The Surprising Reason Why Weight Loss May Be Eluding You…

We live in a culture where burning the candle at both ends is praised and exhaustion is worn like a badge of honor. Most people are continually seeking new ways to cram more “stuff” into the 24 hours they are gifted each day. Meanwhile, we are told that we need to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night.

We know the importance of sleep… We KNOW aren’t doing ourselves any favors over the long-term by going to bed late and waking up early in an effort to be more productive… We know all this and yet we still do it!

That was me! I knew my lifestyle of going to bed at 10:30 pm and waking up at 3:00 am was not great for me. Intellectually, I got it, but dialing back my wake up time still seemed to be the best option to cram more hours in my already overstuffed schedule, so I continued this regimen for years. I never correlated my “weight creep” between 2013 and 2017 with my chronically sleep deprived state.

Then, several months ago, while reading through some supporting material for my nutrition coaching certification program, I gleaned some information that was a serious emotional impact moment for me. Since then, ensuring that I get at least 7 hours of sleep each night has been a priority for me – even if it means going to bed at 8pm each night. So, in this post, I want to share what I learned with you. I welcome your feedback as you process it.

For most people weight problems are not a willpower issue; they are a hormonal issue. When the hormones associated with blood sugar (insulin), body composition and muscle growth (growth hormone), hunger and satiety (ghrelin and leptin) get out of balance, weight gain follows as naturally as the sun rising and setting. As it turns out SLEEP can be a major driver in the balance of these important hormones and inadequate sleep can be a recipe for diet disaster no matter how iron-clad our willpower may be.

So dive into it, shall we? In a study done at the University of Chicago, researchers discovered that after only four nights of sleep deprivation (4.5 hours of sleep per night), insulin sensitivity was reduced by 30%… THIRTY PERCENT!!!  This means that the body’s ability to properly use insulin (to move glucose into our cells for use as energy) became completely disrupted. When insulin can’t do its job, blood sugar remains high and the excess gets stored in fat cells and in our organs. This is very bad news!

Another study followed a group of dieters who were put on different sleep schedules. When the dieters received adequate rest, half of the weight they lost was from fat. However, when they cut back on sleep (again to about 4.5 hours per night), the amount of fat lost was cut in half (55% less fat lost) —even though they followed the same diet. The study participants also reported that felt significantly hungrier, were less satisfied after meals, and lacked energy to exercise. So, even if we are doing EVERYTHING right while we are awake, we are sabotaging our weight loss efforts if we cheat ourselves on adequate sleep. AMAZING, right?

Oh, but it gets worse… We’ve talked about our hormonal friends leptin and ghrelin before – leptin is the hormone that helps us feel satisfied so that we don’t overeat. Ghrelin is the hormone that stimulates hunger and makes us want to eat (oh, it also reduces our metabolism – nice…). So, we need to control leptin (increase) and ghrelin (decrease) in our favor to successfully lose weight, but sleep deprivation makes that nearly impossible. Research has shown that sleeping less than six hours triggers the area of your brain that increases your need for food while also depressing leptin and stimulating ghrelin.

But wait, there’s more… When we are sleep deprived, our cortisol levels rise. Cortisol is a stress hormone that is often associated with fat gain (particularly “belly” fat). Cortisol activates the reward center in our brain (the amygdala) that makes us want food. The combination of increased cortisol and increased ghrelin shuts down the areas of our brain that leave us feeling satisfied after a meal, meaning we feel hungry ALL THE TIME—even if we just ate a meal.

And get this:  Even ONE night of sleep deprivation can be enough to impair activity in our frontal lobe, which is the area of our brain that controls complex decision-making. As it turns out, sleep deprivation is a little like being drunk. We just don’t have the mental clarity to make good decisions, specifically with regards to the foods we eat. So, we have impaired decision making coupled with a fired up amygdala that only wants high-calorie, feel good foods and it’s no wonder that our weight loss efforts fail!

So, let’s review… When we are short sleeping – say, less than 5 hours per night (and be honest, how many times in your life have you gotten less than 5 hours of sleep for several nights in a row? I know I’ve done it for MONTHS on end in the past), we are trashing the very hormones that should be working for us regarding our weight and virtually guaranteeing that any efforts we make to lose weight during our waking hours will be unsuccessful.

What if the struggles you have had with your weight were not the result of some failure of willpower or some loss in the genetic lottery, but rather just the biological result of not getting enough SLEEP? What if?

