How Food Affects Your Mood

Most of us know that it’s important to eat right so we don’t gain weight and get diabetes, but sadly that’s the extent of most peoples’ knowledge of nutrition. That’s why we end up counting calories and constantly dieting: because no one ever actually taught us how to eat. Ever since I started learning more about nutrition, this is something that has boggled my mind. Whenever I learn something new, I’m always surprised that I had never learned it before: especially since so much of nutrition seems like common sense.

One good example is how food affects your mood. Sure, I get pretty darn grouchy when I haven’t eaten all day, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Not entirely, anyway. I’m really talking about our long-term dietary needs. Yes, we do need vitamins and minerals every single day, but if you’re healthy, you should be able to go a day or two without food and not experience symptoms of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. I’m not sure why I get grouchy; maybe I just really don’t like the feeling of an empty stomach! 🙂

Anyway, I would like to talk a little more about the vitamin deficiencies that do cause a negative impact on your mood. When you go to the doctor for symptoms of depression, more often than not, she’ll send you to a psychiatrist without ever checking your vitamin levels. That psychiatrist may put you on a prescription medication (if your symptoms are severe enough) with a long list of side effects. But in reality, you didn’t need to see the pharmacy tech at all. All you really needed was a steady supply of magnesium-rich foods.

Our healthcare system is broken. There isn’t much we can do about that, but we can educate ourselves about how nutrition and disease are related. If you’re having any symptoms at all, it certainly won’t hurt to do a quick Google search to find out if your symptoms mimic those of a specific deficiency. Then, all you have to do is ask your doctor for a simple test. Deficiencies aren’t always the cause of our problems, but I really think it should be the first place we look for answers.

Other deficiencies that can cause depression-related symptoms are folate and zinc. Also, if you’re not getting enough omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, you might become more irritable.

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Secret Exposed: Exercise Doesn’t Have to be Torture

In the past, I’ve posted about how to find motivation to exercise. It’s an important topic, especially for those of us who tend to fall into ruts of laziness (my hand is raised right now). But with that in mind, I wanted to point something out that most people don’t think about: Exercise isn’t just what you do at the gym; it’s everything you do to move your body and work your muscles. If you’re not a gym-rat (and I’m definitely not), or even if you are, it can be fun to find creative ways to get exercise without feeling like you’re “working out.”

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Dance! If you like to dance, make this your exercise. You don’t need a routine; you just need to move your body. Whether you’re a good dancer or you have two left feet, you’re getting exercise while your body is moving. You can turn on the music and dance the night away at home, or you can plan a night out with your friends. Just don’t include alcohol in your workout, or you’re kind of defeating the purpose.
  2. Act like a kid again. Whenever I think of this advice, I think of Phoebe from Friends running in Central Park. You’ve heard the expression “Dance like no one’s watching.” In this episode, she runs like no one’s watching. It’s pretty hysterical, but the point is, she’s having fun. You don’t have run like Phoebe, but you can play games that make you feel like a kid again, like H.O.R.S.E and kickball.
  3. Join a team. Just because you’re not in school anymore, doesn’t mean you can’t play on an organized team. Check with your town’s recreation center to see if there are any softball, volleyball or basketball teams you can join.

One of the reasons we stay fit when we’re young is because we do things we enjoy. For some reason, most of us stop that once we reach adulthood. I’m not really sure why. Maybe we’re made to feel guilty for spending time on fun stuff, so exercise must become torture. It’s kind of silly when you think about it.

Another reason we become a little more sloppy when we get older is that our metabolism naturally slows. But the truth is, it doesn’t slow down that much. We’re the ones who really stop ourselves from being fit. Just get out there and have some fun already – your body will thank you for it!

5 Reasons to Make Time for Exercise

I’m very interested in health, especially as it relates to nutrition, but I often find myself struggling to fit exercise into my life. I find it much easier to choose a salad over a piece of chocolate than to get up off my butt and work out. I constantly need to convince myself that exercise is really worth it. Sounds crazy, right? Well, today I’m creating a list that will help me get over my next fitness slump and remember why I should be exercising every day.

