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

Drink coffee and eat cheese to lower your diabetes risk?

It’s no secret that obesity is an epidemic in the United States and many other developed countries. Because of that, comorbid conditions that are related to extra weight are on the rise. Of particular interest is Type 2 Diabetes, a condition where your body cannot use insulin properly to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing hyperglycemia (aka high blood sugar.)

A quick science lesson to understand what’s going on in someone who has diabetes: insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary to move glucose (sugar) molecules into our body’s cells for energy. Every cell in the body requires glucose to function. If those glucose molecules are hanging out in the blood stream, they aren’t doing their job and instead, are creating problems like blurred vision, excessive hunger/thirst and fatigue because the body is essentially acting like you haven’t eaten. Chronically high blood sugars lead to heart disease, kidney failure, and permanent nerve damage. No organ can function correctly in a thick, syrupy-like bloodstream.

This is why prevention and management of diabetes is so important. It can absolutely be diet controlled and I’ve witnessed many individuals be able to get off of their diabetes meds with enough weight loss and diet modifications. It’s possible. But always better to not have it to begin with since diabetes is not curable. Note, I’m only referring to Type 2 diabetes here. Type 1 is genetic, usually diagnosed in childhood, and happens when the pancreas produces no insulin at all. It is unrelated to lifestyle factors. 

So what foods increase your risk? Let’s start there since more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 86 million are living with pre-diabetes. Many of those unaware. Some risk factors like age, genetics, race, and family history are out of our control. However, one thing we can do is choose what we put on our plates. Emerging research has some interesting results on just exactly what to choose and what to ditch.

Foods that increase risk:

  • refined/processed carbohydrates such as crackers, cereal, white bread, cookies, snack cakes, chips, pastries, etc. Interestingly, those marketed as “low-fat, fat-free, and low carb” are also linked to an increased diabetes risk. Why? Because they are still processed!
  • red meat (according to this study “red meat” included beef, pork, and lamb)
  • processed red meat (think bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, bologna, etc)
  • sugary drinks like fruit juice with added sugars, soda, fruit punch, lemonade, sweet tea, etc

Foods that have a neutral effect (at least for now):

  • butter
  • poultry (according to the research, the evidence is not clear if it increases or decreases risk)
  • 100% fruit juice without added sugars
  • eggs (can we all just agree it’s okay to eat eggs already?)
  • fish (although may decrease risk in some Asian populations)

Foods that decrease risk:

  • green leafy, vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains (unrefined, with the bran still intact)
  • monounsaturated fats (such as avocados, nut butters, mixed nuts)
  • high-fat dairy products (cheese, cream, whole milk, kefir, yogurt) *you read that right, check it out here
  • coffee (add some cream! who else is getting excited? It’s true, really I’m not lying to justify my addiction.)
  • tea
  • alcohol (2 drink limit for men, 1-1.5 drink limit for women, but no need to start if you don’t) *you read that right, too

Much of the research cited is from food frequency questionnaires on large scale studies. As you may know from my previous posts, this method of data collection is not the most reliable, but it’s difficult to control human behavior, especially when it comes to diet over a long period of time. Either way, I think these lists of food gives us some valuable insight on what we can control in our own life.

Lastly, remember that your diabetes risk increases after the age of 45, exercising less than three times per week, being overweight, and having a family history of diabetes. 

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 Excuses why we don’t exercise (and how to bust through them)

We all have that one friend who loves to exercise. They swear by it and if they miss a day, everyone knows about it because they claim to feel terrible. You wanna be like them. Well maybe not just like them, but you want to at least want to exercise.But as of this post, you can’t remember the last time you actually did exercise. I’m gonna help you out and just lay all of the most common excuses for why exercise is so easy to justify not doing and then tell you why they are totally false. Sound good? If you read on, you may no longer use these excuses. Fair warning.

Excuse #1: I don’t have enough time. Well join the club. I’m gonna give you a little eye-opener though – think of the last really good book you read. Like, Hunger Games/Fifty Shades Trilogy good (whatever you thing is). How long did it take you to read all 3 books? Be honest. How did you make the time? Stay up all night? Make the kids cook their own dinner? Skip a tv show or two? Here’s the deal- we make time for what we want. It comes down to priorities. I’m not telling you to stop scrolling on Facebook (although we all could probably benefit from less time spent there), but I am telling you to evaluate how you spend your time if this is the excuse you hold near and dear.

