Sunday, October 9, 2016

What I've Learned Along The Way

What I’ve learned along the way

I’m getting ready to hit one of those “milestone” birthdays in a couple of days, which got me thinking and reflecting.  Age has always been just a number to me – I truly do believe that what you think you become and if you think you’re too old to do something then you probably won’t.  I’ve seen many people old (by the number) that appear WAY younger than they really are.  And by no means am I saying to dress inappropriately for your age just because you feel younger than you really are. Ha!  But I do believe that our mind is a powerful thing and if you think you’re old, well, I think it can play a role in the aging process.  So, yes, I’m hitting the big 4-0, a number that some people have a hard time saying.  Someone even asked me the other day if I was going to be “one of those women” who freaks out when it actually happens.  And to that I replied, “no”.  As with any birthday I do sit and reflect on the past, present, and future, sort of the mark of my new year, my new chapter in life.   Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way in no particular order…

Surround yourself with positive people.  There really isn’t enough time for the negativity. 

Handpick your tribe – have people around you that you know you can count on and will be there for you when you need them the most!  It’s not the quantity of friends but the quality.

No running in the rain in flip flops!    Say what?  Where did that come from you ask?  I broke my foot running in the rain in flip flops four years ago.  No I didn’t get to my car any faster and no, I would not have gotten any less wet had I walked vs run.   The truth is breaking my foot taught me a lot of things - A few things I learned from breaking my foot, but if I had to pick just one thing, it was patience.   I move really fast ALL the time and breaking my foot taught me to slow down (literally).   I had lots of time to sit, think, and elevate (my foot) and between the crutches and the boot I wasn’t moving quickly at all.  Little did I know that this breaking my foot and learning patience thing was paving the road to learning how to be patient to wait for the right job.  Ahh, it’s all interconnected.

Yoga is more than just the asanas (poses).  I broke my foot shortly after attending yoga teacher training.  I entered training with the thought to not only deepen my practice, but who knew maybe even leave my job and teach yoga –wishful thinking, right?   Little did I know how much I’d learn at the training and shortly thereafter.  I try to get on the mat every day.  It helps me to ground myself, to be present and just breathe.  Some days it’s 5 minutes and some days it’s 50 minutes.  The amount of time isn’t what matters, it’s being present in that moment that matters. 

Balance – breaking your foot can teach you balance, right?  Literally it shows you how much you rely on one side when you’re not able to rely on the other.  But truth be told I’ve been working on work-life balance for a while –aren’t we all?  Balance has to be there.  You can work hard, but you must play harder. 
Local waterfall in Puerto Rico - pretty sure it wasn't mean to slide down.  Yep that's me - "just lean forward, you'll be fine!"
Minimize – I’ve been going room by room and ridding myself of clutter over the last few months.  It’s freeing only keeping what you need.   It’s hard to get rid of a few sentimental items, but the truth is my memories are inside of me, they’re not the things that I buy to help me remember.  Now my memory is bad at times, so I do take pictures.  This helps me remember and helps paint the picture of the memory for me.

Disconnect to Connect – Each day I take time to meditate.  I never used to, but breathing and connecting has been my way to disconnect from all that is around me.  My mind is a busy bee, always thinking and at times has stressed me out – even to the point of sickness.  Thanks to those that knew me in my 20s and tolerated me back then.  I’ve come a long way and still have more to go.  But meditating and breathing has calmed me down and taught me how to just be, present and in the moment. 
Snake Road - 20 miles to the Reservation - On my last week I stopped to take a few pictures.  Absolutely breathtaking when I stopped to enjoy.,
Health is everything.  I work in the area of prevention and unfortunately there’s isn’t much emphasis on prevention, it’s more a reaction to illness and that’s when people are willing to make changes.  Health is wealth – go get your yearly check-ups, “pay now or you’ll pay later”, invest in yourself, your health IS everything.

Food IS Medicine - Healthy Food CAN taste good!
Be passionate about what you love.  I’ve been told once or twice (okay maybe 100 times) I’m too passionate about nutrition.  I don’t even know what that means.  I just know that I went through a time where I switched careers and even when I wasn’t doing dietetics’ work I was always incorporating nutrition somehow.  Apparently I did know what I was passionate about and just needed some time away.   I will always be passionate about improving people’s health, it’s just in my nature and in my being.  And if being called passionate is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

Be humble.  There’s always room for humility – you are not better than someone else because you have money or power or fame.  We are all VIP and should be treated as such.  (I get a lot of VIP clients – some I know, some I don’t know).  Some are humble and some are not.  Truth be told I don’t care if you are VIP or not, everyone is treated just the same.  My belief is that everyone is VIP and everyone deserves to be treated as such!  I’m a patient advocate and the person that needs the most help sometimes doesn’t know how to ask for that help!  I’m there to make sure they’re getting the help they need.

Travel.  It’s the best education you’ll ever get.  “Nothing will teach you more than exploring the world and accumulating experiences.”  I recently booked a trip for my 40th birthday.  I’ve always wanted to go to Italy.  My grandmother’s maiden name is Lombardo and while I don’t have a memory of her telling me stories about Italy, for some reason I’ve always felt connected and wanted to visit Italy.  So call it an odyssey of sorts, but I can’t wait to explore Italy and for all the adventures that await!

Puerto Rico - ~ 1 1/2 after breaking my foot I ran a 1/2 marathon - Living life and loving life!

I don’t have it all figured out.  By no means am I trying to force my views or opinions on you and telling you how you should live your life.  What works for me, may not work for you.  And the truth is, I’m still trying to figure it all out – because some days it works and some days it doesn’t, even for me!

