mindfulmeblog

The wellness journey of a middle-age woman


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Be mindful of what you put in your mouth

Here’s a challenge for you: eat while doing nothing else.

I took on this simple task during a few lunch breaks last week and discovered it’s deceptively tricky.

While trying to clear my mind of distracting thoughts and truly savour the textures and flavours of my chipotle chicken salad, I kept wondering what I was missing on my social media feed. Surely the latest antics of Donald Trump were more intriguing than my spinach.

Over a few awkward meals, I realized that I consume most of my food while multi-tasking. Or I am so immersed in conversation with my own mental to-do list, my kids, or a colleague, that I’m not really aware of what, or how much, I’m eating. 

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Bringing mindfulness to your meal times involves slowing down, being conscious of what you are consuming, and simply enjoying the experience of eating. If that is not incentive enough to put down your smart phone between bites, consider that mindful eating can help you make smarter food choices, eat less, and lose weight.

According to research in a Harvard health publication, it takes our brains about 20 minutes to realize we are full. So if we eat quickly and mindlessly, we miss this important cue. What’s more, distracted eating can hinder, even stop, our digestion.

Looking up the benefits of mindful eating online I was intrigued by one woman’s success story.  After years of trying, and failing, to lose weight, she signed up for a mindful eating study and says it helped her drop 30 pounds in three years. What is most impressive is that she kept up the mindful eating and, in turn, kept off the weight.

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Michael Mantzios, a mindfulness researcher at the University of Birmingham in England, developed another method of mindful eating that he talks about in a Time article. Mantzios created a food diary that study participants completed while eating. They wrote down things such as, the colours and textures of what was on their plates, and how the food smelled and tasted.

This approach sounds much more engaging to me because let’s face it, there is only so much internal reflection on spinach that one can do.

What are your tips for mindful eating and living?

 

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Seven for seven: get ready for your healthiest week ever!

Six Medications That Cause Weight Gain and How You Can Fight Back: In my first blog post, I talked about how my weight gain and unhealthy relationship with food coincided with taking a medication used to treat fibromyalgia. (My doctor confirmed the connection and says the drug isn’t prescribed as often anymore.) Anti-depressants are often cited as another weight-gain culprit. This article gives you insight into the side effects of six medications. Talk to your doctor if you are taking one of them and struggling to get to a healthy weight.

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Why Deep Breathing May Keep Us Calm: New York Times published this piece just last week. It looks at new science out of Standard University that explains the connection between breathing and inner bliss.

The lazy person’s guide to getting (a bit) fitter: This story had me at the headline–plus it’s from my favourite news source, The Guardian. 

Enough with the fear of fat: A TEDx Talk by Kelli Jean Drinkwater (an obese woman known for her radical body politics) that has garnered more than 1.4 million views on YouTube, and some rousing comments on reddit.com.

Stretch Your Way To A Good Night’s Sleep: A personal trainer who I worked with after having foot surgery a few years ago told me stretching is the key to keeping your body young and aging well. This article shows how you can also use stretching to get some great shut-eye, which is another pillar of wellness.

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Will Drinking Lemon Water Help Me Lose Weight?: A Time health reporter looks at the science and sensation behind squeezing citrus into your water. Is it is beneficial to your wellbeing, and can it help you lose weight?

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Six Tips That Will Help You Spot Fake Health News: A good reminder from womenshealth.com that the wellness world is not immune to fake news. We all consume information too quickly, and this simple primer will help you decide if a health story is fact or fiction.

Tell me: What wellness habit are you focusing on this week?


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The magic of mindfulness and meditation

The past week, my life felt like it was careening out of control. I’ll spare you the sordid details of my stress (no one likes a whiner) and share the one good thing that I discovered: I miss my short daily bursts of meditation.

Even five minutes before I begin the day and another five at bedtime give me a greater sense of control over life’s chaos. That, in turn, often helps me make wiser wellness choices, like eating healthily and making time for a walk.

Mindfulness and mediation are two of the biggest buzzwords in the health world today. You don’t need any tech toys or designer duds to engage in these trends. And experts say you’ll reap huge benefits that include less anxiety, sharper thinking, and even improved body satisfaction.

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Here’s my interview with Toronto counsellor/therapist Andrea Badgley on the magic of mindfulness and meditation.

Why are mindfulness and meditation such popular tools today for everything from managing our mental health to weight loss?

Our lives have become busy and stressful. We are chronically occupied with thoughts and allow little time to just sit and focus on one thing. If our thoughts focus on the past, we tend to be overtaken with sadness, regret, or depression. If our thoughts focus on future events, or worries of what may happen, we tend to become overwhelmed and sometimes overtaken with anxiety. If we are able to focus on the here and now, we allow a wee opening for calm. Time slows down and we become less preoccupied and more present to notice beauty in the moment.