  1. Research shows that our bodies are designed to exercise. It’s what our ancestors have done up until about 50-100 years ago when we stopped exercising and started getting chronic disease at alarming rates.
  2. Exercise strengthens your bones. Well, not all exercise, but most. Any “load bearing” exercise, such as walking, running, pilates, etc., actually puts pressure on your bones and causes them to build up and become more dense.
  3. Exercise can actually make you smarter. Here’s how it works: When your muscles contract, your body releases a protein called IGF-1, which travels to your brain and causes other chemicals to be released, including Brain Derived Neurotropic Factor (BDNF). BDNF stimulates your brain cells to branch out and make new connections (which is the basis of learning).
  4. Exercise makes you feel good. When you exercise, your brain and spinal cord release endorphins, which make you feel great. They diminish feelings of pain, relieve stress, and help improve sleep.
  5. Exercise makes you look good. This one is no secret. When you work out, your muscles get toned and your body takes on a more attractive shape. You’re also healthier overall, which results in increased outward beauty. You can exercise to gain muscle mass or to increase flexibility – the choice is yours. Either way, you’ll shape your body and start looking better.

The only reason I can think of not to exercise is laziness. But, that’s more of a problem than a valid reason. I know people also say they’re too busy, but about 99.9% of the time, that’s also just an excuse. We make time for the things that are important. I have a friend who uses this excuse all the time. He’s a software developer and works about 50 hours a week. Then, he volunteers another 5 hours. He’s a busy guy, but somehow he finds a whole lot of time to play video games. It’s important to take time for things we enjoy, but I think we all (myself included) should remind ourselves that exercise is as important to our wellbeing as eating or brushing our teeth. It’s time for us to put down the video game (or whatever your vice is) for a little while and make time for some exercise.

What Happens to Your Body When You Skip Meals?

I’ve always thought that skipping meals was a bad thing, but it’s something I’ve struggled with my entire life. I guess I’m just not as hungry as most people, or maybe I just get too wrapped up in whatever I’m doing, but I would always find myself skipping about four meals a week. I wanted to find out how bad this really was, so I did some research.

At a glance, one study suggests that skipping a few meals a week might actually help you become healthier, if you reduce your calorie consumption. This one baffled me a little bit, but then it made more sense when I found out that the participants in this study were obese. I think it’s safe to say that the participants eating habits probably aren’t the healthiest and they may be consuming too many calories to begin with. In cutting back on their overall calorie consumption, they very likely could have been cutting out things that aren’t healthy (e.g. cheese and ice cream). The calorie cut resulted in an 8 percent weight loss and lower cholesterol and triglycerides.

Although this study makes it seem healthy to skip meals, I don’t see how it could be for anyone who isn’t already consuming too many calories per day. For me, I usually struggle to get anywhere above 1,200 calories. I know that sounds crazy, but I follow a vegan diet and I try to limit oil and bread – and I almost never eat sweets. You have to eat a lot of fruits and vegetables to reach 1,200 calories. So, if and when I decide to skip a meal, I’m probably not getting enough nutrition for the day. This is something that I have to constantly remind myself.

I’ve always had this meal skipping problem, even before I was vegan. But during that period, I would skip a meal and then eat more at the next meal to make up for it. I was interning as a paralegal in a busy office and I just wouldn’t stop ever stop for lunch; but then, I’d eat the equivalent of two meals for dinner. Now, I’ve found out that might actually be worse than not eating enough. Well, for one, I knew it wasn’t good because I was about 15 pounds overweight. But, one study actually found that following these exact eating habits can lead to elevated fasting glucose and delayed insulin response – two precursors to diabetes. I’m certainly glad that I stopped that habit, but I do still have to work on eating more often during the day. All this research made me curious about whether I was alone in my struggle.

Do you ever skip meals? If so, do you just end up eating less calories – or do you just make up for the loss later on?

Motivation: A Few Tips for Getting Off Your Butt

Even the best of us fall out of our groove from time to time. I’m in that mode right now. I’ve been really busy with work these days, and that means I’m sitting on my butt all day. When I’m done with work, I have a ton of things to do around the house and errands to run. But wait, are those just excuses? Oh yeah, they sure are. Somehow I find time to watch television and research my next tattoo design (by the way, feel free to share any ideas). But, how could I possibly find time to exercise with such a busy schedule? It’s true that my routine has changed in the past few months, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t make fitness a priority. I know this to be true, but yet I still have trouble getting out of the slump I put myself into.

Even though I know I’ve allowed myself to be lazy, I also know it’s not time to beat myself up over it. That never gets anyone anywhere. It’s simply time to find a little motivation.

Here are some of my thoughts on how to motivate yourself when you’re haven’t been bit with the fitness bug.

  • Set a very specific goal. All you need is one. It could be to lose 15 pounds in three months, or it could be to fit into your skinny jeans by the end of the month. Just make sure it’s something you can evaluate and check off your list when you’ve completed it. So, for example, “I want to lose some weight” isn’t a good goal.
  • Mark it on your calendar. Once you have it in writing, you’re more likely to feel the pressure to get it done.
  • Tell someone else about your goal. By telling another human being about your goal, you are setting expectations. Now, if you fail, you’re disappointing yourself as well as that person. Wouldn’t you rather have them be proud of your accomplishment than disappointed in your lack of commitment?
  • Remind yourself of your goal every night before you go to bed. Say it out loud. “I’m going to lose 15 pounds in three months” or “I’m going to do pilates every day until I leave for Florida.”

Did that last one sound oddly specific? That’s because it’s actually my goal. And, yes, I’m going to report back to you from Florida to tell you whether I failed or succeeded. The pressure is on!

Why You Should Always Stretch Before a Workout

It’s no secret that exercise is important. It strengthens your muscles, improves cardiovascular health and helps you form healthy bones. When you exercise consistently, you see results. But, there is one thing about exercise that people often overlook. That is, the importance of stretching before your workout. The young and fit are actually the biggest offenders here.

People think that because they can work out without stretching and not have immediate problems that it’s a step they can skip. They think that stretching before and after a workout eats up valuable time that could be spent running or lifting weights; but actually, stretching enhances the time that you spend doing those things.

Before you workout, your muscles are cold and stiff. If you jump from there to overexertion, you’re causing more stress on your body than need be. That stress can later present itself as a sprain or “pulled muscle.” All you need is five to 10 minutes of stretching your muscles to get the blood flowing and you will see the positive effects. Think about it: Whether you sit behind a desk all day at your job as an administrative assistant, journalist or web developer, your muscles are at rest more than they are at work. Stretching is an essential part of being fit. But unfortunately, the effect of stretching before your workout is often the absence of a problem. Since most people won’t experience a problem every single time they workout without stretching, it’s hard for some to make that connection and understand the importance of stretching.

Stretching before a workout can increase flexibility. If you’re a fighter or a dancer, you might already be aware of this, but people who rely less on flexibility during their workouts often think they can avoid stretching. Many avid hikers, for example, won’t bother stretching, but later in life will develop tendonitis as a result.

After your workout, stretching is just as important. While you workout, lactic acid is building up in your muscles. This is what actually causes the soreness or stiffness right after a workout. It comes from the muscles tearing during the workout. It’s a natural part of exercise, but you can limit the pain (and get your butt back to the gym the next day) by doing a five minute cool down session. Another reason we feel sore after a workout is from excessive muscle tearing, which can be limited by the same stretching session.

Getting Through the Holidays with a Lot of Fitness and a Little Vanity

As we’re smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, I thought it would be a good idea to post about motivation. Different things motivate different people, but there are some commonalities in our ways of thinking. For example, I try to stay fit in order to stay healthy. Many people do the same, but others do it to get back to health or to impress someone (either with their physical ability or with their fit physique). Others don’t even think much about fitness per se, but they have physical goals that keep them in shape, such as climbing a mountain or running a marathon. But, in the holiday season especially, it’s easy to put anything that might be keeping us in shape on the back burner.

You might say “One month of unhealthy eating isn’t going to derail a year’s worth of fitness efforts.” Or, you might just put your goals on hold until the new year. Both are very common reasons why people allow themselves to gain weight over the holidays. But, if you really think about it, aren’t the holidays a time when you want to look your best? It’s a time when you see people you don’t get to see all year. Do you really want them thinking about how dull your hair looks, how drained you seem or that you’ve gained a few around the midsection? Probably not, right? You’ve worked so hard to look your best all year; why would you throw that away when it counts the most?

Allow yourself to be a little vain, and go ahead and think of it that way, too. By keeping hydrated and staying away from alcohol, you’re treating your body to increased oxygen, water and nutrients that you know it needs to look its best. By choosing broccoli over mashed potatoes and gravy, you’re avoiding carbs that will add to your midsection in favor of ones that will help contribute to a clear complexion and healthy, shiny hair. Don’t think of it as deprivation. Realize that you’re actually treating yourself by making healthy choices. Don’t be jealous of anyone else’s plate. Instead, feel sorry for them because they aren’t treating themselves to good nutrition. I’m certainly not suggesting you mock anyone’s food choices, but you should change your own mindset to focus on what you know will help you be at your best.

Thinking of the “bad” foods and beverages as toxic instead of tempting will not only get you through the holidays, but it can also boost your fitness efforts for the remainder of the year. If you can get through just one semester completely committed to your fitness goals, you might want to start thinking about a physical fitness teaching career. Sure, it’s not for everyone, but it is a good way to make sure you stay committed to fitness for the rest of your life.