Here’s wishing that my 40s will be as wonderful as my 20s but with added wisdom.  I am approaching my 40s with an open heart full of wonder and magic.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Daily Self-Care

I wrote about self-care a few months ago.  While it’s not the normal topic for me to write about (I know eating healthy is a form of self-care), I tend to write about things that are current in my life.   And that’s what came to mind as a topic for today.

Yesterday after finishing my long run with my running buddy Marcela, I left to go and get my car serviced.  On the drive over to the car dealership I almost got in an accident.  I’ll be honest I’m not sure how I avoided the crash – an oncoming car was making a left-hand turn and stopped in the road as another car in my lane suddenly stopped – I either had to hit the car head on or swerve to the left (and there was a truck next to me).   In that split second I swerved to the left to avoid the head on crash and luckily the truck next to me switched lanes to let me come over.   Crash avoided.  This is actually the 2nd crash in the last two months that I’ve almost had (the other was on the freeway and again, am unsure how I avoided it).  I was rattled after the almost accident.  I did a few deep breaths and continued on to my destination.  But it got me thinking – was I lucky?  Am I a good driver?  Or am I present and ever aware of the road?  Let’s be honest – it’s a little of all mixed together.  I definitely feel that I was lucky yesterday.  The truck next to me luckily moved so that I’d have space to come over.  Thank goodness he too was aware.  I pride myself on thinking that I am a good driver.  Truth be told, Miami is one of THE worst places to drive.  So I’d like to think of myself as a step above most drivers in this city – so I guess that makes me a good driver?!   You have to be a defensive driver here, otherwise you will have an accident!  And lastly, I am present when I am driving.  One thing that I’ve committed to doing is not having my phone out while driving.  There are too many distractions on the road and while people might think that they can talk and drive, I’ve seen way too many that cannot.  I decided a few months ago to put my phone away.  There are times when I forget – it’s simple to do – and the minute I start getting messages I’ll throw it to the back seat so that I can concentrate on the road.   I used to have a long commute and it was easy to pass the time talking on the phone.  Now that my commute is short I know I can spend 15-20 minutes without the phone.   Back to self-care and how yesterday’s almost accident played a role.  I’ve really been trying to commit to making time daily for a routine of self-care.  Did that help me yesterday?  I’ll never really know the exact answer to that.  But what I do know is that self-care is important and often forgotten.  Committing part of my day to rest, rejuvenate, and relax has helped me in general feel less stressed and more present daily.  It’s an ever evolving process but one that I’m committed to work on for myself.  I wouldn’t say every day is perfect, but that’s just a lesson to myself to make sure I carve out some time to do something for myself.  Here are a few things I’ve recently been doing for myself:

Meditation – Every day, 10 minutes.  I wish I could say that I did more, but the truth is that meditation is HARD!  Taking 10 minutes just to breathe and think of nothing when thoughts try to flood your mind (because they WILL), yeah meditation is HARD!  But that’s why I’m committed to meditating.  Dan Harris has this quote where he says that meditation is like “exercise for your mind -  bicep curls for your brain.”  Each time is different than the last, but I know that committing to staying consistent with my meditation practice helps me and makes me stronger.  The moments when I know my mind is racing are even more important times to commit to meditating.  I’ve been guilty of this in the past when I get real busy with work and think that I don’t have time to meditate.  WRONG!  That’s when I need it the most and NEED to make time to meditate.  If you’ve never tried meditation, it’s simply breathing – no need to make it out to be some “out there” thing that people do.  Our minds are racing all day long and our minds are filled with thoughts all day, so taking time to just breathe and reset helps as moments of stress arise.  Just return to your breath.  And if you can’t do 10 minutes at the start?  Start with just a minute or two and build on that.  Another thing I’ve recently been doing is taking just a minute or two here and there during the day to reconnect and just breathe.  I’ve found this helpful when my day may not be going as planned and just need a moment.  I did this yesterday after the almost accident.  I took a moment to breathe and write down a few things I was grateful for.  Meditation is helping me to be more present and helps me to remember to breathe.

Eat to NourishI talk about this one all the time as a dietitian.  Some may call me extreme, but I simply call myself passionate.  I truly do enjoy making healthy food (that tastes good!)  Food can provide the nutrients our bodies need and help sustain us by providing us with the nourishment that we need.  I practice what I teach my patients and really do eat healthy day in and day out – it truly is all about variety, balance, and moderation (yes, I do eat sweets).  I know cooking is not everyone’s thing, I get it.  I’ve found myself recently in the kitchen more and more.  So while it started out for me just being a way to cook healthy food for me to have, it’s also been a help for me to have something to do (and not really have to think too much – although when there are recipe fails I have caught myself getting frustrated!)  But for the most part it’s been a way for me to wind down the day and again while some might not find it relaxing, it is definitely rewarding.   This past week I made a few bite size snacks to try before my long run as I train for the marathon –

– these are definitely tasty and a “keeper” recipe, but I knew the minute after I made them that the search was on for me to find another one to try – that’s when I knew that this cooking/being in the kitchen thing had more to it.  It’s really a win-win situation – making healthy food for myself and at the same time helping me to disconnect from the day. 

Disconnect To Connect– In this day and age, we are TOO connected – from our cell phones that receive emails from work to our smart watches that receive text messages (thanks Fitbit Surge, but no thanks).  Last November I made the decision to deactivate my Facebook account.  I haven’t posted since last November.  I chose to utilize Instagram and Twitter (because I’m the first to admit I still use social media).  Facebook started to become too time consuming – it literally would take at least 30 minutes to scroll through my feed and sometimes more than that!  I started to go for an evening walk scrolling through the feed, just to say in my mind that I’d looked through the feed for the day and also instead of sitting and scrolling I’d at least get some movement in.  Let’s not get started at how unhealthy that was – I wasn’t enjoying nature right before me and probably almost got hit by a car walking a couple of times.  So I made the decision to deactivate my account.  I do still use Instagram and Twitter as I mentioned, but I have some guidelines with that as well – I post normally in the morning or evening (sometimes at lunch, just depends on my day)) but then I give myself a certain amount of time to scroll through the feed.  And then that’s it.   I’m a little more selective with what I’m looking at and now with the new parameters on Instagram it doesn’t even scroll in order – so if I’m looking through my food bloggers, I’ll just go directly to their pages to see if they’ve posted.  All in all, this has helped me to focus on what really matters and still be able to use social media with purpose instead of feeling like it is taking up WAY too much of my time.  