Tips to bust through it: Wear a pedometer. I highly recommend the Omron HJ325. It doesn’t cost much and is one of the more accurate step counters I have used it for years. Could be a FitBit if you want to get more fancy and track your heart rate, sleep quality, and time. Exercise is great, but it’s more about being physically active throughout the day. I talk about step goals here. Break it up if you are really that strapped for time. Say, two to three fifteen walk breaks daily instead of one 45 minute walk around the neighborhood. Most of us can find an extra ten or fifteen minutes here and there throughout our day where we are wasting time and could be walking. Step counters make you more aware of how you can fit in “accidental” activity as well (i.e. stairs, parking farther away, walking allll the way over to your colleague’s cubicle instead of sending an email, etc). If you need to sneak in resistance training, keep a set of hand weights by your couch to do while watching television, bring resistance bands to work and learn exercises that are easy to do between phone calls. Multitask!

Excuse #2: I’m exhausted. I get it. I have two kids, church commitments, a part-time job, and I own a business. My day usually starts at 5:30 a.m. and ends around 10:30 p.m. I’m sure you have lots of your own stuff that wears you out. Thing is, being exhausted is often a symptom of physical inactivity. Ouch. Energetic people are in motion.

Tips to bust through it: If you need to get up and go first thing when you wake up, before you have time to talk yourself out of it, then put your shoes by the door and clothes by the bathroom sink where you go to brush your teeth. Make it a habit. When I used to work full time, I would bring my clothes with me to work and go for a long walk or run in the neighborhood behind our building before I got in the car to go home. I knew myself and once I got in the door, not only would the day catch up, but the evening responsibilities would swallow me up too. Other days I would take two or three short walk breaks to total 20-30 minutes a day just to stay awake! Working at a desk job with no windows will zap your energy alone.

Excuse #3: I hurt too much. This is possibly one of the more difficult challenges to bust through. Little known fact: I’m a chronic pain sufferer myself. So again, I get it. Here’s what I know about chronic pain – the more you sit around and think about it, the worse it gets. The less you move, the worse it gets. If you have pain, it is MORE of a reason to move, NOT less. If you’re complaining because of common post exercise muscle soreness, well that’s supposed to happen and it’s a good thing. If you work muscles that aren’t used to moving, they’re naturally gonna revolt on you. Over time, this won’t happen so much as you get stronger. To some degree, you always want to feel some soreness as a sign that you are challenging yourself a bit, but not to a point that it’s painful.

Tips to bust through it: Modify. Not everyone was meant to run cross country or train for triathlons. That’s okay. In fact, one of the best exercises you can do is walk. If you are going for general health, thirty minutes most days is the goal. If you are aiming to lose and maintain weight loss, you’ll need to go for 45-60 minutes most days. If you have an injury that keeps you from walking that much, try bicycling, swimming, or even seeing a physical therapist if you need to. Point is, you can always find something that will work for you if you seek and ask for help. In the long run, you may even experience less pain. Win-win!

Excuse #4: I really don’t like to exercise. This is my favorite! Saying this is like saying “I don’t like food, so I won’t eat.” There are just way too many choices to say that kind of statement. What you are really saying is “I don’t have any reason not to exercise, I just don’t want to.” Sorry, this just isn’t an excuse.

Tips to bust through it: Be willing to try new things. Walking sound boring? Get a partner to pass the time. Try group classes. Change it up and alternate activities. If you like sports, remember that counts as activity, so find a local team that meets for fun. Is the gym intimidating? Go during off hours when not many people are there. You could always skip the gym altogether and stay home and do videos on YouTube, purchase exercise DVDs, or walk outdoors. There are just too many options to try to say you don’t like any of it.

Excuse #5: It’s too hot, too cold, raining, snowing outside. It’s always one of these things outside. Where I live, we get about two weeks of Fall weather (so, when it’s none of those things), another two weeks of semi-cold, and the other 48 weeks are hot and/or raining. So this excuse can be made a lot.

Tips to bust through it: Go early before the elements kick in. Go later in the evening after the sun has gone down. When it’s colder, go mid-day when the sun is at peak. If it’s raining or during the summer when temperatures reach heat-stroke warning highs, be flexible and go indoors. I’ve given you lots of options already of what to do inside. Some gyms offer month to month memberships. If you live by a mall, most of them open early enough before the shops so that you can go walking inside. Don’t worry about looking silly, everyone else is in there doing the same thing!

This just about covers the main excuses for why people don’t exercise. I’ve used them all. You’ve probably used some, too. In addition to the tips I’ve given you to bust through them, I’ve also been able to lessen my pain and increase my energy by using the right vitamins and nutritional supplements. So many of us walk around with vague symptoms like fatigue, achy joints, and daily headaches and don’t realized it can be linked to a simple nutrient deficiency. Our food supply and many of the vitamins on the market today are stripped of the vital nutrients our bodies need to feel our best. If you’d like to know more about the brand I use and trust, feel free to contact me.

So tell me, are you ready to bust through these excuses? If you are, you may want some accountability. I’m beginning a 30 day Fitness Challenge on Monday, July 17, to take us through the rest of summer. If you want in, click here to join and for directions to get in.

