Posts tagged ‘health’

Game On

A new month, a new challenge! My competitive nature has been brought out once again, this time for the Game On Challenge. My friends read the book and were inspired, so they got a group of us together to participate in this healthy living challenge. Although most of us already lead pretty healthy lifestyles, we all have our different motivations for participating. We are a week into the month-long challenge, and the competition is pretty fierce! All in a friendly way, of course. There are two teams of six, and the losing team rewards the winning team with gift certificates for a massage.

So what are the rules to this game? Well, there are a few basic categories: diet, exercise, sleep, hydration, habits, and communication. Every time you follow the rules within the category, you earn points. Every time you don’t follow the rules, you don’t gain points, and for a few circumstances, you lose points. You are allowed to take one day off per item per week with no penalty, or can cluster these days off if you specify ahead of time that you have a vacation or extenuating circumstances. To keep track of this, we have an epic spreadsheet, shared through GoogleDoc. A competitor, much more tech savvy than I, set it up so that the columns auto-fill and tally every time you record your day’s habits.

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A few of the categories have pretty basic rules: you have to sleep at least 7 hours a night (sleep), you have to drink 3 L of water (hydration), and you have to communicate in some way with at least one teammate and one opponent every day. For exercise, you have to log 20 minutes of intentional exercise each day. This can be running, body resistance exercises, yoga, or a brisk walk. It cannot be biking or walking to class, or running to catch the bus you are late for!

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The most complicated sections are diet and habits. For diet, you must eat 3 solid meals each day. Breakfast must contain 1 fruit or vegetable, and lunch and dinner should have at least 2 vegetables that comprise at least half of your plate. One meal a day has to be vegan. None of your meals, snacks or ingredients can contain added sugar, with the exception of agave to sweeten morning coffee. You also lose points for any unhealthy snacks that break the above rules.

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Following the rules doesn't mean deprivation! This decadent breakfast I made the other day still fit the rules! Click the picture to get to the original post.

The habits section is individualized for each competitor. The goal is to choose one healthy habit to implement, and one unhealthy habit to break. My healthy habit: taking my vitamin every day. My unhealthy habit: getting off my computer a half hour before going to bed. This means stopping work for the day, getting ready for sleep, and giving myself a chance to read a book for fun or reflect on my day before passing out.

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From Pinterest

So at first glance, there are a lot of rules. Why would I subject myself to this if I already live a pretty healthy lifestyle anyway? Well, a massage is a pretty good enticement! All kidding aside, I still think it is important to evaluate your habits and be more mindful of your routines every once in a while. Sure, the rules surrounding diet and exercise fit pretty well into how I already live. However, I am terrible at drinking water and getting sleep! Turning my computer off and forcing myself to relax is helping me to get more sleep at night, but I am still struggling with the water challenge! I find that I am drinking so much that I cannot snack between meals. My meals tend to be smaller with snacks fit in between, so losing this snack has meant that I am not always taking in as many calories as I need. I didn’t recognize this until I was running on Saturday with my roommate and was having weird pains and dizzy spells. My body is starting to get used to having more water in my stomach, so my appetite is slowly starting to return. I am also bulking up my meals slightly since I still have less desire to snack than usual. I am learning to balance this new habit, but do not think I could continue to drink quite as large a volume forever! I am hoping to get used to drinking more each day though, and intend to be continually mindful of drinking at least my 8 glasses a day.

We have three weeks left of the challenge! Do you want to join us? You can choose one transformation areas and commit to those goals for the next three weeks! Whether it be hydration, exercise, sleep or a healthy habit, it is good to be mindful of every aspect of your health and well-being.

Question: What area would be hardest for you to make a change in? Do you want to join us in any aspect of this challenge?

March 8, 2012 at 10:00 am 7 comments

Blog Action Day 2011 – What does food mean to your culture?

Happy World Food Day! This is a worldwide event that is designed to stimulate awareness and action against hunger and malnutrition. Check out their website for more information and a calendar of events, but more importantly, take some time to think about what you are eating. As a food blogger and future health professional, I highly value healthy food. Every bite we take keeps our bodies running. I am fortunate enough to not go to bed hungry, and to be able to purchase and cook with great, fresh, healthy ingredients. However, this is not everyone’s reality. Take some time to educate yourself on the myriad of issues that surround food – access, equality, globalization, sustainability. The list is endless, but fascinating. And important!