Exercise – Running and Yoga – I am currently entering week 2 of training for the Miami Marathon – run or walk my running partner is determined to finish.  Training means adding in an extra day of running from my usual, so I run on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday (5 am is my start time – you can always MAKE time for exercise – this is a MUST on the list of self-care for me, exercise).  On your other days you’re supposed to do strength training which will in turn help your running game.  I chose to focus on yoga.  And what I decided to do is to include a few minutes every day of yoga – on my run days I’m doing a little restorative yoga and on my non-run days I’ll incorporate a yoga sequence that I throw together or utilize a yoga sesh from Yoga with Adriene (stumbled across her website back in January):

A lot of people think that running messes up whatever good that yoga does.  I’m not sure what it is about yoga and running, but these are my go to forms of exercise.  This is me giving back to myself and taking care of myself – mind and body – and so far it’s worked.  I have 19 more weeks till the marathon, so I’ll keep you posted on my progress!

These are a just a few of the ways that I’m committing to daily self-care.  It is the truth that the more you give back to yourself, the more you’re able to give to others.  Take time daily for yourself.

Monday, August 29, 2016

How To Navigate the Supermarket

Patients always tell me that they’re lost when it comes to shopping in the supermarket.  They want a list of what to buy.  I started a pantry in my office of products to have a discussion with patients about what to buy and what to look for when shopping (I have yet to make a handout).  It can seem overwhelming at first, but I tell my patients, “start with replacing one item at a time” – this way the changes can happen slowly.   The truth is, good nutrition starts with smart choices in the supermarket, just remember, NEVER go to the store hungry – that should just be obvious.  Here are a few general rules to get you going:

The process starts even before you head to the grocery store.  Have a PLAN! Plan your meals for the week – which meals will you make at home, what’s for lunch – and plan your list to shop from.  This may seem obvious, but the truth is planning helps to avoid the pitfalls of stopping on the way home from work for take-out (because there’s nothing at the house to cook.) It’s easy to fall into this trap, believe me.  So first a few rules of navigating the supermarket and then some products that are my go to staple items to have in the house. 

Spend most of your time in the produce section.  This many times can be one of the first areas that you encounter when you enter the supermarket.  Choose a rainbow of colorful fruits and vegetables.  The color reflects the different vitamin, mineral, and phytonutrient content of each fruit or vegetable.  Fresh is best!  Aim to have 5 to 9 servings of fruits and/or vegetables a day.

Breads, Cereals, and Pasta – choose the least processed foods that are made from whole grains.  Regular oatmeal is preferable to instant oatmeal (not to mention preferable to all the flavored instant oatmeals out there as well.)  Any patient in my office knows that I think cereal is one of THE worst foods out there.  It’s a high load of carbohydrate with virtually little protein.  I truly don’t have one boxed, cold cereal to recommend – and patients try to get me to tell them one.   Oatmeal is a cereal and that would be the only one I would recommend (but even then you need to add protein to it via nuts or nut butters to help keep you fuller longer). 

Bread, pasta, rice, and grains offer more opportunities to work whole grains into your diet.  Choose a whole-wheat bread or pasta, brown rice, farro, quinoa, barley, freekeh – there are so many grains to choose from.  The goal is to make at least half your grains whole.  Experiment and see which ones your family likes and remember that there are many ways in which to prepare them.  This is my favorite way to eat quinoa, Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes.

Meat, Fish, and Poultry.  The American Heart Association recommends two servings of fish a week.  Salmon is one that many people like (if you’ve found the way to cook it just right – Honey-Glazed Salmon) and it’s a good source of omega-3 fatty acids.  Be sure to choose lean cuts of meat (like round, top sirloin, and tenderloin), opt for skinless poultry, and watch your portion sizes!

Dairy/Non-Dairy Milk Substitutes – Make sure to choose plain yogurts as much as possible.  This is an area that in the next year when nutrition labels are updated, we’ll be able to see how much added sugar is really in the yogurt.  My recommendation, buy plain as much as possible and add your own fruit in, along with cinnamon, and vanilla.  In regards to the milk substitutes, i.e. almond milk, etc, make sure to choose unsweetened.  These too will have a lot of added sugar and the goal is to keep our added sugars to a minimum.

Frozen Foods.  Frozen fruits and vegetables (without any added sauces) are a convenient way to help fill in the produce gap, especially in the winter.  Whole-grain waffles, frozen vegetables (picked right after harvesting), frozen fruits, and even pre-cut vegetables (think onions, green peppers) that can help out with minimizing steps for cooking!

Canned and Dried Foods – Keep a variety of canned vegetables, fruits, and beans on hand to toss into soups, salads, pasta, or other grain dishes.  When possible, choose vegetables without added salt, and fruit that’s been packed in its own natural fruit juice.  Here in Florida we’re in the midst of hurricane season, so it’s always a good thing to have a few of these canned food items on reserve, just in case.  A few other items to have on hand as they are just staples to have in your pantry, canned tuna, nut butters (the natural kind – think one ingredient, peanuts!), olive and coconut oil, and assorted vinegars.

Remember, it’s been said many times before, but the truth is, shop the perimeter of the store.   This is where the fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and fish are usually located.  Avoid the center aisles as that’s where most of the processed/junk food lurks. 

