Category Archives: Nutrition

Where Does Belly Fat Come From?

Belly fat is both bad and good (yes, good!). Hoarding fat around the stomach is nature’s way of ensuring the survival of the human race during times of stress and unpredictable food intake. Why is the stomach the place it’s stored? Here comes the “good” part… Because fat in the abdomen is the most metabolically active fat. This means that just as easily as a little extra pudge can accumulate, it can be rapidly recruited for energy and burned off. When you think about it, it’s really quite clever. It’s like a squirrel tucking some acorns into the fold of its cheek for safekeeping. Our caveman bodies do the same thing. But belly fat accumulation isn’t just about what we eat and how active we are. Let’s take a look at some of the ways it gets put on our waistlines…

The Usual Suspects for Belly Fat

You guessed it; the usual suspects for belly fat include nutrition, physical activity and genetics. Let’s do a brief review…

Nutrition

This is perhaps the most obvious source of stubborn fat in the tummy. It should come as little surprise that sugary foods, trans fats, low-protein diets and alcohol can be detrimental when it comes to keeping off this kind of fat.

What You Can Do: Eat lower-sugar, healthy, natural and unrefined foods that are high in fiber or protein, and keep alcohol in check.

 

 

Physical Activity 

You’re more likely to get a spare tire if you’re sitting at a desk all day and doing little to get moving during your free time. This is fairly obvious. But, what’s less obvious is that just 5-15 minutes of movement in small segments throughout the day can truly help keep your metabolism and calorie-burning engine going. So, formal exercise isn’t always a “must” if you’re leading a truly active and healthful lifestyle. Although it certainly never hurts.

What You Can Do: Be consistent and realistic about your exercise habits and goals. One of the worst things we can do to our bodies is workout like a dog for two or three weeks and then take a month off. Equally taxing on our bodies and minds is setting unrealistic expectations for the kinds of routines we should maintain. Over-lofty plans for exercise do us no good if they end in failure and guilt. Decide how you plan to lead an active lifestyle and/or get in formal workouts. Make sure your plan is integrated into the rest of your life’s priorities and schedules to ensure successful commitment.

 

Genetics

Body shape, appetite and metabolism can be strongly influenced by genes.  Some people are prone to being more “apple-shaped” (i.e., retaining weight in the middle) while others are “pear-shaped” (i.e., retaining more stubborn, less metabolically active, but less dangerous fat in the hips and thighs). Leptin levels, a hormone that controls hunger and calorie intake, can vary according to a person’s genetics. Cortisol regulation can vary family-to-family and influence weight, too.

What You Can Do: If you’re trying really hard on the exercise and nutrition front, and belly fat still refuses to come off, then your genes may be at play. But, this doesn’t mean there is nothing you can do about to help your body. Focus on being holistic and putting more energy into the following…

 

The Sneaky Culprits of Belly Fat

Sleep

There have been lots of formal studies demonstrating the power of ZZZ’s on our health and weight. Both short and poor-quality sleep can lead to hoarding fat around the mid-section. Unfortunately, our busy-busy lives lend themselves all too easily to skimping on sleep, going to bed late and ignoring the snowball effect of increasing cortisol, inflammation and insulin resistance.

What You Can Do: Apparently, the later we go to bed the more we are skimping on deep, non-REM sleep, which occurs in the earlier part of the night. Pay attention, night owls! According to Time Magazine this is a serious problem that is linked to obesity and other health problems. So, go to bed earlier instead of only counting the total hours of sleep you get. Help yourself commit to this by creating a soothing bedtime routine for yourself about 45-60 minutes before you plan to fall asleep. Kids need a bedtime routine…and we do, too!

 

 

Stress

I can always tell I’ve had a few extra-stressful weeks because my stomach will start to feel a bit softer and fuller, even if I’ve been eating healthfully and exercising. Stress takes its toll on my body, and I know I’m not alone in this. Some people are more sensitive to stress than others by nature of their personality, goals and preferences, but none of us, even the most laid-back individuals, are 100% immune to its effects. Studies have shown that some women, with higher waist-to-hip ratios, may be more prone to the negative effects of cortisol production in response to stress than others.

What You Can Do: Sometimes we are in a stressful season of life and there’s not a ton we can do to move through it any faster. In these times, it’s especially important to care for your health through good nutrition, sleep and exercise so that the effects of stress on your waistline are minimized. Finding a relaxing or enjoyable activity to turn to on a daily basis can help release a bit of the tension and keep it from spilling over.

 

Gut Health

Brace yourselves…this one is pretty mind-blowing…apparently, there are different kinds of bacteria in your gut linked to obesity vs leanness, and overall gut health. In other words, obese individuals tend to have more of certain kind of gut bacteria that changes their energy absorption levels from food (i.e., causing them to absorb more calories from food). Say whaaa? This is part of the reason some experts blame baby formula for contributing to the obesity epidemic – the baby’s gut flora is not developed in the same way that a breastfed baby’s is and thus, energy absorption and overall inflammation may be different. This is also part of the push from some doctors who encourage both children and adults to use daily probiotics, to build up the good bacteria in the gut as a line of defense against a “hostile” gut environment and the damaging effect of processed and sugary foods.

