Habituating 2017

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Hey friends! Long time no talk. I’m sitting here on a random day in January thinking about the goodness that’s going to be this year. Working in the health and fitness industry, it often feels like a rat race to make sure you’ve got new content, new products, new life changing evidence that is going to help your clients be happier, healthier and better than ever. The truth is, I don’t have anything crazy and new for you to start off the year better than ever, just a basic reminder.

S  l  o  w  and steady wins the race.

There’s a lot of research on resolutions and habit change. One of my favorites is from psychologist and researcher, B.J Fogg. He emphasizes that to create a real lifelong habit, the focus should be on training the brain to succeed at small adjustments, then gaining confidence from that success.

The first step focuses on being very specific with your outcome. For example, I’d like to lose 5% of my body weight, or I want to feel less stressed at work. Second, figure out those “easy-win” behaviors (I call them quickies) that put you on the path to that goal. The key here is to figure out what works for YOU, not your co-worker, or your best friend. Maybe you find short walks or chopping vegetables more meditative than actual meditation. Perhaps you’re not into green smoothies but you sure like eggs, apples, and green salads.

The next step is to find something you already do as a habit and pair it with your new habit. This is key! Maybe that’s setting out your gym clothes next to your work bag, or putting out an apple on the counter every time you start the coffeemaker in the morning. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use your gym clothes or even eat the apple. Let’s not get crazy.

From there, it’s all about the little victories. One day you actually wear your gym clothes. Maybe you didn’t make it to the gym, but you wore the clothes. Sounds silly, but slowly, naturally, you’ll start walking in those clothes, and then adding in other more ambitious goals to your routine. Instead of identifying yourself as a failure for not remembering your clothes, you’re allowing yourself time to make the change. With every little effort, you’re succeeding and implementing positive behavior changes. You also get to celebrate! Tell yourself you’re doing a great job along the way. I do this with clients all the time by high-fiving them, and they think I’m crazy, but we’re celebrating little wins!

I’ve never been one to make big sweeping changes in my life starting January 1st, but instead, this has gotten me to think of habits I’d like to shift in my life.

My goals for new habits in 2017 include:

Waking up with my alarm and not hitting snooze twice…or three times.

Drinking more water at home. I’m great out and about with my bottle, but forget about water when I’m working from home.

Putting my phone away after 6pm. As a business owner, you feel like you need to be available 24/7 but you actually don’t. You need time for yourself (and Netflix) too.

Writing on the blog more! I did a lot of work-related stuff that kept me away from writing these past few months, but I’ve noticed that I miss just having a space to jot down my thoughts and rambles. Hope you like it!

Happy New Year to you! To hear more from Dr. Fogg, check out his Ted Talk from 2012:

What are some of the habits you’d like to adjust this year? Let me know!

Finding Balance: Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

In my time working as a private practice dietitian, I’ve had the chance to work with a wide variety of clients. From women and men who are seeking weight loss, those in recovery from eating disorder treatment facilities, seniors seeking more energy and weight management, those with Type 2 Diabetes who want to manage their blood sugar, and more. Of those clients, a lot the women I work with live with a condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) which can often leaving them wondering, why me? They often struggle with the inability to manage weight, feelings of anxiety, depression (which often leads to disordered eating habits), little energy to get through the day, and even Type 2 Diabetes. First, in case you’ve never heard of PCOS before or are interested in learning more, here are some facts about the condition:

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The biggest reality that stands out to me is that the condition is so “new” in the medical world. The criteria for diagnosing PCOS has only been around since 1935! There’s also often an unclear understanding of the symptoms, and even the lack of symptoms can be tricky for determining diagnosis which is why 70% of women with PCOS often go undiagnosed for years. If you feel you may have PCOS, your doctor will perform a series of tests including a physical exam, pelvic exam, blood panels to measure blood lipids and hormones, and an ultrasound to take a look at the uterus and the ovaries.

In an effort to raise awareness to PCOS, and because I believe in the power of storytelling, I’m sharing with you, my good friend, Ashley’s powerful and eye-opening diagnosis story. Ashley works in the school nutrition field but specifically with local farmers, and other companies/organizations in promoting and building the supply chain to get fresh, locally grown food in the schools. Ashley is also passionate about women’s health and using nutrition and lifestyle changes as treatment for PCOS. Here’s her story:

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Ashley making pumpkin seed dip as part of a Mesoamerican diet session at the 2016 Food Farm Finance Forum.

“I was diagnosed with PCOS when I was 25. I waited until then to go to my first well woman visit. I’ve always thought something was “wrong” with me because unlike my two sisters, my first cycle came years after theirs (age 15) and has always been inconsistent. There were so many embarrassing moments during that time period since I had no way to “prepare”- it was basically like getting your period for the first time…every time.

For some family background, my mom is not a huge fan of going to the doctor. Go figure. In my adolescence, she told me that I would grow into a regular cycle and that the abnormalities that I was experiencing were normal for my age.

This can be true (for some), but I never acquired such normalcy. I had no other symptoms that would otherwise be indicative of PCOS. In fact, you can have PCOS and remain asymptomatic, which means you may have no way of knowing until you try to get pregnant. This is when most people find out and are diagnosed.

I decided to see a naturopath who specialized in infertility issues. I had no desire to get pregnant. I was in my  early twenties, working full-time, unattached, but I wanted to make sure things were in place for when the time came that I wanted children. I went to Dr. Grobe (in Mesa, AZ) based off a referral from a mommy-friend because she practiced both conventional and natural medicine. As a nutrition-focused lady, I wanted to survey a wide range of options in any treatment I might need. I made the decision to see a doctor before I knew that I had PCOS. It was in my first well woman check that the doctor and I discussed my abnormal cycle and she tested for thyroid and infertility issues.