Choose “real” foods, 100% whole-grain items, with as little processing and as few additives as possible.  This can be a goal that you are working towards.  Yes, they do make “whole-grain goldfish” crackers, but remember we’re trying to limit as much as possible some of the additives and preservatives.  So while they might be trying to make these crackers a little healthier the truth is they still shouldn’t be a staple item to have around.

Stay clear of foods that have cartoons on the labels that are targeted to children (think of that cereal aisle – cartoon characters everywhere, not to mention all the sugary type cereals are right at the kids’ vantage point from the grocery cart!)  If the junk food is available kids will eat it, so if you don’t want your kids eating junk food, don’t have it in the house.  Sounds simple, but it is one of the biggest complaints I hear from parents to which I respond, “who buys the food for the house?”  This is definitely a discussion to have with the whole family.

Avoid foods that contain more than five ingredients.  This is getting hard to do at times, but it’s a good rule to try and follow.  This year as I’ve been trying to make everything homemade there are a few items that I do still buy (bread, crackers) and I try to use this rule – So if it does have more than 5 ingredients I at least try to buy something that I can pronounce all the ingredients!  Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has a good list to double check if it’s an item that is safe – Chemical Cuisine.

So now we’ve come to the part where I’ll recommend a few items for you all to have as staple products to have in your pantry.  I by no means am endorsed by these companies, I’m just helping to guide you as you make your way through the supermarket. 

The first item is beans.  I am a vegetarian and these are my go to for protein (and complex carbohydrates).  Whole Foods sells these both in the can and in the box (I didn’t have any in the box – need to pick up!) and they have just one ingredient: garbanzo beans.  No additives or preservatives and no added salt!  Not to mention that in the can they run $.99 and in the box they’re $1.69 – cheaper than I’ve seen anywhere else (when you take into consideration the health benefits of no salt and no additives – not to mention I didn’t have to cook them!)  I have these on hand ALL the time. 

Next item – some of the breads I have on hand:  I’ve been buying the Ezekiel bread (or the Trader Joe’s version of Ezekiel bread) otherwise known as sprouted bread.  Sprouted bread contains the whole grain (or kernel, or berry) of various seeds after they have been sprouted.  I’ll then rotate back and forth between the English muffins from Trader Joe’s or the Eureka brand bread – they have a few versions of flavors varying the nuts/seeds.  My goal is to make my own bread but until this point I haven’t had much success – I might just have to break down and buy a bread maker.  Until then, these are a few breads I rotate through.

Canned items – Salt (sodium) lurks in most canned/boxed items.  I always opt for the unsalted version.  My palate has adjusted and I season with other spices/herbs that I have on hand.  People often tell me that I must like bland food.  I often challenge myself to make a dish have flavor with all the spices – believe me when I tell you, you won’t even know it’s missing once you start cutting back.  The recommendation for sodium is just 2,300 mg (roughly 1 teaspoon) and Americans are far exceeding that recommendation.  Here are a few items that I use, canned/boxed, that are unsalted if I can’t make it homemade or find fresh.  This brand of vegetable/chicken/beef stock comes unsalted.  Normal brands carry 2,400 mg of sodium in a box.  This brand only has 600 mg for the whole box!  It’s still loaded with flavor.  This spaghetti sauce is my go to sauce (don’t tell my mom I don’t make it homemade!)  Brands can range for a ½ cup to have anywhere from 250 mg – 850 mg of sodium.  Gia Russa’s brand has just 15 mg of sodium per ½ cup.  It may lack sodium but it does not lack flavor!  Last I always have some canned or boxed tomatoes around – while it’s summer now and the tomatoes are in season, it’s always good have to some extra tomatoes on stand by (to throw in a soup or dish with real tomatoes). 

Grains – I’ll admit it.  I’m a snob when it comes to brown rice.  Regular brands in the grocery store just don’t cut it for me.  I’ve had the real deal and that comes from the Chinese supermarket.  Once you’ve had the real stuff you won’t go back – not to mention when people tell me they don’t “like brown rice” I explain that they probably haven’t had a good experience with it and that makes sense.  I rotate through my grains when I make grain bowls and I always have a few around – whole wheat couscous, farro, barley, and quinoa.  And with my pasta I have all whole wheat versions – be it the orzo in the picture, rice noodles, or just regular pasta.

In the summer I’ve been having a homemade muesli that I throw together.  It allows me to have the rolled oats but not cooked – it’s too hot for oatmeal in the summer in Miami.  So for breakfast I rotate and have the muesli or my whole grain bread (with nuts butters) – what can I say, I’m a creature of habit.  I save the eggs for the weekend!  Akmak is my go to cracker.  Super flavorful and perfect for cheese and crackers, hummus and crackers, or whatever you fancy.  I’ve even had it with a little ricotta cheese, tomato, basil, and a drizzle of vinaigrette – delish!

So there you have it.  A round up of sorts of how to navigate the supermarket.  I know it can seem overwhelming.  Part of the reason is that there are so many new products being introduced yearly.  I definitely can’t keep up with all the new items.  Manufacturers are producing what they think you the consumer want.  See the above rules to help you solve that problem – stay away from the center aisles, otherwise known as packaged and processed junk food.   Problem solved. 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Kids Eat Right™

Kids Eat Right™

“August is Kids Eat Right™ month.  Kids Eat Right™ month focuses on the importance of healthful eating and active lifestyles for kids and families.  It’s a time to highlight the role that everyone plays in ensuring a healthy future for our nation’s children.”
As a Registered Dietitian I help teach parents and children how to eat healthy and learn the important role that nutrition plays in their growth.   It’s all well and good to know what your child should eat, but getting the food from the plate to their stomach can be a challenge.  It may not seem like the thing to do, but letting kids have some control is the way to go. 

Here are 10 tips for parents:
Parents control the supply lines:  You decide which foods to buy and when to serve them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the grocery store and see parents cave to buying food just because their kids are whining and they don’t want them to make a scene.  You have the control over what comes into the house.  What’s available is what kids will eat.  I’m not here to say that kids shouldn’t have a few treats, but if the majority of what you’re buying is crap, odds are they’re going to go for the food that in theory looks/sounds more appealing.  It’s all in how it’s presented though.  I’ve always said that healthy food can taste good.  It has to have flavor otherwise no one will want to eat it, yourself included.

Kids decide if and what to eat.  From the foods you offer, kids get to choose what they eat or whether to eat at all.  Yes, this means they can walk away from the dinner table (once everyone else is finished) without having eaten.  But, because you control the food, it also means that they won’t have the option of opening a bag of chips and using snacks to fill the dinner void.   You’re not going to please everyone every night with what’s for dinner, the key is to offer variety and have some foods that the kids recognize and like.  What might be more important is getting the kids involved in the meal prep, not only for understanding the importance of nutrition but also for helping them to learn how to cook as well as expanding their repertoire as far as eating.  I’ll never forget the time when we made homemade pesto at the school I taught at.  We had an organic garden at the school and the kids really were able to see farm to table in motion.  They were hesitant at first to try a green leaf aka basil.  But the minute they saw it blended up with parmesan cheese and nuts they were able to see it transformed into something that maybe, just maybe they’d eat.  Bring on pasta and they were in (because who doesn’t like pasta?!)  Getting kids involved in the meal prep is important, not only for them but also for the parents – it helps take some stress off of having to think of every meal for the week.  The odds are higher that they’ll try it if they’re involved in the process.

Quit the “clean plate club”:  Let your children stop eating they feel they’ve had enough.   Parents may want the efficient eating and clean plates, but that is not how kids operate.  And that is a good thing.  Kids, especially younger ones, are able to respond to their hunger cues.  When they’re hungry they eat, when they’re not hungry they don’t eat.  If you as a parent are able to respect your child’s hunger cues, your child may well be on the way to a healthy and enjoyable relationship with food.  Now if only some adults could cue in on their hunger cues…

Start them young.  Food preferences are developed early in life, so offer a variety of foods in a variety of forms.  Yes, kids go through phases where all they want to eat is a grilled cheese on repeat, aka known as a food jag, but don’t get frustrated or force them to eat, this will not solve the problem.  Introduce new foods slowly.  Children are new-food-phobic by nature.  Taste buds have to get used to a flavor before the kids actually begin to like the taste.  It can take as many as ten tries before a child accepts a new food.  10 tries!!  Talk about needing patience.  Keep offering, without forcing, and your child might end up liking broccoli.  Here are a few alternative ways to offer broccoli:

Drink calories count:  Soda and other sweetened drinks add extra calories and get in the way of good nutrition.  Kids need water, water, and more water – it helps to quench their thirst and won’t fill them up at meal time, as opposed to sugary drinks like juice or soda (& yes, juice is just as unhealthy for you as soda – don’t be fooled!)

Put sweets in their place.  Occasional sweets are fine, but don’t turn dessert into the main reason for eating dinner.  If parents are using sweets as a reward, the sweet treat can become the goal, making dinner just something to get through on the way to the finish line.  These practices can create unhealthy eating patterns instead of resolving them.   

Kids do as you do:  You ARE a role model.  Eat healthy and your kids will follow.  Children pick up on adults’ attitudes about food, so be aware of your approaches to eating, too.  Don’t expect a child to try a variety of foods if you regularly eat chips for dinner.  If you view food as a collection of unwanted calories, your child may adopt a similar outlook.  Instead, turn mealtimes into a pleasurable time – talk about your day while eating together as a family. 

Bite your tongue.  As hard as this may be, try not to comment on what or how much your kids are eating.  Be as neutral as possible.  Your job as a parent is to provide food that is balanced; your kids are responsible for eating them.  If you play food enforcer – saying things like “Eat your vegetables” – your child will only resist.  No one wants a fight at the table.

Make mornings count.  Most families don’t eat enough fiber on a daily basis, and breakfast is an easy place to sneak it in, whether it’s with oatmeal or whole grain toast.  Or, do what I do and make-up batches of whole-grain pancakes that can last all week (I am a kid at heart J).  For a batch that serves 6 (2 pancakes a piece), sift together ¾ cup all-purpose flour, ¾ cup whole wheat flour, 3 Tbsp. sugar, 1 ½ tsp. baking powder, ½ tsp. baking soda, ½ tsp. salt.  Next mix 1 ½ cups buttermilk, 1 Tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 large egg, and 1 large egg white.  Combine the liquid ingredients with the dry ingredients and there you’ve got your homemade pancake batter!  If you want to make up extra, they freeze well too!

Turn off the TV, computer, tablets, and phones:  You’ll also turn off the advertising and mindless snacking.  Distracted eating is becoming more and more common as we are so busy in our day to day lives.  Make sure to turn off all electronics and focus on your meal.  The other day after running with my friend we were sitting and enjoying our coffee and her son came in from watching morning cartoons.  He walked right in and asked for “Froot Loops”.  I looked at her and I tried not to laugh.  He’s 5 years old!!  Talk about the power of advertising.  He walked right in asking for what the TV advertisement showed him to eat.  I’m not sure what the ad showed and what its contents were.  But what I do know is that kids are young and impressionable.  Kudos for the Froot Loops ad working but shame on them as well for marketing to kids an unhealthy food.  (He wasn’t eating breakfast at the time, but it was on during early morning Saturday cartoons).  Turn off the electronics and focus on your food, help kids learn from an early age, no distractions while eating.

Kids Eat Right™ month is designated as August every year, however, every month and every day paves the way for kids to eat right.  Teaching children healthy eating habits that ensure that they’re getting the nutrients that they need starts at a young age.  Getting kids to eat healthfully doesn’t have to be complicated.  Variety, Balance, and Moderation along with a little patience will help kids eat right and you’re on your way!

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Half Crazy or Full on Crazy?

½ Crazy or Full on Crazy?

My friend and I have discussed running a full marathon now for a while.  We even signed up for the Miami ING a few years back with the intent to do the ½ marathon and then find a destination run for the marathon.  Injuries happened and we postponed the race till the next year.  My friend was still injured in 2015 and so I ran the ½ marathon by myself.  The running a marathon discussion is happening again.  We’re both approaching a semi-big birthday, ahem, age is just a number though really ;) and so we’ve revisited the idea again of “it’s now or never”.  A little background if you please:

I started walking with a group in 2007 to meet new people.  I had moved back to Miami from San Diego and thought I needed to get active and find some exercise I didn’t mind doing.  I had heard of this group of people that would get together early Saturday mornings and run or walk.  I had never run before in my life, so I thought that I would simply walk.  The walks became something I would look forward to.  We had a core group that would always meet and when I say we’d walk, we’d walk.  8 miles was the long distance of the day – we were supposed to do our shorter walks during the week to be able to do the long walks on the weekend.  I’ve always walked fast and 8 miles really didn’t seem that long when you’re talking about everything that goes on with each and every walker.  And that’s when the discussions first started that I should do a marathon.  I only fathomed half marathon at that point.  So sure enough we all started training.  We pushed to do 11 miles (some did the full 13 miles as practice) but I wanted to do the full 13 on the actual race day.   Sarasota, March 2008, I completed my first ½ marathon – 13.1 miles – I felt so great I even did a cartwheel over the finish line (there’s a picture somewhere to prove it).  After I returned the following Saturday the other walkers now began the discussion of, “What next?”  Would we do another ½ marathon or would we go for the full now?  Many of the walkers told me that if I had trained for the ½ then it was the best time to continue on for the full.  I took the challenge on.  What did I have to lose, right?  From March to May I trained and I trained a LOT!  I even was able to go out to San Diego (the destination I picked for my marathon!) a few times as my nephew was turning one.  I thought what better way to check out the race course and train in the elements.  It just all seemed to line up (in my mind).  I even after one of my trips kept my suitcase out since I was going to be going back so soon – I thought it was not only motivation but also a reminder for inspiration.  Little did I know that 10 days before the race I would stub my toe on that said suitcase.  Who does that??  This girl does, that’s who!  I went to the doctor and the doctor said the toe was not broken, but they did advise me NOT to walk in the marathon.  I told myself if the toe wasn’t broken then I was walking in that marathon.  I had to after all that training and time spent.  My dad has this famous saying in our family, “You gotta be tough if you’re dumb.”  I kept hearing his voice say this over and over.   I knew I’d be tough and overcome.   

My brother dropped me off almost exactly at my corral.  I was early but race ready – I had made homemade “energy” bars and had my fruit leather and water all ready to go.   Trained and ready.  I chose the Rock-N-Roll series for my race because I knew at least every mile I would have some form of entertainment.  26.2 miles is a long way and since I was walking I wanted to make sure others would be around as I was still walking!  I would say it was mile 9 or so I got a rock in my shoe.  Of all the things to happen during the race – I had not trained for that.  It had formed a small blister – I took my shoe off and saw it – the medic tent told me they could take me to the end and I didn’t have to finish the race or I could continue on.  Once again, my dad’s voice popped in my head, “You gotta be tough if you’re dumb.”  I figured if the stubbed toe didn’t stop me, what more could 17 miles do to an already formed blister?  They bandaged me up and off I went.  During my race there were signs everywhere from the Team In Training groups and others as motivation:

And there were even running Elvēs (that’s right, that’s the plural of Elvis) for entertainment.  Over 100 Running Elvēs were at my marathon – I’m not sure how they were in uniform and wig running in the heat.  San Diego in June normally has a marine later in effect till late morning, early afternoon.  The day of my marathon, it burned off at 9 am.  I had the worst sun burn ever!  San Diego was a great destination run.  And more than that, I had my family at the end – talk about motivation.  At mile 20 though I think you hit this wall (at least I did) and all I could think was there were 6 MORE miles left.  I look back now and it was a mix of adrenaline/heart/sheer will to get me through to the end.   Completing a marathon is like no other feeling that I can describe – you hear people try to describe it, but until you experience it you never know how you will react.  I was caught up with emotion and was just overjoyed to see my nephew (and the rest of the family)  I had done it, blister and all, 26.2 freaking miles.  6 hours and 10 minutes.  I always say I actually walked 27.2 miles – because where they made my brother park his car was definitely another mile or two – talk about cruel! 

Returning from the marathon left me with the “where do I go next” feeling with my exercise regimen.  I had just walked 26.2 miles, would I start running now?  I had never run before and never thought I could run.  I wasn’t sure what was next.  My friend Felix helped me start running.  We did intervals:  run 1 minute walk 4 minutes, until we worked up to run 4 minutes and walk just 1 minute.   I’ve been doing intervals ever since.  I have Felix to thank for introducing me to running and believing I could run.  Over the years I went from running literally barefoot on the beach to running with the minimalist type shoe (since I no longer run on the beach). 

4 years ago I broke my foot, the 5th metatarsal, the good old Jones’ fracture.  I didn’t break my foot from the minimalist shoes, but from running in the rain in flip flops – cue dad’s favorite phrase J  It took a long road to recovery after breaking my foot to even begin to run again.  After having running taken away, I knew the minute I could run again I would run.  Injuries are able to teach you a whole lot.  I never take for granted being able to work out.   A year and a half after breaking my foot I completed a half marathon (when I thought I’d be never able to run again)

Talk about an emotional roller coaster of a run that was!  It was November in Puerto Rico – no one was going to be pulling a PR (personal record) in PR (Puerto Rico) that was for sure.  After the first light rain shower passed over there was this rainbow and I stopped to take a picture:

I tried to savor every moment of that race, not caring what my time was like.  Finishing felt like such an accomplishment – thinking back to breaking my foot and thinking would I ever be able to do what I so loved?  Incredible moment for sure.

And that leads us to the present moment.  To run a marathon or not?  My running partner Marcela has never walked or run a marathon.  We’ve run a half marathon together and I know it’s on her bucket list:  run a marathon.   She’s downloaded the running schedule and is determined.  I’m training with her and tomorrow will be our official first day of training.   Say what?   I said after the first time around I’d never do this again??  Here's what I do know.  Marcela is my running partner. Through thick and thin, we're training for this marathon.  Marcela will be able to have that same feeling I had years ago - she'll be able to describe it to you one day.  Here’s to training and here’s to learning things along the way! 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Extreme, Strict, or Simply Passionate?

Extreme, Strict, or Simply Passionate?

Summer in Miami is always hot and humid.  This past week it’s been extra hot since there haven’t been any of the afternoon rain showers to “cool” things down.  Not to worry, this week rain is expected every afternoon.   So now it will be a little steamier instead of just hot.  I’m not complaining, just stating the facts.  I wrote a blog about Hydration to help people stay hydrated.  All over social media sites, i.e. Twitter, Instagram, others are posting about hydration as well.  The truth is water is the best hydrator.  I teach a class at work, a general nutrition class, and the question always comes up, “What should I drink?  Crystal Light? Coffee?  Tea?”  My answer is always water and will always be water.  Sure I know it’s boring (to some people) but the truth is when you’re thirsty it’s the drink that will actually quench your thirst.  Eating fruits and vegetables can help as well as many of them have a high percentage of water. 

In certain situations, i.e. outside work, exercise, of course some form of carbohydrate replacement may be necessary, however, those are not the day to day examples for everybody.  Again, read the post for more information.  What’s come up more recently in class though is the question, “well what about juices and smoothies?”  This is where the debate always begins.  I try to keep it simple in class because I have a short amount of time and there are many other topics to cover.  The short answer?  Drink water.  And then the questions always begin, “but I thought smoothies were healthy?”  Believe me this is a trend that I wish would end.  Unfortunately it’s been around for a while and is only here to stay to continue to confuse people.  Smoothies have now progressed to smoothie bowls – so now not only are we having a smoothie full of carbs but we’re now loading them up with additional foods on top that contain carbs, carbs, and more carbs.  I try to explain to patients that in general the preference is to eat and chew your food – this takes time and allows for overall slower digestion (your body breaking the food down and receiving all the nutritional benefits, i.e soluble and insoluble fiber, vitamins, minerals.  When you blend the fruit up, the blade does destroy some of the fiber (kind of like doing the chewing for you), bypassing this critical step in digestion.  Furthermore, it not only “pre-chews” the food for you but you then have no buffer to slow digestion down – the end result being a larger load all at once for your liver to respond to.  Yes, smoothies have some fiber in them, so they’ll help in cleaning your intestines out (but that’s the role of the soluble fiber).  Smoothies are just like drinking a sugary drink – at least in how your body responds to them.  NOT recommended.  People always follow up in class by saying that they only do “green” smoothies, so only vegetable containing just to be clear.  9 times out of 10 when people are asked what they put into the smoothie at least one fruit is thrown into the mix.  The minute the fruit is thrown in it is now contributing sugar (carbs) to the mix, not to mention that the load of some of those green veggies (or even carrots and beets) now due to their volume can also elicit a response.  Here’s an article a few years back where Dr. Robert Lustig explains it a little more eloquently than I do - We don't mean to ruin smoothies

I’ve been told in class that I’m a little too strict in my thinking on juices and smoothies.  I like to think of myself as an educator that’s passionate about what she does.  I’m not always going to tell you what you want to hear, that’s for sure – this registered dietitian does NOT give her stamp of approval on juices or smoothies.  Smoothies and juices are a way for people who may have never eaten vegetables to begin to incorporate some vegetables into their diet.  I used to do it all the time for my nephews with spinach – but in my concoction I always added greek yogurt or some peanut butter for some protein and fat – and that was to get my nephews to see that spinach didn’t always contribute a flavor so they’d be more willing to eat something green.  Sure every now and then smoothies and juices might be able to fit, but they shouldn’t be a daily thing.  The bottom line is that people need to eat and chew their food to get the full benefits and help their body process food in a normal manner.  Over the last 2 ½ years while working at the Diabetes Research Institute, I have had an occasional sweetened alcoholic beverage, where before I used to have them all the time.  I’m more conscious of my food and drink selections now.  So call me “extreme” or call me “strict”, I prefer to think of myself as passionate about educating and teaching people about nutrition.

This then leads me to my next topic that always seems to come up in class.  The question is always asked of me, “What can I do to improve upon in my eating habits?”  I guess as a dietitian they see me as having it all together and again think I’m a little extreme when it comes to eating healthy.  But the truth is we are all at different stages of where we need to improve upon.  And while I might be farther along the path, there is always, and I mean always room for improvement.  I strive to practice what I teach and be an example – I believe that’s how people are able to learn.  But more than that, I try to implement what I do teach to see if it’s practical.   If I’m asking people to do something, then I’ll trial it out first.  Who am I to tell someone to go and do something – easier said than done.  Here are a few things I’m currently working on:

I’ve been making meals that contain 45g of carbohydrates – Is it possible to only have 45g and stay full for 4 hours?  What do meals look like with only 45g of carbs?  I’m part Italian and 1 cup of pasta = 45g of carbs, that’s a tough one - but that’s exactly why I’m trying it out.   

 I work with both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.  I teach overall general nutrition for all, but in regards to Type 2 diabetes, the focus is on the quality and quantity of the carbs at each meal (again, this is taught to people with Type 1 diabetes too, but typically I’m teaching them to match the insulin to their carbs, a little bit of a different approach).  Quantity of carbs is critical when it comes to blood sugar control as you want to limit the load at any one meal (and aim to distribute the carbs throughout the day).  Which brought me the idea of having meal examples of 45g of carbs for patients to see real life examples– 

So what’s the verdict?  Does 45g of carbs at meals keep one full?  YES – when they’re balanced with lean protein and non-starchy vegetables.  You HAVE to add in lots of non-starchy vegetables to the mix, otherwise you will  load up on carbs and more carbs – believe me, I used to do it!  When meals are balanced – carbs, protein, and healthy fats, we’re able to fuel and sustain ourselves.  Carbs are your preferred source of fuel, however, they do digest quite quickly and will not sustain you for a long period of time.  Enter the lean protein and non-starchy vegetables (that are full of fiber – which also helps to keep you fuller longer) – it sounds cliché, but it’s the truth:  variety, balance, and moderation are key when it comes to planning meals.  When I look around at many cooking websites, they’re not always balanced.  This message is then passed on to people as to what looks like an appropriate meal, when in fact there might be something missing or it might not be adequately balanced.    You know the whole zoodle craze?  They were created to lower the load of carbs at meals, they were NOT created to omit carbs at meals – which is what is often depicted.  So enters my pics, to illustrate healthy balanced meals with real life food that people will want to eat.  I’ve just started taking the pictures, but I think it’s something that I’ll continue doing – now I just need a catchy hashtag J

I’ve been making everything homemade!  While this may not be realistic for everyone, remember these are the things I’m doing to improve upon for myself.  My most recent items I’ve made:  homemade bread, pico de gallo, salsa, chimichurri sauce, blue cheese dressing, and those are just a few!  I will be the first to tell you that my bread making skills need improvement.  So any tips that you can send my way, I welcome.  I don’t have that much space in the kitchen, but I’m thinking a bread maker might be the way to go.  There have been many failed attempts – whole wheat bread, pizza dough, “cheeze-it” crackers, unfortunately none have made it to the “taste test” stage for people to experience.  I’ll get there, eventually.  That’s my project and I WILL keep improving.  I have to! 

Eat more non-starchy vegetables!  As a practicing vegetarian (technically a pescatarian as I will eat seafood every so often) there is some irony to this.   How do I not eat more vegetables, am I right?  Over the last two and a half years I have been working to improve upon this.  I’m the first to admit I had been loading up on carbs – it’s easy to do as a vegetarian. 

So now for meal prep I’ll roast lots of veggies up to include throughout the week.  It’s always the missing part of anyone’s meal most times.  This addition to my meals has helped me to cut back on the amount of carbs I was eating.  (Sure, I have a normal working pancreas that will secrete insulin when I need it, but the truth is that there is a family history of diabetes in my family and I am aging – no need to overwork my pancreas any more than I need to!  I’m all about prevention!)  Additionally I’m trying new vegetables I might never have tried before – Gai Lan (Chinese broccoli) is now a staple in my kitchen -  Also I’m trying to get a variety of colors within the vegetables that I’m trying – it’s hard to find different blue/purple hues of vegetables – purple carrots and purple cabbage are now mixed in on a rotation.  I still need to find a way that I’ll enjoy eggplant – I think it’s the texture that’s not my favorite.   So even me, the dietitian has problems eating more vegetables!

Decrease the frequency of desserts.  I love sweets – I often joke, “this dietitian eats dessert!”  I pride myself on saying that I have them in moderation and in portion controlled amounts, but the truth is they were starting to become a little too frequent.  So just in the last couple of months I have been cutting back.  I do make desserts, but I’ll share more of them now, so that I’m not having them daily.  I eat them in portion controlled amounts when I do have them and now the frequency is less.  They were starting to creep in as a daily ritual.  As part of the process of lessening the frequency I do still have a piece of dark chocolate daily – a nice 70 to 80% dark chocolate.  Not too sweet, but it still gives me the idea that I’m having “dessert”.  The portion has never been the issue, it’s more the frequency.  I teach my patients that desserts are meant for special occasions (and rightly so!)  Every day is not a special occasion.  I knew I needed to cut back and I have. 

Mindful eating – Breakfast and dinner are typically easy for me to be mindful about what I’m eating- I have time and it’s at my house.  Lunch, not so much.  Most days you’ll find me eating my lunch quickly at my desk.  Not super mindful at all.  This is definitely an area where I struggle and am honest in saying so.  The one thing that I have done is aim to leave the building for 10 minutes at lunch time.  I’ll go for quick walk around campus (even in this heat!) without my phone and try to practice a walking meditation.  This has been helpful.  So, while I’m eating rather quickly I do feel the walk outside helps.  I just need to figure out if eating outside and not walking would help me to be more mindful?  I wish in an ideal world I could do both.  Again, a definite area to improve upon. 

Remember, it’s important to constantly strive to improve – the moment you get too comfortable is when we start to inch back into our old ways.  While I’ve always eaten healthy, I too have room to improve – the desserts are a prime example of me becoming too comfortable and starting to eat them too frequently.  I really do try to practice what I teach and hope that others can see this is a lifestyle, it’s not just a one-week fix to lose weight – it’s all about establishing healthy habits, one at a time, to last a lifetime!