How to improve insulin resistance when you have PCOS

If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), then you know just how frustrating it can be if you’ve been trying to gain control of your weight. I have quite a few friends, clients, and patients that deal with this condition that digs deeper than infertility, as devastating as that can be on its own.

First let’s define what it is and why it matters for your weight. PCOS is characterized by overproduction of the androgen testosterone, menstrual abnormalities when ovulation does not occur and enlarged ovaries containing multiple small follicles (hence, polycystic ovaries). Women with severe PCOS have greater menstrual irregularity, androgen excess, total and abdominal fat and resistance to insulin; higher degrees of obesity are associated with worsening symptoms. This means their risk is increased for metabolic comorbidities such as diabetes. Since insulin is a known fat storage hormone, the greater the insulin resistance, the harder it usually is to control weight gain. It’s a double whammy.

Did I just described you or someone you know personally? Whether your insulin resistance is caused by PCOS or something else, some of these principles will apply. Insulin resistance otherwise known as “pre-diabetes” or “glucose intolerance” often leads to diabetes later in life and can really wreak havoc on your weight loss efforts. If you have received a diagnosis of insulin resistance, it means your insulin receptors are not very sensitive to the “lock and key” fit that insulin creates to move glucose (sugar) into their cells for energy. As a result, your pancreas produces more insulin to try and keep up. But like anything, our bodies become tolerant when it gets too much of something. Same thing happens when you take antibiotics over and over- your body recognizes it and you become antibiotic resistant over time. Consider someone who has become addicted to a drug and requires more over time to attain the same effect they did when they first tried it. Same concept.

When you have an abundance of insulin circulating in your blood stream, it’s constantly promoting fat storage in your body making it extremely difficult for you to succeed at any weight loss attempts. A common treatment in PCOS specifically is to prescribe metformin. However this isn’t really correcting the problem – it’s just telling your liver to produce less glucose but not directly addressing the fact that your body is producing too much insulin.

My expertise is in natural health and what to eat. So I’m not recommending you stop any current medical treatments without speaking to your physician. But I do want to help you with what you can safely control, starting today.

Begin with these simple (but maybe not so easy) steps:

  1. You gotta cut out fake food – meaning processed, refined, simple carbohydrates and sugars. These foods do nothing for you. Well, nutritionally they do nothing. I know emotionally they are “feel good” foods and literally turn on the pleasure centers in our brain by increasing dopamine levels and offer a great distraction to our negative emotions. But they spike insulin levels quickly and when consumed persistently (as part of frequent snacking let’s say), they worsen insulin resistance eventually leading to type 2 diabetes. Don’t misread this, those with a normal functioning pancreas cannot give themselves diabetes by eating these foods alone. Many other factors are running behind the scene including weight and genetics.
  2. Reduce your total carbohydrate intake. Key word here is REDUCE not eliminate. I’m really not a proponent of consuming under 10% of your calories from carbohydrates because I haven’t seen anyone sustain it for long term and there are very healthy foods that truly don’t deserve that kind of neglect. Why would you eliminate an apple from your diet that contains fiber and vital nutrients? It doesn’t make any sense. But it IS a good idea to cut back to 100 to 130 grams of total carbohydrate per day. If that sounds like a lot to you, consider that most people consume anywhere from 300 to 600 grams of carbohydrate per day in the standard american diet. Restricting down to 100 or so is enough to put you into a very mild ketosis so that you are depleting your glycogen stores (in simple terms, energy from sugar stores) while dipping into some of your fat stores. The effect of ketosis is to reduce hunger and successfully lose weight while not feeling terrible. *Note if you are a diabetic taking insulin you will need to discuss this with your doctor before lowering your carbohydrates this much as your regimen is likely designed for you to eat more than this.
  3. Consider a 30 day cleanse to reset your system and begin to bring your hormones into balance. This will not be an overnight fix. But, essential oils are natural, aromatic compounds that when coming from pure sources, have therapeutic properties that can have amazing benefits for bringing body systems that are out of balance, into balance. A good cleanse eliminates processed food and sugars, includes a high quality multivitamin, whole food enzymes, essential oils, probiotics and others that I outline specifically on a recent post here that you can read about if interested. If you experience symptoms like fatigue, irritability, headaches, stomach distress, bloating, recurrent sinus infections, lack of focus, or other vague symptoms not otherwise diagnosed as anything definitive, a cleanse could be exactly what you need. These could be signs of a weakened immune system caused by increased levels of stress, poor diet, increased candida overgrowth in your gut, and/or sleep deprivation.
  4. Incorporate essential oils into your daily maintenance plan to bring and keep your hormones in balance. Oils like clary sage and geranium when used daily regulate the hormones responsible for the female reproductive system. Clove, cinnamon, and rosemary support the pancreas to balance healthy blood sugars. Grapefruit, cinnamon and ginger regulate appetite and reduce cravings, particularly for sweets. Making teas using these can help along with increasing your fluids. And lastly but just as important, oils like cilantro, lemon and tangerine regularly cleanse and assist the liver to keep it functioning at it’s best. I recommend adding lemon to all of your water for this purpose. Just one drop of essential oil per eight ounces.
  5. Manage sleep and stress. This isn’t easy, I realize. However, you can do all of the above and if you don’t take care of these two, it won’t do you any good. Stress and sleep deprivation increase the hormone, cortisol, which inhibits the production of progesterone, a main marker of PCOS. Grapefruit essential oil can also prevent cortisol from doing this, so adding it to some of your water is a good idea. But more importantly, taking measures to get at least seven hours of sleep each night is key. Refer to this post I did a while back on taking simple measures to achieve this.

