Habits of Health

Optimal Health is a journey taken one step, one habit, and one day at a time.” — Dr. Wayne S. Andersen

A week or so ago I was looking at Facebook, as I am wont to do, and my attention was caught by an image of a masculine hand with a fire-engine red right thumbnail. And the post said if I painted my thumbnail red it could save my life. I thought this might be a variation on a rubber wrist-band campaign, but I clicked on it and I think my life has actually been changed. You see, the creator of the video, Steve Babcock, found himself habitually engaged in the super dangerous practice of using his smart phone while driving. As he states on his website “Inspired by my daughter’s technique of tying a piece of yarn around her finger to remember something for school, I decided to paint my thumbnail red so every time I picked up my phone from behind the wheel, all I would see was a big red thumb reminding me to put the phone away. As silly as it sounds, it totally worked. And now my hope is that it’ll work for everyone else.”


I did not even have to paint my thumbnail red. When I pick up the phone in the car I think about Steve’s video and I put it down. Or leave it in my purse altogether. No text or call is so urgent that I should risk my life, or anyone else’s. I have thought about the video posting often because he says, of using the phone while driving, that it was just a bad habit he had gotten into. Just a bad habit. Sounds pretty innocuous, but bad habits can kill you.

In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses the science of habits. In an interview with Duhigg on NPR he discussed his own frustration with habits. “I’m successful at a lot of things. . .And yet there were things in my life that I felt like I couldn’t control, eating for instance. I would just snack all the time. When I wanted to make myself go exercise in the morning, I couldn’t get myself out of bed to go running. I would come up with excuse after excuse. And it drove me crazy because if I’m so good at some things, why don’t I have control over these small little patterns?”

Sound familiar? For most people I work with it is a struggle to do what we desire to do: Create the habits that will sustain us and improve our health and our lives.

Something becomes a habit, in part, because repeated behaviors create a synaptic pathway in the brain that gets stronger with more repetition. Most undesired habits have an immediate up-side, pleasure. For example, the pleasure value of playing video games until 2:00 o’clock in the morning. In the moment, immediate pleasure outweighs the theoretical value of getting a good night’s sleep. Not that the value of a good night’s sleep is theoretical, but in the moment the immediate pleasure is a fact and the outcome of adequate sleep is a concept. The immediate pleasure of the third scoop of ice cream outweighs the concept that poor diet contributes to overweight and obesity. The immediate pleasure of checking or sending a text message in the car is greater than the abstract concepts that 11 teens die every day in texting-related car accidents and it is likely that 4,000 people will die this year in distracted driving accidents.Bad habits create a synaptic pathway tat is like a rut in your brain. And it is hard to get out of a rut.

So, understanding the difficulty of giving up an in-the-moment pleasure for a more healthful ideal, how can we effectively adopt the habits of health?

One step can be to take an honest assessment: What habits you desire to adopt and what habits do you choose to break. Sometimes these come in pairs. “Create a habit of morning exercise” goes with “eliminate the snooze-button habit.” Most people will find it best to change habits by focusing on moving toward something you they want (more optimal fitness) and some will be more motivated by moving away from that which you do not want (being out-of-shape).

For a habit you wish to adopt Duhigg suggests finding a reward.The reward does not need to be big and it does not need to make sense in context with the habit you seek to adopt. In the NPR interview he discusses a study in which, in part, people rewarded themselves for exercising with a small piece of chocolate. Chocolate seems to go against the intended goal, but the small reward can help to reinforce the good behavior and create a a new synaptic pathway, associating exercise with pleasure.

Another technique to creating a new, healthy habit is using a cue. For example, always setting your workout clothes out the night before, or having an regularly appointed time or group with whom to exercise.

Yet another technique for improving health through our habits is by creating a vision board. A vision board is a visual representation for what you want your life to be like. It is a collection of magazine photos, words, quotes, and other inspiring things that you put in a place where you will see it on a daily basis. Your vision board can be made to inspire you to better health habits, financial success, career satisfaction, anythign you want. A healthy habits vision board can serve as a daily reminder fo your goal for a healthier future.

