Which “Diet” Is Right For You

There are various types of diets individuals swear by in the health and fitness industry. Each one claims to help people lose weight, maintain weight, experience satisfaction, and promote health. With all the diets out there it can become overwhelming and confusing to decide which is best to live by.

I want to be clear about something here. I am not a nutrionist, nor am I a dietician. I am an expert in behavior and health, however. This post is not to claim that one diet is better than the other or to report an opinion about each diet. The purpose of this post is to identify a few types of popular diets today and explore the eating behavior associated with each. This post is to help you decide which diet supports how you want to live your life.

Why is eating behavior important to explore?

What you eat will impact your entire being. Eating, it goes without saying, will influence your body composition. What you eat will impact your waist line, your weight, and how your clothes feel. Thats why those in the fitness world often exclaim, “You cannot out train a bad diet”. Food not only impacts your physical body but food also will impact how you behave and interact with others.

Clearly research indicates food can impact mood. Researchers have found the stomach contains a hormone called ghrelin, and ghrelin travels directly to the brain and triggers the feeling of hunger. Researchers at University of Texas found ghrelin was associated with decreased stress and anxiety. THIS hormone reacts in the brain similarly to an antidepressant. What this research suggests is that eating can cure depression.

Think about how you feel after eating a nice healthy salad. The answer to this question could vary. On one hand eating a healthy salad can make someone feel satisfied and healthy. On the the other hand a person may feel bored and neglected after eating a salad. Now think about how you feel after eating a piece of chocolate cake. Again the answer could vary. A person may feel satisfied and relieved to have a craving satisfied, or a person may feel guilty and shame. The feelings associated with eating are related to eating behaviors. People that restrict may feel bored with eating foods, and people that binge may feel guilty for enjoying foods. In this regard diets that require restriction and eliminating foods could be difficult for some people. Not only is restriction difficult for emotional health but food restriction can harm your relational health.

Consider how many events, gatherings, and meetings involve food. Culturally we relate with others, express love, build relationships, and discuss ideas with others over food. Food is comforting. Food is enjoyable. Food is relaxing; so it makes sense why so many social interactions involve eating. Your eating behavior can improve your relationships with others. Eating behavior can also harm relationships when a person feels their diet prevents them from attending social engagements. It is possible a diet can cause increased isolation and withdrawal.

I love eating out and trying different restaurants. It is one of my most favorite things. My husband and I re-connect each weekend over dinner at a restaurant and we fellowship with friends with dinner and drinks. While on prep for my last bikini fitness competition I was not able to eat out for part of my plan. This made meals out with friends and family awkward. Although I was OK with my decision others I joined at restaurants felt uncomfortable as I ate in tupperware. My dad said he felt guilty for eating a big meal in front of me while I ate out of my Tupperware. Our eating behavior is impacted by the eating behaviors of others! Ultimately I started to decline invitations to eat out and the invitations to eat and fellowship with others stopped. Because of my “diet” I missed time with friends and family.

Are you now convinced that food is more than just fuel for your body? Food and our behaviors associated with food influences how we function on a daily basis. It is easy to see why millions struggle with food, either eating too much, eating too little, or uncertainty about what to eat.

So with all the diets that claim to be effective how do you decide which is best for you and your lifestyle?

The Gluten-Free Diet may be necessary for people with specific diseases and food allergies, however many others report restricting gluten in the diet will help shed pounds. Gluten is found in foods with wheat, barley and rye (such as pasta and traditional baked goods). The key for gluten free diet is to eat foods marked as gluten free on the package and to eat whole foods like meat, fruits, and vegetables.
This diet is helpful to keep people from eating processed foods which can contain dangerous chemicals and contain increased amounts of sodium, sugar, and fats. In that regard a Gluten free diet is healthy.
The problem with Gluten free is that packages marked “Gluten free” are still processed and contain increased sugar and fat. These are needed to maintain flavor. Lastly refraining from eating certain foods that may contain gluten does not allow the body to receive necessary and vital nutrients.

A clean eating diet is similar to gluten free. However individuals that claim to eat clean do not eat ANY processed foods. Clean eating involves eating whole foods that have minimal ingredients added. The key with clean eating is to eat the food in the most natural state as possible.
Clearly eating involves eating whole foods like meat, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes. These foods are beneficial for the body and for life. These foods will provide the body with the nutrients necessary to function well.
The problem with clean eating is that many treats, cheats, and indulgences are eliminated. Oreos are not consumed on a clean eating diet.

The Paleo diet is all the rage. Paleo is very similar to clean eating. People on a Paleo diet live like the cavemen do. In other words they eat foods that are either hunted or gathered. Cavemen did not eat processed foods or foods that were cooked. This diet is good for health and the physical body because individuals eat increased lean meat, fruits, and vegetables, and processed foods like sugar, sodium, dairy, and other chemicals are eliminated. Any diet high in lean meats, fruits, and vegetables will benefit health. However this diet can be restrictive as dairy (ice cream, milk, cheese, etc) are eliminated. There are some that say eating increased amount of some meat (red meat) can lead to increased health problems (heart disease, cancer). This diet does not allow people to enjoy some foods for fear of eating food that is “bad”.

Many claim the trick to eat for weight loss is to eat less calories. The idea is to create a calorie deficit by burning more calories a day than one will consume. Honestly this will work, however, it is not necessarily safe and it is not recommended to maintain on this diet. Eventually the body will stop burning fat as calories are restricted. Restricting calories will keep the body from receiving essential nutrients and vitamins and eventually this can cause increased hunger, irritability, agitation, tiredness, and headaches. This diet does encourage an active lifestyle, which is always a benefit. However this diet should not be maintained for long periods of time and it does not teach people how to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Juicing is new trendy diet that many use to shed pounds and detox. Clearly veggies and fruit are good for the body. The body needs the nutrients and minerals in fruits and vegetables. However the body also needs nutrients and minerals in meat, grain, and fats! These foods are not found in juice. Although juicing will promote increased consumption of fruits and vegetables it severely eliminates foods the body needs to function properly. A juicing diet should not be maintaned for any period of time for risk of develop nutritional deficiencies.