I’ve only scratched the surface on this. As you know, PCOS affects many areas of your life from causing unwanted facial hair, to thinning hair, and infertility. This post was meant to focus primarily on the weight and insulin resistant aspects as that is what I do best. However, I do believe that by addressing diet and hormonal issues that naturally, each of the symptoms can be improved greatly over time. If you’d like to know more about my cleanse and diet program, please feel free to contact me.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded women striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

 

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Breakfast isn’t the most important meal

So I’ve been reading this book, the Obesity Code, by Dr. Jason Fung, and it’s rocking my world. In his book, he exposes the crap that most people believe surrounding weight gain. The idea that obesity is a result of poor lifestyle is just false. It’s a whole lot more complicated than that and don’t let anybody ever tell you that eating less and exercising more is your simple solution.

This post is in response to one of his mind boggling myth busters that I haven’t quite wrapped my head around, but alas, I do have some thoughts on. Just so you know, he is a proponent of intermittent fast – something I wrote and researched on a while back here. Spoiler: it’s not a terrible diet, but it’s not for everyone, either.

But before I begin, I want to ask you a few questions, regardless of your weight:

  • Where did you eat your last meal? Snack?
  • Do you eat three meals per day? If you don’t, which meal are you most likely to skip?
  • How many of those meals do you eat at an actual table meant for consuming food?
  • When you are sitting in front of the television, do you feel the urge to grab a snack? What about your computer?
  • The last time you went to the movie theater, did you get popcorn, candy, and/or a drink?
  • The last time you went to a social gathering that was not during a meal time, was food involved? If there was food, would the event still have been relevant without the food? or would it have felt like something was missing?
  • The last time you had a big project or something to study for, did you complete it with a snack by your side?
  • Of the last three times you went somewhere, how many of those were you eating while driving?

These questions aren’t meant to make you feel bad about your habits but really just to get you thinking about how little eating takes place in the setting of a meal at a table and how much we eat on the run these days. Chances are when you were a child, it wasn’t like this. For some of you, the Great Depression forced you to eat frugally, three meals per day, nothing more, nothing less. And no wasting. Maybe you even felt this during the recession just ten years ago to some degree. You may have cherished those times at the table. For some of you, it’s just what you did as a family – breakfast and dinner at the table together to start and end your day. I remember for me, we simply weren’t allowed to eat in the living room unless it was a special occasion. We always stopped for lunch and ate at the restaurant and it was unheard of to eat in the car while my mother ran errands. She made time to stop and sit down. I never really liked going with my mom to run her errands, but those are actually really special memories I have from growing up. Taking time to enjoy food with loved ones is really special. It’s why it’s such a social centerpiece for us.

How many places have you eaten today so far? It’s only 12:45 p.m. and I’ve already consumed something in four different places myself, none of which were an actual table meant for eating. I bet you can say something similar.

Fung postulates that the real marker of obesity is insulin resistance caused by a persistence influx of insulin in the body. Some quick science for you – insulin is a hormone produced by our pancreas necessary for the body to move blood sugar into our cells to be used as energy or stored for fat for later use. Our blood sugar spikes when we eat carbohydrates or during a fasting state because our liver releases it to keep us from feeling like crap. Problem is, when our bodies have persistently too much of something, we become tolerant, or resistant to it. Compare it to a drug tolerance – if you take antibiotics too much and too often, they aren’t going to work and eventually you become antibiotic resistant. That’s not a good thing is it? Insulin has it’s own special way of laying fat on you, especially in your mid section. In other words, insulin is a fat storage hormone.

When we are conditioned to eat everywhere we plant ourselves, we become conditioned to eat all the time. Add in the fact that every diet you’ve ever learned about teaches you to eat every three hours to keep your metabolism running efficiently, you’ve now created an environment perfect for persistent insulin excretion. Most people only spend about six hours of their day truly fasting, which is during sleep (unless you happen to wake up and have a midnight snack). It’s perfectly normal nowadays to eat a bedtime snack of high carbs (i.e. insulin loving foods like chips, popcorn or cookies) and wake up to a sugary high carb breakfast (such as pancakes, pop tarts, doughnuts, waffles, bagels, cereal, toast, or even oatmeal.)

So what’s the solution here? Skip breakfast? Cut out carbs? Stop snacking? Yes. Kind of.

  1. Go ahead and eat breakfast, but don’t stress about eating it the second you get up. Breakfast is defined as breaking the fast, regardless of time. I’ve always advised to eat within the first two hours of waking up. But truth be told, when I really thought about it – I myself don’t eat until about three hours after I wake up. I’m usually not hungry until then because I much prefer my coffee first. And I’ve not gained weight after years of doing it this way.
  2. Choose wisely for breakfast. At least 20-30 grams of protein, add a healthy source of fat, and if you must add the carbs, go for fruits and vegetables rather than the normal processed junky carbs that encompass our familiar breakfast foods. Some of my favorites include 1/2 cup cottage cheese with fresh peaches, deli cheese roll-ups using ham or turkey and avocado with a side of melon, apple slices with nut butter and greek yogurt, or 1/2 cup mixed nuts or trail mix and fresh fruit. For twenty-five complete ideas sent to your inbox, click here.
  3. Set a rule for yourself that you only eat at a table meant for meals. Normally I’m not a proponent for “rules” but we all need boundaries when it comes to our weak points. So yes, I’m suggesting that for breakfast, you make time to sit at your kitchen table to eat. I’m insisting you actually take a break for lunch and find a picnic table, sit in your work café, go inside instead of the drive through (if you must choose fast food), or sit at your kitchen table to eat lunch even if you are home alone. And most importantly, I’m encouraging you to sit together as a family for dinner time. Right now, it may be your habit to grab a bag of chips or something to crunch on when you sit at the computer or head for the couch to watch television. But over time, that habit will fade as you retrain your brain to be okay with nothing to chew on in front of a screen. Test yourself – next time you feel tempted to snack, ask yourself when the last time you had a meal was. If it was two to three hours ago and you have no physical signs of hunger such as stomach growling, shakiness, or a headache, then it is only head hunger. In other words, it’s habitual hunger and you don’t really need it. Not even raw veggies. Find something else to do with your hands – lift weights, knit something, play cards, play a game on your phone, paint rocks (this IS a thing and happens to be my personal favorite!). Any new hobby will do.

