The research of willpower

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When I introduced running into my exercise regime, I quickly realized that running was more a battle of the mind (will) than a battle of the body.  There’s a LOT of self-talk that goes on  … tuning in to the voice on the right shoulder saying “You can do it, just keep putting one foot in front of the other” and rejecting the voice on the left shoulder that’s saying, “Go ahead and stop short of your intended mileage.  What does quitting halfway through your goal matter?”

The same can be said for making lifestyle changes, such as eating or exercise habits.   There is a definite need to tap into willpower at points along the journey of change.  

Stanford Medicine published a Q&A session in 2011 with Stanford health psychologist Kelly McGonigal, PhD, who studied the research on the science of willpower.  According to the article, willpower is “a complex mind-body response that can be compromised by stress, sleep deprivation and nutrition and that can be strengthened through certain practices (italics mine).”

Hmmmmmm.

According to McGonigal, research shows the following:

  1.  When you exert self-control, it results in a “pause-and-plan response”.  These are changes in the brain and body that help guard against temptation and urges.  When the body and brain experience these changes, it actually sends additional energy to the area of the brain (prefrontal cortex) that is responsible for goal tracking and overriding impulses/cravings.  “The result is you have the mindset and motivation to do what matters most.” 
  2.  “Learning how to better manage your stress – or even just remembering to take a few deep breaths when you’re feeling overwhelmed or tempted — is one of the most important things you can do to improve your willpower.”  
  3. Improve how much quality rest and sleep you get and you’ll increase your ability at self-control.
  4. “Something as simple as eating a more plant-based, less-processed diet makes energy more available to brain and can improve every aspect of willpower from overcoming procrastination to sticking to a New Year’s resolution.”
  5. Any muscle in your body can be made stronger through exercise. If willpower is a muscle, even a metaphorical muscle, it should be possible to train it. That’s what the research shows.”  McGonigal states that practicing self-control increases the strength and stamina of your self-control, thereby making it easier as time goes on.   “New behaviors become habits, temptations become less overwhelming and willpower challenges can even become fun.”
  6. Meditation and physical exercise strengthen the brain’s willpower.  “Regular meditators have more gray matter in the prefrontal cortex. And it doesn’t take a lifetime of practice — brain changes have been observed after eight weeks of brief daily meditation training.”  And physical exercise is similar.  Regular exercise “also makes the body and brain more resilient to stress, which is a great boost to willpower.”
  7. McGonigal’s advice for meeting goals or resolutions?  Think big:  “Research shows that when you scale up to the big want, the biggest why, you automatically have more willpower. You’ll look for opportunities to make progress on your goal and be more likely to see how small choices can help you realize your goal. ”   Think small:Allow yourself small steps toward your goals.   “Sometimes we get frustrated when we don’t know exactly how we’ll reach our goals. We can’t imagine how what we’re doing now will ever get us where we want. Or we try to take huge steps all at once and end up exhausted and overwhelmed. Choose small steps you can take that are consistent with that goal. When those steps are easy, or have become a habit, look for next steps and keep going.”

I only summarized how you can improve your willpower, but I encourage you to read the entire article because it also detailed how willpower can be sabotaged.  If willpower is as much about the mind as it is the body, then you need this information!

Mwah,

Valerie

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Let it go – stress release

Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen” had it right … let it go, let it go…

Many people struggling with weight and poor health cite stress as the beginning of their health woes.  They turned to food for emotional comfort during stressful situations, and oftentimes experienced depression which led to a sedentary lifestyle, further compromising their health.

According to WebMD, stress has also been known to drive people to alcohol, tobacco, and drug use in efforts to reduce the feelings of stress, but obviously, it increases it on the body instead.

WebMD published the following list titled, “The Effects of Stress on Your Body“:

  • “Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
  • Seventy-five percent to 90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
  • Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a hazard of the workplace. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
  • The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.”

There are a myriad of articles about reducing stress in order to improve health.  But the best advice I’ve ever heard is … let it go.

In fact, it’s such a great piece of advice that even Serenity Prayer addresses it:

Serenity prayer

“… And the wisdom to know the difference. ” Bingo.  That is the letting go.

We can get our minds wrapped around the axle about all kinds of things.  But in the big scheme of life, over all the things that could possibly be important, what are the chances that what we’re fretting about doesn’t really rank up there with life-altering issues?!

Freedom from worry occurs when you finally let go of the outcomes, let go of anger, let go of owning someone else’s emotions.  Own what is yours and what you have control over, and stop right there.