To celebrate this event, the topic for this year’s Blog Action Day is food! I learned about this through my friend – an excellent and thoughtful writer who I hope is participating in this community act, “designed to stimulate global discussion around an important issue that impacts us all.” If you are reading this and want to add your own thoughts to the blogosphere, head to the website and register your blog. It will give you a list of topics to choose from, and then let your writing and thoughts flow from there! Check out other bloggers talking about this as well, and leave comments and questions to stimulate discussion. As we share and learn from each other, we can grow in awareness and be better advocates for food security for all.

I am proud to take part in Blog Action Day Oct 16, 2011 www.blogactionday.org

It was really hard to choose a topic, as there are so many nuances to issues surrounding food. I chose this stem because it is a burgeoning passion of mine, thinking about the intersection of food cultures and healthy eating. I have addressed some of the other issues in past posts ( see here for thoughts on organic food, a bit about my food philosophy as a vegetarian, some thoughts and more thoughts on affordability and access to food) Food, while of utmost importance is a means to health, is also a way of creating and sharing culture. Meals are steeped in family tradition, and memories are often created around the table. Foods can be very specific to the culture in which you were raised, and your food choices will likely be shaped by your family and culture for the rest of your life.

My food culture: American. My great grandparents were farmers, and home cooked food is highly valued in my family. (Explains a lot about my blog title, huh?) My mom always cooked rather than catered for big birthday parties, made homemade cake or cupcakes, and astounded my friends with her homemade mac’ and cheese. Thanksgiving was and is more about the food preparation than about the meal itself, and Christmas is as much about the cookie exchange as it is about the gifts. However, the specific foods are not as important in my family. We are adventurous in our cooking – my Grandma has fallen in love with quinoa (which I’d say is pretty adventurous for a 76 year old!), and my mom regularly introduces me to new grains and vegetables. Although there are some traditional family recipes rooted in farming days, we also love to explore other food cultures from around the world. Our homemade interpretations were always very Americanized, but they were baby steps at understanding how food is seen in other cultures.

My horizons were expanded even more broadly this summer while I was traveling. Food and drink are essential to understanding the core of a culture, and food traditions vary broadly depending on where you are. Some of these are beautiful, like the focus on high quality, fresh ingredients in Italy. Some of these less readily appeal to my view of food as a means for health, like the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables in many traditional Czech and Bosnian dishes. However, they are both equally important in their respective food cultures.

The reason I have been thinking so much about the intersection of food and culture lately is because it seems like the whole foods/health conscious food movement has been taking off in a very white-centric manner. Many “healthy cookbooks” or “dieting recipes” are very comfortable in the framework within which I grew up: pretty standard American fare with the occasional forray into “cultural” meals. However, this food culture is not shared by most of the rest of the world. A Nigerian friend, for example, doesn’t understand the American obsession with pasta. A Korean friend didn’t know that a rice cooker wasn’t a standard household appliance, and didn’t know you could cook brown rice in it. Everyone brings their own lens to what a healthy meal looked like in their family. Healthy cooking should be able to fit into any cultural framework, and yet cultural food often seems to be excused from the health standards we judge other dishes. How do we make traditional foods lower in fat and salt and higher in nutrients without losing the soul of the dish? How do we marry these two concepts? This is a big question that I have only begun to thought about. I would love to hear your thoughts on the issue!

Question: What does food mean to your culture?

October 16, 2011 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Harvest Festival

This post features an unexpected highlight of my weekend. Yesterday, I got to participate in the Harvest Festival sponsored by the Mattapan Food and Fitness Coalition. The MFFC sponsors a farmer’s market that runs from July – October in Mattapan, a predominately minority, low-income Boston neighborhood. This market features produce from local farms and urban community gardens, and offers a “double your benefits” program to food stamp recipients. They accept SNAP/WIC benefits and display an impressive array of beautiful seasonal produce.