Ever heard some say, IIFYM? IIFYM stands for If it Fits Your Macros. You may be asking, “what the heck is a macro?” A macro is a nutrient in food. The three primary macros are protein, carbs, and fat. Food also contains sodium, fiber, sugar, cholesterol, potassium, Vitamins A and C, calcium, and iron. This micronutrients are also an important component of nutrition and are needed for optimal health. IIFYM is often referred to as “flexible” dieting. This diet promotes eating any food you want. It teaches people to let go of the guilt of eating foods because “bad” foods and “good” foods do not exist with flexible dieting. In other words if you want to eat donuts for breakfast, it is OK as long as it fits your macros. Everyone has different macro demands based on body composition and goals. With IIFYM you eat what you want as long as you consume the right number of protein, carbs, and fat each day. This makes eating more fun and relaxed. However it is also obsessive. Flexible dieting requires daily tracking food. Every meal needs to be weighed to the gram or ounce, measured, and calculated. It is a great way to learn about foods and the different composition of food however IIFYM requires being attached and restricted to a food scale and a calculator. Your life can be consumed by numbers and a need to manipulate portions and foods to fit macros. Flexible dieting is not eating oreos, cake, and donuts all day every day. In order for IIFYM to work a person must eat clean, whole foods most of the day.

One of these diets or none of the diets may appeal to you. You may be currently living by one of the diets and can attest to the benefits and show off your progress. Here is the thing about diet. All diets are “bad”. I do not think we should live a life of “diets”. Rather we need to live a life! We need to live a life where we love, experience, enjoy, challenge, learn, and grow. Food should never consume our time, energy, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. The key is to find balance. You will be most benefitted if you eat mostly whole foods, not overindulge or binge, refrain from restricting, and be sure to eat protein, fruits, and vegetables throughout the day. Bottom line, what diet you choose should fit your lifestyle and your goals. It should be one that you can live by every single day for the rest of your life. Finding balance with eating means you eat for health most of the time but know that is OK, acceptable, and appropriate to enjoy foods occasionally. Eating is a behavior and your diet should support your behavior and your lifestyle, not your life and lifestyle support your diet.

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It’s A Lifestyle Change

“Progress not perfection”.  I have said that probably a thousand times.  “Fitness is a lifestyle change”.  I have also said that a thousand times.  Yet despite the frequency we are reminded of these encouraging statements, people continue to struggle with the process of living a healthy lifestyle.  I want to spend some time talking about living a healthy life and explain how distracted views, unrealistic goals, and difficult expectations make fitness for life challenging.

I want to start with my personal journey.  I was not athletic as a child.  I was not tough or strong.  I was sensitive, creative, whimsical, and fun.  I wanted to spend my time hanging out with friends and sought to discover life on my own terms.  At a young age I started to experiment with drugs and alcohol.  It is by the grace of God that I never physically harmed or arrested, although I did land myself into some legal troubles, during my escapades.  I witnessed numerous friends make life altering choices that left emotional, mental, and physical scars.  I saw myself go from a secure young lady to a confused and morally lacking young adult.  All I cared about was the next party or the next opportunity to hang out.  This lifestyle started to negatively impact my professional future.  I was at a University and I was broke, alone, miserable, and depressed.  One night my parents had an intervention with me and threatened to pull me out of Baylor University.  Mind you, going to Baylor had been my childhood dream.  They threatened to force me home, make me get a job, and start drug and alcohol rehab.  I had hit “rock bottom”.  I re-focused my priorities and my responsibilities, found a job, and I was able to find a balance to graduate successfully from Baylor University.

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Picture of me and a friend not long after graduation from Baylor – I am the brunette and at a heavier weight.

I was quickly accepted to graduate school in Chicago, Illinois.  Living in Chicago proved to be too much for this young, small town girl.  I quickly returned to the party lifestyle.  My days were spent in school and my nights consisted of drinking and dancing until it was time to go back to class. My diet consisted of “hangover food” from any grease filled fast-food chain or Chicago-style pizza.  Needless to say I was overweight.  Eventually I added an internship to this mix.  I worked with children that had witnessed domestic violence or abuse and helped mothers that had been violently abused by their partners navigate the court process and start the emotional healing process.  Most days I left my “job” in tears feeling hopeless and angry of the hate that existed in the world.  This only fueled my desire to drink more.  I  held it together long enough to graduate with a 4.0 and land my “dream job” immediately following graduation.  I worked with young women with eating disorders, trauma, and substance abuse issues.  Rather than carefully learn to cope with what I heard and saw I choose to cope by staying up until 5 and 6 in the morning drinking and eating poorly.  It all caught up to me one morning as I was driving to work on a busy Chicago interstate when I had to pull-over and vomit from being too drunk from the night before.  During supervision later that day, my director looked at me and asked, “Is anyone using drugs or alcohol to cope?”.  Although I knew she was talking to me I denied this to her, the group, and to myself.

I was a hot mess.  I was overweight, sick, and hated myself.  It was time for a change.  During this time my sister was planning a wedding.  I purchased my bridesmaid dress and gained so much weight that when I needed to have it altered the seamstress said to me, “why do you buy a dress and gain so much weight”? I was at least 4-6 dress sizes bigger!  My wake up call came when I moved for a job to a small East Texas town.  My friend and I decided that in order to save money we would stop eating out and drinking for 60 days.  I bought food to eat at home and since my social life was lacking I bought 2 $10 dance workout DVDs.  This was late 2006 that I started to eat healthy and workout.  I started using the DVDs in my living room 3 days a week.  I started feeling better.  I started spending time working on my spiritual life grew spirituality and emotionally.  I had improved self-esteem, confidence, and fulfilled relationships.  I was truly happy.

I am not sure what I weighed when I started my journey in 2006.  I do know at one point I weighed as much as 160 pounds and I was wearing between a size 12 and size 14.  However as I improved my life my physical body started to shed weight.  My clothes got bigger.  They were so big they were uncomfortable to wear.  I had to buy a whole new wardrobe.  I became stronger and started working out in my apartment complex fitness center.  It felt so good to be in charge of my life that I was working out 5 days a week.  As I continued to work on myself I obtained a job promotion and once again moved.  This time I moved to a suburb of Houston.  I was thin, happy, and confident.  I started to workout more.  I was the girl in the gym 3 hours a day 7 days a week.  I read books and journals on food and found that I was eating less and less.  After reading Skinny Bitch, which I advise anyone interested in the quality of our food to read, I threw away all the food in my house and vowed to be vegan.  I lost even more weight.  People commented on my body and my physique and how they wanted my abs, my arms, and sought to weigh as much as I did.

