminate anything with sugar or with flour or whatever the “clean eating trend” of the minute is, we’re liable to “fail.” I say fail with quotes because it is not a failure to eat tasty food. Plan to include all kinds of foods. Plan not to exercise every single day. That way, you can just continue on without guilt for eating a completely reasonable treat or taking a day off to lay around.
And in the words of Abbey Sharp, one of my fave RD Youtubers: wash your produce – now you’re eating clean!
7. 2 grams protein per pound
Somewhere along the line came the idea that if protein is good for you, more protein must be better. More protein, more protein, more protein. Whether your goals are weight management or muscle gain, there’s someone out there who will push protein on you like it will be the magic wand to solve all your problems. Some bodybuilding blogs and forums recommend that those who weight lift regularly should eat 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight! Meaning, a 150-lb woman should eat 300 grams of protein per day. A deck of cards size of meat contains approximately 20-25 grams protein. Can you imagine eating that 12 times over…every day??? A 180-lb man would be aiming for 360 grams protein per day! Nuts!
For satisfaction, weight management, and muscle maintenance, you need much, much less than that. Studies show that you can maximize muscle gain/maintenance with 30 grams protein in a sitting.1-2 Any more than that and the extra protein gets filtered out by your kidneys. Basically, you’ve got really expensive pee and a lot of extra kidney stress.
8. Healthy food is more expensive
This one may not be as directly obvious, but it comes down to satisfaction and nourishment. 10 cents per ramen brick is pretty dang cheap, but how long does that sustain us? With very little protein, fiber, or healthy fat, most will find themselves hungry again in a short while, as is the case with a lot of the more processed foods. Nourishing whole foods like produce, lean proteins, and healthy fats may be more expensive, but will meet our nutritional needs and satisfy hunger for much longer than cheaper foods. If planned well, you can spend very reasonable amounts on healthful meals. Here is the first in a series I wrote about eating well on a budget, and how I feed our family of four on $100 per week. You can eat well on a budget!
9. Dietitians eat perfectly
It seems that everyone believes dietitians eat only organic sprouted raw cardboard – forget it! We are normal people who love ice cream and chips and cookies, as well as a delicious serving of roasted veggies or a great smoothie. Health is about balance, not restriction! Check out my series on what dietitians eat in a day here, here, and here!
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We’re going on two solid weeks of quarantine in my area, and we recently started a shelter-in-place lockdown. Gyms have been closed for several weeks and now all parks, beaches, and government-owned trails are either shut down or we have been recommended to steer clear. While necessary, these closures can make it seem impossible to find a way to stay active (not to mention find the motivation to do so)!
While it may not be your preferred way to be active, video workouts can be a saving grace when your gym and equipment (and much of the great outdoors) are unavailable. Many different Youtube creators have been generating free fitness-related videos for years, all of which are at your fingertips. With these Youtube channels, there’s something for everyone!
Important: As with any new fitness regimen, make sure to have your doctor’s approval and use this form to help you assess your risk to safely incorporate new exercise. Discontinue any movement that causes sharp or shooting pains, modify as needed, and progress gradually.
1. POPSUGAR Fitness
- Type of workouts: All kinds – cardio, barre, boot camp, kickboxing, Zumba/latin dance, strength and toning, Pilates, yoga, and more
- Reasons you might love it: Think of POPSUGAR as a live, video version of a fitness magazine workout. They have many skill levels of balanced, well-rounded workouts with certified trainers, and they often instruct on modifications. If you love female-oriented workout classes, this is a great place to start!
- Reasons it may not be a good fit: The models are very fit and dressed like fitness models. You’ll swear they aren’t breaking a sweat. Staying fit and aesthetic is their job – for most of us, that’s not the case. If that’s going to be discouraging, you may prefer a different channel.
2. Fitness Blender
- Type of workouts: Cardio, HIIT, kickboxing, strength training
- Reasons you might love it: Fitness Blender offers a no-frills approach to video workouts. The set is very simple (one exercise demonstrator on a white background), the workouts are balanced, and you’ll definitely get your sweat on. There is no background music so you can play your own favorite tunes.
- Reasons it may not be a good fit: If you love a high-energy, music-pumping group fitness experience, the simplicity of Fitness Blender may not offer the atmosphere you crave.
3. The Fitness Marshall
- Type of workout: Hip hop cardio dance
- Reasons you might love it: With all due respect, Caleb (aka “The Fitness Marshall”) is like a very hip, very modern Richard Simmons. He’s high energy, he’s hilarious, and he is an EPIC hip hop dancer. His videos are inclusive of a variety of shapes, sizes, genders, races, and sexual orientations. He sometimes messes up and totally plays it off – no perfection needed, just have a blast dancin’!