My results showed that my thyroid was clean. The issue was that my sex hormones were all out of wack. Think, estrogen and those androgens. The doctor recommended that I try natural therapies to resolve what she and other naturopathic doctors believe is the underlying cause for PCOS – insulin resistance. They suggest focusing on diet and exercise to help manage. That freaked me out! Diabetes is now on the table. *Serious SAD face*

It is important to point out that I am a short, curvy pear-shaped lady with no previous history of diabetes in my family. My health indicators at the time were normal: blood pressure, waist- hip ratio, blood- lipid panel, blood sugars all “normal.” All of these indicators would point to no risk of developing diabetes except that I later found out…my mom also has PCOS and there’s a large connection to the genetic component to the condition.

Stay tuned for Part 2 where we’ll focus on the management and nutrition therapy for managing PCOS.

Resources:

Office on Women’s Health, U.S Department of Health and Human Services – https://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/polycystic-ovary-syndrome.php

PCOS Foundation – http://www.pcosfoundation.org/what-is-pcos

PCOS Nutrition Center and fellow dietitian, Angela Grassi – http://www.pcosnutrition.com

Healthy (and Positive) at Any Size

A few weeks back, my podcast, The Table Chat Show, had an episode where we explored the topic of Health At Any Size (listen here). We discussed what the term means to us as dietitians and health professionals, as well as providing some myth busting on common misconceptions of the term. I’ve been thinking about what we discussed ever since because I definitely had a lot more to say. At the end of the episode, we mentioned a few people we looked up to or followed on social media for inspiration. I mentioned Crystal Renn (pictured below) because she was one of the first women out there, besides my mom, whose messaging really hit home with me.

My parents divorced when I was 10 years old which seemed to be the icing on the cake of the most hormonal part of life, puberty. Suddenly, on top of the swarm of emotions I felt, I became acutely aware that all of my friends and other girls at schools were smaller than me. They could wear certain clothes that I could never fit into. Their hips didn’t seem to jut out as much as mind did. I seemed to take up much more space. Oh, the thoughts! My mother, who was also a curvy woman, knew the struggle I felt and would always help me find stylish clothes that fit me well. I couldn’t shop at American Eagle, but we would scour TJ Maxx, the Misses department of Kohl’s, Lane Bryant, and the newest Torrid that opened in my local mall. Also around this time, I started playing tennis which helped me become more active. I started eating more vegetables and less Cosmic Brownies, and developed more muscle tone. I had a bit more confidence, yet, I was still considered a “plus-size” by teenage standards and overweight according to my BMI. That bothered me.

Most nights after school, if I wasn’t playing tennis, I’d come home, grab a snack and zone out with one of the many, many magazines I received in the mail. Oh, the days before smartphones. Despite my constant struggle with finding clothes that I liked and that fit well, I was obsessed with fashion and magazines, specifically the newly released Teen Vogue (circa 2003-ish). One afternoon, I noticed my mom had earmarked a page in the latest edition, and attached a post-it note saying, “Read this, honey.”

I know that models shouldn’t be looked at as something to aspire to, re: Photoshop, makeup, angles, lighting, clothing, etc, but at the time, Crystal Renn became my new hero. She was featured in a story surrounding her journey to being a plus size model and body positive advocate. Crystal talked about her love of living a healthy lifestyle, being a plus size model in a world of straight size, but also discussed how much compassion she focused on showing her body and her mind, after years of being told she needed to lose weight. I remember thinking that this seemed like the perfect mindset to have! How freeing of a concept. Since then, Crystal has actually been the target of criticism because she’s lost weight over the years. Apparently you’re not supposed to be the ruler of your own body. Since her time though, there are now even more “plus” models who share similar sentiments, like Ashley Graham, Iskra Lawrence, Robyn Lawley, and more.

As years went on, my weight fluctuated, and I landed in the nutrition and healthcare field, I discovered that most of my colleagues don’t discuss this dichotomy of health and being a larger or smaller size than the “norm.” They’re afraid to, I think. Just like the fashion industry! We’re set on establishing this ideal health model, yet ideal health is going to look a hell of a lot different for everyone. Aka, the non-academic world. Yes, there’s a time and place for weight loss or weight gain, when a person is uncomfortable, there’s inherent health risk, or they want to establish a new routine, but that’s not the only answer. I landed in the field of nutrition, not just to help others make better food choices, but to focus more on finding that sweet spot where healthy habits and compassion exist, like Crystal’s article I read over 13 years ago. It wasn’t a research study, but it’s a mantra I’ve learned how to practice in my own life and help others do the same. I’m also still considered overweight according to my BMI, but that doesn’t bother me anymore.

Like we mentioned in our episode, you CAN be a larger or smaller size and still be healthy. There’s no  type of “real” woman. Hell, we’re all real and full of different shapes. Health is multidimensional and not solely focused on weight or physical activity. There’s no one-size-fits all, perfection way to live and be a healthy human being. You can focus on a variety of habits to perhaps bring you to that more comfortable weight (wanna chat?), but don’t feel like you should live your life always thinking you NEED to lose or gain weight. Look beyond that. There’s much more to life than restriction and being obsessed with food. The love you share for yourself, in this very moment, and not when you get to a certain weight, is what matters in the long-run.

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What are your thoughts on health at every size? Let me know in the comments below!