Spring Cleaning

Spring has certainly come early in New England! Lilacs are in bloom three to four weeks earlier than their usual Lilac Sunday and many other flowers have bloomed early as well. Instead of freaking out over what this means in the context of global warming, let’s take it as a sign to do some extra spring cleaning. What do I mean by extra? Let’s spring clean our bodies and diets as well as our houses and yards!

How can you spring clean your body and diet? It’s actually a two for one bargain. By cleaning up your diet, you will be helping out your body. I am definitely NOT talking about a cleanse here. There is never a need for a “detox cleanse” or any other variant on this theme. Our bodies are self cleaning with remarkable organs like the liver, kidneys and gastrointestinal system that do the job very well if we let them by easing up on the harmful substances that they work so hard to get rid of.

Help your liver by reducing the amount of alcohol, and over the counter medicines and supplements you ingest. I’m not saying you need to get rid of alcohol altogether if you drink in moderation, but you can certainly ease up a little occasionally and give your liver a break. You can also try to reduce the amount of over the counter substances you take. Take only those supplements you need that you cannot get from your diet and work to reduce the amount of pain relievers you need by trying some other methods of pain relief. Yoga, meditation, massage, stretching, staying hydrated and eating a diet with lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains can go a long way to helping you feel great.

How about the kidneys? Reduce the amount of sodium you consume by avoiding refined and processed foods. Also drink plenty of water to help the system run smoothly. Your Colon doesn’t need extra cleaning either, what it needs is plenty of fiber and water to help do its job. Just make sure that if you do not currently eat a high-fiber diet you increase the amount you consume slowly and add plenty of water so that you don’t get “backed up”. What else can you do for your colon? Feed it well with friendly bacteria from fermented foods and yogurt. This will help to improve digestion and immune function.

So the best approach to spring cleaning your body is: avoid over processed and refined foods, add lots of fresh vegetables and fruits (now coming into season!), beans, nuts, whole grains and lean proteins (including fish), and drink plenty of water.  Throw in some exercise and you have a winning combination!

Beets – the next ‘Superfood’?

I just spent the last three days at the SCAN Symposium. SCAN is a group of Dietitians that are experts in nutrition for athletic performance, fitness and weight management, cardiovascular health, wellness, and in the prevention and treatment disordered eating and eating disorders. I won’t bore you with the details of talks discussing lipid oxidation and what happens to mitochondria when subjected to 90% maximal output training, although it is fascinating (you can’t spell nerd without RD!) I thought I’d go ahead and scoop Dr Oz for once about something that I’m sure you will hear about in the future when it hits the media at some point. Beets!

My friend and fellow RD Marcia has already blogged about beetroot juice and after hearing more about it this weekend I thought I’d share it with you here as well. Nitrates get a bad rap when they are added to processed foods like bacon and hot dogs (and rightly so), but have been known for years to also work to lower blood pressure because they are vasodilators. Many people do not realize that some fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of nitrates and are confused to hear that they can be beneficial. There have now been a handful of studies done on beets and beet juice specifically, and the role that they may play in helping athletes to improve performance. If you regularly read this blog, I think you already know that I am not a fan of calling foods ‘superfoods’, so please don’t misunderstand my point of this post. There are other high nitrate foods that probably give the same benefits but they have not yet been studied specifically.

I want to stress that these studies are all very new, but the evidence is quite interesting so far. Athletes and untrained subjects showed less perceived exertion, less fatigue, more speed and greater endurance after consuming beets or beet juice than the group that had a placebo. Many studies still need to be done in order to figure out the best way to utilize this new information. Which athletes will most likely benefit? Is this something that works better only on game or race day than during training? Is this something that will help non-atletes to begin an exercise program because they will find it easier to work harder? These questions and many many more still need to be answered, but when it comes to a real food item like beets I say – go ahead and eat them!

I think beets are delicious simply peeled and roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper. If you are a little nervous cooking them for yourself the first time you can always buy them canned, pre-cooked, or try beet juice. I’m going to give beets a try before my next half marathon and I’ll let you know the results.

Do You Listen to Your Body?

When’s the last time you really listened to what your body had to say? On a daily basis our bodies can tell us a lot. When we wake up in the morning, our bodies might say “um, not enough sleep yet” or “thanks for going to bed early last night, I feel great”. At lunchtime they may say “oh boy am I hungry” or “eh not so much”. When it’s time for a run they might say “ouch, my hamstrings are tight” or “I can’t wait to get to mile 10!”

There are so many things our bodies tell us moment by moment throughout the day, how (and if) we respond can make all of the difference. I thought about this a lot last week because my body had been telling me to slow down. My first reaction was to be irritated; I wanted to keep on going, not be held back! As much as I resented it, I listened, took it down a notch, and didn’t run for four days in a row. By Sunday morning when I started my long run I told myself to take it easy, but my energy was back and it ended up being a great run. Looking back, I’m sure that if I hadn’t listened, that run would have been miserable!

When is the last time you really listened to something your body had to say? Do you eat by rote whether or not you’re hungry? When you are feeling a little tired, do you make sure to get to bed a little earlier for a few days in a row or do you ‘push through’? When you are feeling stressed, do you try to find ways to bring a little relaxation into your life or ignore it until your head feels like it will explode?

My challenge for you is to take a moment to listen to your body at least once each day. You can make that moment the first thing you do when you wake up or the last thing before sleep, it could be right before lunch or right after; just make it a regular habit. The more habitual this becomes, the easier it is. Listen, see what your body is telling you, and try to respond as kindly as you can.

Food Holidays

For those of you who celebrate Easter another food holiday is over and for those celebrating Passover you are still in the midst! So what do you do when there is a day you just can’t control? Maybe you are scheduled to go to several different places and expected to have a full meal, dessert and candy at each one. How can you approach a day like that and feel good at the end of it?

There are a few ways to approach this type of situation, some of which I wrote about in December. Step #1 – Try to keep up your normal eating habits and routines as much as possible. Step #2 – Keep portions of high calorie foods small. Step #3 – Pass on those things that are not really “worth it” to you. Step #4 – Spend time with family and friends doing special things together. If you do a little planning ahead of time, you will be prepared when temptation hits. What do you when things haven’t gone according to plan and you realize that you are overdoing it? OR when you realize on your way home that you have overdone it and you feel a little ill…. Don’t panic, follow these steps instead!

Step #1 – Don’t beat yourself up! We are all human and things happen. Put what you have already done in the past and move forward. A lot of us “fall off the wagon” from time to time but that doesn’t mean you should just give up. Say to yourself “Wow, today was crazy, but tomorrow will be back to normal!” One day isn’t going to be your downfall, it’s what you do on the other 364 days that really make a difference.

Step #2 – Move forward in a positive way. One day (or one meal or one hour) of irrational eating doesn’t have to undo all of your typical healthy eating behaviors! If you had a bunch of candy after breakfast, make sure you give yourself a healthy and satisfying lunch. If you had a big lunch at your mother’s and then a dessert buffet at your in-law’s like I did (I’m totally serious, just dessert and candy; lots of fun!). Just make sure your next meal is a good one.

Step #3 – Take some time to really evaluate what happened. How were you feeling when you overate? Were you feeling some anxiety or stress because of family dynamics? How did you feel afterwards? Evaluate your physical sensations (bloating, discomfort at being over-full, head-aches, and sluggishness) then compare those feelings to the way you feel when you are eating a more balanced diet. Being able to really assess what happened and why, as well as how it made you feel afterwards can be very helpful in making sure that history won’t repeat itself!

The spoils of Easter at my house