Sadly I, too, was obsessed with the number on the scale.  I thought that if I weighed a certain number I would have achieved the ultimate goal.  As I lost more weight I became sicker both emotionally and physically.  I lost my period for several months.  I would weigh myself 3 times a day and if the number went up, I would lock myself in my house, cry, and tell myself I was fat.  One night I had plans to hang out with friends.  These were great plans too, it was going to be a fun night.  However, I weighed before I left for the night and I had gained.  I drove around for 2 hours crying and squeezing all the “fat” on my body.  I drove home and knew I had a problem.

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A picture of me at my thinnest – I was unhealthy and obsessed with the number on the scale.

I had to find “balance”.  That was the word my psychologist said to me and it made total sense.  I had spent my life letting something consume my thoughts, behaviors, and my emotions.  She explained I could have health, fitness, friends, professional success, and love all at the same time.  When I stopped worrying about achieving a particular goal and enjoyed the daily process I was able to find balance.  This was 2009.  Since that time I enjoy the daily process.  I enjoy the work that needs to be done today because in 6 weeks, 6 months, 1 year, 6 years, I will be a different, better, and more fabulous place.

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How I started to look as I found a balance – I was fit, active, healthy, successful, and happy.

So many people ask me, “what do I do to lose weight?”, “what do I do to have toned arms?”, or “what do I do to have a better booty?”  Here is the answer – WORK – every single day!  The fitness instructor you see or the toned and strong person you see in the gym did not wake up looking that way.  They have been working toward their physique everyday.  Most often for YEARS!  They embrace the daily grind and know the decisions made today will lead to results tomorrow.

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Progress picture – from early in my prep

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Progress this week – 8 total weeks!

I know so many people that spend hours in the gym, and they are in every group fitness class.  As a group fitness instructor I love people like you in my classes.  You make my classes fun and challenging.  However if you want to see progress the key is not to spend hours in group fitness classes.  (Please keep coming to class, but understand I did not achieve my physique by attending group fitness classes).  However I want to keep you from hitting rock bottom and having to experience the emotional and psychological pain I felt.  I want you to know that you can achieve a healthy lifestyle.

The key to living a healthy lifestyle is to eat with balance, workout with balance, and live life with balance.  You must eat healthy.  Your diet must be consistent from day to day.  A healthy lifestyle is actively making a decision to chose to eat fruit instead of cake at the company party and not feeling deprived.  A healthy lifestyle means eating a meal at home rather than the drive thru.  A healthy lifestyle means drinking water instead of soda, EVERY SINGLE DAY!  However living this lifestyle means that you can afford to eat cake or you can afford a nice dinner at restaurant and do it guilt free and without sabotaging your hard work.

Living a healthy lifestyle is knowing that physical fitness and exercise is necessary for mental, physical, and emotional health.  It is a decision to workout daily.  It is knowing that a balanced workout regime should include some cardio and strength training.  Your cycle instructor with the toned arms did not get toned arms from riding a stationary bicycle.  No, the lean arms comes from lifting weights.  My physique did not come from teaching cycle or RIPPED, no it came from lifting heavy and hard before and sometimes after class.

A healthy lifestyle means it is OK to say “no”.  There are times when your family will need your attention, your support, and your love.  Family is always more important than a workout.  You can plan accordingly and get your workouts in prior to the commitment and enjoy a family day and a rest day at the same time.  Rest is necessary to build muscle and burn fat.  You body will not improve if it is constantly under stress from working out.

Going to the gym consistently 3-4 days a week, or more, for 6 months may not yield the results you want.  If you started working out in January and still have weight to lose and muscles to tone than keep going.  If every time you work out you expect to reach your goal, you will never be satisfied.  A healthy lifestyle means doing the work because you know that each day you get a little better.  Give up on achieving your goal and start living life.  Start living a life where you choose health, you chose happiness, you choose love, and you choose wellness.  One day you will look back and see how far you have come!

Are you Fully Well? 31 Steps to Find Happiness in Life

We all want to be happier, healthier, fitter, richer, and more successful.  As humans, we fundamentally have this right.  Although we have this right, I question if many of us are truly well.  Wellness is having  happiness, physical, emotional, and spiritual health, success, loving and supportive relationships, and ultimately satisfaction in life.  Millions of Americans are constantly pursuing this yet so many struggle to find it.

All seek wellness but many struggle to achieve it.  There are many reasons people struggle to find life satisfaction.  A major reason people struggle to obtain wellness is because limit their focus on improving only one area of life.  Wellness includes many different facets of being human.  Wellness is what makes a person whole and wellness involves all human thoughts, actions, beliefs, experiences, hopes, and expectations.  Rather than working to improve the whole person many people become fixated on fixing one area of life.  The expectation is that improving in one area of life will bring ultimate wellness.  A common belief is that to become more fit and lose weight means more success in relationships, health, emotions, thinking, and behavior.   It is true that making positive changes will increase confidence, health, thinking, behavior, and interactions with others.  However people are more than physically fit creatures.  Achieving physical fitness will not improve relationships, job happiness, emotional health, or spiritual health unless individuals work on these areas daily as well.  The “psyche” (who you are) strives for balance in all areas of life.  When one area starts to decline, other areas will all decline.  Whereas when areas of a person start to improve, other areas also need to improve to achieve wellness.

Lisa Rankin, MD describes the concept of wellness and explains that in order to find wellness a person needs to achieve satisfaction and happiness in different areas of life.  Lisa describes the areas of wellness as, physical health, mental health, finances, environment, creativity, sexuality, spirituality, work and purpose in life, and loving and supportive relationships. (You can read more about Dr. Rankin and her wellness model by clicking the link associated with her name above).