I know this is some very unconventional thinking here. Heck, it even goes against some of my past blog posts! But here’s the thing, people aren’t losing weight successfully with the conventional methods of eat less calories, exercise more, eat whole grains, cut portion size, or any of that other garbage. So I try to stay open minded about things and above all else, I want you to understand that your weight struggles are way more complicated than most sources have probably told you.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded women striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

 

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

New year, new you – time for a detox?

I’ve been quiet on here this month, enjoying the holidays with my family and frankly, getting slammed with my home business. But 2018 is just around the corner and I know many of you are thinking about your health goals. One of the most popular goals, besides weight loss, is whole body detox. We’re coming off the season where there’s no shortage of sugar, fat, and booze and that leaves many of us feeling a bit bloated and gross.

There are a lot of options out there, though. And if you aren’t careful, you could be wasting your time and money, if not participating in something downright dangerous. So let’s start with some basics if you’re going to do this thing right.

It’s important to remember that is essence, it is our organs that are “detoxing” our bodies and they do it every minute of every day. There is no magical outside substance that will do that for you because your body was already designed to do everything it was meant to sustain your life on the daily. However, our daily habits bring us out of balance often and makes our organs work overtime, leading to disease – such as diabetes, high blood pressure, renal failure, and certain types of cancers, to name a few. We are constantly introducing toxins into our systems forcing our organs to work harder than they should.

A detox should last about thirty days. Anything less is a waste of your precious time and just dumb. You’ll lose some water weight and go right back to old habits the following days or weeks when the detox period is over. It’s also just not long enough to really feel any difference that will create any meaningful habit changes. Why do a detox if you aren’t going to carry some new, beneficial habits with you for months after? It really doesn’t need to go longer than thirty days, either, however. Some habits you bring in over the thirty days would help to keep but not all are totally necessary.

Some foods need to be eliminated in this time period, for obvious reasons, including:

Sugar: I’ve written in past articles why sugar is so very addicting and has been clinically proven so. When you eat sugar, it almost immediately spikes your blood stream levels, causing your pancreas to start working overtime to produce insulin to get that sugar into your body’s cells for energy. But guess what? Sugar is very concentrated in calories and it’s likely you’ve consumed way too much energy than is needed for those cells. The rest is then stored in the liver for later use, which collects as fat and can create a fatty liver if not used. Problem is we habitually over-eat calories and it also collects in our abdomen in the form of fat tissue. This is becoming a pretty big problem in America today, actually. The pancreas eventually putters out trying to keep up, leading to type 2 diabetes. Not a happy subject, but I see this every single day as a dietitian.

Processed carbohydrates: these are converted into sugar when consumed, so same thing as above. It’s not just about avoiding table sugar. Earlier this year, I worked with a group of individuals who took a challenge and avoided these types of foods for thirty days, the results were amazing. They felt more energized, lost weight, and their cravings for sugar diminished. These cravings we experience are caused by dramatic blood sugar fluctuations from eating high sugar foods with low nutritional value. As I mentioned above, they get converted quickly to sugar in your blood stream, but just as quickly your pancreas is working to produce insulin to get it out, which causes a sharp drop in your blood sugar levels. This makes you feel pretty crappy and tired, which means you want more to feel better. It’s a viscous cycle.

Alcohol: most of us understand that this is processed by the liver. Too much of it starts to damage the liver (duh), but during a detox it kinda defeats the purpose if you aren’t abstaining. When we drinking alcohol, our body prioritizes the elimination of it and can’t focus on much of anything else. It’s a good recipe for weight gain, liver cirrhosis (hardening of your liver), and pancreatitis (inflammation.)

Caffeine: this one hurts me. I get it. But caffeine is an extremely addictive stimulant. When consumed in excess, it causes an irritable bowel, disruptive sleep patterns, irregular heart beat, and increased anxiety – all counterproductive to the detoxification process. Believe it or not, it also causes pretty wide fluctuations in your energy levels. If you’ve tried detoxing before and didn’t experience increased energy, it could be because you didn’t give up caffeine. Drinking more water is the most beneficial way to improve energy levels.

Let’s talk about what you do include and why, this is the fun part, right?