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I volunteered at the fair with two school mates as a part of SNAAC, my school’s nutrition interest group. Our job at the health fair was to provide a free blood pressure screening for interested community members. This was great and definitely helped me master my BP skills, but my favorite part was getting to talk to people! If anyone’s numbers were high, we talked to them about areas in their diet that could be improved (like switching from white to brown rice, or using lower sodium broth). If their numbers were within normal, we asked them if they thought they had a healthy diet and a regular exercise routine, and how they thought those factors affected their blood pressure. It was exciting to see so many people take charge of monitoring their own health, show interest in how to improve their health, and talk about how to cook and eat healthy food. I was reminded of important lessons of cultural sensitivity with food preferences (does anyone know a healthy plantain recipe? if so, please share!), of speaking slowly when there is a language barrier, and how much a smile and a handshake means when meeting someone new.

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In light of my recent thinking (see here and here) about the chronic conditions that plague so many Americans, it was exciting to see a community driven movement to promote healthy lifestyles. Community members are standing up for their right to affordable healthy foods through this market and a neighborhood corner store project, as well as their right to health through fitness programs for youth and a myriad of other programs. I was so happy to be a part of their celebration of health that morning, and am thankful for the reminder of why I am putting so many hours in hunched over my desk each day.

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I also bought some golden beets, which I am excited to experiment with later this week!

Question: Do you know of any health and fitness movements taking place in your community?

October 2, 2011 at 9:00 am 7 comments

Nerd Alert

I try not to be a complainer about school on my blog. I’ll drop the occasional hint that I am stressed or that school is difficult, but let’s be real here: I am in medical school and that is to be expected. The last few weeks of school have been legitimately hard for me because I wasn’t enjoying the material. Every second of studying felt like work and by the end of the module, I was left questioning if medicine was something I was truly passionate about. It is so nice to be reminded that the answer to that question is yes! We have moved from studying infectious diseases to the cardiovascular system, and I am really enjoying. There is still a lot of work, I am still stressed and school is still difficult, but I am enjoying learning again!

The best part of this block is the practicality of it (many of my future patients will have heart disease, but I am unlikely to see a rare fungal disease that I just spent hours memorizing!). I am interested in primary care and preventative medicine, and there is no better example of the importance of lifestyle interventions than in the cardiovascular system. First some sobering statistics, then some good news, and then I have a question at the end that I would love your feedback on!

Some sobering stats:

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    • The newest reports show that 68% of American adults and 20% of American children are overweight (BMI > 25). The super obese (BMI > 50) is the fastest growing segment of the population. By 2025, 50% of the US will be obese (BMI > 30). This is some scary stuff! While it is commonly assumed that obesity is an American epidemic, that is not all true either. It is more prevalent here, but upward trends are beginning in many other countries as well.
    • Obesity is the 2nd leading cause of cardiovascular related deaths, second to cigarette smoking. This kills more than 400,00 people per year!
    • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, and actually kills more women than men annually.
    • Cardiovascular disease and hypertension, when combined, cost more in health care dollars than cancer and trauma-related injury.
    • The estimated annual cost of cardiovascular disease, including productivity hours lost, is $287 billion dollars.

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I could continue. Each of our lectures begin with slides packed with graphs, charts, and statistics that make my mouth drop. We are a nation in a disease crisis, but it is insidious and difficult to confront. Unlike the flu pandemic or vaccination campaign to eradicate small pox, public health initiatives seem to be making little headway against disease. Something needs to change.
Time for some good news… it doesn’t take much! Too often, a healthy lifestyle is seen as an all or nothing approach. For some, jumping head first into a new lifestyle may be effective. But for many, it is overwhelming and prevents them from making any changes. Consider these facts:
  • The biggest gains in cardiovascular health come from just adding minimal physical activity. If the population is divided into five groups, 1 being sedentary and 5 being most active, a person reduces their risk of cardiovascular disease the most by moving from the first to second quintile. What does this mean? You don’t have to run a marathon to be healthy. You don’t even have to run! Just go for a walk at lunch time or before dinner a few times a week! Five 30-minute sessions of light aerobic activity is enough to cut your risk of heart disease in half. There are added gains of even more activity, but the biggest boost is the first step.