Finding happiness in these areas brings happiness with self and with life.  Part of achieving wellness is honoring your own beliefs, morals, values, expectations, hopes, and dreams.  The heart of wellness is connecting to “who you really are”.  I know this is a concept that millions struggle with.  Age does not mean a person has achieved wellness and many will waste a lifetime questioning who they are and their purpose in life.  However working to find balance in all areas of life can help people figure this out.  A person can achieve wellness in life by daily practicing behavior that will strengthen and improve these areas.

1.  Seek pleasure!  Find something that makes you happy and do it every day.  If you enjoy chocolate have one piece of dark chocolate a day.  You do not have to limit yourself or deny yourself things that you like or enjoy.  That is the opposite of wellness.  Do not over indulge either.  You are allowed to enjoy while you work to achieve wellness.

2.  Volunteer and help others.  We live on a planet with billions of others and all of us are connected.  We can make the world a better place when we decide to help others.

3.  Remember and recall your blessings daily!

4.  Hug the ones you love as much as you can.  A hug makes them feel better and will make you feel better as well.

5.  Be physically active every day.  Take a walk.   Walk the dog.  Play tennis or basketball with your kids.

6.  Eat more fruits and vegetables.  Try to eat a cup of fruit or vegetables at every meal.

7.  Do not be afraid to seek medical care.

8.  Journal for 20-30 minutes a day.  Find a pen, paper, and a quiet spot and simply write your thoughts and feelings in that moment.  Journal pleasant and unpleasant thoughts and feelings.  Journaling these things can help you release emotions, connect your mind to your body, and help control thinking and feelings.

9.  Do not hold onto emotions.  Many people are fearful of expressing feelings like sadness and anger for fear of consequences.  Feelings are never a bad thing, rather the reaction to the emotion may hold devastating consequences.  Find ways to express emotions in healthy and socially acceptable ways.

10.  Engage in positive thinking daily.  Negative thinking causes negative emotions.  Simply switching thinking will improve your mood.  Read affirmations, count your blessings, think of happier times, and engage in behaviors that make you smile.  These things will improve your thinking and your mood.

11.  Make a monthly budget.  Determine when bills are due and establish a budget based on spending patterns last month.  Keep this budget with you when you go shopping or leave the house.  Spend only money allowed according to the budget that has been established.

12.  Be in control of your money.  Tell your money where to go.  Your money does not control you.  You are the boss of your money and you can use your new budget to determine how and when money is spent.

13.  Limit spending.  We live in a society where we believe we need certain items to make us happy, successful, and satisfied.  Sadly these things do not love us back and continue to leave us lacking.  There are few things that we as humans really need (food, shelter, water, and connection with others).  All other things can wait until you have saved enough to purchase it.

14.  Where you live, work, and play determines how you feel.  Make your home comfortable.  Clean out and organized drawers and throw away any unnecessary items.

15. Rearrange items or furniture to give your office or home a new fresh look.

16. Take a walk in a park or sit outside in a place full of nature.  Spend time enjoying the ambiance of the outdoors and the creatures that live there.

17.  You do not have to be an artist to be creative.  Try reading a book or listening to music.  Let this inspire your mind.

18.  Journaling can also spark ideas and solutions.

19.  Take a class to learn more about a creative outlet.  Try a cooking class, a pottery class, painting lessons, or a dance class.

20.  Be proud of who you are!  You are you.  You are unique.  This is what makes you and the world special.

21.  Find confidence in your body by highlighting areas of your body that make you proud.

22.  Respect your body.  It is your body and it is only one you will have.  Express yourself and avoid limits but practice self-control and know your boundaries.

23.  Meditate/pray daily.

24.  Connect with your Higher Power.  You do not need to be a Christian to have spiritual practices and beliefs.  Know there is a source greater than you that is in control.  Letting go of control to a Higher Power gives freedom.

25.  Let go and forgive others.

26.  What did you want to be when you grew up? Ask yourself this question to help discover your passion and purpose in life.

27.  Make an effort daily to work toward or learn what you need to do what you want to do. Make a To-Do list of things needed to prepare you or start living your dreams.

28.  Find what you love and discover your passion by talking and serving others.  Volunteering not only serves others but will serve you to discover your purpose in life.

29.  Make time weekly to spend undistracted time with loved ones.  Turn off cell phones, TV, cancel all other responsibilities, and make a day where you can focus on the ones you love.

30.  Listen to your loved ones.  Hear what they are telling you and acknowledge how they feel.  This does not mean you have to agree, it only means you hear what they are telling you.

31.  Do not assume your loved ones can read your mind.  They cannot!  It is up to you to tell them what you need and what you expect from them.

This list is not exhaustive.  There are hundreds of ways to find wellness.  Wellness is unique to each person. The key is to seek fulfillment in all areas of life.  It is great to focus on your physical fitness, but are you neglecting those you love as a result?  It is great to have lots of friends, be kind to others, and serve others but you may neglect your self by not maintaining boundaries or allowing yourself to do things you truly enjoy.  Wellness is worth pursuing.  You deserve health and happiness in all areas of your life.

 

Eat for Health – the Weight Loss and New Body Will Just Be An Added Benefit

There is so much emphasis on fad diets nowadays and people are frequently talking about the newest workout trend.  These things can be exciting and are fun to try.  The trick for maintaining wellness and health, for life, is to find what works best for you.  This requires patience because it takes time to have your body adjust to a new diet and workout routine and then it takes time for your body to show the progress of these changes.  I encourage you to try different things.  Try different workouts.  Try different ways of being physically active.  Try different diets.  This will help you find what is best for you.

However, as far as diet is concerned, adjusting your meal plan too much can cause serious health problems.  You see what you eat impacts your body, every single square inch of your body, all the way down to your cells.  Let’s discuss a little biology 101.  (Don’t worry I am not a biologist, so I will keep this simple).  As a living organism we are made up of cells.  These tiny little life sources contain many parts, including DNA.  DNA, without getting too complicated, is the roadmap that provides the directions to live, to be you, and to be human.  DNA, although tiny, is what contains your uniqueness, your ability to breathe, your ability to think, and your ability to live your life.  DNA is always replicating and reproducing in our cells to make more cells.  As long as we keep making cells then we can continue to live a healthy life.   What you eat will contain chemicals, nutrients, and products that will be metabolized down to your DNA.  Your DNA needs food and will use these chemicals, nutrients, and products (healthy or not) to continue replicating and reproducing.  It has been said before, you are what you eat!