Peace.

Valerie

5 steps to intentional health

woman-writingIntentional health.  I came up with this phrase because the word “intentional” drives me.

When I was raising my kids, I latched on to the idea of intentional parenting.  What was my goal for my kids?  What was the end goal of my parenting?  I had decided that my end goal in parenting was to raise children that were respectful, compassionate, productive citizens of our country, thoughtful, leave the world a better place because they lived in it, and finally, children who would have a strong grasp of faith and carry it into their culture and the next generation.

If you look at my list, it’s obvious these traits weren’t something that would just spontaneously occur!  Wishful thinking wasn’t going to make it so.  Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail”.   And so I began to parent in a way that targeted these traits.  I took measured steps to train them with these results in mind.

Health is no different!  What are your health goals?  What are your challenges?  What measured steps can you take to reach your goals?

Here are five steps for intentional living…intentional health.

  1. Write down your health goals!  Be as specific as possible!  How many inches around your arms, waist, hips, or thighs would you like to lose?  By what date?  What will be your reward?  Is there a clothing size you’ve wanted to wear?  What would you like your BMI to be?   Do you desire to run your first 5K?  When?  In how much time?  What would you like to see your blood sugar levels at?  Lower cholesterol?  Lower blood pressure?  Develop a stronger immune system?
  2. List measured steps to reach your goals.  Examples:  I will reduce my sugar intake to ___.   I will walk 30 minutes four days per week.  I will follow a 5K training program.  I will take conscious steps to eliminate processed foods from my diet.  I will drink a protein shake daily.  I will take high-quality supplements to support my overall health.  I will keep a food journal.  I will do weight training to boost metabolism three days a week.  I will participate in two classes at my gym on a weekly basis.
  3. Be vocal about your goals.  When you verbalize your intentions, you create accountability to what you’ve stated.  Skin in the game.  Some may try to sabotage you, but those who love you will cheer you on.
  4. Plan out each day.   Those who are most successful in their careers have strong calendar/time management skills.  Health is no different.  Some people like to map out a week, others like to map out each day.  Find what works for you…but planning needs to occur.  When will you fit in a workout?  Do you need to have your clothes by your bed to eliminate excuses to avoid a 6:00 a.m. workout?  Or pack them for work for an after-work exercise?  What will you eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks?  How will you get enough water throughout the day?  How far do you have to run today in your 5K, 10K, or marathon training plan?
  5. Make this your life…commit. Your goals come from YOU.  They are what burn within you and drive you.  That makes them pretty important!  So make those measured steps you outlined for success in #2 as important as your other commitments... make them as important as showing up to work, meeting with your friends, taking Johnny to the doctor, or paying your bills.  Wishful thinking doesn’t accomplish goals and no one can reach goals for you.  Commit daily to your goals.

Be intentional today and every day.  It’s the only way to a guaranteed outcome and a life of no regrets!

Mwah,

Valerie

 

 

 

7 simple steps to clean living

My definition oliving-clean-logo-buttonf clean living is simply to live in such a way that I eliminate as many toxic things from my life as possible – not just from my body, but from my mind and soul, too.

Real food.  Simplify life.  Reduce stress.  Love God and my neighbor.  Work/life balance.

Do you beat yourself up because you are interested in clean living but haven’t quite “gotten there”?  Well, don’t be discouraged … it is a PROCESS, not just a destination!  And it’s a very personal journey for sure.  For example, I have been on the path to clean living for years, and I started with two simple things I knew were “poisoning” my body  … sugar and white flour.  You will have to decide what poisons are in your own life.

I started by eliminating these two things from my daily diet.  I’m not a sugar or white flour Nazi per se,  and occasionally I’ll allow myself that indulgence, but I probably stick to it 98% of the time.  That was my start.  After getting that under my belt, I began to tackle the elimination of processed foods in my routine – boxed, canned, jarred goods  that obviously didn’t come from Mother Earth that way.  That’s a harder mountain to climb.  If I’m short on time, I do buy prepared salsa or jarred pesto, etc.  I opt for the freshest and best food labeled product I can find.  But in general, I probably keep to the “no processed foods” 90% of the time.

Then I began to tackle my skincare and personal care choices.  The skin is our largest organ!  That’s exactly why nicotine and estrogen patches on the skin work!  So I’m evaluating my shampoos and conditioners, toothpaste, moisturizers, make up, and sunscreen.

For the mind, I’ve turned off most TV.  I make watching the screen an intentional choice. Instead of the TV being on 24/7, I make a decision if I want to watch someone else live life for two hours or if I’m going to live my own life.  If I make the decision to watch (and I DO love movies), I put on Netflix and choose what I want to fill my mind with for a limited time.  And books?  Yes, yes, yes!  The mind can be so much more creative with a book!  But again, there are trashy books and there are meaty books.  I’m training my mind to reject what I know is trash infiltration and crave intellectual, good story-telling, quality, subject matter books instead.

For my soul, well that’s probably the most significant clean living choice of all!  Matthew 15:17-20 in the NIV says:  “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…”  Enough said.  I know my own failings so I enjoy church where I have to be transparent and I am accountable for my actions, reading Scripture, and being challenged through intelligent and thoughtful discourse about God.  

But I haven’t “arrived” at fully living clean yet!  That’s the personal part of each person’s journey.  I color my hair.  My bad!  Talk about toxins!  But I don’t like how I look with grey hair compared to my dark locks.  So it’s a toxic choice I’ve willingly made.  I occasionally wear nail polish.  Another toxin!

And the “toxin”list in our lives is huge … carpets, bed sheets, house paints, teflon cooking surfaces, detergents, etc.

So in your interest and journey toward clean living, don’t get overwhelmed with the whole kit and caboodle!  Start with one step, just one “poison” that you know is in your life.  Then another.  Then another.  The important thing is to get on the path and start moving toward the goal.  Here are seven starting ideas:

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  1.  Substitute water for other beverages.
    • Do you drink lots of coffee or soda or sugary juices?  Begin to substitute water over these other choices a little at a time until water is your go-to beverage.  Water hydrates the body, improves complexion, flushes toxins out of your system, and is the earth’s natural beverage resource to us.  It’s the “cleanest” choice of beverages.
    • If you are one of those who struggle with drinking water, don’t buy flavored versions!  That defeats the purpose of putting something “clean” in your body.  Instead, add sliced real food, like fruit, mint leaves, cucumbers, etc. to your water to infuse it with those flavors.
  2. Coffee and tea green-tea
    •  On my journey, I gradually moved from full caffeinated coffee to half decaf, and also moved to organic.  I was raised with offering coffee as a sign of hospitality.  There’s something comforting and welcoming about holding a warm mug of beverage with a heavenly scent.
    • I began to collect organic teas and green teas, and offer guests hot tea in addition to decaf organic coffee.
  3. Increase intake of fruits and vegetables
    • The more you fill up on fruits and vegetables, the less room you’ll have in your stomach to fill with junk and processed foods!
    • Fruit and vegetables are from the earth … no additives and preservatives.  Not formulated in a factory.
    • Eventually, for truly clean living, you’ll also need to migrate to purchasing organic fruits and vegetables.   What you purchase at your local grocer most likely has pesticides, could be GMO (genetically modified organisms), and if it’s an out-of-season/out-of-region food source, it’s been shipped from who knows where to get to your locale!
    • In time, farmer’s markets will become your favorite shopping destination!
  4. Convert to coconut oil for cooking
    1. Virgin coconut oil resists oxidative damage from heat unlike olive oil.
    2. Vegetable oils contain long chain triglycerides (LCTs) which are more difficult to break down.  This is an added toxic burden to your body.
    3. Coconut oil contains lauric acid which converts to monolaurin in your body.  Monolaurin is known to have antibacterial, antiviral, and antiprotozoal properties.
    4. Beware:  As in many cases with food, not all coconut oils are the same!  Mass-produced coconut oils are oftentimes refined, deodorized, and bleached which not only strips the oil of beneficial nutrients but also adds toxins to the oil.
    5. The BEST coconut oils?  Look for ones that are made from fresh coconuts and are cold-pressed.  This avoids the need for additives and solvents in the process.
  5. Decrease sugar consumption!
    • Just DO IT!  I can’t emphasize this one tip enough.  Refined sugar is poison to your body and proven to be more addictive than cocaine.  Monitor your children’s intake so you don’t create in them the same lifelong addiction that you experience!
    • Begin by taking coffee black, use honey in tea.
    • No diet sodas or artificial sweeteners.  These are toxins as well.  The point is CLEAN living, reducing toxins.
    • If you have to use a sweetener, you can use stevia, but once again, not all stevia is processed the same!  Use green leaf stevia...  it’s the least processed type.  The leaves are dried and ground into a powder form.  It isn’t as potent as other stevia products.  But just because it’s a natural sweetener, moderation is still key.
    • Read food labels!  Cereals, protein bars, protein shakes, etc…  Always be aware of how much sugar you are taking in!
  6. Don’t eat “white”!
    • If you’re not gluten-free, then you can change from white breads, to whole-grain breads.  From white rice to brown rice.  From white potatoes to red potatoes.  You get the idea.  If you’re trying to go gluten-free, then you need to dig deeper than just not eating “white”.  You can’t eat whole grains, because those will contain gluten and instead will need to convert to coconut flour, corn flour, etc.
  7. Mind and Soul
    • Evaluate your mind and soul.  What are you watching?  What are you reading?  What do you focus your time and energies on?  What stress could you reduce?  What kinds of friendships and relationships do you keep?  Do you seek a place for God in your life?
    • DO something about the evaluation.  Notice what’s healthy and what’s not.  Action plan one thing you could do differently…

90% overlook weight loss secret

Do most of us acknowledge that there is an emotional eating link to weight gain? Probably.  When it’s Friday at 3:00 pm and the boss places an ASAP report due on your desk, or daycare calls to say Johnny has just vomited all over his playmates and you need to take him home this very minute, or your elderly parent just paid $5,000 upfront for window replacements with credit card information to a phone solicitor, sight unseen … yes, the stress mounts, and the Snickers bar in the vending machine down the hall or the half gallon of ice cream in the freezer screams your name!

But do you know what is interesting?  The results of a national survey released by Orlando Health in December 2015 found that only 10 percent of the participants considered the psychological link to food as a main obstacle to weight loss.

“90 percent of respondents discounted one of the most important factors — your mind. A neuropsychologist says the most crucial factor is your psychological relationship with food and exercise, yet the majority (60 percent) listed diet and exercise to be the biggest barriers of weight loss, and only 10 percent of people thought psychological well being was the biggest barrier to weight loss.”

Wow!  That’s a significant oversight!  In this survey release, Diane Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health, states that most people who strive for weight loss address diet and exercise only.  But she states all those efforts can be sabotaged by overlooking this critical emotional connection they have with food.

She goes on to state that “In order to lose weight and keep it off long term, we need to do more than just think about what we eat, we also need to understand why we’re eating” (italics mine).

It’s no surprise that food is more than just nourishment to us.  It’s also comfort.  My mother was the master of comforting us through her cooking.  Don’t get me wrong, we LOVED it … and she was the epitome of making her home open and welcome to all who entered!  But.  We had fresh baked desserts after school, or homemade apple butter slathered over homemade biscuits, or homemade hot chocolate towering with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.  It’s what we came to rely on after a stressful day of grades, studying, bullies, sports, friend conflicts.  It was our haven.

Robinson has encouraging insight.  “If we focus on being emotionally healthy first, everything else can fall into place” (italics mine).

So, don’t put your head in the sand.  YOU DO HAVE EMOTIONS.  Yes, you’re human!  And you’ve learned coping mechanisms over time.  It’s time to start journaling the emotions you are feeling when you’re making poor choices.  Spend a week writing down everything you eat.  But in the column next to what you eat, write your emotion as well.  Happy, sad, frustrated, angry, blue, lonely, betrayed, lost ….  you get the idea.

After a week, analyze it.  Really analyze it.  Find the links.  Find the patterns.  We all have them.  Once you can identify your emotional triggers, you can begin to substitute a healthier choice when you feel those emotions.

When I was going through my divorce, I was suddenly a single mom, going back to school part time to get my MBA,  working full time, and the world was a bleak place.  I made a conscious decision to not use food as my escape.  Because that’s what food did.  It numbed the pain, made me feel immediate pleasure, then plunge deeper into pain when the sugar wore off.  I turned to exercise as my go-to.  When I felt the pressure mount, or the feelings of inadequacy, or loneliness, I went for a power walk or a run.  I called friends to join me.  I put headphones on and listened to encouraging music or sermons or podcasts.  Or I ran my basement stairs for 5 minutes of burst exercise to get my frustration out.  For you, it might mean when stress has you wanting to dive into a bag of sour cream n onion potato chips, you learn a new response via a healthier alternative food go-to (how about a half baked sweet potato, or an orange, or a handful of almonds…) or a physical outlet that clears your mind AND benefits your body.

Don’t underestimate the emotional influence upon your food choices and weight loss goals!

Nugget:   “In order to lose weight and keep it off long term, we need to do more than just think about what we eat, we also need to understand why we’re eating.”    Diane Robinson, PhD, a neuropsychologist and Program Director of Integrative Medicine at Orlando Health

 

 

Meetups -support for body, mind, and spirit!

As you seek health in your body, mind, AND spirit, have you thought of using Meetups as a way to support your entire well-being?

For those of you who aren’t aware of what “Meetups” are, the http://www.meetup.com site says they are: “neighbors getting together to learn something, do something, share something.”

These Meetup groups cover a huge range of interests and are started by individuals who have a need (new in town, or have a hobby/interest they want to share with others) and form a group on the website to satisfy that need.  Individuals get onto the website, put in the geographic range that they would travel for activities, and voila, a list of formed Meetup groups shows in a list.  The range of groups I’ve seen vary from volleyball, photography, hiking, women of Christian faith, dog lovers, book writing and aspiring authors, business owners, running, young business professionals, entrepreneurs, coed baseball, knitting, prayer, yoga, book lovers, flag football … on and on and on.  SO many choices! Continue reading “Meetups -support for body, mind, and spirit!”

Beauty from ashes

It’s Sunday… and since this blog encompasses health and wellness of the entire being (body, mind, AND spirit), I’d love to devote Sunday blog posts specifically to addressing topics that encourage the spirit and growth in faith.

I currently live in a “flood home”.  What I mean is this home was destroyed by a horrific flood in 2010 that hit the U.S. Northeast in epic proportions.  While I moved into this adorable cottage-style home years after this devastation, I was told that the floodwaters neared the tops of the windows of the first floor, and the entire neighborhood was evacuated by boats and rescue teams.  Fast forward to today, and this home is absolutely charming.  The owners were devastated at the time.  Everything was washed away or destroyed, leaving  silt, sewage, and filth in its place.

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But today, this home is restored, rebuilt, renewed.  To see these pictures, you’d never have realized the destruction that was in its past.   And this home is a constant reminder to me of a bigger theme… “rebuilding” is the heart of God.  God brings beauty from ashes! And while this happened in a physical sense to my home (and around the world to rebuilding of neighborhoods, businesses, and homes from natural disasters), God is in the business of rebuilding hearts, lives, families, relationships…forgiveness.   Wow.

  • Isaiah 61:1-3
  • Psalm 30:4-5, 8-12

There is much meat here.  This is deep.  And if you’re interested in digging deeper into this, I encourage you to do so.

God’s word says He restores, NOT  just because He loves you, but to bring praises to God.  That others would see the restoration and know from whence it came … the restoration is “for the display of his splendor” … to give glory to God.  His heart is for his people.  We are not to be silent when we see rebuilding in our lives, our marriages, our families, our children, our finances, our emotions etc., but instead acknowledge what God has done.  It’s AMAZING how much it creates a grateful heart.

So as I sit in my little home that is totally restored and more beautiful than the original, I am reminded to be so VERY grateful for all the beautiful things God has repaired in my life … from divorce to remarriage, from broken relationships with children to renewal, from having no faith to a faith-filled life, from losing parents to gaining friendships … on and on.   Beauty from ashes.

Valerie

 

Stressed? Pound it out…

dog in blanket

I have a saying… if you’re upset or stressed, take it out in a way that will benefit you, not hurt you.   Yes, punching a hole in the wall would be a negative way to handle anger!  Yes, eating a bag of Doritos and a gallon of ice cream would not be good for your body.  And yes, storming into  your boss’s office and screaming at her, as tempting as it sounds, would be a harmful choice as well!

So what’s a healthy alternative to unleashing your stress?  EXERCISE.  When I went back to school to get my MBA during my divorce, in the midst of working 50 hours per week, and learning to be a single mom, I began to run.  Seriously!  It became my catharsis … “me” time in a world that was swirling and demanding everything from me.

I began by telling myself I was allowed one hour of “me” time per day.  That became my exercise time.  At first, I could only run one minute, so I then walked 59 minutes.  Then I worked up to four minutes of running and 56 minutes walking.  Within a few months, I was running the entire hour!  With headphones on, listening to music or podcasts of sermons, it was a healing time of sorts.   And don’t think it was easy…there were times I couldn’t fit that hour in until 10:00 PM!  But I did it because the alternative wasn’t pretty. Continue reading “Stressed? Pound it out…”