- Reasons it may not be a good fit: Obviously, if you don’t like dancing or hip hop music, this is not the channel for you. You should be forewarned that while most are, not all of his videos may be appropriate for your kiddos. Since everyone’s kids are home now, you might want to screen individual videos before putting them on the big screen.
4. Yoga with Adriene
- Type of workout: yoga (you’re shocked, I know)
- Reasons you might love it: Adriene has a darling, low-pressure personality and her videos are very peaceful and relaxing. She has yoga videos of all lengths and for all situations (headaches, anxiety, back pain, stress, sore muscles, and more). If you’re new to yoga, her 30 Days of Yoga is a great place to start while in quarantine. Plus, if you’re lucky, her adorable dog Benji will make an appearance!
- Reasons it may not be a good fit: This may be dangerous Internet territory but I would be remiss if I did not mention that yoga sometimes encourages spiritual practices. Emptying your mind and connecting with the spiritual realm provides opportunities for harmful spiritual attack. While Adriene rarely incorporates these practices, you should be aware. Take the videos for the excellent stretching and breathing exercises, and use the time of mental clarity to meditate on God’s word or to pray (Philippians 4:8).
- Type of workout: cardio, strength, and some equipment workouts
- Reasons you might love it: Led by two certified personal trainers, the workouts are balanced and effective and come in a wide variety of lengths. Got 10 minutes? Got 45? There’s a video for that. They have options for all skill levels – they even have an awesome seated workout. If you have some home equipment you’d like to utilize (dumbbells, kettlebells, etc.), they’ve got you covered.
- Reasons it may not be a good fit: If you don’t love calisthenics or you prefer a workout that is a distraction from the fact that it’s exercise (i.e. dancing or kickboxing), this may not be the channel for you.
Hopefully these Youtube channels may provide you with some fresh activities to try while you’re riding out the Coronavirus storm. Hang in there. Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself to be as active as you normally are. This is a difficult time for many of us, and while activity can help with stress reduction, it won’t help if you’re stressed about the workouts themselves. Give yourself some grace and patience as you find your footing. Look for workouts you really enjoy, and stay safe and healthy!
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Sometimes starting a new exercise plan can be overwhelming. One nice thing about being more active is that you have a lot of options, but that can also be a struggle. Many people are confused about what types of exercises they “should” do and how they should do them. This post will give you some tips on selecting exercises and making a sustainable (and dare I say, enjoyable?) exercise plan.
Keep in mind that any new exercise plan should be approved by your doctor, particularly if you have any chronic diseases or injuries. Use this form to guide you as you plan to safely increase your physical activity.
What are your goals?
Ultimately the exercises that you choose should be guided by your health goals. While being physically active is beneficial for overall health, choosing the most appropriate and specific exercises will help you achieve your goals most efficiently.
- Weight Loss – Start out any new weight loss plan by focusing on simply moving more than you move now. Once that becomes a habit, then increase the cardiovascular challenge by spending more time with your heart rate up. Finally, add in strength training to build muscle mass. This extra muscle will use up energy, increasing your metabolism.
- Endurance – To increase your endurance, start by gradually increasing the amount of time you spend with your heart rate up. In this case, you’re not looking for very intense exercise, but a moderate challenge that you can sustain for longer and longer bouts of time as you train. Then add in strength training, focusing on more repetitions (10+) and lower weights.
- Strength – Begin by focusing on your form – ask a trainer or friend (or watch in the mirror) to ensure you are performing the exercises safely and effectively. Gradually increase the difficulty, focusing on fewer repetitions (6-8) and higher weights. Focus on muscle balance – if you train one side of your body (for example, your chest), you must also train the other (your upper back, in this case). If you train biceps, be sure to also train triceps. This helps to protect your joints from imbalances that can lead to injury. Make sure to incorporate the recommendations for flexibility into any strength training plan as well.
- Improved digestion – Yes, physical activity can improve digestion! Moderate cardiovascular exercise can improve circulation to your intestines, helping your body break down and absorb food more efficiently. Another significant factor is stress – stress can wreak havoc on digestion! Consistently performing stress-reducing activities like prayer, yoga, Tai Chi, or meditation can play a huge role in improving digestion.
- Improved health markers (blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.) – While it varies based on which lab values you’re targeting, most are improved with combinations of cardio and strength training, even without weight loss; however, reducing excess body weight is linked with improvements in blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.
- Flexibility – This is a great goal if you’re wanting to improve or maintain movement in your joints and prevent injuries. Anyone can benefit from maintaining flexibility. The key here is consistency. Stretch your muscles and joints regularly. Whether you use yoga, standing stretches, or wall stretches doesn’t matter as long as you are gentle and consistent.