What You Can Do: Probiotics can be expensive but worth it. You might be able to bargain hunt on brand prices online, or strike a better deal by buying them in bulk. Either way, search for a probiotic that has at least three of the five main helpful bacteria strains your tummy will appreciate: L. acidophilus, B. longum, B. bifidum, L. rhamnosus and/or L. fermentum. I have personally heard debate over whether the number of total bacteria in a supplement is important or not. Science is unsure just how helpful the total number is, but I figure it can’t hurt to have more. If you want to play it “safe,” I suggest a supplement with over 10 billion bacteria. For more information check out this article: How to Choose the Best Probiotic Supplement.

 

 

Hormone Changes

Here comes the miserable truth, ladies…menopause changes things. If you’ve been through menopause then I’m sure you know this firsthand. A dramatic drop in estrogen about a year after a woman’s last menstrual period triggers the body to shift from storing fat in the thighs and hips to the stomach. Gooooood times. There’s not much women can do to change the course of nature; HOWEVER…..

What You Can Do: Weightlifting is an excellent way to keep extra tummy fat and those pesky hormones in check. By increasing lean muscle mass, women can help their metabolisms stay sharp through peri-menopause and post-menopause. Bonus: Lower levels of estrogen might allow women to acquire lean muscle mass more easily in later age. With effort, of course.

Best of luck as you figure out how to battle the bulge! It’s something we ALL do throughout our lives so please don’t stress and feel like you’re alone, unattractive or unworthy if your pants are a little tight. No need to stress – just take action and express self-love through the process!

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

 

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Where Does Obesity Start?

I can’t believe that my perspective on obesity in America has shifted so dramatically in the last six or so months. I’ve been in the fitness industry for over a decade and have taken countless courses on metabolic diseases, health and wellness. I thought I knew most of what I needed to know…until I realized that I didn’t. One lesser-known fact that I recently learned has changed everything for me. I couldn’t believe it when I found out. It made my jaw hit the ground and simultaneously made me want to cry. This one simple statistic changes the ballgame for all of us. Big time.

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While conducting research for a manuscript I’ve been working on for the past year, I came across data about the prevalence of children who are overweight and obese in America. I was curious to read the stats but paused before getting to them. The age range taken into evaluation for childhood obesity is what struck me first. I always wrongly assumed that data on children who are overweight and/or obese referred to school-age children only. Kids get a little wiggle room to grow out of their baby fat, right? But no, the age range that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention assesses starts at the tender age of TWO! I was floored. For me, this changes everything. Here’s why…

The fact that the age range evaluated for being overweight or obese is from 2-19 years old reflects the fact that obesity starts way before we are irresponsible teenagers guzzling down chips and soda or even school-age children being served controversial, less-nutritious lunches in elementary school cafeterias. Being overweight or obese literally starts when children are adored for having chubby cheeks and pudge. That got me thinking, how can you tell “healthy fat” tots from “unhealthy and overweight” ones? I dug a little deeper and found that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that parents shouldn’t worry about the weight of children younger than 2-years old, citing that there is no current and relevant information supporting the notion that children who are heavy as babies are going to be overweight later in life. But just one second…

Today, 30% of American youth are overweight or obese (17% obese, according to National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2011-2014 data), with the prevalence of overweight 2 to 3-year olds being 40% higher than it was in 1994! What’s more is that overweight 2-year olds are apparently twice as likely to become obese as an adult. The older a child gets without outgrowing their extra layer of insulation, the greater the risk goes up. Obese 6-year olds have a 50% risk of obesity at 35 years old and obese 10-year olds have up to a 80% risk! Anyone starting to feel a little uncomfortable about these numbers yet? So, going back to the toddlers…how exactly does a 2-year old hit their second birthday and magically go from being considered healthy to overweight? That’s just not fair to the little ones! Obviously, there are things happening in the FIRST TWO YEARS OF LIFE that have the power to set us up as a society for a host of challenges in our childhood onwards into adulthood.

This brings me to my next question: What is happening in the first two years that sets a child up for certain “healthy” vs “unhealthy” habits that are perpetuated throughout their youth? Moreover, what can we do as ADULTS to prevent this? After all, the first two years of life have very little to do with what a child chooses for their nutrition and physical activity and a whole lot to do with what we offer them to eat and how we help them engage (or not) with the world around them. Our attitude towards wellness very directly impacts theirs.

These are my opinions as a health professional so take them for whatever they are worth to you. These are what I see as some of the potential root causes for their unhealthy habits and compromised gut health, and the implications for us as responsible adults.

 

3 Things that Impact Health in the First 2 Years of Life: 

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I. Breastfeeding vs. Formula

I’m a big proponent of breastfeeding but I understand that sometimes formula is medically indicated or otherwise chosen by moms who want or need it for convenience. I will spare you my opinions on women’s rights for maternity leave and the necessity to have both time and a place to pump at work, but certainly those factor into maternal nutrition decisions. I digress. When we compare breastmilk and formula side-by-side, we see a couple of differences in potential nutrition and how some babies are fed.