I would love to hear your habit stories. Is there a habit you have struggled to break or adopt and succeeded? How did you do it? Share your story on our Facebook page.

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Secret Sugar – Not Just In Your Valentine’s Day Candy

Have you gotten off the Sugar high or the winter holidays yet? I hope so, because it is almost time for Valentine’s Day. We all know that too much sugar is bad for our health. Over consumption of sugar can lead to tooth decay, digestive stress, poor immune function, diabetes and will trigger went gain (and the many, many health problems that come from overweight and obesity.)

So, you may be planning to avoid eating so much chocolate this Valentines Day. That’s great. There are also sources of hidden sugar in your diet. Moderation of all sources of sugar will help you to move toward optimal health.
So what are some of these “hidden” sugars?
Yogurt. Ok, I have harped on yogurt before, but, I still see people eating it so I guess my work is not done.  Plain yogurt has about 12 grams of sugar in the form of lactose, or milk sugar, in a serving. For people who tolerate dairy well, plain yogurt in moderation can be a fine addition to the diet and may be beneficial by providing healthy bacteria to the digestive tract. Once that yogurt is flavored, however, all the heath benefits go out the window. I was at the grocery store yesterday getting some plain, organic yogurt and I saw Almond Coco Loco Greek yogurt. Yikes! I know someone out there is thinking this 21 gram sugar bomb  is a healthy snack. That’s five sugar cubes plus a little more. These yogurts are desserts, not healthy snacks,  and should be consumed as moderately as a dessert or, perhaps, not at all.
Bread, pasta, cereal, crackers. Everything that you eat that your body will use for energy will be turned into glucose by the body. Glucose is the energy currency of the body, it makes your engine run. Carbohydrate rich foods like bread, especially white bread, are converted into glucose by the body quickly compared to, for example, meat or green vegetables. So, even if something does not taste sweet if it rapidly converts into glucose, aka sugar, in the body that food is part of your overall sugar consumption.
Sports drinks. Very few of us really need a sports drink to “replace electrolytes” after a work out. We just don’t. And sometimes we choose a sports drink because we think it is a healthier choice than a soda. It isn’t. A typical sports drink contains five teaspoons of sugar in a twelve ounce serving, and the servings are often three times that size. So find an alternative way to hydrate. But not with cranberry or orange juice. Cranberry juice cocktail has an amazing 12 teaspoons of sugar in a twelve ounce serving, and orange juice, in a tie with Coke, has ten.
Coffee drinks. Of course we know that a caramel mocha cafe latte with whipped cream and chocolate sprinkles has a bunch of sugar in it. What about the more modest cousin to those confectionary coffee drinks, the simple cafe latte with skim milk? As a college student I worked at a coffee shop and I recall making lattes with espresso and steamed milk, I would not have thought it had sugar in it. A survey of a couple of nationwide coffee shops show their unsweetened and unflavored medium non-fat lattes to have between 18 and 21 grams of sugar. Say what? As it happens, milk has about 13 grams of sugar per cup. And some coffee chains add a touch of sweetener to their “unsweetened” drinks. Same goes for soy milk that they use in most coffee shops, at least 13 grams of sugar in an 8 ounce serving.   If you’re cutting back on sugar you’d be better off with regular drip coffee and a splash of half and half.
Salad dressing. Another source of hidden sugar is salad dressing. There are sweet dressings, like raspberry vinaigrette, for which the sugar content would not surprise you. Even non-sweet dressings, like Ranch, have sugar in them. Reduced fat dressings can have five times more sugar than the regular versions because in order to make the non-fat version as similarly appealing as the full-fat version the manufacturers up the sugar. Read the nutrition label, you might be surprised. One way to cut back on sugar is to make your own dressing, of course. Try a simple oil and vinegar dressing with lemon or spices for flavor. When you do use prepared dressings use them sparingly. It is easy give yourself a larger portion than you intended. If you use less and toss your salad well you will be happy with the result.
Granola bars. Even If you have been passing up the chocolate chip granola bars and choosing the more austere oats and nuts varieties you are likely getting a minimum of 11 grams of sugar. A clif bar has over 20 grams, a power bar has 23 and the “no-added sugar” Lara bar has 14-20 depending on the variety. Granola bars have been a snack mainstay in our house in the past, mainly for the kids.  Portable, shelf stable, kid-friendly. However, we are kicking the granola bar habit. Some of our better on-the-go snack choices are almonds and fresh fruit, hard boiled eggs, low-fat string cheese or celery and sunflower seed butter. Theses snacks are not as quick as grabbing a granola bar but they are easy enough and the kids are just as happy.
A Happy and Healthy Valentine’s Day to all!
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So, you don’t love going to the gym.