What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?

Mindfulness is the everyday calm effort to be present and aware of the existing moment. Jon Kabat-Zinn (a famous teacher of mindfulness meditation) says, “mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally.”

In a mediation practice, we are concerned with what thoughts arise when we attempt to focus on our breath. We try to not pass judgement on our thoughts but be compassionate with ourselves.

How can someone get easily started?

Start small and engage in five- to 10-minute meditations where you sit comfortably. Take deep breaths and focus on your breathing; how it enters and feels through your nose, down your throat, into your lungs, and in your stomach. Repeat, and repeat, and repeat. If you have a thought, as we all do, acknowledge the thought, and come back and focus on your breathing. Everyone leaves the breath and moves into thinking, the trick is the ability to notice and bring yourself back to your breath.

One can practice mindfulness at any time; waiting for an elevator, doing laundry, chopping vegetables, washing dishes are all a great time to practice. Focus on the task, feel [what you are doing], be present in the task at hand.

What resources do you would recommend to people for getting started?

Tell me, how do you live mindfully or practice meditation?

P.S. I downloaded the free Insight Timer app this morning and used it for a 10-minute meditation. Use it to track your meditation practice over a period of time, listen to blissful sounds as you focus on your breath, and see how many other people are getting their Zen on around the world at the same time as you.


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Seven for seven: a whole new week of healthy living resources

I hope you enjoyed last week’s wellness articles and videos. Here are seven more links that will get you thinking and living healthily this first week in April.

How To Prepare For A Charity Walk: It’s that time of year when everyone is wearing a race bib and walking, running, or biking for a charity. I love the idea of pushing myself to be healthy and do good. This article is a primer on getting started on your altruistic wellness efforts.

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Why Meditation Is The New Caffeine: Meditation is one of the biggest buzz words in the wellness world today. In this video, modern meditation guru Emily Fletcher delivers a Google talk on popular types of meditation and the varying impact they have on our brain. Fletcher teaches a simple breathing technique and offers a guided visualization.

Weight-loss and fitness trends to expect in 2017: The fades for this year include the continued boom in wearable technology, as well as the mantras: “strong is the new sexy” and “exercise is medicine.” But this article focuses most of its attention on IIFYM or “If It Fits Your Macros.” The IIFYM approach—which is new to me and sounds rather evasive—consists of consuming foods that fit into your so-called macro allowance. For the uninitiated, a macro allowance is “the amount (in grams) of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins a person should consume in a day in order to reach their desired physique.”

What’s Intuitive Eating and Can It Help You Lose Weight?: Intuitive eating is a new way to lose weight that sounds a lot like a new moniker for mindful eating. The article outlines the four main rules of intuitive eating (no food is off limits; avoid emotional eating; trust your body’s cues; and eat foods that both taste good and make you feel good) and offers five tips for eating more intuitively.

Start cooking: This podcast is designed for people like me who are intimated by recipes, don’t want to spend hours in the kitchen but do want to eat healthily. The bi-weekly podcast offers simple, healthy recipes.

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Quiz: What loss do’s and don’ts: This online quiz from the folks at WebMD is packed with helpful tips, such how often you should weigh yourself.

Plus size? More Like My Size: Model and self-described “body activist” Ashley Graham talks about body image. This is a great video to watch with your daughter, or any young woman you know who is struggling with her weight or self image.

 

 


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Three ways I know I am winning at wellness

I step on the scale this morning and stare down at the flicker of digital figures flashing before my eyes. In my mind’s eye, my sterile bathroom is suddenly transformed into a cheesy lottery commercial. Cash and colourful streamers rain down. Three ripe cherries pop up on an imaginary slot machine, and there’s a cacophony of horns announcing my victory.

I am the lowest I have weighed in longer than I can remember.

By most people’s definition, I am not a weight-loss success. I have been losing about half to three-quarters a pound per week. And I am good with that because for so long I was heading in the opposite direction, drowning myself carb binges.

Over the past week, three things have shown me that I’ve made a wellness detour and am on the road to good health.

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I’ve gone green. Look at that picture above of the glorious salad I made. I used to loathe lettuce. Now, raw spinach leaves are my new BF. I experiment with different dressings and proteins, adding shrimp one day and shredding up chicken the next.

I know how to handle stress… without wine or injuring my children. Last Saturday I had too much on my plate… and it wasn’t spinach. I was cleaning the house for a family dinner party, cooking meals for the upcoming week, wondering what work I had left undone at the office, and trying to help my daughter with a major math assignment. I wanted nachos. Salty, crunchy chips were calling me from the top shelf of the kitchen cupboard. I knew there was only one thing to do: put on my running shoes and go for a brisk walk.