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Some foods contain nutrients and products to help DNA continue to grow in healthy manner.  However there are also foods that can destroy and damage DNA.  Literally there are foods that will change your DNA, and this will increase risk for heart disease, cancer, blood disorders, and speed up the aging process.   Cells will be damaged, although cell death and cell damage is a natural process, you do not want to speed up this process.  What causes danger is when cells become mutated and rather than die they work to replicate the mutated cells.  This may be a slow process in the body, however, in the form of some illnesses and disease the health implications become more evident.

What you eat can slow down the aging process.  Food can actually heal the body from illness.  What you eat may not cure your illness, but it could improve your health.  What you eat can reduce the risk of disease and illness in the future.  Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring nor does it have to taste bad.  Eating healthy is as simple as adding some foods and spices to your diet.  Consider adding these things to your diet to help fight aging and improve your health.

  • Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that can slow down cells destruction. They are also associated with reduced heart disease, cancer risk, and disease.  Strive for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.  Try adding 1/2 of blueberries to cereal or oatmeal for breakfast, a banana mid morning will keep energy levels up, add a cup of broccoli to your lunch, an apple mid afternoon will help avoid that 3:00pm crash, and eat asparagus with your dinner.  Sadly french fries are the most consumed “vegetable” by American children.  Not knocking potatoes or French fries, but other fruits and vegetables offer better health benefits.
  • Fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that only they can provide.  They provide the type of nutrition that cannot be obtained from a supplement or vitamin.  Try eating orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potato, cantaloupe, and apricots) to improve the health of your eyes.  That is not just a myth, carrots contain nutrients that contain the same properties needed for your eyes! Eating green and yellow fruits and vegetables like melon, avocado, kiwi, green beans, and spinach are associated with decreased cancer risks.  Onions, mushrooms, potatoes and turnips lowers bad cholesterol.  Blueberries, blackberries, and eggplant improve memory and reduce the effects of cell aging.  Peppers and apples reduce risk of cancer and improve heart health.  Eat a rainbow for wellness and health!
  • Rather than cooking with butter try adding olive oil.  Do not be dismayed that oil is a fat.  We need fat in our diet.  Cooking with oil will help protect cells from damage, and oil is associated with decreased heart disease risk.
  • Nuts and flaxseed are another great fat source with added health benefits.  Walnuts, soy, flaxseeds, and beans contain nutrients to lower heart disease risks.

Perhaps eating vegetables, nuts, and beans is not your favorite thing – never fear there are things you can do to spice up your food that will help decrease adverse health complications.

  • Not only will many herbs and spices add a nice flavor to your foods but they offer health benefits as well.
  • For example garlic has chemical properties associated with decreased cancer risk.  Evidence suggested that properties of garlic fought against tumor growth and lowered risk of heart disease.  Garlic is easy to add to most foods.  Simply buy a bulb, crush, and add to meats or vegetables for a flavorful and healthy dish.
  • If garlic is too overwhelming add onion, chives, or leeks to meats and vegetables.  Research has demonstrated these additions can reduce risk of heart disease.
  • Another simple spice to add to your diet to improve the health benefits of your food is cinnamon.  Cinnamon can be added daily and adding cinnamon has been associated with decreased inflammation and decreased blood clotting.  In other words cinnamon will improve your immune system and can help keep the heart healthy by keeping blood clots from developing.  Another perk of cinnamon is that it helps with metabolism and research demonstrated it helped the body process carbohydrates.  This is important for the risk and management of diabetes because it will help blood sugar levels remain stable.  Cinnamon can be added to toast, cereal, oatmeal, coffee, and tea.  All that is needed for health benefits is 1/2 tsp.
  • Rosemary is an easily found herb that can be quickly added to foods.  Rosemary will improve food flavor and is associated with decreased cancer risk.  Try seasoning meats with rosemary.

Do not fall for the belief that dairy is bad.  Dairy is a fat, but again, fat is needed in the diet.  Here are some dairy options to consider adding to your diet for improved health.

  • Yogurt contains probiotics and probiotics (a bacteria needed for digestion) helps keep the colon and digestive system healthy and working properly.  Many yogurts contain high sugar amounts in order to improve taste.  However it is easy to keep a healthier version and still the enjoy the taste.  Add peanut butter – peanut butter makes everything better.  Or add microwaved frozen cherries, strawberries, or blueberries to a plain non-fat yogurt.  Adding granola or nuts will give the yogurt a nice taste and a crunch.
  • Drink milk because it contains calcium to keep bones strong.

And if you are still not sure you will enjoy the healthier food options discussed, try eating chocolate.

  • Chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, is associated with decreased risk of heart disease.  Chocolate contains chemicals and nutrients that helps arteries to improve blood flow and heart strength.
  • Chocolate, however, should be eaten with caution.  This does not give you permission to binge on chocolate.  Eating chocolate in moderation provides a health benefit.  It is easy to binge on chocolate due the association of chocolate and the pleasure receptors in the brain.  In order to avoid overeating chocolate use mindfulness while eating.  Have a seat in a relaxed area with limited distractions.    Enjoy the taste of the chocolate as you eat it.  Remaining mindful while eating chocolate will decrease the likelihood of overindulging in chocolate.  Calories may need to be replaced elsewhere when chocolate is consumed and strive to eat 3-4 oz of chocolate a week.

Carbohydrates are not bad either.  Carbohydrates are necessary for metabolizing food and for maintaining and growing muscles.  Carbohydrates are helpful for health in the following forms:

  • Carbohydrates contain fiber.  Look for foods that contain about 2.5 to 4.9 grams of fiber.  Fiber helps reduce risk of heart disease, reduces inflammation, and helps with digestion.
  • The problem with fiber and carbohydrates is that Americans may be consuming types that are more difficult for the body to process and metabolize and increase blood sugar levels rather than stabilize.
  • Oats and beans are high in fiber, have improved health benefits, and will also help you feel fuller longer.
  • Quinoa is a grain not only high in fiber but tons of healthy nutrients.  Quinoa is easy to eat instead of rice.
  • Eat whole grains to reduce the risk of heart disease.  There are many foods that claim to contain whole grain.  However Americans are still not consuming enough.  Look for food products that list “whole wheat flour”, “whole oats”, or “whole grain corn” first.  Wheat bread or brown bread may not contain sufficient whole grains so choose breads carefully by reading the ingredients.