  1. Water with lemon. Lots of it. Aim for half of your body weight (pounds) in ounces each day. Water is a natural diuretic and so is lemon. This helps your kidneys out. They need flushing so they don’t get backed up. Your kidneys are probably one of the most important filtering systems in your body and I can’t tell you how many people I see regularly that land themselves in the hospital with temporary failure because they got dehydrated. It’s well over 50% of the people I see every single day. Other problems that happen regularly are fatigue, joint and back pain, headaches, and sweet cravings. I recommend pure lemon essential oil since it comes from the rind rather than the juice and it’s way more concentrated than a squeeze from the fruit. One drop of lemon essential oil is equivalent to the juice of thirty lemons (but not nearly as sour!) It is also known for supporting healthy lungs and digestive system.
  2. Fresh fruits and vegetables. When IS the last time you consumed five (or more) in one day? Be honest. Aim for the rainbow, or at least vary your colors. Plant based foods get their pigments from the nutrients they provide which means if you are eating a variety of colors, you are also getting a variety of nutrients in addition to fiber.
  3. A good multivitamin. This can be tough to find. A couple of years ago, some of the country’s most popular retailers of supplements were busted for selling fake products over the counter. In fact, when tested, only 22% of their supplements actually had any of their claimed product in them at all. Walmart being the worst at only 4% of their products containing what they claimed. Ultimately, they settled in court to keep the attorney general quiet – I’m not too confident that means they grew a conscience about what they are selling, though.
  4. Whole food enzymes. Again, lets help the body out, we’ve been eating low nutritional value foods and now we’re including fresh plant based foods. Unfortunately, today’s food supply is still a bit sub-par in the vitamin/mineral world and even fresh fruits and vegetables are sprouting up from nutrient-depleted soil. Whole food enzymes break down the food and help our bodies utilize the nutrient they provide easier. If you struggle from vague health symptoms like fatigue, joint discomforts, or headaches, it could be because you are lacking certain nutrients that your body has been missing out on.
  5. Probiotics: so many benefits here, I did a blog post a few months ago on how everybody should be taking some. For the purposes of a detox, they aid the digestive and immune systems. We are exposed to environmental toxins regularly, our immune system works overtime, especially during the winter. Let’s help it out, shall we?
  6. Pure essential oils. Essential oils are a fantastic way to support the body’s natural capability of cleansing itself. The organs we are focusing on here are our liver, colon, kidneys, lungs, and skin. Like supplements, the essential oil industry can be tricky so it’s important you know the source you are buying from. But when unadulterated and without synthetic additives, they can prove to be an important part of your detox program. Rosemary, cilantro, and juniper berry essential oils are well known for supporting the liver in it’s normal processes. Geranium and tangerine essential oils are helpful in supporting the body’s systems as a whole as it removes unwanted substances. Think of it as bringing things into balance after weeks (maybe months) of use and abuse with unhealthy foods and habits such as lack of exercise, smoking, environmental threats, and even medication use. My favorite product is a detoxification blend that contains all five of these essential oils that can be taken in a soft-gel form.
  7. Omega 3 fats: great for reducing inflammation, often exacerbated by eating highly processed foods, alcohol, and red meats. Let’s help the body out by adding this in while removing the inflammatory foods, why don’t we? Be sure you are consuming a source rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid (EPA and DHA) to get the maximum benefit. You could always consume fish three times a week, but remember this is a detox and we are going for the concentrated versions. Ok? I personally choose to take the supplements daily because I never eat fish that often and I’ve experience the benefits well enough I don’t want to stop.

In essence, our bodies have everything we need to survive and cleanse itself out from our lungs to our stomach to our intestines, kidneys, and liver. They all have a job to do filtering out the air we breath, food we eat, liquids we drink, and bacteria we come into contact with. Even so, we can feel out of balance in today’s world as we are consistently pummeled with toxic threats. If you feel like it’s time for a reboot, feel free to contact me for more information about how to schedule supplements, the brands I trust, and meal schedule to follow so you get the most out of your detox.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

 

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Surviving holiday weight gain without driving yourself crazy

Thanksgiving has come and gone with the holidays in full effect now. I’ll admit, I’m one of those people that really love this time of year. There are lots of special things we get to enjoy right now- Christmas music, holiday decorations and lights, winter clothes, and of course seasonal food. I know some of you may be feeling a bit anxious about holiday weight gain though. Especially if you’ve experienced it in previous years past. To give you a better handle on it, I’ve put together some simple tips that I believe will help you out. This year, I want you to think about making it easier for yourself without making it the center of your life. The holidays are about family, friends, gratitude, and should be an exciting time. Frankly, it’s not a great time to go on a new diet. I’m a huge fan of mindlessly losing or maintaining your weight, especially during a time of year when many are mindlessly (and effortlessly!) gaining weight.

  1. How much weight do you normally gain this time of year? Do you actually gain any? According to a study published in 2000 on 195 people in the U.S., the average weight a person actually gains between Thanksgiving and New Years is only about a pound. Although many of us perceive it to be more like five to ten or more. The real problem, however, is that it doesn’t typically come off, whatever you gain. So it just ends up being an additional pound each year compounding on top of the previous year. Now if you know you put on more, say eight to ten pounds….is it realistic to say that this year you are going to actually lose five pounds? What would be different? I’m going to challenge you to think differently and set an unconventional goal that you will gain only a fraction of what you normally gain. For example, if your typical M.O. is to put on ten pounds over the holidays, how about make it a goal this go around to only put on four pounds? If you fall in the average one or two pound weight gainers population, then maybe you can focus on maintaining your weight. Does that make sense? I hope so.
  2. When you are at a holiday party, stand at least slightly more than arms length from the buffet or food table. Ever notice where people like to socialize? People want to stand around the food because it’s where the action is. The problem is you’re going to mindlessly eat for possibly hours if you do that, consuming hundreds of extra calories that you didn’t mean to. This seems like a very simple concept because it is.
  3. Choose wisely on the first trip to the buffet. In a Cornell study, it was found that we tend to serve ourselves the most on that first plate. So, if you know that, choose the lowest calorie foods to put on your plate first. You can always go for a second round to get the richer foods such as dips, cheesy casseroles, and desserts. This way, you are filling up on salads, fruit and veggie platters, and lean proteins while saving yourself up to thousands of calories simply by switching up the order in which you served yourself. Think of it in terms of volume – a creamy pasta dish will have hundreds more calories per cup than a cup of salad with low fat vinaigrette dressing.
  4. Take smaller sips and bites. On a normal everyday basis you may eat like you’re trying to win a race. But at holiday parties, it’s about socializing and enjoying those moments spent with loved ones. I get it, sometimes it’s more stressful than enjoyable during holidays with family. But the foods we eat are also meant to be savored and enjoyed this time of year. They’re special around the holidays, are they not? You will feel more satisfied on less if you choose to eat and drink slower.
  5. Manage your emotions. I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the fact that this time of year can bring up unwelcome emotions such as depression, anxiety, and even anger. If you have a tendency to stress eat this is particularly troublesome for you to manage your weight effectively. I have many past posts addressing this topic that work just as well during the holiday season as they do throughout the year. Remember that if hunger is not the problem, food is not going to solve it. This time of year especially is when we have to be intentional about separating food and our emotions:

Make food about food and emotion about emotion.