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Why you need to do more than just go to the gym

Have you ever gotten on a gym kick and decided you were gettin’ that membership, signing up for that personal trainer, and committing to going daily? And then after a week or two got on the scale expecting to see the pounds just melt off? I mean, you’ve been working your tail off and you can barely open a pickle jar these days because your arms hurt so bad. It’s only fair that the scale should be at least ten pounds down. At least.

But that’s not what happens. In fact, you gained weight.

Your personal trainer tells you some line about muscle gains. But deep down you know it’s unlikely. You hurt but not enough to justify two pounds of muscle in seven days for God’s sake. So why did this happen?

Here are some possible reasons:

  1. You didn’t change your diet to coincide with this newfound lease on exercise. And more often than not, people increase their caloric intake because naturally, you feel hungrier with the extra calorie burn and you eat to match that hunger. Or, feelings of “earning” that extra slice of pizza creep in- I mean seriously, your personal trainer was pretty hard on you today.
  2. You did change your diet, but you’ve cut your calories way too low and now your body has gone into starvation mode (i.e. storage factory for calories because you’re burning them and cutting them and your metabolism doesn’t know what to do with that.) Side note: this is usually not the case, but it’s worth mentioning for anyone who has cut their calories <1000. Our bodies are better at protection from famine than we given it credit for.
  3. You’ve increased your carb intake either with protein shakes from the gym’s ultra fancy smoothie bar or any extra post-work out snack full of carbs and now your body is storing it all with water because that’s what carbs cozy up with and leave you feeling bloated.
  4. The most likely cause: you’ve given yourself permission to sit on the couch for the rest of the day and you aren’t living a physically active lifestyle. Did you know people who live a physically active lifestyle are actually healthier than those who just go to the gym and do nothing else? Were gyms even a “thing” for non-athletes twenty or thirty years ago?

So let’s talk about getting physically active. Because prior to the computer age, desk jobs weren’t so common. But now that we are spending most of our lives sitting down, at a computer, we have to be more aware of what many health professionals call “the sitting disease.” If you are spending seven hours or more sitting (watching television, reading a book/newspaper, playing/working on your phone or tablet, or at your computer), you are at risk. Recent studies have suggested that is is just as bad for our health as smoking. Smoking!!

Let’s be clear – being physically active is not the same as exercise. And this can be good news for those of us that don’t particularly care for planned exercise. A study done at Mayo Clinic compared something they called non-exercise activity thermogenesis (NEAT) between self proclaimed “couch potatoes”  and people who were more physically active. NEAT includes activities like laughing, fidgeting, standing, walking, and talking. Both sets of groups wore underwear that measured their every move, day and night.

What they found was that the people who were able to turn on their NEAT did NOT gain fat when they were overfed by 1000 calories daily. People who didn’t turn on their NEAT gained TEN TIMES more fat. Can you believe that??

So how can you apply this to your life?

I suggest getting yourself a good pedometer so that you can track your daily steps. I really like the Omron HJ325. You will quickly find that you probably walk less than 3000 steps per day and that’s not good. It’s easier than you think to increase this though. Just ten minutes at a time is enough to count as a walking activity. So, plan for three, ten minute walks a day and you are doing the same thing as if you decided to do a thirty minute walk all at once. But, you are more likely to stay consistent with this routine.

Why? Because let’s say you always walk for thirty minutes after work. Inevitably something is going to happen after work every so often – you get a flat tire, the kids have a ball game, you’re too tired, you get caught at work late, etc. However, if you split it up, you still at least got twenty minutes in and you’re only out those ten minutes after work. Make sense? So commit to splitting it up. The other benefit of this is, most of us won’t have to get on any special work out clothes or take a shower after a ten minute walk.

So how many steps are enough? Your first goal will be to work your way up to 5000 to get out of the sedentary zone. Then, keeping in mind if you have been a total couch potato, work yourself up without beating yourself up using the below chart. Another way to look at is, if the amount of steps you are walking is meeting your weight goals (i.e. you are maintaining or losing), then it’s enough. If it’s not (so, you’re gaining weight), well then you need to add steps or cut back on your calorie intake.

Also, think of your typical day now. Are there times when you could be standing rather than sitting? For example, could you move that piece of exercise equipment that is holding up your clothes to a place in front of your tv? Could you stand while taking phone calls at work instead of sitting? Can you take the stairs rather than an elevator? Park a little further away? This stuff adds up.

Whether you like going to the gym or not, it’s important to remember that it’s about our lifestyle as a whole when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance. Set some daily goals starting now and you’ll be surprised how far you can go over the next six months.

P.S. If you’ve been looking for support, you’ve come to the right place, request to join my online support group for all things nutrition and weight loss support.

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Jillian McMullen, CSOWM, RDN, LDN