You do not have to eat chicken and broccoli at every meal to find health and weight loss.  Health and weight loss can happen by simply adding fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, fats, and whole grains to your daily meals.  To be healthy does not mean you need to cut out foods you enjoy, to be healthy means to eat various foods, eat more colorful foods, and eat all foods in moderation.

Your Food Can Impact Your Mood

Millions of people experience periods of depression.  Millions also have a chemical imbalance, due to mental illness, that creates difficulty regulating moods.  Although research clearly supports the effectiveness of medications to treat depression and other mood disorders many individuals choose to refrain from pharmaceutical treatment due to side-effects and costs of psychotropic medications.

There is new research to suggest that quality of food is related to mood.  Researchers are looking at how particular foods will either improve mood or contribute to depression, anxiety, stress, anger, and psychosis.  For example a study looked at mood and food consumption and found that women with high fat diets had increased levels of depression and women with increased starch in their daily diets had increased anger (Pepino, Finkbeiner, & Mennella, 2009).  Diet and mood are closely related due to evidence that suggests that diet, regardless of healthy or less healthy, changes the brain.

The food consumed contains chemicals, vitamins, substances, and nutrients the body needs to function.  The importance of food on brain functioning became more clear as researchers found a connection between the “gut” and the brain.  The gut/brain connection is important to understand how food impacts mood.  Specifically the stomach, intestines, and the brain share the same tissue and nerves, and the nerves in the gut transmits chemicals directly to the brain (Mayer, 2011).  If chemicals in the gut, where food begins the metabolic process, are stable then chemicals in the brain will remain stable.  However as the chemicals in the gut become unregulated due to food consumption and metabolism then the chemicals in the brain will also become unrelated.  For example once food in consumed the body starts to metabolize food in the cells and this signals a growth hormone in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) (Gomez-Pinnilla, & Nguyen, 2012).  This chemical is responsible for growing new brain neurons and helps keep the brain healthy and functioning well.  BDNF is needed for memory, energy, and learning (Gomez-Pinnilla, & Nguyen, 2012).  BDNF levels are also related to mood and researchers found that decreased BDNF was associated with a depressed mood.  Due to this connection of brain chemicals in the gut researchers looked at how foods impacted the regulation of brain chemicals.  Specifically researchers found that increased sugar intake was related to suppressed BDNF levels (Sharma & Fulton, 2013).  Clearly the type of foods consumed, the amount of food consumed, and the quality of food consumed is important not only for physical health but for mental and emotional health.

Sugar is not the only food that is associated with dysregulated moods. Specifically diets high in fat are related to decreased hippocampus functioning and this will decrease how the brain works, thinks, and responds.  Individuals with difficulty thinking, focusing, and recalling memories may have diets higher in fat.  Additionally research indicated that diets high in calories were related to increases in a chemical, reactive oxygen species (ROS).  ROS is a harmful chemical that destroys cells and increased ROS is related to increased psychiatric disease (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012; Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).  However the foods consumed can reverse this damage as well as improve brain functioning.  Specifically foods that contain antioxidants will protect the brain from ROS (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).

It is easy to read this information and think that elimination of certain foods will help improve brain functioning and mood.  Eliminating foods can only further cause brain deterioration and mood problems.  For example there is often fear that consuming carbs will increase weight gain.  Carbs contain sugar and therefore many eliminate carbs from the diet due to fear of weight gain, and now in an attempt to improve mood.  Although increased sugar intake will increase inflammation, decrease immunity, and decrease the brains ability to process insulin and leptin (chemicals needed for energy), carbs are necessary for the brain to function properly (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).  Specifically carbs contain tryptophan, an amino acid, and increased tryptophan is associated with increased serotonin.  Increased serotonin levels will improve depression.  The message communicated by this research is that the quality of food consumed will impact mood.

The following is a list of foods that are associated with improving mood.

  1. Carbs like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain tryptophan that will improve mood by increasing serotonin levels (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).
  2. Omega-3 fatty acids are foods like fish, flaxseed and walnuts. Omega-3 is associated with decreased depression.  Adding omega-3 is important to mental health.  Research suggested that decreased levels of omega-3 was associated with decreased brain size and increased suicidal ideation (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012; Lin, Mischoulon, Freeman, Matsuoka, Hibbein, Belmaker, & Su, 2012).  If fish is not regularly consumed an individual could benefit from adding an omega-3 daily supplement.
  3. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants to protect against ROS as well as contain chemicals, called polyphenols, that promote brain growth and health (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).  Fruits like plums, apples, and cherries also contain chlorogenic acid, which is associated with decreased anxiety (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).  Blueberries and blackberries are high in antioxidants and are associated with improved dopamine levels.  Dopamine is associated with improved coordination, memory, thinking, and mood (Davidson & Kaplan, 2012).
  4. Green tea contains epigallocat echin gallate, EGCG, which is responsible for improving cognitive functioning, improved focus, improved concentration, improved thinking, and improved mood (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
  5. Turmeric, a common spice that contains curcumin, has many health benefits, including improved mood.  Specifically curcumin increased serotonin and dopamine in the brain and this was associated with decreased depression and decreased stress (Gomez-Pinilla & Nguyen, 2012).
  6. Foods like turkey and chicken  contain protein sources that are important to control mood due to the ability to regulate blood sugar levels.  Increased blood sugar is related to irritability, depression, and anger (Sharma & Fulton, 2013).  Therefore lean proteins will promote weight loss and regulate blood sugars to control mood.

A diet high in fat, high in sugar, high in processed foods, and high in carbs may contribute to difficulty regulating mood.  Eating well one meal may cause a temporary change in mood, thinking, and energy, however, in order to maintain a positive mood it is recommended that healthy and whole foods be consumed daily with every meal.

For more information please see the following article: http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2014/01/02/food-affects-mood.aspx

References:

Davidson, K., & Kaplan, B. (2012).  Food intake and blood cholesterol levels of community-based adults with mood disorders.  BMC Psychiatry, 12, ArtID10.