Here’s a few quick questions for you though: Why are you sad? Is there someone you can talk to? Are you just stressed because you’ve over-scheduled yourself? Has Christmas shopping overstretched your budget? What things can you address and actually do something about? And what things do you need to let go of?  Most importantly, what are your priorities? I learned a few years ago that when I am clear on my key priorities, it becomes easier to filter my decisions through them. For example, I may be asked to participate in three different “secret santa” gift exchanges, but if one of my key priorities is to manage my budget so that I am able to pay off past debts, the decision to decline the invitations becomes very clear. If I’m asked to volunteer to help with a holiday event but it’s during a time I’ve set aside to spend quality time with my children and they are a key priority for me, the decision to say no is not as difficult and the potential stress of broken promises to anyone is avoided.

Even if you choose just to use one of these, I think it will really change your outcome when you get to January 1. Imagine how it will feel making that resolution and not feeling like you are starting ten steps behind!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

 

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

6 tips for surviving Thanksgiving

I love Thanksgiving. It’s a time to spend with people we care about, pause to be grateful, and we don’t have to purchase any gifts (yet.) I also happen to enjoy cooking on these types of days where I get to pull out recipes that I only cook once or twice a year.

I realize for many of you, this may be stressful because you’ve worked hard all year to lose weight and get your health on a better path. Maybe past years have thrown you off track, led to unwanted weight gain, or worse, started the reversal process of hard work earlier in the year. So how about we not go through another yo yo this year?

Here are some tips that I think will help you out:

  1. Eat breakfast. Possibly it’s been tradition for you to skip all eating occasions prior to the big dinner on the big T day. But this is really a set up for overeating until discomfort. If youve been in the habit of eating a healthy breakfast every morning, wake up like you always do that morning and have your normal breakfast. If you have room for improvement int his area, focus on protein. I’ve talked about this a lot in the past, but it’s really important to start your day off with 25-30 grams of protein to keep from overeating later in the day. If you are needing ideas for what this looks like in a breakfast, click here to get my free list of 25 breakfast ideas with 25 grams of protein.
  2. Get moving. It’s a popular day to sit on the couch, watch football or whatever is on television and relax and eat if you aren’t the one doing the cooking. What if you made a resolve to go for a thirty minute walk or three -ten minute walks? Exercise also helps with energy levels and will help combat that tryptophan crash coming later on. If you want to incorporate it into the day, plan some fun outdoor activities with the family such as tossing the football, tag, hide and seek (with the kids), corn hole, sack races, etc. If you’re in the snow, do snowball fights, bobsledding, make snow angels – whatever it is you do this time of year! (I live in Florida, so it’s realistic to say we could get our bathing suites on a run around in sprinklers!)
  3. Avoid taste-testing a meals worth of calories. This one’s for the cooks. Ever cooked a meal that takes a while and by the time it’s done, you really aren’t hungry? Maybe you eat anyway, especially on a holiday because you’re with a bunch of family and you’d feel bad if you didn’t? If you haven’t sat down for an actual meal at a dinner table in well over three hours, you should feel hungry. If you aren’t, check yourself on the tasting spoons. If we’re being honest, we have prepared most of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes no less than ten times and having one taste test max (if any) is necessary. If you continue to pick at the turkey, grab a spoonful of stuffing, grab a roll, grab a slice of yams, you could end up with 500 calories under your belt (literally) before you’ve even made a plate for yourself.
    • Chew mint gum or metabolic gum (made with essential oils) to help curb cravings and appetite while you are cooking.
    • Keep some fresh raw veggies next to your cooking area like baby carrots, cut up bell peppers, and sugar snap peas to satisfy the need to “munch” while you’re preparing the meal for a fraction of the calories.
    • Limit yourself to one plastic tasting spoon per dish and throw it out after you’ve tried it.
    • Elicit help in the kitchen to keep you accountable or better yet, consider a pot luck style dinner this year.
  4. Slow down before you run for seconds. They aren’t going anywhere. When you’ve finished that first plate, there is a 99% change you’ve had more than enough food, especially on Thanskgiving Day. This year, I challenge you to wait it out 15-20 minutes before you decide if you truly need seconds to feel satisfied with the meal. You may just surprise yourself since it takes the brain that long to get triggered by your body that you’ve had enough to eat.
  5. Review your menu and decide now if anything can be modified. Usually, certain ingredients can be substituted without making any difference in the finished product. Some of my favorites include reducing the sugar by 25-30%, using low fat or fat free milk for whole or 2% milk, fat free half and half for the full fat version, greek yogurt for sour cream, fat free evaporated milk for the full fat version or heavy cream, powdered defatted peanut butter for traditional peanut butter, reducing the nuts by 25%, nuefchâtel cheese for regular cream cheese, and low sugar jelly for the regular stuff.
    • Note some ingredient items can not be changed but a good rule of thumb to remember is that “baking is a science and cooking is an art.” In scientific projects, there are going to be less items that can be modified if you want the final product to come out the same. When cooking, however, you have a lot more flexibility to experiment with and still end up with an excellent result.
  6. Don’t freak out. Just be cool about this. It’s one day. Too often people are off to a great start, wanting to get ahead of the new year’s resolution game only to disappoint themselves on turkey day and fall totally and completely off the wagon until January 1 when everyone else is waking up from their eating and shopping and televisioning slumber. If you do none of the tips I outline in this post but just put your efforts on maintaining your weight and staying on track on every day that ISN’T an actual holiday (so saying no to leftovers, over-eating at holiday parties, binging on christmas cookies at the office) then you will be just fine.

What do you struggle with most during the holidays around your diet? I’d like to know for future blog post topics so I can help you! Comment below!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

4 ways to conquer binge eating

Many people struggle with this and it ruins the best of intentions to lose weight or even just maintain your weight. You could be going along happily in your life and then boom, it hits. You know, that hard to ignore urge to binge until you’ve overdone it that ultimately ends in regret, guilt, and food restriction and/or self punishment. What if you could stop yourself before it even happens? It’s possible.