Do you know anyone who really loves going to the gym? I know, me too!  They have a full wardrobe of workout attire. They are at the 5:45 a.m. spinning class. They use the gyms in hotels when they travel. I am not one of those people. Sure, I have been to the gym. More than once even. But there are so many things I would rather do, and, all in all, I find the elliptical and the weight machines to be kind of uninspiring. That being said, I do like to be active. Just don’t call it exercising; that ruins it for me! Here are my favorite ways to stay active.

Top ten fun activities (that just happen to be exercise).

  1. Rock on! Visit a climbing gym. Climbing gyms are cropping up here in St. Louis and all around the country. You do not need special equipment, they will rent that to you, and you don’t need to know how to climb, they have lessons or you can just try it out. There are also safety systems called auto-belays that lower you slowly to the ground when you fall, no matter how much you weigh. You will burn some serious calories while you build your muscle strength. You will be so busy concentrating on your next hand-hold you will forget you are exercising.
  2. Get out! Try a hike. What if you don’t know where to go? I recommend Meetup.com. There are many hiking Strolling in the Parkgroups that have get-togethers every week, year-round. You will find that the difficulty level of most hikes is explained in the description, and the hikes are usually led at no-charge. And, if it’s a cold day, you will burn more energy in a shorter amount of time.
  3. Pop a wheelie! Ride your bike to work or around town. You save money on gas, save yourself the parking hassles and get some exercise at the same time. If you are lucky enough to live in a town where Cycling Savvy meets I highly recommend attending a class. I was amazed at what I didn’t know about sharing the road safely with cars. In cities you can often take your bike on the bus or commuter train if you have a longer distance to travel. The same trains and busses can take you to bike trails or interesting sites from which you can ride home. Or, bring your bikes on your next date-night. And there are many strategies for cleaning up when you get to your destination if your office does not have a shower available.
  4. Park it! Plan to leave your car at home more often. In addition to biking to work, consider other times you could walk for your errands or a trip to the library. Walking is a great stress reliever. If you have stuff to bring home wear a back pack. Loading some weight on your spine while you walk is a great way to strengthen your muscles and bones.  And when you do have to drive, park a few blocks away from your destination. And if you commute by bus or train you can intentionally miss your stop and hoof-it to where you are going.
  5. Zone out! There are more and more movement-activated video games that are fun and get you off the couch. We have the Wii Fit, which has us ski-jumping, hula-hooping and line dancing in our living room. There are other systems that have sensors that track your motion and will have you jumping around like a kid.
  6. Jump for joy! Jumping on a trampoline is great exercise and it is so much fun. We play games on our trampoline. For example, we will have tennis balls on the trampoline and you have to avoid letting them touch your feet. Fun with kids and it’s a workout.
  7. Extreme vacuuming? Housework and exercise – two of your favorites, right? OK, so maybe this does not qualify as a fun activity, but it’s all about the mindset. What if you treated the housework like an Olympic event? Can you mop the floor more vigorously? Jog that laundry basket up the stairs? Power-walk through the grocery store? Pick up the pace behind your lawn mower? It counts! And your house will sparkle.
  8. Get your glide on! Ice skating is so much fun. Our community skating rink has lessons and open skate year-round. You can get on the ice for just a few bucks. A few trips around the rink and not only will you feel like a kid again but you will be taking off your scarf because your blood is pumping.
  9. Swing your partner! Dancing is a blast. Look for swing dancing, salsa, square dancing, lindy-hop, folk or contra dancing. Meetup.com is a good place to look, or in the local paper. Many dancing get-togethers are open to all, regardless of whether you have a partner, and many will begin the evening with a lesson to get the basics under your belt.
  10. Doggone it! There are so many furry friends needing a loving home. Studies have shown that dog owners are happier and healthier. And you need a walking partner. What a great way to do a good deed and start an activity program, all at the same time. But, sending Rover out to your fenced yard does not do the trick. Go for walks, play Frisbee and tag with your new best friend. Being active together will help both of you live a longer, healthier life.