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3 Tips For Alleviating Sugar Detox Side Effects

Minimizing added sugar in your diet is a big step in the right direction when it comes to improving your health, but while your body adjusts to your new diet; you can experience some unpleasant sugar detox side effects. They may include headaches, body aches, nausea and of course cravings for anything and everything sweet. The key is resist the urge to go running for the vending machine or office candy dish. Instead, try these three tips to help you make it through the relatively short detox period.

Drink Lots of Water

First and foremost make sure you drink plenty of water. Not only will staying hydrated help alleviate many of the detox symptoms, but it will also keep you full.

Feel a headache coming on? Get a glass of water. Want a cookie or donut? Get a glass of water. One of my favorite strategies when I don’t think I can make it without another sweet treat or when the plate of danishes in the breakroom are calling my name is to pour myself a big glass of water, drink it slowly and then make myself wait 15 minutes. By then the craving has usually passed, or at the very least, I’m so full with water that I can pass on the sugary stuff.

Supplement With A Good Multi Vitamin

Vitamin C, B vitamins, and Zinc are all known to help with cravings. Taking a good multi vitamin may be just the thing to help reduce detox side effects and make it through the few not so pleasant days of getting used to consuming a lot less sugar.  In addition, you can talk to your medical care provider about supplementing with a few of these micronutrients in higher doses. Don’t do this without medical supervision or the advice of your doctor though.

Stay Busy

Last but not least, I need you to realize that a lot of the cravings and not feeling well is in your head. The more you focus on negative side effects of detoxing from sugar, the worse they will get. The best way to avoid this is to stay busy. While I don’t recommend doing a sugar detox when you’re at work, particularly during a busy or stressful time, staying busy is a good idea. Make some plans to head out with friends, go for a walk, reorganize your closet, or just settle in for a Netflix marathon. What you do doesn’t matter as long as you stay busy and keep your mind of the sugar detox symptoms.

Before You Detox – Be Prepared For These Sugar Detox Symptoms

When you decide to cut the sugar out of your diet, you may go through quite the withdrawal. Before you jump in cold turkey, let’s take a look at some of the detox symptoms you can expect over the coming days. When you know what’s coming, that it’s normal and most importantly that it will only last for a few days, it is much easier to make it through this tough transition period of detoxing from your sugar habit.

Intense Cravings

The first thing you’ll notice is that you start to crave sugary treats. It starts out with you thinking that a cookie would be nice. Then the cravings get worse until you’re ready to do just about anything for a sweet treat. Your best bet is to get anything sweet out of the house before you start to crave and cave.

Mood Swings and Tiredness

Don’t be surprised to go from “I can do this” to “no way” in a matter of minutes. Mood swings, crankiness and even feelings like all you want to do is nap are not uncommon as your body starts to detox from the sugar.

Distract yourself. Call a friend, watch a movie, or go take nap. Do whatever it takes to make it through these few days of sugar detox. Remember that no matter how crappy you feel, this won’t last long.

Headaches

Sugar has quite the effect on the brain, as does detoxing from it. It’s not uncommon to have a headache as your body gets used to running without the sugar. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. Some black coffee or an aspirin will help as well.

If you are getting nauseous in addition to having the headache, try drinking some unsweetened peppermint tea.

Joint and Body Aches

Some people experience flu-like symptoms including joint and body aches. It’s your body going through the sugar withdrawal. Try drinking some warm chicken broth or take a hot bath in Epsom salt. The symptoms could be caused by an electrolyte imbalance and both of those will help. Some people swear by drinking some pickle juice to get rid of the aches.

Shakes and Chills

Last but not least you could experiences shakes and chills. It may feel like a fever or you’re coming down with some nasty bug, but again, it’s just sugar withdrawal symptoms. Crawl in the bed and sleep through the worst of it if you can. By the time you wake up you’ll be through most of it.

Above all, don’t let these symptoms scare you away from giving a sugar detox a try. Chances are you won’t experience all of these and many symptoms won’t be very severe. Above all keep in mind that this will only last for a few days and you’ll come out of it without the sugar cravings and with a chance for a much healthier diet and lifestyle.

Healthy Daily Actions Challenge

The cornerstone to a healthy life is making choices and taking actions each and every day that promote better health and wellness. We’ve reached the middle of January, and many people have already cast their New Year’s Resolutions to the curb. However, making big strides in improving our health doesn’t have to be some grand gesture… It doesn’t have to be some huge mountain to climb. It can be as simple as making healthier choices, one day at a time.

For the rest of the month, I challenge you to explore some healthy daily actions and then choose 2-3 of them that resonate with you personally and work to turn them into new habits. We already know that it is not wise to try to build too many new habits at once, so please keep in mind that this challenge is not about doing all of these actions every single day, rather just trying each one and seeing if you notice that it makes you feel better.