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  • One in seven new cases of type II diabetes can be prevented by a 7% weight loss and the addition of 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Lifestyle interventions have been proven more effective than medication therapy. 7% weight loss is pretty modest – 14lb for a 200lb person. A person can lose up to 20 lb in one year simply by cutting 125 calories (the equivalent of a can of soda or an extra slice of toast at breakfast). Again, not a major step for huge benefit.
  • Cardiovascular deaths can be cut in half by national and individual efforts to reduce major preventable  risk factors (smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc.) If you are a nerd like me, check out the Million Hearts Initiative.
Enough data spewing, I think the point is pretty clear. Obesity is a real problem, and it has real health consequences. While obesity-related cardiac death kills almost as many people as cigarettes do, health professionals are half as likely to counsel patients on lifestyle changes as they are on smoking cessation. I have talked to my parents, who both have long struggled with their weight, about why this might be true. I have some ideas, but first I would like to hear yours!
Question: Why do you think doctors are reluctant to talk to their patients about weight reduction and lifestyle changes? If a doctor were to address these issues with you, how would you want them to do it? Have you been counseled by a physician before on lifestyle interventions, and what made this a good or a bad experience?

September 23, 2011 at 1:33 pm 10 comments

Seasons of Change

Fall is in the air and the blog world is abuzz with pumpkin, squash and cinnamon. I am loving all of the new meal ideas, especially anything with pumpkin pie spices! Recently, my friend turned me on to spiced coffee. In your regular drip coffee maker, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon and nutmeg over the coffee grinds. Brew your coffee as normal and a hint of the spices will shine through. It tastes like fall in a cup! As good as gourmet pumpkin spice roasted coffee blends without the cost.

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More than just the season is changing around me. School is picking up intensity faster than I ever could have imagined. I am already two exams in with only harder modules in sight. I have a lot less time to cook, and also less of a need to cook since it is just me. (Marie and I are still working on that big batch of winter melon soup from last week!) I also have a lot less time for blogging, necessarily prioritizing school on certain days. I love cooking and writing and sharing and will still plan on doing so, but will have to pull back from daily posts. I do not want to promise a schedule either, since this blog is something I do to unwind and have a stress-free outlet. I hope you will continue to read and enjoy my adventures, even as I become a busier and busier student!

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Last change – I am giving up sugar! For three weeks at least… My hiking buddies and I are running the Boston Half Marathon over Columbus Day weekend, and we talked about nutrition and training during our hike. We are all dedicated to running and eat pretty healthy (whole grain, vegetarian, mostly unprocessed) diets, but want to be at our peak for the upcoming race. We committed to forgoing added sugars until the race (with one cheat day allowed for a pre-planned event). I am even planning to avoid natural sweeteners like honey and agave, hoping to better taste the sweetness of fruits for dessert. I started yesterday and was already craving a biscotti from Starbucks, so this will likely be harder than I expected.

Challenge: Want to join me, my roommate, and friend as we give up added sugar for the next three weeks? It is simple! Avoid most desserts, choosing fruit instead, and check your normal spreads and sauces for added sugars. It is always helpful to have accountability partners in lifestyle changes, whether near or far!

September 19, 2011 at 7:00 am 13 comments

How to Win the Weight Loss Battle

Before leaving for the wedding weekend on Thursday, I got to attend a lunch talk by Joan Salge Blake, a registered dietitian and professor at the Sargent School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences at BU. I have heard this same talk twice before, but she always has so many excellent points that I come away with at least one or two new ideas each time! Her talk was entitled, “How to Win the Weight Loss Battle” and focused on the obesity epidemic, potential reasons why weight is becoming such a problem, and strategies to help people make small changes. Here are some of my favorite tips from her lecture:

You have to move more! But don’t reward your hour-long walk with the dog or half hour at the gym with an extra serving of dessert! She has a client vignette that cracks me up every time: an older man had reached a plateau with his weight loss, so she recommended that he walk the dog for 45 minutes every night before dinner. He did, came back and only had lost 1 pound. Frustrated, he exclaimed, “I did exactly what you said, and only lost 1 pound. The dog, on the other hand, lost 11! What gives?!” She later got him to own up to his extra serving of dinner each night because he thought he burned it off walking. So be careful that you aren’t overcompensating for calories burned!

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Have family dinner! As a kid, we used to eat dinner together as a family at least 5-6 nights a week, but that is becoming a thing of the past in many households. Even with busy schedules, for both kids and adults, it is still important to slow down and share food together. This gives time to only eat as much as you are hungry for, and also increases the likelihood of it being healthier food.