It’s a great time of year to make a plan to be more active. So, get out there and make activity a part of your daily routine. You deserve to have more fun, and your body will thank you.

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These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things……

favorite things logo copyI am so fortunate to have a wonderful vocation that allows me to be a force for good in peoples’ lives.  Here are a few of my favorite things about my work as a chiropractor and enzyme nutrition practitioner:

Explaining chiropractic. As a chiropractor and enzyme nutrition practitioner I specialize in the restoration and maintenance of health.  The goal and purpose of a chiropractic adjustment is to remove interference in the body’s nerve system.  When interference is removed the body can do what it should do naturally; Self-heal and self-regulate. Chiropractic, when explained in a simple way, is something that most people understand intuitively.

Watching the changes. Sometimes improvement in health is instant and very noticeable, but sometimes the changes are more subtle.  I love it when a client says they notice that they have been sleeping better, or have less fatigue, or can more easily feel when their body is out of balance.

Listening. It is a privilege to be able to help people achieve their goals, and I make sure I have plenty of time to listen to my clients’ stories.  I want to fully understand what clients’ concerns are, but even more importantly, I want to know how improving their health will make their lives better.

Working with kids. In many cases children require only small adjustments or small dietary changes to experience big improvements in their health.  Working with kids is awesome!  In children the amazing power of the body to heal can be seen most easily.

Teaching. My free community health classes are always a fun way for me to share information that helps people to live healthier lives.  I also help future chiropractors learn enzyme nutrition at Logan College, a role that I am truly honored to fulfill.

Learning. In addition to my degree in chiropractic I have spent many, many hundreds of hours studying health and nutrition.  I study  current research articles on a weekly basis and travel far and wide to attend seminars throughout the year.  I do this because I am dedicated to continually developing my knowledge and clinical excellence as a practitioner to serve my clients in the best possible way.

Creating hope. I have had the wonderful experience of helping people who had difficult health situations who thought no one could help them, or who were told that their health concerns were “all in their head.”  I have years of experience assisting clients with difficult challenges, I study and research to be the best I can be, and I have a team of experts a phone-call away.  It is a wonderful transition to see despair become hope, and to guide hope into action, and to see action create changes for better health.

I hope your life is filled with favorite things. Merry Christmas and Happy and Healthy New Year to you and your family.

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Can Foods Be Addictive?

addictive-foods-410x290-1Remember the “Bet You Can’t Eat Just One!” tagline?  What the marketers behind those hard to resist potato chips wanted to convey is that their product is so delicious you would be compelled to eat more. No level of willpower could stop you.

“A reasonable portion will satisfy you” is certainly not as compelling a slogan.

What is it about junk food that makes us go over-board, over and over again? Could it be that these foods are addictive? Hard-to-resist and addictive are not the same thing. An addictive substance is something to which a person can develop a physical dependence.  Foods, even potato chips, have long been thought incapable of creating actual, physical addiction. However, in the last year or so certain substances in foods have been researched to understand their drug-like and potentially addictive properties.

One such substance is the endocannabanoid. Endo- describes a substance made inside of us, and Cannabanoid describes something that has a marijuana-like effect on the body. One animal study demonstrated that endocannabinoids increase in the body following feeding with a high fat diet. And what happens when endocannabinoids increase? The munchies! Basically, this research shows the possibility that high fat foods are not only, themselves, harmful to health. They may cause you to eat excessive portions.  Indeed, bet you can’t eat just one!

Another group of interesting substances is the Gluetomorphins and Caseomorphins. These are morphine-like substances that come from casein (milk protein) and gluten (wheat protein). These proteins interact with the opiate receptors in the gut and brain. Not all people are sensitive to gluteomorphins and caseomorphins. However, for those who are affected, gluten and casein are broken down into short chains of proteins that, should they escape through the gut and make their way to the brain, mimic the effects of heroin or morphine.  Addictive, indeed.