Gomez-Pinilla, F., & Nguyen, T. (2012).  Natural mood foods: The actions of polyphenols against psychiatric and cognitive disorders. Nutritional Neuroscience, 15(3), 127-133.

Lin, P.Y., Mischoulong, D., Freeman, M.P., Matsuoka, Y., Hibbein, J., Belmaker, R.H., & Su, K.P. (2012). Are omega-3 fatty acids antidepressants or just mood-improving agents? The effect depends upon diagnosis, supplement preparation, and severity of depression.  Molecular Psychiatry, 17(12), 1161-1163.

Mayer, E. (2011).  Gut feelings: The emerging biology of gut-brain communication.  Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 12(8), 453-466.

Pepino, M., Finkbeiner, S., & Mennella, J. (2009).  Similarities in food cravings and mood states between obese women and women who smoke tobacco.  Obesity, 17(6), 1158-1163.

Sharma, S. & Fulton, S. (2013).  Diet-induced obesity promotes depressive-like behavior that is associated with neural adaptations in brain reward circuitry.  International Journal of Obesity, 37(3), 382-389.

Avoid the Weekend Binge: Control Your Mind Control Your Eating

It’s Friday, and if you are like most people you are looking forward to the weekend. Weekends are less structured with more free time and generally time to have fun and relax. We need this time to decompress and settle down. The lack of structure is great and necessary. However the lack of structure can be detrimental to health and weight loss goals. 

Specifically people find they binge or have increased “cheating” over the weekend. It is easy during the week to stay on track and maintain a fit and healthy routine. Know that a lot of people struggle to maintain a routine over the weekend and a lot of people “fall off the bandwagon”. That is why diets start on Mondays and a Monday in the gym is one of the busiest days of the week. People are in the gym trying to undo the damage they made with their eating over the weekend. Unfortunately it is not that easy; your body has already metabolized the food and it is impossible to out-train a bad diet. The act of binging over the weekend may be why people abandon their weight loss and health goals. They see a cheat meal, or two, or three, as failure. They let this failure cause them to lose hope. They probably think things like, “I can’t do this”, “I am not motivated enough”, or “it is too hard” to continue to maintain a fit life. If those are the thoughts then those things will be true. I have written a lot about this in previous blogs, so feel free to read those. Bottom line is, you ARE, what you think you ARE. 

The struggle is not necessarily due to being weak, lacking motivation and willpower, or having too strong cravings. The struggle is related to what you think!  How you encounter meals and the thoughts associated with eating any meal will determine whether you are successful or unsuccessful at maintning your healthy eating and fit lifestyle. 

What you think is vital to your eating behaviors and whether or not you will maintain your weight loss and health goals. Researchers found that people on diets failed because certain foods triggered enjoyable and pleasurablemthoughts about the food (Papies, 2008). People that struggled with self-regulation were less successful at avoiding the temptation, whereas people that were able to evulate their thoughts were more successful. 

Staying with your plan requires self-regulation. Self-regulation is understanding your thoughts and how your thoughts cause you to feel and behave. Let’s say I show you an image of chocolate. Looks good right?!? The majority of people would see that image and agree chocolate is good and would agree they would enjoy a piece of chocolate. The people that say “no”  and refuse the chocolate (despite agreeing the chocolate looks good) are able to see the temptation but are also able to remain focused on thier goal. Individuals with temptation-goal self-regulation thinking are able to avoid temptation and remain successful toward their weight loss goals (Kroese, Adriaanse, Evers, & De Ridder, 2011). If you are someone that struggles with binging and experiences increased cravings over the weekend do not lose heart. What is most exciting about these research studies is that volunteers were unsuccessful dieters prior to the study. They were able to learn to reframe their thinking to avoid food and they found increased weight loss success. Here is how you can win the battlefield of your own mind and stay on track this weekend. 

  • When going for a meal or snack; Stop, take a few breaths, and think. Ask yourself if the meal is worth it?  Is this really something that you want right now?  Is there another choice that sounds good? How will you feel after eating this meal?  Is it worth it to feel that way?  If you are not sure how eating makes you feel keep a food diary.  This is different than apps like MyFitness Pal (for example). In addition to writing down what you are eating and tracking the number of calories consumed and the number of macronutrients you also write down how eating that meal made you feel physically and emotionally.  
  • Avoid boredom eating by keeping the mind focused. Say to yourself, “I am in charge. I control my thoughts”. You are the boss of you, not the food. You have the power to tell yourself what to do and how to do it. In that moment you are in charge of your behavior. 
  • You choose what you put in your mouth. Say, “I choose what to eat and I right now I choose not to eat that”. This kind of thinking is only asking you to stay on task and focused for this meal and this moment in time only.  You worry about the next meal at the next meal. When learning new behaviors it is a step-by-step process. Take the urge to binge and eat poorly one meal and one step at a time. 
  • Think about your goal and your motivation. Ask, “how will eating this meal impact my goals?”  You know the answer to this and you know the right decision to make. Trust that. If you make a choice to refuse tempting foods that should cause pride and confidence for you to make healthy decisions at your next meal. If you choose to binge or “cheat” that one meal it is still ok.  Remember you are OK with taking things one meal at a time. 

A cheat meal is not a slip up. A binge is not a slip up. It is ok. Tell yourself that. You are human and you make mistakes. You are human and have the right to enjoy things. You can keep going forward and choose to eat something healthier next time. You can avoid future cheats and binges by applying the thinking above to each meal situation. Changing thinkng can be hard, but you will gain confidence as you are successful at each meal. To help improve compliance and increase confidence try carrying healthy snacks with you so you do not get too hungry. Or if you are craving a food try finding a healthier alternative. Pinterest (for example) has many clean and healthy recipes to satisfy any tantalizing craving and eating the “clean” version will leave you feeling guiltless. 