This is so, so important to an exercise program. If you detest doing a certain type of exercise, do not plan on or expect that you will do it consistently. That is a great way to set yourself up to either quit or be miserable. Bear in mind that the first few weeks of any exercise program will be difficult since you are not yet trained for the exercise, but I’m not referring to difficulty here. I’m talking about enjoyability – if you hate to dance, don’t join a Zumba class. If you can’t stand being on a cardio machine, don’t commit to a treadmill. Find methods of exercise that you actually enjoy.
Sometimes that looks like building a little more intensity into the movements you do in everyday life. For example, if you love to garden and be outside, use a push mower, shovel by hand, or cut your own firewood. If you like to watch television, ride a stationary bike while you do or – one of my personal faves – take a drinking game designed for the show you’re binge-watching and exchange the shots for exercises. These tasks will incorporate fitness into aspects of your life that you do enjoy.
Ask yourself a few questions: Do you have the equipment or space to do this activity? Will you need a gym membership? Is there a realistic time in your day to set aside to do this?
If the basic logistics aren’t there, find something more accessible. If all else fails, there are hundreds of workout videos on Youtube for any type of workout you can think of. No fees, no membership, no travel, and no need for fancy exercise clothes (unless you want them).
Taking all three of these factors into account can help make sure that your exercise program gets you where you’re trying to go in the most enjoyable way that is realistic for your life. Fitness isn’t always fun and there aren’t too many people who are super jazzed to do their workout every day always, but a little thought and planning on the front end can make a huge difference in the long run. If you find yourself stuck or confused, find yourself a certified fitness professional to help you out. Finding a way to make it work is worth it!
If your goal for the New Year was to eat more healthfully, you may have selected a diet to make it happen. You’re 8 days in so I’m wondering how you’re doing. Having some cravings? Feeling deprived? If so, you may be barking up the wrong tree. If you’re struggling to foresee this diet lasting for the long run, I’ve got some tips for making some more sustainable (and less miserable) changes.
Here’s what to do instead:
1. Don’t get married without dating first!
What I mean is, don’t commit to stick to a plan if you have no clue how well it is going to work for your body and your life. If it feels like fighting, clawing, and scratching, then it’s not the right change for you. Avoid committing to any plan that you haven’t tried out first. Honestly evaluate how it fits into your life and if it doesn’t, it’s not your failure – it’s the wrong plan!
2. Commit to a habit, then figure out how to make it work in your life.
Instead of a whole plan, pick a healthy habit. Want to drink more water? Great! Pick an ounce goal (80-100 oz is a good start for most folks) and try however many strategies you must in order to find the one that actually helps you get there. Try carrying a water bottle everywhere. Try setting mini-goals (20 oz. by 10 am, 40 by noon). Try an app like My Fitness Pal. Try a cheesier app like Plant Nanny. Try fruit-infused water. Try tea. Try filling a gallon jug of water daily. Try whatever you need to try until you get closer to where you want to be. The real work is in finding the strategy that doesn’t feel like work.
Once you’ve figured that one out, choose another habit and stack it on top of the first. Ready to eat 5 servings of fruits and veggies per day? Walk for 20 minutes 3 times per week? Regardless of the goals you pick, this test-driving strategy means you’ll have the opportunity to make each change fit your life. Once you stack up all your new (and easy to stick with) habits, just think how much healthier you’ll be! Not to mention how much more enjoyable it will be than that “clean eating” cleanse you were thinking about trying…
3. Put your blinders on
This is the toughest part and it’s a total mental game. Your cousin’s on keto, your PTO pal is on paleo, and your fitness-nut friend is fasting 16 hours a day. They’re all losing weight and you’re over here working on your water intake. It can truly be maddening. Keep in mind – most any diet will get weight off. Most any diet will not keep weight off. Remind yourself how many times you’ve watched someone (or you yourself have done this…it’s okay!) diet, lose weight, then gradually gain it all back and then some. All of these people you know are setting their bodies up to gain more fat in the long run. It’s sad, but it’s true!
So try not to let them influence you. It’s so, so hard, I know! I’m a dietitian – I’ve studied nutrition for 10 years – and I can still feel myself being influenced by social media progress photos from diets and supplements that I know are not safe or effective. It is a battle. But it’s a battle worth fighting.
You must find your healthy life.
That means that you eat what works for your body, your family, your budget, your lifestyle, and makes you happy. Put in the work to find out what that is, and you’ll be so pleased with how easy it can be to be healthy!
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Diet culture is determined to tell you that you have to be miserable to be healthy.
That couldn’t be more wrong.
Subscribe to learn how to go from a frustrated, restricted dieter to a happy, relaxed relationship with food and fitness. Healthy doesn’t have to be hard!
Healthy doesn't have to be hard.
Dietitian | Exercise Physiologist | Speaker | Youtuber
Serving clients in Oly and all over Washington State!