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Find life outside of the kitchen pantry. This is the only point that I slightly disagreed with Joan about. I think more people need to find life inside the kitchen. Cooking can be fun and simple; it is not that hard to eat healthy, and even easy to make healthy food taste good! The problem is that so many people are kitchen-phobic. Cook dinner, sit down with friends and family around the dinner table as mentioned above, and enjoy real food. Find life outside the pantry, the snack closet, the cookie jar, or whatever other food force enslaves you, and replace the time spent mindlessly snacking in front of the TV with a new movement based hobby, but find life inside of the kitchen to find new favorite healthy dinners.

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Remove the myth around frozen veggies. Many people think that it is only good for you if it is fresh, but that isn’t always the case. Many vegetables are picked early and allowed to ripen so they are fresh in the grocery store. Frozen vegetables are picked at their peak and then flash frozen, making them just as good as fresh. Plus, they are often pre-chopped and really convenient for easy weekday meals. Watch out for mixes that contain any sort of dressing or added salt, and stay away from canned. But eating frozen veggies on weeknights for convenience is much better than eating frozen dinners or fast food!

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Eat pasta in a 1:1 ratio. Joan is a NJ Italian, so she understands the “mangia” mentality about some beloved Italian American foods. Even if you aren’t Italian, who doesn’t love pasta?! The only problem is that it can be calorie dense without nutrient dense. Instead of eating 2 cups of cooked pasta (400 calories), eat a cup of pasta with a cup of cooked vegetables mixed in (250 calories). Same amount of volume, equally satiating, and an easy way to cut 150 calories from your meal. Similar to this idea, take some of the meat and cheese of your sandwich and replace it with veggies, and load up your omelets with veggies. Your stomach’s hunger signals respond to volume faster than calories, so be sure to satiate yourself with low-calorie, high-nutrient foods like fruits and veggies! Joan’s famous catch phrase: “They fill you up before they fill you out.”

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Eat on smaller plates. Standard dinner plates used to be 8 inches. Now they are 12. Most of us are not gourmets and will not leave a large rim around the plate for decoration. Instead, we eat with our eyes and fill our plates. Then we clear them, remembering times at the dinner table when mom wouldn’t let us leave food behind. This can lead to up to a 500 calorie increase in dinner! If we use smaller plates, we eat less but feel equally as satisfied after clearing our plate. Even more, you should use the plate method, newly adopted to replace the outdated food pyramid. If you divided your plate down the center, half should be fruits and veggies. The other quarter should be lean protein, and the last quarter should be whole grains.

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You gotta eat! A hungry person is a cranky person, and cranky people are far less likely to make healthy decisions. You need to eat 3 meals a day, but they should be smaller. In between meals, snack on whole fruits and veggies or small servings of air-popped popcorn. Look for things that are full of fiber but low in calories for snacks. Don’t let your day be a triangle, with all of your calories consumed at night. Space your meals pretty evenly throughout the day, and have protein at every meal to help you stay full longer!

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Breakfast is always the hardest for me to incorporate protein into. It is pretty natural to add beans to my salad, have quinoa at dinner, and ensure that I get protein at other points of the day, but it is not always so easy first thing in the morning. Recently, I have been adding a tablespoonful of peanut butter to my oatmeal, and that really makes a difference in staying full until my lunch break. This breakfast burrito is another great way to stay full all morning. It kept me full for 5 hours while running around all morning setting up for my best friend’s rehearsal dinner (more on the wedding soon!) Eggs can get a bad rep with dieters because they are high in cholesterol. The bigger problem than eggs, however, is that with eggs usually comes gobs of cheese. To keep this breakfast full of flavor without all of the added cholesterol, I filled it up with veggies and spices! In this breakfast alone there is a full serving of veggies, whole grains and proteins, and you won’t miss the cheese at all.

Question: What is your favorite take-home point from Joan’s talk?

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High Protein Breakfast Burrito

serves 2

3 eggs

1 tbsp milk

3/4 cup black beans (half a can)

1/2 yellow squash

1/2 red pepper

2 whole wheat tortillas

2 tbsp salsa

1/4 tsp cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Dice the red pepper and yellow squash. Coat a frying pan with cooking spray and saute the vegetables over medium heat for about 4-5 minutes, until they are soft. Add the black beans and cumin. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Pour over the vegetables and scramble. When eggs are mostly cooked, add the salsa. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon half into each tortilla, roll, and serve warm.

September 5, 2011 at 7:50 am 5 comments


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