A dirty meal here and there is ok. Please enjoy your weekend and eat well. Enjoy dessert. Enjoy a fattening and dirty meal. If you do well over the week a cheat meal or two on the weekend will not mess up your goals. However binging and grazing over the weekend can be harmful. It will definitely harm your ego and your pride. If you feel guilty, bad, “fat” or shame after eating then you know you went too far. A meal, regardless if cheating or eating healthy, should not make you feel bad. Eating should make you feel full, energized, and fulfilled. Enjoy the opportunity to let loose and enjoy your self but know you can stop. You do not have to become victim to sabotaging your healthy eating. You are in charge. You are in control. 

 

References:

 

Kroese, F., Adriaanse, M., Evers, C., & De Ridder, D. (2011). “Instant Success” turning tempest ions int cues for goal-directed behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 37(10), 1389-1397. 

Papies, E. (2008). Healthy cognition: Processes of self-regulatory success in restrained eating. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 40(5), 1290-1300. 

5 Solutions to Overcome Emotional Eating

Millions of people eat their feelings.  This is evidenced by the number of people with eating disorders.  According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders it is estimated that 24 million Americans suffer with eating disorders (i.e., binge eating and restrictive eating).  This is an issue that impacts not only women, but all races, genders, and ages struggle with emotional eating.

One reason Americans struggle with over-eating and under-eating is because of stress and emotional upset.  The brain experiences a decrease in certain hormones when feeling sad or overwhelmed.  When we feel sad we want to do something to feel better.  The brain remembers that food has been able to produce happy feelings in the past.  Research shows the “reward section” of the brain is triggered when feeling sad, and this triggers cravings for food that produced happier feelings in the past (Gupta, Psychology Today).  Similarly the brain can start to depend on food to produce happy feelings.  Some say that food cravings are similar to drug addiction.  A research study suggests that individuals that overeat have dopamine (a chemical in the brain responsible for mood) levels similar to individuals addicted to drugs (Columbia University).  People use drugs to avoid feelings just like people can use food to avoid feelings.

What happens is we start to feel overwhelmed and stressed and the body responds physically to the emotional upset.  The body’s reaction triggers the brain that something is wrong and you will start to crave foods, usually sugary and fattening foods, because these foods made you feel better in the past.  The brain knows consuming this food will increase the level of happy chemicals in the brain.  The craving can be hard at times because the brain and the body will have a strong physical reaction, similar to drug withdrawal.  The longer you try to abstain from the food you are craving, the stronger the craving for the food will become.

There are social expectations about certain foods as well.  Perhaps we are conditioned to find food pleasurable.  Most parties, social gatherings, and fellowship with others involves food.  These moments are fun and we likely feel happy.  Therefore  we overeat due to emotional upset because we associate food with feeling better and happier times.  Eating does make us feel better, but it is short lived.  Once the food is consumed the upset emotion lingers.  Then we are left wanting to find ways to reduce the upset, we feel guilty for eating, and the cycle of overeating begins again.

We binge eat and overeat during times of emotional upset because we are not aware of how we are feeling.  We live in a fast-paced, busy society and we rarely have time for self-evaluation and reflection.  Many Americans lack emotional intelligence.  I used to work with many clients that could only identify a few feelings, happy, angry, and sad.  However they were not able to tell me how this emotion felt in the body or the emotional cues to these feelings.  In other words, you can probably list some feelings, but you may have a harder time identifying the feeling for yourself.  All most people know is they are craving certain foods.

Food cravings makes people feel weak, frustrated, and out of control.  It is more frustrating when you are trying to lose weight or maintain weight and you cannot overcome the cravings.  You crave and overeat due to biological processes and because you are most likely feeling stressed, angry, or sad.  This can be overcome.  It takes some awareness and intentional behavior changes, but emotional eating can be overcome.

1.  Evaluate your feelings.  When you notice a craving for food or you realize you have eaten more than you like, stop, count to 10, and take 3 deep breaths.  This will slow you down long enough to ask, “how am I feeling?”  If you struggle with this, scan your body from head to toe and notice any areas that are tight, sore, and tense.  Is your heart beating fast?  Is your body hot?  These are signals you could be feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  If you still cannot identify if you are feeling stressed or emotionally overwhelmed think about what is going on in your life.  Evaluate your to-do list, your priorities, your relationships, and your environment.  If there is a lot going on then you have the right to be stressed.

2.  Rather then going straight for the food try taking a walk, walk some stairs, listen to music, or drink some water.  This is called distraction.  Distraction behaviors help the craving pass because you occupy your attention with something else.  Cravings are like a tidal wave.  They can come quickly and from out of nowhere.  They seem very intense and like you will be swept away.  Hang tight!  The wave will subside.  When you get a craving, hang tight, it will pass!  But doing something else in the meantime will make the wait not so difficult.

3.  Plan your food for the day.  Pack your breakfast, AM and PM snack, lunch, and dinner.  If you have these meals with you, pre-prepared, you can eat these foods instead of the fattening, sugary foods you will crave when upset.  This will help you reward your brain and improve upset feelings but you can rest assured you are eating healthy foods that are not going to sabotage your goals.

4.  Try doing something else that will make you feel good and happy.  You can avoid stress eating if you can find other ways to reduce stress.  What are other behaviors/activities/or people that make you laugh, relax, and feel better.  Give these things a try instead of grabbing a snack you will regret later.

5.  What you think about the situation will impact your reaction to the situation.  We tend to justify our bad food choices in the moment.  But let’s reframe some of that thinking.  You deserve to be healthy.  You deserve to feel happy and healthy.  You can be happy and healthy at the same time.  You can make choices about your body that are rewarding and relaxing.  You choose to feel better by making healthy choices.  When you get a craving for something and you are triggered to eat say these things to yourself.  Say them over and over.  Say them out loud.  Thinking this way will influence a healthier option.

Emotional overeating works.  That is why you keep doing it.  You are smart to learn ways to manage your stress. Emotional eating has been your way of taking care of yourself.  However you are also aware enough to see how overeating is harmful to your weight loss, health, and your body.  Good for you for wanting to make a change!  Remember eating is a way to fuel the body, not cure the body from emotional upset.  Vow to daily become more self-aware.  Agree to slow down, relax, and evaluate your mood and your behaviors.  You may have a day where you eat more out of stress and upset than you like.  There will be good days and bad days.  But the more you practice the things above, the more likely you are to avoid cravings and overeat, and the more likely you are to feel better overall.