As a final example, one of the most common self-diagnosed food addictions is an addiction to chocolate. Chocolate is just one of many foods with the alluring blend of fat and sugar. Chocolate also contains biologically active compounds, polyphenols, which may have a health benefit to the body. Several research studies have been performed with daily doses of 20-30 grams (less than two tablespoons) of polyphenol-rich chocolate; observing for benefits in glucose metabolism and cardiovascular health. But it is not the polyphenols that drive someone to become a “chocoholic.” It is the fat and sugar.

Our primal ancestors did not have regular access to sugary and fatty foods, so we are all equipped with a biological drive to consume such foods when present that comes from an earlier time in human history. So, it’s the caveman/woman in you that is taking a third trip to the freezer for the salted caramel gelato. It turns out that foods high in sugar, salt and fat stimulate the pleasure centers in the brain, like a drug. So it is not only the chocolate that’s potentially addictive, it’s the salt/fat/sugar blend. Food manufacturers know this very well and create foods that hit the so-called “bliss point,” so you eat more (and more).

Breaking the Cycle

What can you do if you feel like you are out of control with certain foods? In my practice I find a few strategies very helpful. One is to use enzyme nutrition to help the body absorb nutrition better. Better nutrient absorption and eating a more balanced diet will reduce food cravings.  Another strategy is to break the addictive pattern with an elimination diet. One such program I have discussed in the blog before is The Ultrasimple Diet. Sometimes a period of withdrawal is enough to break the cycle of food addiction or compulsion, and cleanses or eliminations diets are great for that.  Acupuncture or EFT (emotional freedom technique) can help with the emotional aspects of eating and impulse control.  Hypnosis can also be a real game-changer.  Mindfulness meditation can also be a help to compulsive eaters.  Truly, when was the last it time you sat down to eat and just ate, focused on your meal without multi-tasking? Finally, for those who are overweight and addicted to unhealthy foods, I love the Take Shape for Life program.

What about folks who truly struggle with food addiction on an extremely deep level? Perhaps you have tried some of the approaches above but have not been successful? For some people I do recommend one-on-one counseling with a therapist or life-coach, especially one with a professional focus on eating issues. Eating disorders can affect men and women or any age.  Overeaters Anonymous (OA), a 12-step program, has helped many to control their eating and has free meetings across the country and online.

Here’s wishing you a healthy relationship with foods in the coming year!

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Can Stress Be The Cause Of Your Pain?

STRESS. Magnifying glass over different association terms.A couple of days ago I was chatting with a patient who was experiencing a sore throat.  This brought to mind some of my first clinical experiences at The Way to Optimal Health, the office in the Chicago suburbs where I began in practice 12 years ago. I was taught that it was important to consider the role of a person’s emotional states when considering the origin of certain symptoms. Does that mean symptoms are “all in your head?” No, but your emotional state does have an impact.

It has been recognized, perhaps most famously by Austrian physician Hans Selye in the 1950’s, that stress is the cause of all illnesses. Stress can be roughly categorized into three types; mechanical,  chemical and emotional.  These were also defined in 1910 by founder of chiropractic DD Palmer as the three T’s; trauma, toxins and thoughts.

And, emotional stress is a biggie for many of us, right? 

So, coming back to the woman with the sore throat. She was describing her symptoms and I asked her “What are you not saying?” That question was one that my mentors in Chicago would sometimes ask people experiencing sore throats and it comes from the concept of Chakras. Briefly, chakras are the energy centers of the body as described by ancient Indian Ayurvedic and yogic tradition. Typically seven chakras described. The fifth is the throat chakra and it is associated with communication, the connection between the heart and the mind and expressing yourself. So, when there are symptoms in the throat we might think about what we are not expressing. Could “swallowing” negative emotions be contributing to how we feel?