The Healthy Daily Action Challenge starts TODAY!

January 16: Eat the Rainbow – Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners prescribe a colorful diet for their patients, associating certain colors with certain elements. While I know very little about all of that, I do know that eating a colorful plate is one of the very best ways to ensure that you are eating a diet chock full of essential vitamins, minerals, and nutrition.  The colors to make sure you are eating are black (lentils, black beans, blueberries, blackberries, etc.), yellow (eggs, yellow peppers, mango, yellow tomatoes, etc.), red (red peppers, strawberries, raspberries, red lentils, tomatoes, beets, etc.), white (bananas, cauliflower, egg whites, rice, bread, quinoa, nuts, etc.), and green (avocado, broccoli, green grapes, kiwi, spinach, kale, lettuce, all green vegetables, etc.). Try to eat foods from all five color categories today (ingredients count). Also, the color of the edible part of the food is the color category. For example, a banana is a white food, not yellow. An egg is both white (egg white) and yellow (egg yolk). Make sense?

January 17: Try a New Food – Choose a new healthy food and eat it. For example, maybe you’ve never eaten brussel sprouts. Go buy some at the store and roast them in a hot oven with olive oil and garlic.

January 18: Slow Down – Chew each bite of food at least 20 times before swallowing and put your fork/spoon down between each bite. Savor each bite. Notice if you feel full before you are finished emptying your plate (this is HUGE if you are able to master it… I’m still working on this one).

January 19: Meditate – Download a meditation app or just listen to some instrumental music and sit quietly with your eyes closed for 10-15 minutes and just focus on your breathing.

January 20: Cook Your Meals – Refrain from eating any packaged, processed, or restaurant food today. Cook your meals from scratch. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to prepare a day’s worth of wholesome, nutritious meals.

January 21: Develop a Meal Time Routine – This healthy action is one you will need to do for a few days to get any benefit from it. Pick a time for each your daily meals and stick to that time each day. For instance, Breakfast at 10:00, Lunch at 1:30, and Dinner at 5:00. Your body will get used to eating at those times and can make it less likely for cravings to kick in between meals.

January 22: Clean Out a Cabinet/Drawer/Pantry Shelf – Chaos and clutter are not our friends. Sometimes bringing order into our kitchen starts with the simplest action of just opening a cabinet and cleaning it out. Check expiration dates… when was the last time you used each item… get rid of the unhealthy, processed, sugar-laden crap, etc. You might be surprised at how motivating just one clean cabinet can be to keep going.

January 23: Hungry vs. Starving – We all understand the waves of hunger and riding the wave until the next time you plan to eat is fine but try not to allow yourself to feel like you are “starving” because self-control can go right out the window. If it’s not time for your next meal, have 1 oz of walnuts or macadamia nuts and a cup of tea. It can work miracles!

January 24: Use Smaller Plates – I don’t know about you, but I have trouble with proper portion sizes. One trick I’ve been using that has worked really well for me is to serve my meals on a salad plate rather than a dinner plate. I still get plenty of food, but it’s a reasonable portion instead of a restaurant portion.

January 25: Drink More Water – Ah yes, it always comes back to water, doesn’t it? Today, make sure you are drinking enough water. For most of us that means about a gallon!  Try some lemon water – I promise, it’s amazing!

January 26: Eat Your Veggies First – Today, eat the vegetables that are on your plate first at each meal. See if it helps control portion size.

January 27: Planned Leftovers – Prepare enough of one of your meals today to eat as another meal tomorrow. This is a great way to reduce waste, save time and money. And make sure your meals tomorrow are just as nutritious as today’s.

January 28: Meal/Snack Prep – Save time by prepping all your meals in advance so all you have to go is grab, heat, and eat.

January 29: Make Advance Decisions – If you are eating out at a restaurant look up their menu online and decide what you are going to eat before you even sit down at the table. Then you don’t even need a menu when you sit down. You can just order your pre-decided meal. Making advance decisions helps us stay on track when hunger might make us want to choose something unhealthy otherwise.

January 30: Reverse quantities at meals. Traditional thought in the USA has us eat a small breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a larger dinner. Countries that have the lowest incidence of obesity reverse this… Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. Try this and see what you think.

January 31: Don’t Beat Yourself Up – If you have a bad day, just let it go. None of us are perfect and mis-steps happen. Give yourself some grace and just move on, making proper choices at the next opportunity – not tomorrow, not Monday… Right now.

What If?

I’ve been driving back and forth across the state of Florida a whole lot lately and listening to the same old radio stations can get old, so I’ve been listening to audiobooks in an effort to “kill two birds with one stone” (drive to Sarasota and still get my personal development time in). Recently, I listened to “Girl, Wash Your Face,” by Rachel Hollis. It’s targeted to an audience of women who are quite a bit younger than me, but Rachel has good thoughts on mindset issues and I got a lot out of listening to her book.

One of her quotes that I’ve seen pop up in internet memes is “What if I just don’t break this promise?” When I see it, my mind automatically flips it to the positive and I read, “What if I just KEEP this promise?”

When you think about it, Rachel is really just streamlining Deb’s signature phrase: “Where would you be if every time you said, ‘I should…,’ you actually did?”

How many times do we promise ourselves that TODAY will be different… that TODAY will be the days that I:

  • Start that exercise program…
  • Eat 100% on plan…
  • Tackle that project at work that scares the heck out of me…
  • Call that person to say “I’m sorry” or “I love you…”
  • Stay sober…
  • And all the other promises that we make and break on a regular basis.

Where would we be in our lives if – just for today – we kept all those promises we make to ourselves? Where would our health, our careers, our relationships, our self-esteem be?

And, what if we went to bed tonight feeling like a winner – like a complete success – and promised to do it again tomorrow…

And then we woke up the next morning and we DID? And then we did it again the next day… and the next… and the next?

Now, I know there is no way for us to be perfect, but what if we just latched onto ONE THING today – just one important thing – and then we committed to doing it (or not doing it)… just for TODAY?

It sounds so simple and yet we fail at it all the time. I’ll be the first one to confess that breaking commitments I make to myself has become all too commonplace here lately and I don’t like it… Not one bit… And it stops RIGHT NOW!

See, I have HUGE plans for 2019 and they are only going to become my reality if I stop spiraling downward, get it together, and start moving forward again, and that means keeping the promises I make to myself. I refuse to look back a year from now and wonder “What if” about these big goals. I just want to bask in the wonder of what I achieved and keep right on going.

What IF I just keep THIS promise?

Looking to “Skinny Up” Your Thanksgiving?

For more years than I care to remember I read articles and Googled recipes and poured through diet blogs in an effort to help me minimize the diet damage that my Thanksgiving fare would wreak on my waistline. And year after year I left my “skinnified” holiday meal feeling like so much was missing.

I felt full and yet so unsatisfied.

That’s because food-centric holiday celebrations are all intertwined with our memories and our expectations, and when the reality falls short of what we believe it SHOULD be, we feel let down and unsatisfied. And, chances are, we will continue to try to fill the subconscious void by eating even more than we would if we had prepared what we actually wanted in the first place.

Isn’t that ridiculous? 

But think about your family’s traditional holiday table… I’m willing to bet that there are certain foods that you associate with your Thanksgiving memories, right? I mean, beyond the turkey. Maybe it’s your grandmother’s stuffing recipe… or your aunt’s pecan pie… or your sister’s mashed potatoes… Without those foods Thanksgiving just isn’t the same. I remember my sister’s first year in California and her calling home on Thanksgiving crying because the meal was just so foreign to her – even though turkey, stuffing, bread, vegetables, and pie were served. Because her reality conflicted with her memories.

So, here’s my advice when it comes to Thanksgiving. Eat the food!  Life is too darned short to eat mashed potatoes made with skim milk or pie with fat-free whipped cream or whatever other “skinny” version of traditional holiday treats you may be tempted to try. Just eat the food, enjoy your family and move on. 

Get up on Friday morning and jump back on whatever diet horse you choose to ride, but for the love of all that is good and holy, enjoy your holiday! I promise, it won’t make any difference in the long run – and it might just help!

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

10 Hacks for Creating a Healthier Kitchen

[Image Credit: 123RF.com #82516319]

It’s a scene that plays out in kitchens across the country (heck, probably across the world) every day. Someone opens up the fridge, pantry, or cupboard with the intention of pulling together a healthy meal for their family, but chaos stares back at them. They either don’t have the time or the heart to wade through the disorganized stacks of bottles, boxes, bags, cans, and jars, so they grab a box of mac & cheese and call it a day.

What if there were a better way?

What if there were a way to clear the clutter and the chaos in the kitchen and create a mealtime haven that made pulling together healthy dishes for your family a no-brainer?

Well, the great news is that with some simple tweaks and the will to do it, an organized kitchen can be yours!

Having just gone through this particular exercise in my own home, I present to you my Top 10 Hacks for Creating a Healthier Kitchen!

Hack #1: Pull It All Out and PURGE!

Look, I get it! When I first attempted to organize my kitchen I was sure I could just move things around and I’d be all good. It didn’t work! The only way to clear the chaos is to remove EVERYTHING and touch each and every item, deciding what stays and what goes. Check expiration dates. Toss whatever has expired. Be ruthless about each item. Are you really ever going to eat that jar of artichoke hearts you bought 3 years ago for some recipe you never ended up making? Do you have 3 open bags of chia seeds like I did? Consolidate them into one container and toss the empties. Don’t get overwhelmed!  You can do this a cupboard/pantry/fridge/freezer at a time. Heck, you can even do it a shelf at a time if you want. Just start. I found that just breaking the inertia made me want to keep going. Then, once you have made the big purge and either trashed or donated all the stuff you’re never going to use, it’s time to get busy!

Hack #2: Alphabetize Your Spices

I know it sounds incredibly OCD, but I can’t tell you how nice it is to be able to just reach for the spices I need instead of taking out every single jar until I find the cumin! Try it!  I promise you’ll like it!

Hack #3: Use Mason Jars

Hey, I grew up in the South and honestly, I thought the only use for mason jars was to can green beans and tomatoes from my Gramma’s garden and make jellies and jams. Boy, have I been missing out. I’ll tell you a secret… I have actually successfully completed TWO projects that I saw on Pinterest.  The first was Minion cupcakes for my son’s 11th birthday. The other was to use mason jars to store my grains and bulk items. Talk about a tidy pantry! Chia seeds, rice, dried beans, bulk spices, coconut flakes, goji berries, cacao nibs, etc. They look so pretty in their jars! Plus they are airtight so things stay fresh and bug-free! 😮

Hack #4: Use a Fruit Bowl

Pull out one of the large, pretty bowls that lives in the recesses of your dining room buffet or go buy a nice bowl (mine is aqua and has sea turtles on it) and fill it with fruit and display it on your counter. Not only is fruit beautiful but if you can see it you are more likely to actually EAT it!

Hack #5: Hide the Free Day Food

Ideally, I like to buy just enough free day food so that I run out at the end of the day, but sometimes that doesn’t happen and there are leftovers. So, I hide them. We have a basket in our pantry that we hide all the junk food in, but you could also put it up in a high cabinet (preferably one that you need a step stool to reach). Out of sight, out of mind!

Hack #6: Consolidate Like A Boss

Go through your plasticware and your pots and pans and get rid of the stuff that is all scratched up, stained, lidless, etc. Keep the items that you use often, but get rid of the extra stuff you either never use or that is past its prime.

Hack #7: Get (and Use) An Instant Pot – STAT!

For the love of all that is good and holy, I resisted the Instant Pot craze forever. I’m not a fan of uni-taskers in my kitchen and I thought the Instant Pot was just that. However, I inherited a brand new one from my mom when she passed away earlier this year. Honestly, I was scared of it. I remembered all too well the pressure cooker explosions in my Gramma’s kitchen when I was a kid and feared that maybe I had a little PTSD from the experiences. But let me tell you, this ain’t your Gramma’s pressure cooker! It took me a few weeks to actually try the slow cooker setting and a few more weeks before I worked up the courage and used the pressure cooker setting. But dang y’all, shredded chicken from freezer to table in less than 30 minutes?  I was sold! If you’re a busy mom who is running in 10 different directions at any given time, go get one!  You won’t regret it!

Hack #8: Use a Garbage Bowl

I learned this trick from Rachael Ray. When you’re preparing your meals have a large bowl on hand to collect the trash – the bags, the ends of the carrots, the twigs that are leftover after you pull the rosemary off, the potato peels, etc. Then, you only have to make one trip to the trash can and the counter stays so much cleaner and more organized!

Hack #9: Keep a Go To Meal On Hand

Keep all the ingredients on hand for an emergency meal – you know, the times when you come home from work and everyone is screaming that they are STARVING and you need to whip something up in a jiffy. For us it’s a box of pasta, a jar of Rao’s Marinara Sauce, ground beef, and chopped veggies. I can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes.

Hack #10: Plan Your Menu and Prep in Advance

I plan my menu on Thursday, shop on Friday, and do meal prep on Sunday. This has become even more important while Deb is on a consulting assignment across the state. I fix her meals in advance so that all she has to do is heat and eat. It works really well for Josh and me too. It’s so great to know exactly what we’re eating in advance. Cooking everything in advance has given me a ton of time back in my days. I really love it!

What are your favorite kitchen hacks to save time, eat healthier, and stay organized? I’m always learning and evolving so I’d love to hear what works for you!