Breastmilk has been fine-tuned by evolution over the course of nearly 200,000 years and its complexities are only just beginning to be understood. Formula, on the other hand, was first developed on a grand scale in the early 1950s and was heavily marketed as an “ideal food” for babies. Yes, formula can adequately nourish babies. That has been proven, otherwise babies being fed formula would fail to gain weight and survive. But, the debate on whether or not it’s “ideal” is certainly a heated one, with proponents on both sides. Here is where I see formula falling short and having the *potential* to impact long-term health (albeit formula is a miracle for babies who have no other options – it was made to save lives – and is in no way, shape or form the only predictor of health outcomes):

Taste changes in milk

Just like unborn babies can taste their mother’s broccoli or potato chips via the amniotic fluid they swallow, nursing babies experience the diverse flavors of mom’s diet via changes in breastmilk flavor. There are breastfeeding advocates out there who would argue that this helps a baby embrace healthy foods later on during the introduction of solids (assuming mommy eats healthy in the first place, of course!).

Ability to digest

Just as there are experts who have brought light to the fact that one-a-day multivitamins are difficult for the body to digest, others have made us aware that formula is also difficult on a baby’s digestive system due to higher caesin content in the milk compared to breastmilk. Although parents get longer breaks between baby’s feedings while his tummy sorts everything out, this lends me to believe that a baby’s system is taxed by its food source and may not absorb all of it.  For this same reason, some formula manufacturers continue to attempt to make it with less curd to better simulate digestive processes aligned with breastmilk.

Antibodies and gut health 

Antibodies help build up our immune systems and healthy gut bacteria. Breastmilk is full of antibodies that respond and change daily to the specific needs of the baby. Baby gets sick with a cold and mama’s milk provides the medicine for healing. The healthier our gut microbiota, the healthier children (and adults) are in general. Studies are increasingly showing that gut health, inflammation and metabolic diseases (such as obesity) are scientifically linked. This means that protecting our children’s gut health needs to be a fundamental goal of any parent, and breastfeeding is just one way we can do that (and arguably the best way, for children under one-year old).

Bottle mentality

Bottle-fed babies are sometimes subject to parents and caregivers encouraging them to finish the entire portion of milk in the bottle. Babies have varying metabolisms and milk requirements so while it may be completely appropriate for one baby to guzzle down eight ounces of milk in one slug, this may be overfeeding another child. Milk requirements may also vary day by day. In this way, babies and children are not all that different from adults. We all have different needs and overeating can become a vicious and repetitive cycle thanks to our biological tendency to hoard fat when given the opportunity (I’m telling ya…our bodies still think we are getting chased down by bears). It’s important to practice baby-led bottle feeding.

What this means to us (the adults): If you are a mother or have friends, family or coworkers with a baby, try to be as supportive as possible of the breastfeeding relationship. Don’t give women snarky looks when they are nursing in public or a hard time if they are late to a meeting because they had to finish pumping. For women who choose formula out of necessity or desire, try to encourage them to follow baby’s lead and not push them to finish all of their bottles and food unless the pediatrician has medically advised it. Both breastfeeding and formula-feeding mothers can make enormous strides in their children’s long-term health with the introduction of solids and healthy foods…

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II. Introduction of Solids

The introduction of solids is an important time in a baby’s life. The new colors, textures and flavors are all fascinating to babies. While it’s obvious that overfeeding a baby solids can result in too much weight gain, there are some other things to consider that stack up and impact a little one’s health.

Sugary puree packets

Lots of puree packets look lovely – they are organic, produced by trusted brands and packed full of healthy ingredients. What’s not to love?! The challenge with lots of puree packets is that they are loaded with sugar. Baby is already getting about 17 grams of sugar from a cup of breastmilk and, at one-year old, 11 grams of sugar from a cup of cow’s milk. Clearly, sugar is a natural part of a baby’s diet, but as we know from the obesity epidemic taking flight in the 1990s when sugary sodas were having their heyday, too much of the stuff is definitely not good for our health or weight. Even veggie and fruit puree mixes have a ton of it – sometimes as much as 11-13 grams/packet! Even when you have good intentions for baby eating up all of those peas and spinach mixed in, that’s a ton of sugar! The best bet is to try to make your own baby food or choose lower-sugar, store-bought purees.

Veggie resistance

I will be the first to admit that getting a little one to fall in love with veggies is tricky business, but it’s 100% worth every effort, creative cooking method, and/or baby-friendly spices/seasonings you can muster up. Roughly 38% of American adolescents eat LESS than ONE serving of fruits or vegetables a day. Surely, we can ALL do better than that. We NEED to do better than that, starting right when solids are introduced and kids palates are impressionable. Start early and start healthy!

Time Constraints

Yes, it’s difficult to feed extra mouths, but it doesn’t have to be an elaborate, over-the-top ordeal that’s so stressful that we break down and nuke chicken nuggets every night. If we commit ourselves to eating healthy and slowly introducing our children to the same foods, we only have to prepare one meal; the family meal! I’m totally serious – my son eats everything we do and is just a year old. It’s not because he loves salmon, quinoa and veggies more than yogurt, cheese, bread and fruit, Trust me, he would eat all the aforementioned till the cow’s come home, if we let him. He accepts and enjoys healthy foods because we try to offer him the same nutritious foods that we eat (and when we eat them). It makes things far simpler on us and way healthier for him.