Another common area of symptoms is the lower back. The mechanical causes of lower back pain are numerous, although in many cases the cause of injury is not known. A research paper published in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation showed a link between job dissatisfaction and the development of chronic pain. So, being happy at work, a component of happiness in general, can reduce your risk of chronic low back pain and disability. At our office in Chicago, the key emotional association with lower back pain was feeling unsupported. For many, dissatisfaction is related a perception of or an actual lack of support. Next time you feel a twinge in your lower back for no clear reason ask yourself,  how supported do you feel by your family, spouse, friends and colleagues? Have you been acting like an invulnerable super-hero who does not need help from anyone? How can you better communicate so that your needs are known?

But, how does it happen that emotional states create physical symptoms? That doesn’t seem very scientific, does it? Actually, every thought or feeling is accompanied by the release of thousands of different neuro peptides, each triggering a physiological, physical response. Thus, it is theorized, prolonged, negative emotional states can cause an imbalance in your physical body.

You do not need to analyze yourself psychologically regarding every ache and pain. Symptoms need to be taken seriously in a physical context. However, a balance in focus between the physical and the emotional can enhance your healing . Next time you have an twinge or a crick in your neck  consider giving some non-judgmental attention to your emotional state.  You may be surprised  to find a hidden cause.

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Things You Didn’t Know About Your Metabolism

tortoise__hare_1I feel like I have always known the conventional definition of metabolism, even when I was a kid. I was kind of a chubby kid, at least for some of my youth, and “slow metabolism” was a term I heard thrown around. Easier to say “I have a slow metabolism” than “I eat too much” or “I have an extremely inactive lifestyle.”  Slow metabolism means you gain weight easily, and it’s not totally your fault, right?

But what is metabolism, really? In science, metabolism is defined as the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. What are the processes that maintain life in your body? Too numerous to list, but building things (anabolism) and taking things apart to obtain energy (catabolism) are the general categories.  Metabolism has a lot to do with weight, since the efficiency of your body’s ability to turn food into energy is a key factor in how your body uses or stores the foods you eat. Metabolism also has a lot, really everything, to do with everything else your body does; moving, growing, sensing, resting, reproducing, healing, etc.

Here are some facts about metabolism:

Whether you are a tortoise or a hare can change: It is true that if a person has two overweight parents they are more likely to be overweight or obese. However, genetic predisposition is not destiny. The main determining factor in how many calories you “burn” is not your genetics, it’s your Basal Metabolic Rate, BMR.  Basal Metabolic Rate is the amount of calories that a person needs to keep the body functioning over 24-hours at rest. BMR accounts for 60-75% of the calories you burn each day. A key way to increase your BMR is to lift weights. Muscle uses more calories at rest than fat. Lifting weights once or twice a week can drastically change your BMR over time. Also, age related muscle loss is one of the main reasons it gets harder to lose weight as we get older.

A good night’s sleep makes a difference. When you are sleep deprived your metabolism actually slows down. Lack of sleep causes a rise is Cortisol hormone, and among the effects of Cortisol is elevated blood sugar levels and increased storage of fat cells around the organs. Poor sleep, even one night, will also alter levels of the hormones Leptin and Ghrelin. If you short yourself on sleep Ghrelin goes up, stimulating your appetite, while Leptin goes down, leading you to feel less satisfied when you eat. You can learn more about what happens when you go without sleep by clicking here.

Your “slow metabolism” might really be inflammation. Inflammation in the body can be caused by a poor diet that includes pro-inflammatory foods, environmental toxicity, dehydration and even emotional stress.  Detoxification can help your BMR by lessening the body’s burden of waste. The body has numerous responses to toxicity. Fluid retention is just one example.  The waste products from the energy factories in your cells collect in the spaces between the cells like trash waiting for curb-side pickup.  This is the real “junk in the trunk!” If you are overly toxic, or under-hydrated, the body will retain the water it has around the cells to dilute that toxicity. Another way that inflammation looks like a slow metabolism is seen in food sensitivities. That is why detoxification programs can help boost your metabolism, they help to ease your body’s burden and operate more efficiently. Click here for an opportunity to learn more.

To learn more about metabolism and healthy living join Chef Sharon Tutko and me for Clean Eating 101: Get Your Metabolism Cooking! at Whole Foods Town and Country.

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