But first, let’s define what a binge truly is. Technically it’s when you are eating something that elicits the feeling of loss of control until you’ve eaten more than is a desired reasonable amount. The quantity and food varies from person to person. Person A could define a personal binge as eating 3 doughnuts while person B could define their personal binge as not until they’ve consumed the whole dozen of doughnuts. Person A could define a personal binge as consuming two servings of potato chips while person B could define their binge as eating the entire family size bag. Make sense? We all have different thresholds in this. No judgement for any quantity, it’s more about when you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self control that leads to feelings of guilt and self punishment. That’s no good for anyone.

So let’s talk about some ways to combat it:

  1. Know your triggers. Understand what sets you off in the first place and then avoid it or prepare for it when necessary. Does going to a party trigger you to binge on the chip bowl? Plan ahead of time and know that you simply can’t hang out around the food table. Does having a giant tub of ice cream in your freezer trigger you to indulge in the entire thing as soon as you’re home alone? Don’t buy it! Does having an argument with your spouse trigger you to run to the pantry and dive into the chocolate chip cookies? Put a post-it note on your pantry door that reminds you to stop and take a few deep breathes before you’re so quick to start eating when food is not what you really need at that moment.
    • Understand this, every habit we have is part of a chain that has multiple links. Each link is attached to the next that produces a result. The key is for you to break the link that results in a binge. It only takes one alteration, like a post-it note, to put a kink in that chain and direct you to a different activity.
  2. Exercise regularly. When we exercise on a regular basis, it keeps a steady stream of endorphins going in our system and helps keep our mood stabilized. It also helps us sleep better and thus, make better decisions throughout the day. Ever been sleep deprived for a few days? Remember how emotional and irrational you were? This is a high risk time for binging. In general, those who exercise just feel better about their health and body and have an easier time maintaining their weight overall.
  3. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. If you are going to skip any meal of the day, don’t let it be this one! Really work hard to eat within 2 hours of waking up and strive for 25-30 grams of protein at that meal. This helps stabilize blood sugars, control hunger later in the day, and thus keeps your mood more even making it less likely for a binge later on. Also, usually when we start our day off healthy, we are more likely to keep it going than when we started our day off not so great (say, with a sugary, high calorie breakfast).
  4. Avoid going more than 3-5 hours without eating. This one just makes sense. If you let yourself get too hungry and the setting is right, a binge is inevitable. Plan for high protein snacks such as cheese sticks, yogurt, deli meat, nuts or high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and veggies to fill in the gaps when meals are spread far apart. Find some other options here.

Lastly, this will be a work in progress for you if you have struggled with binge eating for a long time. The tips I’ve given you will help the person who struggles with occasional episodes of binge eating that they relate to either unhealthy emotions or certain situations that act as triggers for them. I am not referring to someone who has a recognized binge eating disorder which is characterized by behaviors far beyond what is described in this blog post. If you find yourself preplanning binge episodes, eating large quantities of food (in the multiple thousand calorie range) in very short periods of time, purposely eating alone out of embarrassment over the quantity of food eaten, and feelings of “zoning out” and even forgetting what food was consumed during these episodes, you may have an eating disorder and I encourage you to seek professional help from a licensed counselor.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

How do I fit alcohol in during the holidays?

Can you believe it? It’s November and the holidays are just around the corner again. I am confident that many of you will have a plan this year and will stick to that plan well. But have you given any thought to alcohol?

Alcohol does a few things – of course it adds a gazillion calories, often unaccounted for. But more importantly, it lowers your inhibitions. So you know those Christmas cookies you swore you would limit to just one? Yeah, you need some self control to stick to that plan and alcohol is going to lower your ability to do that. Double whammy.

I get it. The holidays are a stressful time for a lot of us. Let’s face it, alcohol may be present at just the right time – that work party you didn’t really want to go to in the first place. Or that family gathering that usually ends up in some sort of nonsense argument that you’d rather not be a part of. Or yet again, you go home after a shopping trip you spent way too much money on and now you’re not sure how the electric bill is gonna get paid. Stress. Alcohol, like food, is a quick fix. But only temporary and ineffective long term.

Here are some tips to keep it real and sane this season:

  1. Incorporate alcohol into your plan if you usually indulge. One or two drinks max and then switch to a calorie free seltzer water. Social drinking can also get the best of us. If you continue to drink in a wine glass, but keep it alcohol free, you may surprise yourself how you really don’t notice. And if you don’t usually drink, well don’t start now!
  2. Be aware of calories. Light beer, non-dessert white wines, and liquor in calorie free or low calorie mixers are the lowest options. Dark beers, dessert wines, and fancy drinks can contain up to 800 calories a pop (mudslides, egg nog and rum, margaritas, etc). Know your serving sizes too. Once drink = 12 ounces beer, 4-6 ounces wine, 1 ounce liquor = 100 calories roughly
  3. Destress in other ways. Start with the source of your stress.
    • Lack of time? Find time weekly to do something fun or enjoyable. This may be off your normal routine since the holidays generally keep us busy. Whatever that is for you, just ten minutes of meditation, a few minutes set aside for daily devotions, reading a book, or getting your nails done can make a huge difference mentally.
    • Lack money? Trying a secret santa gift exchange among your extended family, cutting down on the amount of presents you normally buy your friends/family, and simply following a gift budget can all help. Try shopping ahead of time to space it out. It’s only early November and if we’d all start our gift shopping now, it would cut down on a lot of financial stress and keep us from battling the crowds later on. As Dave Ramsey says, Christmas is the same day every year, yet we all act like it’s a surprise emergency!
    • Exercise. We all know this helps with stress yet this will be the first to go when time is slim. Make it a priority this year to walk even if only 20-30 minutes a day. It will help you sleep better and handle any unknowns that come your way better. If you normally do your exercise in the evening, you may have to switch it up and do it in the morning during the holidays with a busier schedule. If you normally take the weekends off, you may need to go ahead and walk on the weekends to make up for missed time on the weekdays. Bottom line, be flexible when your schedule calls for it.
    • In the moment, try aromatherapy. When we are stuck in traffic or at the family dinner and a fight breaks out, it’s tempting to handle stress poorly. But don’t underestimate the power of aromatherapy from essential oils. Personal favorites include wild orange, lavender, and grounding blend. A drop or two can be worn on a diffuser necklace or rubbed between the palms of your hands and inhaled for a quick shot to the limbic brain – the center that controls our emotions.