I came back home about 30 minutes later elated from the sheer satisfaction of managing my stress in a healthy way. I gave my daughter a hug and we got back to algebra.

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I know how to treat myself without treats. Last week I purchased both of the items in this photo: Girl Guide cookies from a co-worker and flowers from a corner grocer. The box of treats went to my teens. I can proudly say not a crumb of those scrumptious cookies made it onto my lips. The flowers were my reward for a week of living well: food journaling, walking 30-plus minutes a day, and watching my meal choices and portion sizes.

What wellness milestones are you most proud of making?


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Seven for seven: A week of wellness resources

This week I am sharing seven resources (articles and videos) that have helped enlighten me on my wellness journey.

1.       All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes: Skip the silent retreat and saffron robes and watch this TEDTalk. Mindfulness guru Andy Puddicombe will convince you of all the health benefits of doing absolutely nothing but focusing on the here and now for 10 minutes a day.

2.       Mindful Eating: A Harvard Health Letter on the benefits of slowing down and truly savouring a meal. This article explains the “mind-gut” connection and offers a quick-start guide of sorts on how to get started with mindful eating.

3.       Five Food Myths You Need to Stop Believing: I love this slide show because it answers common wellness queries and sets the record straight on salads, popcorn, pasta, eggs, and fresh vs. frozen fruits.

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4.       Your Brain Without Exercise: I found this 69-second video from the World Economic Forum on Facebook. Researcher shows when we stop exercising, even for just 10 days, it slows the blood flow to multiple areas of the brain.

5.       10 Ways Exercise Improves Your Mood: This is a quick, motivating read for those days when you may be struggling to get off the couch, away from your office, or are simply loathing the thought of putting on your walking shoes.

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6.       Walking Improves Creativity: A great read that reminds me why walking is the best exercise of all—it’s free, easy, and now researchers at Stanford University say people score higher on creative thinking tests after walking.

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7.       The Shame of Fat Shaming: This is a longer, reflective read from the venerable New York Times’s Sunday Review that reveals the vicious cycle of fat shaming, which can lead to binge eating and avoiding physical activity.

Now it’s your turn. Share a video, Pinterest item, or article that has educated or inspired you to be healthier.


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Re-committing to healthy living

I had a four-week check-in with registered dietitian Stefanie Senior a few days ago, and weighing in put me in an instant funk. I’ve only lost about four pounds.

I felt like chucking my plan and heading to the nearest fast-food joint for a super-size order of fries… and a chocolate milkshake. If I can’t see and feel real weight loss, what’s the point?!

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In an attempt to not let my “all or nothing” thinking consume me, Stefanie reminded me of what I have achieved:

  • I am losing weight and keeping it off—even if I want it to come much faster;
  • I have gone three and a half weeks with no eating in my bed (a shameful habit if there ever was one);
  • I have only had about three binges in four weeks; down from two a week;
  • I am more mindful about what I eat… most of the time;
  • I am pushing myself with my walking. Last weekend, for example, I did two five-kilometre brisk walks on a treadmill on top of my daily 30-minnute walks  as part of my work commute.

“The no. 1 reason that I see people fail is that they get frustrated and give up way too easily if they don’t see results they want on the scale,” Stefanie told me. “Be patient and keep plugging away.”

She also reminded me that I have been weight cycling for a few years and it has probably messed up my metabolism. Slow and steady weight loss is probably a good thing for me.

Sensing I wasn’t buying this “it doesn’t matter if weight loss is coming slower than molasses” spiel, Stefanie tried a new tactic. She asked me to pause, reflect, and write down the reasons that I want to continue tracking what I eat, eat healthily, and exercise that are not about weight loss.

In other words, what motivates me to do this even if I don’t see the success I want on the scale?  Here’s what I discovered as I pondered Stefanie’s mental exercise…

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My reasons to live healthily beyond weight loss:

  • Setting and achieving goals—such as sticking to a healthy eating plan and doing a pre-determined amount of walking a week—gives me a great sense of accomplishment. I love the discipline, and seeing what I can stick to;
  • I remembered kicking a one Diet Coke a day habit about 15 months ago. I didn’t lose weight but I am still super proud to have banished pop from my life;
  • I feel more empowered and have more confidence when I set health goals;
  • I sleep better, handle stress better, and have more energy when I exercise;
  • I enjoy doing something for me that isn’t about work, or being a caregiver to my kids and older parents;
  • I know I am taking care of me—improving my overall health—even if the weight loss is painfully slow

After staring at this list, I ate a healthy breakfast and then logged 40-minutes of brisk walking on the treadmill.

What motivates you to keep going?