What this means to us (the meal providers): Whether or not we feel like we have loads of extra time on our hands to prepare homemade, healthy purees and meals, it’s really not a matter of choice. It’s a necessity for the health of the next generation. If we give up and let nine-month olds dictate an all fruit and bread diet then how are we going to hold our own when those children are five and we are telling them to eat their peas as they protest saying they don’t like the taste? It doesn’t have to be super scary to healthfully feed young children and there are a million blogs, pins on Pinterest and nutrition resources to help make it easy! Find some or personal message me and I will help you navigate it all!

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III. Modeling Good Eating

Kids are easily influenced by their surroundings. I’ve heard stories about people with babies who didn’t walk until 18 months when suddenly, on vacation with their older cousins, the child decides to morph into a walking toddler to chase after them. Our healthy choices (or lack thereof) are no different. Kids see their parents eating pizza while they have carrots and they are gonna want the pizza. Plain and simple. Who wouldn’t? Pizza is delicious and shaped like a triangle! Since when did an edible triangle not taste amazing? Watermelon, sandwiches, chips… How we influence the wellness of children is fundamental to solving childhood obesity and its propensity to carry through into adulthood.

Eat healthy foods (duh)

It’s as straightforward as that. Eat healthy foods, in front of a baby and young children, and they will be more apt to eat them too. Think of it as a chance for the whole family to get healthy.

Mindless Snacking

“Snacky” foods typically pack a lot of empty calories. In other words, lots of calories from carbs or sugars with very little return in the way of vitamins, minerals, fiber, healthy fats, etc. They can also cause children (and adults alike) to lose track of what “full” really feels like thanks to zoning out in front of a cartoon while eating fistful after fistful. Mindless snack habits set children (and adults) up for health problems because of the lack of nutrition and risk of overeating (which leaves less of an appetite for healthy meals).

Food as a tool

It’s definitely tempting to shove food in front of kids for any number of reasons, but when food is abused as a tool for getting children to behave better, we begin down a slippery slope that can tie unhealthy behaviors and expectations to treats. And we all know that if you give a kids an inch they take a….yup, mile after mile after mile. Or rather, cookie after ice cream after soda. 

What this means to us (the “models” for healthy eating): Modeling healthy eating takes commitment on a regular basis and also talking to kids about why you eat what you do. Even babies can sometimes be influenced to take bites of “yucky” foods when you show excitement and enthusiasm about them – or better yet, are eating the exact same thing in front of them. I understand that it’s unrealistic to expect people to eat healthy foods 24/7. I like to indulge a bit too. So, when you do go off the “healthy-food menu” simply make sure that you keep portions small for children (if you offer any at all) and discuss how certain foods are for unique occasions, and that if we ate them all the time, they would make us tired and give us stomach-aches. Your choice if and how you want to discuss the actual weight gain component. 

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There is a lot we can do as adults to impact the upcoming generations’ wellness and a lot starts with nutrition. It’s definitely worth noting that activity levels play a tremendous role in the childhood obesity epidemic too, even for babies. Take them out of their car seats and strollers, and let older children run around for fun – it’s the best exercise [playing] that there is! And if you’re feeling just a little bit daunted about setting a healthy example, focus hard on what it will take for YOU to be more healthy and the rest will gradually fall in place. It’s not fair to leave our children and children’s children in a place where they look down at the scale as adults and think “What the heck?! How did this happen? Where did I go wrong?” You will never regret setting a child up for good health because ultimately, it’s an integral part of what makes us happy as humans.

 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

The Pros/Cons of Meal Prep

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If you’ve ever been on Pinterest then you know that it’s pretty much impossible not to have stumbled across people’s personal pins displaying a dozen or so lovely, similar meals packed away into individual Tupperware containers for the week. If you’re not into social media, then maybe you’ve heard of someone who does this; cooks all their week’s meals on Sunday afternoon or evening so they don’t have to worry about what to eat during the work week. Sounds ideal, easy and cost-effective – and it is! But there are some things to consider about planning your meals for the week, whether you’re portioning them out into grab-and-go containers or not.

I will start with the pros of meal planning and prep, and then I will get into some of the downsides. To end, I will offer a couple of simple suggestions to help you make informed choices about your food.

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PROS OF MEAL PLANNING

Weekend meal prep is a useful strategy for people wanting to lose weight via portion control and people who track their macronutrients (think bodybuilders trying to ensure maximal protein and minimal carbohydrate consumption). It also makes things easier for time-pressed working professionals and even busy parents!   

It’s Cost-Effective

Planning and cooking your meals for the whole week at once means you’re armed and ready with a set grocery list when you hit the store, allowing you more time to scrutinize prices while you shop. You’re also more likely to buy bulk or cheaper high-volume, low-cost items since you know that no ingredients will go to waste. More money left over to treat yourself!

 

Takes Away Last-Minute Planning

With a plan in place, you’re never going to be the person scrambling to find their way to the office vending machine at lunch time. You don’t settle for less than your well thought-out meals. No last-minute pizza or overpriced takeout for you!

 

Portion and Calorie Control

It goes without saying that you’re in charge of portions and calories when you put effort into measuring out food for each meal. Casseroles, soups and lasagnas might be tricky to figure out calories for, but you can at least put reasonably size portions into containers and not be tempted to overeat come lunch. Meals that are easier to calorie count (if that’s your thing) include salads, sandwiches and proteins with veggies, rice, quinoa, beans or fruit on the side.

 

Reduces Time in the Kitchen

Although you’re going to be clocking in some major hours in the kitchen one day of the week, you’re ultimately saving a lot of time – a bonus if you work late hours leading up to dinner or often have to take lunch at your desk.

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CONS OF MEAL PLANNING 

My mom’s opinion on Sunday meal planning: “Here I’ve worked hard all week and Sunday is finally my day of rest, and you’re telling me I’ve got to spend the whole time in the kitchen?!? Forget it!!!” If you share this sentiment, then maybe you’ll be happy to hear some of the drawbacks of meal planning. But, even if you don’t meal prep on the weekend, you still need a plan in place for healthy foods and cooking during the week.

 

Calories Don’t Change

Meal planning allows for calorie control, presumably a great thing for those of us looking to trim our waist lines. But wait…is eating the same number of calories every day a good thing? Not necessarily, according to science. “Calorie shifting” is an approach to eating that aims for a total caloric amount every week (aimed at weight loss or management, depending on one’s goals), but with varying calories consumed every day. This helps keep the metabolism “sharp” and from adapting to a set daily intake. The good news is that this approach allows you to consume more on days you need it! Our metabolisms are not static and our activity levels change day-to-day, so don’t be surprised, if you’re a meal planner, if some days the meals are too much or too little.

 

Potential Lack of Nutritional Variety

If your meal plan is a PB&J with an apple for every lunch and a chicken breast with broccoli for every dinner, you’re probably saving some money and controlling your calories, but you’re majorly missing the mark on nutritional variety. Where are the dark, leafy greens? What about some foods with heart-healthy omega fatty-acids (like salmon)? Variety in all food categories (veggies, fruits, proteins, grains, etc.) is going to be best for packing in the nutrients your body needs. One idea: Change up the protein and/or veggie with your dinner for half the week. Another: Trade your apple for an orange or mango. Better yet, try a healthier alternative to the PB&J like avocado toast or smoked salmon and capers on multigrain!

 

Susceptible to Stress or Overeating on “Off” Weeks

If you’re the type of person who flails and flounders without a set plan then you may be prone to overeating or stressing out when you don’t have time for meal planning. Ultimately, meal planning is a tool to help you with your work week, but thoughtful eating and confidence approaching on-the-fly food selections is a skill.

 

Boredom

Meal planning is generally not as suitable for those with adventurous and varied palates. If you cook a lot of one thing in bulk and plan to eat it day after day, you may quickly tire of the taste and opt for something else. This means you’ve wasted time, money and food! “There are starving children in Africa!” Eat your leftovers!

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IMPROVEMENTS FOR MEAL PREP & PLANNING

A happy medium can be found if you’re a meal planner. Here are a few ideas to help ensure you’re able to have the best of all words – cost-efficient foods, nutrient density, variety and appropriate quantity!

 

Back-up Plan

It’s important to have a back-up plan for weeks when meal prep just isn’t feasible. There will be times when you’re too tired to do it, when you haven’t hit the grocery store in time, when special events or travel conflict with cooking, etc. Here are a few back-up plans to consider:

  • Create a budget for a week of every month to buy meals from a healthy, affordable restaurant for lunch or dinner. For example, once a month you could plan to buy salads for lunch from your favorite local café.
  • When you miss your weekend meal-prep, plan another day and time early in the week to tackle your shopping and cooking.
  • Try your hand at cooking every other night of the week and make enough for leftovers at lunch the next day.

 

Stash Meals in Freezer

When you meal prep, try making several large-volume dishes at once. Use your slow cooker, oven and stove top to prepare three separate meals so that you can both use and store some of each meal for optimal present and future variety!

 

Supplement with Snacks

If you’re lacking variety in your planned meals, try supplementing them with nutritious snacks. Snacks are also a way to implement “calorie shifting” into your week (see “Calories Don’t Change” above). A few ideas you can easily prep: Kale chips, sliced fruit, carrots and humus, cottage cheese or greek yogurt and fruit, ¼ cup nuts, a healthy nut or protein bar, apple or banana and a TBS of nut butter.

 

Meal Plan for 1-2 Meals Only

One way you can ensure that you don’t get bored with your food is to meal plan and prep for just lunches or dinners. This will allow you to take the most time-pressed, stressful or expensive meal of the day and make it easier. By sticking to just one or two meals, you still have room in your daily diet for nutritional variety and flexibility.

 

Hope this is helpful info as you kick-off 2017! Cheers to health and happiness!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

Your Gut Health and Mood

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We often feel a bit hungover when we return home from holiday travels after too many glasses of wine and a tad too much pie (let’s not kid ourselves, sample bites and partial pieces of pie add up to a whole slice). We wonder why the food coma haunts us for days, leaving us lethargic and foggy-headed, perhaps even coming down with a touch of a cold. As the holidays approach and we begin to daydream about those heaping piles of mashed potatoes, stuffing and cranberry sauce, it’s important to remember that a lot of our health and immune function lies in the gut. When we mess with our gut health, we impact our hormones, immune system, nervous system and mood. Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”

Today, I’m going to take a plain-language approach to gut health so that you can quickly and easily understand what hurts it and helps it, and why it should matter to you. Disclaimer: There’s just a liiiiitttttle bit of scientific jargon included because at the end of the day, I’m a nerd. 

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Gut Health…The Bad News

Research over the last several decades has increasingly pointed to poor gut health as a major contributing factor in a variety of diseases such as diabetes, obesity, autism, depression, rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome and more. Chris Kresser, named by Greatist.com as one of the 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness for his leadership in nutrition, functional and integrative medicine, helps people understand what contributes to gut dysfunction and what they can do to restore good health.

Kresser claims that gut health comprises 75% of the immune system and can be broken down by the following lifestyle and health factors:

  • Antibiotics and other medications like birth control and NSAIDs
  • Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar and processed foods
  • Diets low in fermentable fibers
  • Dietary toxins like wheat and industrial seed oils that cause leaky gut
  • Chronic stress
  • Chronic infections                                                                 (Kresser, 2011)

While it’s easy to think that we may not have an issue with our gut health if our stomach and gastrointestinal function seems fine, an increase in bad gut flora and/or breakdown of the barrier of our gastrointestinal systems (i.e., leaky gut) can show up in all sorts of other forms. For example, gut health can be linked to depression, brain fog, eczema, psoriasis, diabetes, allergies, asthma, heart problems and more. Even simple things like falling victim to multiple colds, infections and/or inflammation in joints/muscles which leads to injuries can be linked back to what’s going on in the tummy. Holiday weekends packed with stressful travel, extra rich food and exposure to germs (gotta love when someone sneezes next to you on the airplane) can throw us off our game.

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Gut Health…The Good News

Some things that stress our bodies aren’t fully under our control, so don’t guilt yourself if you feel less than optimal. There’s no telling exactly what the cause is or whose “fault” it is. The only thing we can do to feel better is remove things from our diet and environment which stress our bodies and add in positive foods and habits that will help us. In this way, we slowly allow our bodies to restore good gut health. This will allow us to have better immune function and hormonal balance. As we become less prone to feeling “blah,” we will find new energy and have an uplifted mood.

Kresser recommends the following for boosting gut health:

  • Remove all food toxins from your diet
  • Eat plenty of fermentable fibers (starches like sweet potato, yam, yucca, etc.)
  • Eat fermented foods like kefir, yogurt, sauerkraut, kim chi, etc., and/or take a high-quality, multi-species probiotic
  • Treat any intestinal pathogens (such as parasites) that may be present
  • Take steps to manage your stress                                         (Kresser, 2011)

If you take simple steps like these to feel better before the holidays, your gut health won’t take such a big hit from the stress you experience and the food you consume. You will be able to enjoy a few indulgent meals without making yourself overly inflamed and sick. After the holidays, gently steer yourself back on track with healthy habits and you’re good to go. There’s no stopping someone who feels GREAT!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

 

Healthy Grocery Store Routines

If you can change your grocery store routine for the better, you can change your life. I’m totally serious. What we eat impacts our energy, body shape, body image, confidence and overall vitality. Healthy eating habits aren’t just about weight loss or gain. There’s a reason women and men trying to conceive are told to watch their diet for three months prior to trying. Even people attempting to heal from a physical injury are consulted on how best to eat to reduce inflammation and improve more quickly. The scope of what we can change through better eating is endless. The best place to start is your grocery store routine. From the moment you arrive to when you leave, there are simple strategies you can use to make the experience healthier. Here are 5 easy ones to try.

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1) Where You Park

We’ve all been there…driving furious laps around the grocery store parking lot, attempting to find a space near the automatic front doors. It can feel like a personal assault that no spaces are open when we are in a hurry. We may even roll our eyes in exasperation as someone packing up their car with grocery bags seems to take fooorreeevvveerr.  

Instead of wasting time trying to find that golden parking lot spot near the front or waiting for slowpoke to roll out, just take the first spot that you see. Why waste time going up and down the lanes when you can save time by parking in the first open spot (even if it’s way in the back) and walking in to the store? The extra steps won’t hurt you. In fact, changing this simple “find the easiest route” mentality is a huge deal. If we look at walking 100 yards or less from our car to the store as a nuisance, what other forms of movement throughout our day are we trying to shortcut? Do we avoid getting up more than a couple times a day from our desk to stretch, get water or loosen up with a little stroll around the office? Do we routinely take the escalator when the stairs are right beside it? Change this one simple thing and you’re on your way to including more movement across your whole day.

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2) Shop the Periphery

The periphery of the grocery store is where the good stuff is. You might be thinking I’m wrong because the cookies, crackers, chips and soda are all in the aisles, but I promise you, the periphery of most stores is where you want to do the bulk of your shopping. Why? The perimeter is where the fresh items are: fruits, vegetables, freshly baked breads, meats, fish, and dairy (or dairy substitutes rich in calcium). These foodstuffs are lowest in additives like sugar, sodium and processed chemicals. They are also lower in calories than processed foods and can be delicious on their own or cooked with a little olive oil or some spices.

There are some healthy items such as beans, legumes, plant oils, nuts and grains that can be found in the aisles, but if you spend most of your shopping experience wandering up and down tossing boxes and bags of food into your cart, you’re probably missing out on the most nutrient-dense items your body needs to thrive. Next time you’re grocery shopping make note of where you’re spending most of your time. See if you can pull away from the chip aisle in favor of the produce section.

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3) Plan Ahead

Healthy eating takes planning. Writing down how many meats and veggies you need for the week is a helpful way to have a game plan versus walking into the grocery store, getting overwhelmed thinking about dinner prep, and buying frozen pizzas and burritos. Leave them for hungry college kids to buy. If you balk at the prospect of making a unique meal for each dinner and/or lunch of the week then find two or three recipes that you can tackle one weekend afternoon and separate into meal-size portions for the whole week (or toss some in the freezer for later). Whatever works for you, write it on a notepad or in a phone memo. You want to go in to the store knowing what you’re buying so that last-minute stress and indecision can’t throw off your choices and wreck an entire week of eating.

Another way planning ahead with a list helps is to keep you from overindulging, especially if you go to the store hungry. This will always backfire so try to go after you’ve had a meal or snack. For example, ever gone into Trader Joe’s in the fall? Every inch of that store boasts a delicious pumpkin item from pumpkin butter to pumpkin ice cream. It’s serious pumpkin overload for both lovers and haters of the food. For those of us who LOVE this time of year, especially at TJ’s, it’s nearly impossible to walk out of the store without making impulse buys without a grocery list plan ready.

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4) Allow Yourself a Splurge (or two)

Would it be fair to walk into pumpkin heaven (see above) without allowing myself to splurge on an item or two? No. That would be mean and cruel. Allowing yourself a very specific number of splurge items to buy is totally fine each grocery trip. I suggest two. I usually allow myself to buy some of my favorite sweet potato crackers as one splurge item and then, depending on the week, will let myself get either dark chocolate or coconut milk ice cream. I don’t eat any of these things in excess or all at once, but I like having them in my kitchen for moments when a little something special fits the bill.

Contrary to what people might think, allowing yourself to eat things that you crave can result in eating less, not more. Studies have shown that people who try to deprive themselves of desirable foods end up caving and eating way more of them (they even think about those foods more too!). People also tend to “eat around” what they really want. For example, they really want ice cream but will try to eat some nuts to satisfy their craving first. When the nuts don’t seem to work, they eat some bread or cheese, and on it goes until the person finally eats the ice cream. At this point, they are feeling so guilty for having overeaten other items that they also overeat the ice cream in a shame-binge. Save yourself from this. Just eat the darn ice cream already. And buy it too. 

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5) Get Active as You Exit

We often stand twiddling our thumbs while the cashier swipes our food items and bags them too. Instead of sitting back waiting to complete your transaction, try offering a helping hand. Start bagging the groceries. You will burn a little more energy, make things faster for other shoppers if the lines are long, and will help the friendly cashier with her job. Help out even if they aren’t friendly – you never know what someone is going through! You will also benefit by getting out the door faster and you will save your bananas and eggs from getting crushed. Always a worthy cause to motivate a shopper.

Lastly, as you prepare to leave the premises, your grocery bags neatly stowed in the trunk of your car, there is one last step before turning your key in the ignition. Put the shopping cart away!!! I see grocery store parking lots littered with shopping carts from people too lazy or busy to be bothered to complete this simple step. It’s a courtesy to the people working at the store and other drivers whose cars are at risk of getting hit by runaway carts. Just like step one in this article, this transition in mentality, taking action instead of the easy route out, transcends into other areas of your life too. This same mentality controls whether or not you get off your couch on the weekends and go on a run. It dictates whether you order take-out or cook something healthy.

Keep making the simple decisions that are best for your health and body. It doesn’t have to be hard. It can start with these basic steps at your local grocery store!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz-blue-sea

Proper Nutrition for Healthy Skin

It might surprise you that what we consume is just as important as the products we use when it comes to keeping our skin healthy.  It’s important to get the nutrients we need to keep our skin looking great.

So, what foods can help keep our skin healthy?

  1. Eat foods rich in Vitamin A.  This vitamin is important for overall skin health.  Foods rich in vitamin A are carrots and low-fat dairy products.
  2. To help prevent age related issues caused by sun exposure, make sure you get plenty of Lycopene in your diet. Some foods that contain Lycopene are tomatoes, guava, and watermelon!
  3. Omega-3 Fatty Acids help nourish the skin and regulate oil production. Fish, flax seeds, and eggs are all examples of foods high in Omega-3s.
  4. Vitamin C. This vitamin can help fight wrinkles. Some foods that are rich in Vitamin C are sweet potatoes, squash, melons, and citrus fruits.
  5. Vitamin E helps repair damaged cells. Get the benefits by eating nuts and seeds.

A healthy digestive tract is also important to keep your skin looking great.  These are some additional nutrients you should include in your diet to help keep your gut and skin healthy:

Fiber – Foods rich in fiber will help your digestive system remove waste.

Probiotics – These healthy bacteria will help balance your digestive tract

Digestive Enzymes – These can assist in helping you get as much nutrition from the foods you eat as you can.  Look for a quality digestive enzyme.

I hope you learned something new from these tips.  Check out our infographic below that illustrates the importance of how proper nutrition and a healthy gut can help keep our skin healthy!

Personal anecdote from Maggie, author of WellnessWinz: When I started taking probiotics and eating veggies at every lunch and dinner, my skin improved dramatically! Wellness is in the little details and adjustments we make in our lives. 

Healthy Skin infographic non-branded

This article was contributed by Samantha Thayer at USANA Health Sciences.  Infographic design by Taylor Romney, and used with permission.  For more information on how you can love life and live it, visit us at our blog, What’s Up, USANA?. Thank you, Samantha and Taylor! I know I learned something and I’m sure readers did too!

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea

Are Juice Cleanses Worth It?

Juice cleanses, exercise programs and new fitness trackers are all hot topics after the holidays. Fast results are tempting and can influence us to heavily invest in the latest solution for weight loss success. Juice cleanses seem like a great option since they don’t require much effort (unlike exercising to lose weight), but with prices ranging from $75-300 for a package of juices, it’s worth pausing to ask, “Are juice cleanses worth it?”

Juice Cleanses

Benefits of Juicing: 

  • Fresh juices are a delicious and relatively easy way to cram lots of vitamins and minerals into your diet.
  • Juicing may help you jumpstart a healthy eating lifestyle and develop a palette for natural, chemical-free foods.
  • For people who have gastric upset on a regular basis, juices may allow a bit of relief as they require less acid to digest.
  • Energy improvements may be seen for people who have an otherwise unhealthy diet and/or who regularly consume coffee and alcohol (both of which can dehydrate you and thereby drag down energy levels).
  • Juicing may help you lose a little bit of weight (assuming you’re juicing for at least a few days). Most of this will be water weight and maybe a little bit of fat. But hey, if you’re bloated, the water weight loss may be enough to satisfy you!

For more benefits, the Chairman of the Department of Integrative Medicine weighs in on “The Real Reasons Juice Cleanses Can Get Your Health Back on Track.”

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Drawbacks of Juicing:

  • Juices are pretty expensive, usually ranging from $7-12/bottle. If you want to do an official “cleanse” you may pay hundreds of dollars for only 3-7 days’ worth of juices.
  • Although good juice brands will add pulp from the fruits and vegetables back into the beverage, many leave the chunky stuff out (because a lot of people don’t like the gritty consistency). If the pulp isn’t included then many of the nutrients and fiber get stripped from the beverage. Bye-bye optimal health benefits!
  • Juices typically don’t include healthy fats and proteins so they are lacking in essential nutrition. In short, when you juice, you’re having an all carbohydrate diet…albeit a colorful and tasty one. 
  • Although juicing may help you behave in a healthful manner for a few days, it’s no long-term guarantee or strategy for how to eat a balanced diet. Yup, you still have to figure that one out…
  • Juices are high in sugar. While it’s natural sugar versus processed, it’s still sugar. Sugar is sugar is sugar. Too much of this sweet stuff can be harmful to the good bacteria in your gut (which is essential for your overall health, energy and immune system).
  • There are professionals who claim that detoxing the body is entirely unnecessary because it’s a process that the body is already capable of doing for itself.
  • If you feel the need to juice in order to reset your health, you may also want to ask yourself why you’ve been in an unhealthy pattern or lifestyle. Juicing originates from detoxing, and detoxes are historically based in spiritual discoveries, fasts and devotions. It’s worth asking yourself if just losing a few pounds will really fulfill you, or if something else more profound needs to change in your life.

For more information, check out the 4 Myths About Juice Cleansing.


Still Feeling Torn About Juicing? 

Try This Alternative:

Use a juice drink (full of pulp and organic produce, if possible) as a substitute for one meal or snack every day for 3-7 days. Make sure that you’re being intentional about healthy eating during your other meals too (don’t forget that healthy fats and proteins are your friends). This option is cheaper than replacing every meal with juices and is more practical and sustainable. You can stay intentional about your health AND have energy to exercise (usually not possible on other juice cleanses due to how low calorie they are).

Best of luck deciding what is best for YOUR health! Don’t hesitate to ask questions or chat it out. I’m here to help you feel amazing and make choices that are sensible for the lifestyle you want. 

Yours in health and wellness,

Maggie

wellnesswinz blue sea