Let me know what your strategy is going to be this holiday season. Do you have something to add or do you plan do use one of these tips?

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

5 ways to avoid the candy binge this Halloween

It’s coming, it’s already here actually. Especially if you have kids. We’ve already been to two festivals that left my children with bags full of candy. And we still have trunk or treat along with the actually day of trick or treating to go. We haven’t purchased our own candy to pass out, but usually we have leftovers.

So, how do you handle all that candy without gaining a gazillion pounds? I’ve come up with some tips that I hope will help you out. And no, it doesn’t involved passing out raisin boxes, toys, or boxes of floss. I’m not trying to get your house egged this year.

  1. Buy candy to pass out that you don’t care for. This should be common sense, but it’s so tempting to buy giant bags of candy bars.
  2. Buy about 25% less candy than you think you will need. I don’t know about you, but every single year, I buy way more candy to pass out than we need and then we have a ton leftover. If you do have leftover candy, donate it to your Sunday school class at church, the work break room, or wherever you think could use it. Just not your kitchen counter candy dish.
  3. Know your candy sizes. For chocolates that is. Minis are the small square candies. Snack-size and fun-size treats are usually about 2 inches long. Go for the minis! They are typically around 25 to 50 calories a pop. The “fun size” (also called “snack size”) are anything but fun for your waistline. Each one is anywhere from 70 to 85 or more calories. Have you ever stopped at just one? Ever? “Snack size” is a misnomer. It’s not enough for a snack.
  4. Remember calories count. Unfortunately sugar calories do nothing for hunger levels. All of those straight sugary concoctions – sweet tarts, lollipops, gummies, chewing gum, candy corns, chocolates, mallows, taffies, and caramels contain many calories with zero effect on satiety levels. Should you consume extra candy calories, balance it out by cutting calories from other areas of the day and add more activity. Maybe volunteer to be that one that takes the kids trick or treating around the neighborhood this year? For a list of the lowest calorie candies, go here.
  5. Relax. I usually include this tip in for any holiday. It’s just one day and one day will not mess up your efforts to live a healthy lifestyle. As long as you keep it to one day. Commit this year to celebrating each holiday with ways other than food – enjoy family, friends, the decorations, and festivities. Enjoy the traditional foods on their respective days only and the traditional weight gain that happens between now and December 31 will not happen.

Remember that sugar is addictive. Implement these strategies and you will do fine. However, if you know that starting will lead you down a dark, dark path, it’s okay to decide to stop before you even start. Let me know in the comments what has helped you to avoid the candy binge in the past or how you plan to conquer it this year.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 foods we feel guilty about loving

I thought it might be fun to highlight some foods that you may not be eating in an attempt to stay healthy or may be eating laced with guilt. And put a positive spin on them. I know I have gone through periods of my life where I’ve avoided just about all of these foods because at one time they were deemed “bad for you” and then later as “health foods.” I think it comes down to knowing that if it’s a whole food – as in something you can visualize growing in nature or at least close to it, it’s probably okay, at least in small amounts. Remember there is never going to be a cookie or a pizza tree. But you are always going to see the potato roots and the cows out grazing.

  1. Sugar: earlier this year, I hosted a 30 day “no sugar” challenge and the results were fantastic. Because truly, sugar can be addicting and I’m convinced the only way one can overcome that is through a period of elimination. However, if you are attempting to cut the bitter in your coffee, a packet of sugar is only going to add 15 calories. So don’t sweat it. If it’s someone’s birthday and you want to help them celebrate with a slice of cake, go ahead. If you love an occasional soda with your slice of pizza (they go great together), then have one. The research is strong that consuming drinks and foods made with artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss.
  2. Whole Milk: for the longest time, fat free or low fat was where it was at. Until recently. In past posts, I’ve discussed how full fat dairy products are linked to decreased risk of diabetes and at best, not linked to increased heart disease risk. Certainly, it is well known milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, important for bone health.
  3. Bacon: if chosen wisely, bacon can be more than a hunk of fat. It can actually be a tasty source of protein. The natural, uncured, nitrite/nitrate free, center cuts will be higher in protein, less saturated fat and without the unnecessary additives that may be linked to increased cancer risk.
  4. Salt: if you have been diagnosed with heart or kidney disease, then you may have been told to reduce or avoid salt. Have you ever wondered why? It comes down to fluid retention – eat salty foods, get thirsty, drink more water. This isn’t good for someone who is collecting fluid around their heart or lungs or for someone who’s kidneys aren’t filtering the fluids out of their body correctly. For the rest of us, we probably aren’t that salt sensitive and can handle it. For table salt, I recommend pink himalayan salt for the added minerals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go out and eat all the salty processed snacks you can find – they still aren’t considered health foods and contain a ton of additives and preservatives without the nutritional benefits you get from whole foods. But for those of us with normal functioning organs, we can probably handle it for the most part.
  5. Bread: it really depends on the how and why. Are you eating a sandwich? And what is on the sandwich? Usually in this manner, the bread is in two controlled slices and serving a purpose. Unfortunately though, the favorite way to eat bread is in the form of an endless loaf or basket of rolls and tub of butter. It’s really all in context.
  6. Potatoes: no, I’m not talking about sweet potatoes. I’m talking about the good ole white potatoes we all love to demonize. Sure, if you are eating chips or french fries, go ahead and continue to hate them. But what about a baked potato? They are actually rich in folate, niacin, potassium, and and phosphorous. Much of the time, we are eating processed cereals fortified with these minerals, but potatoes are natural sources, which means our bodies can absorb them better. Try a loaded baked potato and salad for lunch or dinner – add plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream for extra protein. And eat the skin for extra insoluble fiber.
  7. Pasta: okay, it’s hard to make this a health food, but hear me out. The problem is when we pile a giant heap of pasta on a plate with an ooey gooey cream sauce and a side of buttery garlic bread. Instead think of what is called the “plate method.” This means, you are filling your plate up with about 25-30% pasta, 50% non starchy vegetables, and 25-30% meat. This could be sectioned out or mixed together in a  pasta dish. Point is, your pasta dish has more vegetables than pasta and the side is a salad not a few slices of garlic bread. Make sense?
  8. Red meat: while I don’t necessarily recommend eating red meat every day, this is a good source of iron and B vitamins if consumed once a week. Remember that cuts like sirloin, round, and flank are considered lean. If choosing a higher fat option, just be sure to cut the visible fat off before consuming. Our bodies are able to absorb minerals easier from meat than plants or fortified sources so if you do eat meat and have trouble with iron, this is a better option. For those of you that are anemic and struggle with iron, you know that taking supplements is no pleasant task because of the side effects. Last week, I talked about choosing grass fed meat, which incidentally tends to be your leanest choice.
  9. Eggs: once thought to be a cause of heart disease, that is no longer true. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is important for supporting healthy brain function and liver function. Also an easy, cheap source of protein for not only breakfast, but snack time and lunch or dinner.

Did I give you permission to start eating any of these foods more often? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is grass fed healthier?

Do you consume grass fed beef, dairy, or butter?  I gotta admit, when I started digging into the research, I wanted to throw in the towel quickly because this is one of those topics that can be debated pretty heavily and the research is not conclusive either. But is it ever in the area of nutrition?

A little back ground for you. Most of the beef you purchase in the store is going to be grain fed. And the dairy you buy will come from cow’s who have consumed grain feed made from soy and corn. Why? Because cows fed grain grow faster and frankly, grain is kinda like cake and ice cream to them. They love it and it’s cheaper. Win-win, right? I can see this – I have a pet rabbit and while she is supposed to eat mostly hay, she very well prefers her little rabbit food pebbles over the hay hanging in her cage that is much healthier for her digestive system. I’ve read the grain feed isn’t good for her if she eats too much and in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s addicted to the stuff. She’s kinda fat actually.

Back to the cows though. Why should we care what they eat? More importantly, does it really matter? I mean, I’m a dietitian and even I wonder this because I have better things to do than worry about what the cows ate before their milk was turned into butter and melted on my morning bagel….like my obese pet rabbit, my child’s missing homework (again), and the fact that I haven’t made time to get my oil changed in six months (true story.)

Well one reason I believe it’s getting attention is because the standard American diet (aka SAD) is so low in healthy omega 3s fats (the kind that helps lower inflammation in the body and protect against heart disease). It is a proven fact that grass fed beef products are higher in omega 3 fats than grain fed. However, that does not mean eating a grass fed hamburger is a high source of omega 3 fats. In fact, in a four ounce hamburger patty, you will only get 80 milligrams of omega 3 fats. I’m not impressed. The best sources remain fatty fish like salmon (~1700 milligrams in three ounces), walnuts (~2600 milligrams in 1/4 cup), and flax seed (~1600 milligrams in 1 tablespoon.) Problem is, when is the last time you ate any of those items? And do you eat them daily? I don’t.

Let’s break it down though. Because it goes deeper, much deeper. There are different types of omega 3 fatty acids, and this is where I was tempted to throw in the towel. But I pressed on.

  1. Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA and DHA): these are the two heavy hitter omega 3 fatty acids that our body can use directly. They are well known for fighting inflammation, and reducing heart disease. This is the kind found in fish. This is what you want.
  2. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Grass-fed butter contains five times more CLA than butter from grain-fed cows. Why is that a big deal? CLA converts inside your body to DHA and EPA.
  3. Butyric acid: beneficial in aiding digestion and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a short chain fatty acid found highest in amounts in high quality butter, ghee, and raw milk among other types of foods. Fun fact: it is responsible for the smell of vomit. Doesnt that make you want to run out and buy some butter now?
  4. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA): small amounts are converted to EPA and DHA. This is the kind primarily found in grass fed beef. Much larger amounts are found in walnuts and flaxseeds, as stated above. But evidence shows you really need the EPA and DHA to be used by the body.

What’s the bottom line here though? From my research, there isn’t any hard evidence that grass fed butter or dairy will improve one’s heart disease risk when substituted for the grain fed versions. I’ve written extensively on the topic of dairy in the past, check it out here. What there is evidence for, is that those in countries that are provided mostly grass fed beef and dairy are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease if they are among those who consume the highest amount of full fat dairy products. Keep in mind, these studies I linked are just observations, so they don’t necessarily prove that eating high amounts of dairy and/or beef cause a lower risk of heart attack. But they still show something.

Okay, but what else? This is where I think it really counts. So pay attention if you’ve been half reading so far. After asking around and digging more, I found that the real concern is the genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs. Recall cattle feed is made mostly from ground up corn and soy, which tastes super yummy to them. Currently, 89% of corn and 94% of soy is grown with genetically modified seeds (check it out.)

Why? So that they are resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate, aka Roundup. Well, the cows are eating it not us, so why should we care? According to this study, this widely used herbicide accumulates in the animal tissue and urine. This means it remains in the hamburgers we eat and milk we drink. That study also found that it accumulates in human tissue, by the way. This is a highly controversial topic. But there are studies suggesting glycphosate is linked to a host of health issues we are experiencing in the world today to include cancer, including non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, parkinson’s disease, birth defects, hormonal disruptions, kidney disease, and a host of other health issues. Unfortunately, the issue of GMO avoidance goes far beyond choosing grass fed beef and dairy products. But that’s for another blog post.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN