Being SMART About Making Positive, Sustainable Changes

It’s hard to believe that another year is almost done! Like many of us, as we approach the new year, you may be considering some resolutions to set. But were you aware that nearly 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail? And by February, no less.

We’ve all been there: feeling energized about a new goal—determined to make it happen—only to fall off the wagon three weeks later, get discouraged and give up. It happens to the best of us (we’ve all been part of that 80% statistic at one point or another!) What can you do differently in  the coming New Year? How can you set yourself up for long-term success?

Let’s first outline why your resolutions might have failed in years past:

1. You shot for the moon, but didn’t land among the stars

Many goals fail because they’re made too big. Considering the outcome of the goal—losing 30 lbs, increasing your income by 70%, going on X number of dates per month to find your soulmate—might sound great and provide a lot of motivation… at first.

That motivation rarely lasts when we set out goals that are too big. In fact, it often overwhelms our brains, making the outcome feel impossible when we hit our first bump in the road or begin to face the reality of the work required to reach the goal.

2. You’re setting your goals for someone else

Let’s say your spouse really wants you to learn Spanish before your trip to Mexico together. You reluctantly agree to set the resolution to learn… but secretly have no interest in becoming fluent over the course of a year.

You keep up with lessons for a few weeks, only to start skipping them as time passes. You don’t want to disappoint your partner, but also realize you didn’t have any genuine interest in learning Spanish in the first place.

This is the trap many of us can run into when setting goals. We decide that we want to lose weight, quit an unhealthy habit, or invest in stocks because of the pressure from others, rather than our genuine desire to achieve the goal. True intrinsic motivation is key to making huge changes in life.

3. You have no accountability or plan

Ben Franklin summarized it best when he said, “By failing to plan, you are preparing to fail.” You are more likely to hit your goals if you plan to make them happen. Specifically, the plan needs to feel realistic and achievable, not overwhelming.

Accountability is important, too. To quote another familiar idiom, “It takes a village…” You can apply that saying to any goal: weight loss, healthy eating, increasing your daily step average—anything! When you feel completely on your own with your goals, it can be hard to follow through or maintain motivation when the going gets tough.

 

So, what can you do differently this year? Refresh yourself on SMART goals

You might have learned about SMART goals in a high school PE course, but rest assured they’re just as relevant now as ever. SMART goals are a simple and clear way to create attainable, actionable goals—ones that help you land in the 20% of successful new year’s resolutions, rather than the 80% of failed goals!

SMART stands for…

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Relevant

Timely

To go deeper on each…

Specific: Specificity is key to clearly outlining your goals. A vague goal garners vague results. For example, let’s say you want to eat more vegetables in the new year. Consider the following options…

“I want to eat healthier in the New Year” versus “I want to eat at least two servings of vegetables per day in the New Year”.

Which do you think will be easier to follow through on? If you said the second option, you’re correct. The vagueness of “eating healthy” muddles your goal, creating more potential for inconsistency and failure in the resolution.

Measurable: Going hand in hand with specificity is creating goals that are measurable. You should be able to track your progress towards your goal, or at least track the effort and work you’re putting into the goal. Take the following example:

Let’s say you want to get in shape in the new year, and you’re particularly interested in taking up weightlifting. Consider the following two goals:

“I am going to increase my deadlift personal record by 10 lbs every month” versus “I want to feel stronger by the end of 2023”.

Do you see how the first option is much clearer? It’s a sizable goal, but not such a huge leap that it becomes overwhelming. You can tangibly measure how much weight you can lift via your personal records.  

Achievable: Let’s circle back to the idea of “shooting for the moon” here. Your goals should be big and exciting for sure, but if they’re too large they’ll overwhelm you and lead to feelings of defeat. You want your goals to stretch your capacity, but still feel achievable. This is the happy medium where you can build trust in yourself without creating additional stress or anxiety about reaching your goal.

If we expand on the last example, let’s say you’re planning to join a gym to increase your weight lifting abilities and overall strength. You haven’t been on a regular gym schedule in years. At first, you want to go all in: “I’m going to go to the gym 5x / week!”

This attempt at a goal is a great example of shooting for the moon… but landing nowhere near the moon, stars, planet, anything! If you’re going from 0 gym trips / week to 5 trips, you likely will lose momentum and end up back where you started.

A more achievable goal would be to aim for 3 trips to the gym / week, but making a minimum of 2 trips per week your absolute non-negotiable. Set aside specific times that you’ll dedicate to your goal to make it all the more achievable.

Relevant: You need to be motivated to reach your own goals. Like we mentioned earlier, if you’re “setting goals for someone else,” you will likely struggle to maintain motivation and actually reach your goals.

When considering how relevant your resolutions are, you should ask yourself: “Why do I want to pursue this goal? Why is it important for me?” Relevant goals will have an authentic and compelling answer to this question. Irrelevant goals will likely have answers that include the wishes of another person.

Give yourself permission to put yourself first and pursue goals that you are passionate about.

Timely: Add a timeline to your goal. Consider when you want to reach major milestones to keep yourself accountable and motivated! Nothing feels better than checking in on your goals and realizing your hard work is genuinely paying off—that’s the goal with making your resolutions timely.

For example, let’s say you set a goal to read 20 non-fiction books in the New Year (see how that’s measurable and specific?). You read 15 non-fiction books this year (achievable—you’ve done something similar before and now you’re ready to expand), and you simply love learning through books (relevant—it’s something YOU want to do!).

To make this goal timely, you’d set the goal of reading 10 non-fiction books by July 1st—the halfway point of the year!

That sums up the SMART goals process. Apply this to your goals to weed out those that perhaps aren’t relevant to you, and focus your energy on achieving those you care the most about! And maybe, this year, you set the resolution to be SMART about your goals and really make them happen. Use these tips to become part of the 20%!

The Gut’s Natural Defense Against Viruses

I listened to a podcast featuring the author of the new book by Robynne Chutkan, MD:  “The Anti-Viral Gut: Tackling Pathogens from the Inside Out”. She is an integrative gastroenterologist who founded the Digestive Center for Wellness which focuses on education around the importance of gut health. Her new book explains that it’s less about the pathogens but more about how we as the host (of our gut) manage these invaders.

A summary of highlights:
  • The first three years of a baby’s life are critical for establishing a healthy microbiome:
    • When babies are born, they turn posteriorly and on the way out, swallow a bunch of the mom’s microbes. As such, babies born vaginally are colonized with the mother’s bifidobacteria. But C-section babies are filled with hospital acquired bacteria and this is not a good way to establish the infant’s microbiome.
    • Human breast milk has oligosaccharides that feed the baby’s good bacteria.
    • C-section babies have higher rates of obesity, autoimmune disease, asthma and allergies and these risks can stay with them for several years.
    • A study at Mt. Sinai Medical Center showed that repeated use of antibiotics in early childhood was a big risk factor in developing Crohn’s Disease and ulcerative colitis.
    • Studies have also shown that pediatricians only prescribe antibiotics 7% of the time when parents do not expect it but 63% of the time when parents do. So parents need to be more mindful about the use of antibiotics for their kids.
  • It’s clear that frequent use of antibiotics INCREASES the risk of getting an infection because you’re killing off all the good bacteria.
  • Antibiotics also drive sweet cravings as they kill off the good bacteria.
  • A study at Johns Hopkins showed that Clostridium Difficile bacteria is linked to colon cancer – C-diff kills over 10,000 people in the US every year.
  • Viruses have gotten a bad rap. Did you know that 10% of our DNA is viral material? If a virus infects a reproductive cell like the sperm cell or ovum, it’s passed down and becomes part of our genetic material. So yes – we are viral entities.
  • We’ve seen a huge shift from antibiotics to probiotics. Remember the Triclosan soaps and toothpastes? Now the latest craze is probiotic everything!
  • It’s been said that if we had zero viruses, the world would be great for about 1.5 days and then we’d all die. Viruses are an integral part of our life on earth and necessary for plankton, salination of water and the ecosystem in general.
  • Women should NOT smell like a Summer’s eve!
    • Douches are bad as it destroys the vaginal environment. In the vagina, lactobacillus is the prominent bacteria and it’s this strain that is more resilient to STDs, HIV and HPV. Exposure to viruses is inevitable but infections and illnesses are not. If women don’t have enough lactobacillus, it increases risks for STDs – genital warts, carcinoma, etc. So, the host health matters!
    • com is a company that will run a full vaginal microbiome panel.
  • According to Pasteur’s germ theory, if the soil is healthy, the seed can pass without causing much disruption. But if the soil is disrupted, pathogens (like Ebola) can cause illness. It’s not the pathogen but the lack of good bacteria to balance out the bad that is important. There’s a lot of evidence that a weak bacterial microbiome makes you more susceptible to viral illnesses.
  • Chutkan indicates that only 0.5% of people get polio from exposure to the virus. Also, in two out of three people, exposure to Ebola does not make them sick. And 10% of HIV exposed people do not get infected. Why? Because the host is healthy and can fight off the invaders.
  • The Human Microbiome Project is researching the relationship between human diseases and the microbiome. One of the hallmark studies looked at the predictive value of the microbiome. High levels of good bacteria and low levels of bad bacteria was 92% more accurate in predicting respiratory failure, time in the ICU, and death than age and co-morbidities and inflammatory markers.
  • We are only as healthy as our least healthy citizens. Why? For example, with obesity, people that are overweight exhibit prolonged viral shedding. This gives more opportunity for the virus to mutate and infect others. So, if you have a large population of obese people, you will have higher levels of contagiousness and prolonged shedding with opportunities for viral mutation.
Now, how do we become resilient?   
  • First, we should look at our medicine cabinet:
    • Acid blockers like Prilosec, Nexium and others shut down stomach acid. So if you ingest a virus, you are unable to kill it and this will infect intestinal cells. A study came out in July 2020 of 54,000 patients showing that being on an acid blocker doubles your risk of a viral infection if you take it once a day and 3-4X if you take it twice a day! Why is there NO public health announcement about this?
    • NSAIDS and overuse of antibiotics damage the gut lining and make it easier for viruses to penetrate. For example, a study done in Korea showed that multi-system inflammatory syndrome in kids and adults is associated with increased intestinal permeability – they were able to isolate the virus in the stool and the bloodstream.
    • Mucus blockers: When you have a viral infection, you will have increased mucus production which comes from the gut – your body is doing what it needs to do. The mucus is generated to trap and expel the virus. You do not want to take an anti-histamine to dry up the mucus membrane.
    • Fever: Did you know that polio replicates 250X faster at normal body temperature vs. a fever temperature? Fever is our body’s way of slowing down viral replication and it also activates our immune system. Do not take fever reducers when the body is trying to do the right thing.
  • Sleep is necessary for the immune system to function properly. There’s plenty of data on the impact of sleep on immunity. A study conducted at Carnegie Mellon showed that those who are sleep deprived are at 76% greater risk of getting an infection. But for each additional hour of sleep one gets, there is a 12% drop in risk. Were you also aware that even vaccines are less effective when sleep-deprived?
  • It’s good to be dirty – our society is way too sanitized for our own good! Back in the day, we were lucky to have a bath once a month – now, we’re showering 2X a day with shampoos, body washes, fragrances, scrubs, etc.
  • Chutkan likes the Visbiome probiotic as a lot of research has been done on this product. It has 450B colony forming units in a packet.  It is available online without a prescription: https://www.visbiome.com
  • Adults have more stable microbiomes and the best way to feed these microbes is with a whole foods diet rich in fiber and fermented foods. Go to the farmers’ market and buy fermented veggies like sauerkraut and fresh produce. Also eat foods high in inulin like leeks, garlic and onions. Caveat: if you are sensitive to molds and histamine, fermented foods may not work for you so you need to know your kryptonite and find what’s suitable for your gut.

To find your gut bliss, check out the book here: https://robynnechutkan.com

Listen to the podcast here: https://daveasprey.com/dr-robynne-chutkan-998/

How Not to Say “Honey – I Shrunk My Brain”

“There are three signs of old age: Loss of memory… I forget the other two.”

– Red Skelton

Are you experiencing forgetfulness, processing lapses or recollection issues? Not as sharp and quick as you used to be? Oh… those senior moments. Is it a part of getting old or can we do something about it? Or can it be varying stages of Mild Cognitive Impairment? (also called MCI – and no, it’s not a phone company).

Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) is the precursor to the more serious dementia or Alzheimer’s disease (AD). The physiological changes that start to occur in MCI (as in dementia or AD) include decreased size of the hippocampus, a brain region important for memory; increased size of the brain’s fluid-filled spaces, known as ventricles; and reduced use of glucose in key regions of the brain.

An estimated 15% of people over 65 with MCI develop dementia over a one-year period compared to only about 2% of the population without MCI. However, in many cases, the causes can be identified and are treatable; often to maintain the same level of cognitive ability or even improve.1,2  Early diagnosis is the key for various treatment options, management of its progression and for implementing strategies to maximize the treatment outcomes.  

Possible symptoms of MCI 1,2

Do you have these symptoms?

  • Losing things often
  • Forgeting appointments, events
  • Difficulty in finding words
  • Losing train of thought or can’t follow the plot of a book or movie
  • Having trouble following a conversation
  • Difficulty in making decisions, finishing a task or following instructions
  • Having trouble finding your way around well-known places
  • Poor judgment
  • Movement difficulties
  • Problems with your sense of smell
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A short temper and aggression
  • A lack of interest

What are the risk factors?1,2

  • Increasing age: BUT age does not define us. There are plenty of centenarians that are mentally sharp and still going strong. Except for knowing where I put my cellphone, my mental clarity is what it was 20 years ago!
  • Genetic factor: the APOE e4 gene which is also linked to Alzheimer’s disease. I had mine tested because of family history with my mom who suffered from Alzheimer’s. But having this gene is does not necessarily mean you will contract this disease. And the reverse is also true – not having this gene is not a guarantee that you won’t get Alzheimer’s. Case in point – although my mother has never been genetically tested, I am POSITIVE that she developed dementia and Alzheimer’s due to her lifestyle – she worked the night shift for 40 years and had a lot of stress and sleep deprivation during her lifetime.
  • Diabetes – cognitive dysfunction is a comorbidity of diabetes.
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol – this leads to brain damage.
  • High blood pressure
  • Head injury – sports like football are one of the big risk factors.
  • Obesity – A 5M person study showed the link between obesity and cognitive dysfunction.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea.
  • Lack of physical exercise.
  • Lack of mentally or socially stimulating activities.
  • Exposure to air pollution.

Reducing the above risk factors and involving in key activities may minimize the symptoms and help successfully deal with MCI.

Check out the images below showing changes in brain structure over time and with disease

What can I do to avoid MCI?1,2

  • Learn a new skill – how about a new language, a hobby like knitting, pottery making or something that incorporates a level of complexity.
  • Follow a daily routine – but don’t get stuck in a rut.
  • Plan tasks, make to-do lists, and use memory tools such as calendars and notes.
  • Put your wallet or purse, keys, phone, and glasses in the same place each day.
  • Stay involved in activities that can help both the mind and body.
  • Volunteer in your community, at a school, or at your place of worship.
  • Spend time with friends and family.
  • Get quality sleep, generally seven to eight hours each night.
  • Exercise at a moderate to vigorous intensity most days of the week.
  • Eat a healthy diet full of nutrients including whole fruits and vegetables and lots of spices.
  • Prevent or control high blood pressure.
  • Limit consumption of alcohol – I love wine (a lot) but it no longer likes me so I decided to give it up altogether.
  • Get help if you feel depressed for a period of time.
  • Wear a hearing aid if you have hearing loss.
  • Stimulate your mind with puzzles, games and memory training.
  • Virtual reminders.

MCI may be an early sign of progression into a more serious dementia and AD which may take up to 20 years to manifest its symptoms. Effective intervention may be possible through a doctor or specialist if these conditions are identified early. Focusing actively on prevention with a healthy lifestyle, diet, exercise, sleep and proactive mindset should lower the risks.

Who wants a shriveled brain? Not me!

References:

1.   What Is Mild Cognitive Impairment? | National Institute on Aging (nih.gov)

2. www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mild-cognitive-impairment/symptoms-causes/syc-2035

Managing Mental Wellness With a Chronic Illness

Nearly sixty percent of all Americans struggle with sometype of chronic illness, whether it’s hypertension, heart disease, diabetes or cancer, as reported by the CDC. It’s a sure bet that you or someone you know is currently managing a chronic illness; it’s more common than many of us realize, regardless of whether we’re struggling with the disease ourselves.

Unfortunately, chronic diseases are all too common. What’s worse, however, is that chronic conditions can also beget mental illness. In this blog, we’ll share the connection between chronic conditions and mental health, and provide some tips on optimizing mental wellness while navigating chronic illness.

The link between chronic disease and mental health

A chronic disease is an umbrella term which refers to illnesses that typically last a year or longer and require ongoing medical attention or treatment. Some chronic diseases come from negative lifestyle factors like smoking or excessive alcohol intake, while others are genetic or brought about by stress. Even more unfortunately, some chronic diseases are enigmatic—physicians don’t always know exactly what brought them on, often making prevention and treatment all the more difficult.

People say when it rains, it pours, and that’s often how it is for people living with chronic diseases. Homewood Health reports that people with chronic conditions often experience…

    • More incidences of depression, as people with chronic conditions are twice as likely to develop major depressive disorder
    • Higher levels of stress
    • Increased anxiety
    • Higher instances of mood disorders
    • Changes in self-esteem and body image

And more.

Part of the reason that chronic conditions can become so mentally debilitating is the difficulty of diagnosis for less understood diseases. Patients may experience their symptoms intensely, but those same symptoms don’t always show up on diagnostic tests. This leads many people on a long, frustrating journey of testing, seeing multiple doctors, getting every specialist’s take, and doing a LOT of self-advocating at the doctor’s office.

In addition, managing your health is hard. Whether you know exactly what your chronic illness is or not, it can be like walking on eggshells to ensure you’re eating right, getting enough exercise, sleeping well, staying mentally fit and doing everything you can to boost your health. When improvements aren’t rapid enough, it can feel defeating and further spike anxiety and stress.

Steps you can take to improve your mental well-being

Enough of the Debbie Downer energy, because there’s also good news here. There are plenty of things you can do to boost your mental health and ensure that your mental wellness isn’t majorly affected by any physical health issues. We’ve listed them out for you below:

1. Physical Movement

Exercise is one of the simplest ways to maintain your health and move stress out of your body. Not only does physical activity improve your physical health, but it also is a huge factor affecting your mental wellness. Working out—walking, mowing the lawn, heading to the gym, practicing yoga—signals to your mind and body that stressful events of the day are complete, and you are safe (i.e. your nervous system calms down and isn’t constantly signaling you to worry). Twenty minutes a day is a great start, but some movement is always better than none! You can check out five easy ways to add physical activity into your day here.

If your chronic illness prevents you from being able to exercise, then you can also try Progressive Muscle Relaxation to reap similar benefits. It is a simple process of consecutively tightening major muscle groups in your body and then relaxing them. Research has shown it can provide similar

2. Mindfulness & Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation are research-backed tactics to decrease stress and anxiety, manage mental health conditions, and improve physical health outcomes.

Adding mindfulness into your life means you become more curious about your thoughts. Instead of instantly believing automatic negative thoughts, you question them: Is that really true? Where is that coming from? Do I have to believe this? Becoming mindful is often described as becoming an observer of your inner world, which builds one’s ability to cope with stress, loss, and life transitions.

Meditation is taking time to be present in peace. For some, this is sitting in silence, for others, it’s going on a walk in nature. It can even be spinning clay on a pottery wheel or knitting. There are a myriad of ways people connect into a sense of peacefulness and calm; it’s all about finding what works best for you.

Some guided meditations even incorporate mindfulness; you can check out this 10-minute mindfulness meditation from Calm below.

Also, if you have insomnia or trouble falling asleep, how about trying Yoga Nidra at nighttime?  This video with a calming voice transitions my body into relaxation and sleep mode even after a stressful day.

3. Counseling

When it comes to mental health, getting support from licensed professionals is one of the best ways to go, especially when dealing with the stress and uncertainty of chronic illness. For some, traditional talk therapy is best. You can search for therapists in your area who specialize in chronic disease management or use sites like BetterHelp to access fully remote therapists.

Others prefer support groups with people struggling with similar health issues. Talk to your doctor about whether any support groups are available in your area; with the onset of COVID, plenty have gone fully remote, too. This article from the Mayo Clinic outlines more of the benefits of support groups.

 

4. Social Connections

Feeling supported by your loved ones is key to attaining mental wellness. Even if your friends and family do not struggle with the same chronic illness, many of them want to support you. Take some time to lean into those connections, whether you tell them about your health frustrations or simply spend more time with them. A supportive social network is one of the most important factors for decreasing stress and increasing overall wellness—start prioritizing your close relationships and allow those to be places of encouragement for you.

There are simple things you can add or increase in your schedule that can lead to better mental health and for some, improved physical health as well. Choose one or two from this list to bring into your week!

Sometimes even just knowing that there’s a connection between chronic conditions and mental health can feel validating for people struggling with illnesses; remember that you are not alone, and you can use these tips to facilitate your health journey.

Cardiovascular Disease is Not Just About the Heart

I listened to another great podcast on Dr. Mark Hyman’s Farmacy – Longevity Roadmap series.  He and his guests from The Ultrawellness Center where they focus on a functional medicine approach to treat patients, talk about drivers of heart disease and what we can do to prevent it.

Here are the highlights:

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is not just about the heart

You need to look at the whole vascular, endothelial and lymphatic system.

  • The endothelial layer is the cell layer that lines inside of our arteries and this needs to relax to allow blood to get to all the tissues in the body. If this does not relax, blood pressure will go up. It can take years of endothelial dysfunction before one can develop hypertension.
  • Oxidative stress and inflammation can damage the endothelium.
  • Visceral fat (weight around the belly) actually secretes IL6 and tumor necrosis factors which cause inflammation of the body. So when men gain weight around the belly, they also have a higher risk of erectile dysfunction.
  • Did you know that blueberries are rich in anthocyanins that contribute to the improvement of your endothelium? One cup of blueberries twice a day can drop systolic BP as much as blood pressure medication.

Insulin resistance is the enemy

  • Insulin takes the food we ingest and gets it into cells to use for energy.
  • However, the poor diet we eat forces our bodies to become insulin resistant which means more insulin is produced to get the energy into the cells. High levels of insulin cause you to gain weight around the belly and have been associated with heart disease, stroke, cancer and dementia.   
  • Everyone should get their fasting insulin measured – why isn’t this standard practice?
  • Fasting insulin of less than 12 is considered normal BUT ideal should be closer to 5! So if your insulin is between 7-12, you could be pre-diabetic. A high fasting insulin means you have insulin resistance. My levels vary between 5-9 so I check them regularly.

CVD is NOT about cholesterol

Rather, it’s about inflammation and how cholesterol responds.

  • Cholesterol is not water soluble so it must be carried by lipoproteins (HDL/LDL). 
  • LDL carries cholesterol from the liver to parts of the body where it’s needed.
  • HDL carries it from the periphery of the body back to the liver for disposal. Like giant dump trucks taking away the trash, HDL carries cholesterol away to dispose of it so it is considered “good cholesterol.”
  • Cholesterol has an affinity for inflammation. When the endothelial lining of the blood vessel wall gets inflamed, it creates an opening in the protective lining. When this happens, the immune system recognizes it as a foreign body and initiates an immune response – which makes the LDL flood to the inflamed area to cover it. This grows and turns into plaque which eventually prevents blood flow, leading to ischemic heart disease. That’s why cholesterol gets a bad rap even though it’s inflammation that’s causing it.
  • Standard American diet staples like refined carbohydrates, processed vegetable fats (corn, soy, sunflower) and sugar all cause inflammation. It’s no surprise why heart disease is the number one killer in the US.  
  • Statins for primary prevention have no role. Statins are poisonous to the mitochondria and can increase insulin resistance and diabetes. Statins should NOT be used for preventive heart disease. High cholesterol is NOT a statin deficiency!
  • Around 0.5% of the population have what’s called familial hypercholesterolemia which is a genetic trait where one cannot get rid of cholesterol easily. If you have total Cholesterol of over 300 with LDL levels higher than 190, you may want to get tested to see if you have this genetic variation. This group of patients would really benefit from a cholesterol controlling medication like statins.
  • Did you know that you can make your LDL get bigger and fluffier by removing sugar and processed foods from your diet? You should ask your provider for an NMR Lipid Profiles Test to determine the molecular structure of the lipoproteins (number and size). “Particle number” is a measure of how many LDLs you have and the size is how big/fluffy they are.  Small, dense LDLs penetrate into the endothelial layer and build plaque quickly. But if you have big LDL particles and fewer of them, you are at less risk. It’s covered by most insurance so ask your provider for the test.

What to take to optimize your cholesterol

  • Plant sterols (compounds found in plants) will bind to cholesterol in the intestines and remove them via the stool. It’s been shown that 2 grams of plant sterols can lower LDL cholesterol by 10%. So make sure to include legumes, nuts and seeds in your diet as these are rich in plant sterols.
  • Vitamin B3 (niacin) can have a positive impact on cholesterol – it can lower triglycerides and LDL and raise HDL. But work with your provider if trying niacin as it can cause very uncomfortable hot flushes.
  • Fish oil has been widely studied to lower LDL cholesterol, TG and raise HDL. The rule of thumb is that if you eat less than 1.5 servings of oily fish per week, supplement with ~1 gram of fish oil per day. If you’re mostly pescetarian, you may not need additional fish oil.  Not a fan of fish? Flaxseed (1-2 TBPS) and nuts (1 oz daily) can also impact cholesterol. To minimize the healthy oils going rancid, buy fresh flaxseed and raw nuts and keep them in the freezer and take out as needed.
  • If you’re taking statins, you should supplement with Co-Q10 as statins are known to inhibit Co-Q10. Co-Q10 is vital for body and mitochondrial function. Also, as we get older, our Co-Q10 levels drop so it may be a good idea to supplement.

Genes may load the gun but the environment pulls the trigger

  • Inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, hormonal imbalance and toxins from bad diets, stress, nutritional deficiency, lack of exercise, etc. all lead to high cholesterol, high BP, high sugar levels and ultimately heart disease.
  • BUT, 90% of all diseases including CVD are caused by the sum total of all our life inputs into our body: diet, activity, stress, sleep, relationships, connections, meaning, purpose, toxins, microbes, allergens and more.  So the good news is that we have control over almost all of it.

Adopt these 4 behaviors to prevent heart disease

  • A multinational study of over half a million participants showed that four simple behaviors prevented 93% of diabetes, 81% of heart attacks, 50% of strokes and 36% of all cancers.  No medication can do that!
    • Stop smokingStick to a plant rich diet, low starch, nuts, seeds, with a moderate amount of quality fish and meatExercise – at least 150 minutes per week including resistance training
    • Maintain strong mental health with stress-relieving meditation and breathing techniques

Click here to listen to this podcast.

Managing Migraines Naturally

If you regularly suffer from migraines, you may be familiar with this song by Twenty One Pilots.  The lyrics ring true for so many that have to deal with these debilitating attacks.

“Am I the only one I know? 

Waging my wars behind my face 
And above my throat 
Shadows will scream that I’m alone

I-I-I’ve got a migraine 
And my pain will range from 
Up down and sideways…”

Migraine by Twenty One Pilots

Migraines plague millions of adults across the US. While headaches may induce pain in the general forehead area, migraines bring a new level of intensity. With pain on one or both sides of the head, nausea, dizziness, temporary blind spots and more, migraines are truly debilitating.

Painkillers like Excedrin, Advil, Tylenol and even prescriptions are given to manage migraines, but there are also a number of natural remedies you can leverage to reduce them. In this blog, we’ll share four ways to prevent and ‘nip this pain in the bud’.

 

1. Increase magnesium, B vitamins, and vitamin D

A number of vitamins and minerals can help you prevent migraines. You can incorporate these into your diet directly, or opt for daily supplements.

Magnesium is a key mineral which supports dozens of functions in the body. The boost it provides to your overall health makes it an incredibly helpful agent in preventing migraines. Eating foods like legumes, nuts, spinach, kale, squashes, and broccoli can weave more magnesium into your diet. In addition, recent research suggests opting for 200-600 mg of magnesium per day may be linked to decreasing the frequency of migraines as well.

For more magnesium, check out Biooptimizer’s all-seven forms of magnesium supplement, found here. This is part of my daily arsenal for general health but I pop these as soon as I feel a headache coming on…

In addition to magnesium, vitamins B (B-complex) and D have also been shown to decrease migraines. A lack of B vitamins can cause headaches, brain fog, and eventually, migraines, as these vitamins are involved in the synthesis of neurotransmitters in the brain (chemical messengers in the brain). In terms of a supplement, always look for methylcobalamin which is the active form of B12 (NOT cyanocobalamin).

Check out the liquid form of B12 from Pure Encapsulations, linked here. For best absorption, make sure to put the liquid under your tongue.

Vitamin D can come from your diet or from the sun, and whatever its source, it is highly linked to overall health improvement. Salmon, eggs, and mushrooms are good sources of vitamin D, but it’s also important to spend time outside! Ask your primary care physician to run a test of your vitamin D level so you have a baseline. If you are deficient like most people, you may want the higher dose (especially in the winter).  NatureMade has a great vitamin D3 gummy (5000IU), which you can find here.

 

2. Manage your stress levels

Chronic stress wreaks havoc on all parts of the body. When you’re stressed, you’re typically in “fight or flight” mode, meaning the majority of your body’s resources are dedicated to activating your muscles to more effectively fight or flee. When we get “stuck” in this mode because we’re chronically stressed, our body isn’t able to dedicate its resources to other integral processes, like digestion, immune support, daily repairs, and more.

The difficulty that stress brings to the body has been shown to lead to migraines. In addition, when stressed, we typically take more shallow breaths. The lack of oxygen provided from shallow breathing has also been shown to lead to migraines. To decrease your stress and increase your deep breathing, try a few rounds of deep breathing a few times per day. Inhaling for a count of four, holding for a count of two, and exhaling for a count of six is a great way to start!

Try this breathing exercise for migraines – you can go to minute marker 3:30 if you want to skip the intro.

3. Remove inflammatory foods from your daily diet

When thinking about chronic pain, autoimmune issues and migraines, excess inflammation is often to blame. An inflammatory diet (like the standard American diet) often can be one of the overarching causes of migraines, so removing inflammatory foods from your diet can help decrease the intensity or frequency of your migraines.

Foods to avoid are typically any highly processed foods (with preservatives like nitrates, food colorings and other additives that we cannot pronounce), deep fried foods (yes, that oil is rancid – and highly inflammatory), packaged goods, fast food, and foods high in sugar (real or fake). For some people with additional sensitivities, dairy can also be an inflammatory agent.

It’s not all about removing foods, though! You can add a variety of anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to improve your overall health. Consider adding in:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Raw nuts
  • Lean proteins like eggs, grass-fed beef or wild caught fish
  • Turmeric, ginger, and garlic
  • Herbs like mint, rosemary, and thyme
  • Switch to olive oil (and don’t deep fry) over canola oil or margarine

Essentially, any fresh fruits and vegetables or lean meats will help decrease inflammation and avoid migraines.

 

4. Sleep more (and better!)

Sleep is required for good health, and it’s also a necessary ingredient to combat migraines. There are two factors to consider: sleep quantity and quality. For adults, seven to nine hours per night is recommended for overall health and to avoid adverse events like migraines. What many people often ignore, however, is sleep quality. To improve your sleep quality, try:

  • Sleepytime meditation (here’s a guided meditation to sink into slumber: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Ay9v7gK9w )
  • Avoiding food / snacking 3 hours before bedtime
  • Use an eye-mask or get black-out curtains when sleeping so your room is in complete darkness
  • Avoid caffeine after lunchtime
  • Avoid alcohol to try to get to sleep
  • Incorporate exercise into your regular routine, but avoid exercising late at night

Research has shown that getting too few hours of sleep can lead to more frequent and intense migraines. Schedule your days to ensure you get enough sleep and try some of these tips to improve your sleep!

Migraines are truly debilitating, but the situation isn’t hopeless. If you are not finding symptom relief with the above strategies, speak with your doctor about what other factors can be causing your migraines – there are many beyond what’s been discussed here including: hormone imbalance, mold/toxin exposure, posture and possible infections.

5 Natural Hacks for Managing Acne

The biggest organ in your body isn’t your heart, stomach, liver of lungs. It’s your skin! Were you aware that human skin makes up about 16% of our body mass and takes up about 20 square feet of our body’s surface?

Your skin tissue is unique—it serves protective and nourishing purposes that benefit your entire body. The skin on your face, however, is a bit special: its various glands and pores create a softer and more sensitive surface. And it’s often the skin on our face that can make us feel self-conscious when acne and breakouts decide to show up to the party.

If you struggle with acne, you’re not alone. About 45 million Americans find themselves dealing with regular acne, and for many, this still happens after puberty! Acne can arise from hormonal imbalances, stress, diet changes, and more. Even if you’ve struggled with chronic acne, you can arm yourself with paths to clearer skin. In this blog, we’ve outlined five methods to zap acne naturally.

1. Drink more water

Increasing your CLEAN water intake is beneficial for nearly every facet of your health. Additional hydration aids your body’s daily digestive, immune, and circulation processes, and without enough water, toxins build up in the body. Oftentimes, these toxins are expressed through acne and stubborn breakouts. Even more so, if you find yourself with chapped lips or rough, dry skin, more water intake is the first step to managing dry skin.

A good rule of thumb for how much water you should drink requires a simple calculation. Take half of your body weight and drink that amount in ounces! For instance, for standard activity level, if you weigh 140 lbs, you should aim to drink ~70 oz of water per day. This comes out to about 4.5 standard 16 oz water bottles a day. BUT—more is not necessarily better as excess hydration can wash away precious minerals and lead to other issues not covered here.

And make sure the water you drink is clean. If you do not have a house filtration system, grab a tabletop one. This one has been third-party tested to be one of the best for removing contaminants and is quite affordable.

2. Keep yourself and your environment clean!

Good hygiene is key to healthy skin. Cleaning your face and body is core to a breakout free complexion, but ensuring different parts of your environment are cleaned regularly is also important.

For starters, gentle facial cleansers are great for healthy skin. Creating a 10-part skincare routine isn’t necessary to attain clear skin, but if you’re struggling to identify a cleanser that’s best for you, chat with your dermatologist or doctor for their recommendation. In the meantime, rinsing your face with water after any hot or sweat-producing activities is great for preventing acne. I’m a fan of the Environmental Working Group recommendations on skincare products as they rate products based on the level of how-do-you-spell-that chemicals. Here are several EWG verified facial cleansers that are gentle and effective for your baby face:

Additionally, keep tabs on the cleanliness of your pillowcases, makeup brushes, and cell phone. Anything that touches your face needs to be regularly washed for general good hygiene practices and to prevent acne.

3. Remove certain foods from your daily diet

Your gut’s health is one of the strongest influences on your skin’s health. Certain foods, such as processed, sugary, bad fat-laden foods and dairy, have been shown to increase breakouts. Typically, highly processed or foods with dairy create hormonal imbalances that are expressed in the skin via a new whitehead or painful cystic acne.

A simple way to figure out which foods may be triggering your breakouts is by doing short-term elimination diets. Go without the food which you suspect may be causing breakouts (continue to ensure you’re still eating enough food and have a balanced diet). If you find yourself with fewer breakouts after several weeks, it may very well be that you have sensitivities to that food which are expressed on your skin!

4. Eat more antioxidant rich foods and zinc

Antioxidants are substances that remove various oxidizing compounds like free radicals which can be harmful to your health. Common antioxidants are vitamins C and E, carotenoids, and selenium—many of these are found in everyday fruits and veggies! Zinc is a mineral which can function as an antioxidant as well.

When you eat more foods with antioxidants and zinc, you’re equipping your body with the resources to decrease the damage from free radical exposure. This is especially helpful for the health of your skin, as heavy free radical exposure contributes to general inflammation and can lead to acne. Research recommends increasing antioxidant exposure to decrease oxidative stress from free radicals.

Eat more raspberries, carrots, pecans, blueberries, spinach and grapes to increase your antioxidant load. Most fresh fruits (especially berries) and vegetables are great in this regard.

5. Manage your stomach acidity

As mentioned earlier, your gut health has a HUGE impact on your skin and what you eat shows up on the outside. This is especially important when considering your stomach’s pH level. Your stomach’s acidity is measured through pH, and when the pH gets too high (your stomach isn’t acidic enough to effectively break down foods), various digestive issues can arise. When the digestive system isn’t functioning well and toxins are building up in the body, we often see that in the skin.

There are a few simple ways you can manage the acid levels of your stomach. Having more fermented vegetables can be hugely helpful—try out some kimchi, sauerkraut or pickled ginger. And on that note, ginger in any form is a huge help. Grate it into your curry or make some homemade ginger tea. Ingesting a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar or having lemon juice more frequently can also help with stomach acidity and consequently, your skin health.

Freeing your skin from chronic acne can sometimes feel like an uphill battle, but these small lifestyle changes can vastly increase your skin’s overall health!

The Diet Army Against Cancer

Albert Einstein said “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.”  

A proper whole-foods based diet does more than keep you healthy, it can also help your body actively fight against cancer and prevent its development. With more and more people in the US getting diagnosed with cancer each year, it’s vital to know how you can best prevent cancer with your lifestyle, especially your diet! 

In the US, the probability of being diagnosed with cancer is almost 40%, and it’s slightly higher for men than it is for women, as reported by the American Cancer Society. About 4,700 people are diagnosed with cancer each day in the US, and many of those diagnoses are due to lifestyle choices which give rise to cancer development.

Research has shown time and time again that a varied plant-based diet can help prevent and at times, even reverse cancer. But where do you even begin? Today, we’ve outlined six foods you can prioritize in your daily meals to fight cancer:

 

Legumes—AKA beans!

You might remember the childhood song that starts with “Beans, beans, the magical fruit…” Well, beans obviously are not a fruit, but their fiber content will certainly get your digestive tract moving as the lyrics of the song allude to.

Increased fiber intake has been linked to decreased rates of colon, prostate, and breast cancer. One study even connected eating lentils and beans to reduced risk of cancers anywhere on the digestive tract (mouth, stomach, colon, rectum). Legumes also include folate, lignans, and saponins, and other phytochemicals important to maintaining your health!

 

Leafy Vegetables—Anything colorful in the produce aisle!

Vegetables like kale, collards, spinach, and other greens are high in antioxidants like lutein and zeaxanthin. Both of these have been shown to slow or prevent cancer development in its early stages. The compounds which give these veggies their dark green hue—carotenoids—have also been connected to a reduction in a variety of cancers.

Having a kale salad, choosing collards as a side dish, or sauteing spinach in with a pasta dinner can give you more of these helpful nutrients, and help reduce the likelihood of developing cancer down the line.

 

Add in Some Cabbage & Cruciferous Veggies

Cabbage we all know, but you might not be as familiar with the term cruciferous vegetables. Examples of these are broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, and many of the dark, leafy greens we just discussed.

Eating cruciferous vegetables has been connected to a reduced rate of breast, colon, prostate, and lung cancer. These veggies contain isothiocyanates (ITCs) which strongly work against cancerous compounds and cells. Other compounds in cruciferous vegetables have also been shown to decrease inflammation and support other processes in the body to fight cancer.

These are some of the best vegetables for your health! Consider roasting cauliflower or broccoli in the oven with a range of spices for a healthy and delicious addition to your meal.

 

Have a Celery Snack!

This stalky veggie is 95% water, and though the hydration is helpful, the real power is packed in its apigenin and luteolin content. Apigenin and luteolin fight free radicals in the body which can lead to cancer development. Apigenin has been shown to cause certain types of cancer cells to essentially self-destruct, while luteolin has been shown to cut the reproduction cycle of cancer cells!

Munch on some celery with nut butter or have it chopped up in your tuna salad to access these cancer fighting benefits!

 

Eat more berries

Berries are infamous for their cancer fighting properties! Ellagic acid is found in most berries. This acid slows tumor growth and consequent cancer development. Berries also have a variety of antioxidants, which aid protection against skin, bladder, esophageal, breast, and lung cancers.

Add some berries to your morning cereal or an afternoon smoothie for the antioxidant, cancer-preventive boost!

 

Spice it up with Garlic & Turmeric

Many spices can be extremely helpful in preventing cancer. Turmeric, a bright orange root typically used in Indian food, has a compound called curcumin which has been linked to decreased cancer risk. Curcumin is most effective from turmeric directly (rather than a supplement or powder), so consider slicing it or grating it in your next curry dish.

One longitudinal study followed over 40,000 women, tracking their diet over five years. The food most highly correlated with a decrease in colon cancer was garlic—women who ate more garlic had a 50% lower risk of certain cancer. It’s believed that the compound diallyl disulfide found in garlic contributes to its anti-cancer abilities. The good news is that you probably already eat a lot of these foods and they’re readily available at your local supermarket—you don’t need to go hunting for them at some small, organic supermarket in your area. There are plenty of ways you can weave these cancer-preventing foods into your diet in a delicious and nutritious way. Get creative and get started today to empower your body against cancer!

Hypertension – It’s Not Just About the Salt

Hypertension is one of the most prevalent medical conditions in the nation, affecting nearly half of all adults in the US. However, many people are unaware of the risks and complications associated with high blood pressure. Before delving into the lifestyle modifications that can reduce the risk of and manage the diagnosis of high blood pressure, let’s start off with the basic tenets of Hypertension Comprehension:

  1. Hypertension is characterized by a blood pressure of over 130 systolic and over 80 diastolic. (If you’re unaware of your blood pressure and fear you may be at risk of hypertension, see a doctor to obtain an accurate reading).
  2. High blood pressure puts you at an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the US.
  3. African-Americans and males are at a higher risk of developing hypertension.
  4. High blood pressure does not come with any warning signs or symptoms, causing most unaffected individuals to be unaware of their condition.

It is generally well known that excess salt consumption can play a factor in elevating blood pressure levels. However, recent research has shown increased intake of sugars and carbs to play an equal, if not more significant, role in developing hypertension. A 2018 study published by the Journal of American Medical Association found an increased prevalence of hypertension in participants with a diet high in processed, fried, and sweetened foods. The REGARDS (Reasons for Geographical and Racial Differences in Stroke) study indicated an association between this finding and the high disparity of hypertension prevalence in African-Americans.

 

The hidden risks of processed foods

Processed foods, as defined by the USDA, are foods that have undergone a procedure, whether that be canning, freezing, or pasteurizing, that alters the whole food. Most processed foods are chocked full of additives, including preservatives, sugars, and salts, which frequently destroy the natural nutrients produced by the food. These time-saving meals are part of the diet for many households but their effects can be detrimental to our health. How does this happen?

  • Processed foods contain an unnatural ratio of salts, sugars, and carbs to healthy nutrients. The excess amount of sugar, salt, and carbs cannot be digested properly, causing many of the nutritious vitamins and minerals to dissipate and leaving only the influx of salt, sugar, and carbs to enter your blood stream.
  • Your body craves balance, a concept known as homeostasis, and the excess amounts of processed foods in your diet hinder this equilibrium and cause your body to over-compensate for the imbalance.
  • In response to the carbohydrates, your body will over-produce insulin, which in turn causes your kidneys to decrease sodium and water excretion, constrict your blood vessels, and increase your blood pressure.
  • An influx of sugar in your diet inhibits your body’s ability to produce a molecule called Nitric Oxide, which serves to dilate your blood vessels. Lack of nitric oxide leads to constriction of your blood vessels, directly increasing your blood pressure.

Processed foods contain very high amounts of sugars, carbs, and salts, all of which significantly increase your risk of hypertension.

  • The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 24 grams (~100 calories) of sugar. For reference, a can of Coca-Cola contains 39g of sugar.
  • The Food and Drug Administration recommends ~300g of carbs each day. A soft pretzel contains 65g of carbs, which is over 20% of your daily intake.
  •  

So, what can you do about it?

Despite the detrimental health qualities of sugar, few people will disagree with its taste. If you’re still feeling a sweet-tooth, try swapping for an alternative. Stevia, monk fruit, Allulose and honey are all great replacements.

  • Stevia is an element of the sunflower leaf containing stevioside, a compound that is 200 times as sweet as sugar. It contains no carbohydrates or calories and has been shown to lower blood glucose levels.
  • Monk fruit contains compounds 300-400 times as sweet as sugar. Again, with no carbohydrates, sodium, or fat, and no effect on blood glucose levels.
  • Allulose is another great alternative, offering limited carbohydrates and no effect on blood glucose levels, due to ability to be absorbed quickly by the digestive tract.
  • Honey is great in moderation, as it is packed full of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals for your body. However, it can still influence blood glucose levels.

Similarly, alternate seasonings can be used while cooking to reduce salt consumption, while still offering a flavorful meal. Garlic, lemon juice/zest, dried/powdered onion, pepper, paprika, dill, rosemary, red pepper flakes, and ginger are wonderful additions to any culinary dish. These seasonings will enhance the natural flavors of the food you’re cooking, which frequently contain enough sodium on their own. When you do want to use salt, keep in mind that different types of salt are not necessarily healthier. An AHA survey indicated that 61% of Americans believe sea salt to contain less sodium than table salt. In reality, these salts all contain the same chemical composition and the same amount of sodium by weight. The type of salt you choose – whether it be Himalayan, Celtic, or Kosher – is purely a matter of taste and preference. The healthiest choice in this regard is simply to limit your intake, regardless of your penchant for a certain type of salt.

For more information on what constitutes a processed food, see this article: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/processed-foods/

Breaking the Binge Eating Cycle: Darn it – It’s your hormones

Binge eating plagues a lot of us. The post-meal or late night snack raids of Domino’s pizza, a box of Oreo’s, or a pint (or two) of Jenni’s ice cream has become a secret, shame-ridden ritual for many people, especially in places like the US where heavily processed food is more common and readily available.

For some people, it really is a harmless, occasional late night snack. For others, however, these binge eating habits can snowball into a collection of disorders colloquially referred to as binge, compulsive, or emotional eating, but may formally fall under Binge Eating Disorder.

But what’s behind this desire to binge? Why do 3M Americans struggle with what’s called Binge Eating Disorder (BED)?

The underlying factors causing BED are many and varied, and in this series, we’re focusing on two of them: hormonal imbalances and emotions. Today, we’re diving into the hormones that drive binge eating and how you can bring them back into balance.

 

Which hormones affect binge eating?

Hormones are chemical messengers that move throughout our body, signaling from the brain to various organs what needs to happen, and vice versa. When hormones are out of balance, it’s like they’re sending the wrong messages—eating when not hungry, eating past full, etc.

Dr. Mark Hyman termed the “four hormones of the apocalypse” which contribute to the desire to binge eat. They’re listed below with their various effects:

 

Insulin
The body manufactures insulin to process any form of sugar (glucose, sucrose, fructose) that you ingest. When you eat a sugary meal—pancakes with syrup for breakfast, for instance—your insulin will spike (a “sugar rush”), but then crash. That crash makes you hungry for food, even if you just finished a big (sugary) meal.

 

Leptin
Leptin is a hormone that signals to your brain when you’re done eating and are satiated. But ingesting high amounts of sugary, processed foods and carbs leads to leptin working less effectively. So even if leptin tells the brain “Hey, I’m full!”, a high-sugar diet makes the brain effectively ignore those messages from leptin. Hence, this leads to more eating without any brakes to control it.

 

Ghrelin
Ghrelin is what tells the brain when we’re hungry and ready to munch. It’s produced in the stomach and highly affected by sleep. Ghrelin imbalances lead to a constant feeling of appetite, even if your body doesn’t actually need food.

 

Peptide YY
Similar to Leptin, Peptide YY is another hormone which signals that you’re full. If it’s not produced enough or if its messages aren’t received by the brain, then we will likely overeat and constantly snack.

 

BONUS: Cortisol
We might have mentioned four horsemen earlier, but really, there are five. Cortisol is the hormone that’s produced under stressful conditions to help our body escape stress. The effects of cortisol on the body require more energy, which leads to more hunger and higher blood sugar levels. In part 2 of this series, we’ll talk more about the importance of cortisol in emotional regulation!

 

These hormones are all here to work for us, not against us. It’s just a matter of getting them back in balance so they can send their messages effectively.

 

How can I balance my hormones to curb binge eating?

Get enough sleep
Sleep is one of the BIGGEST factors affecting appetite. With decreased sleep, ghrelin production goes up! In other words, your brain is getting signals that your appetite is higher, even if your energetic need for calories hasn’t changed. Unfortunately, peptide YY production also goes down under sleep-deprived conditions, meaning you’re not getting the right signals to stop eating.

Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night, and notice how your appetite changes with adequate sleep!

 

Eat regularly
The intermittent fasting trend has some people skipping meals and eating within a small window, but the key is eating balanced meals regardless of your eating window to maintain your blood sugar. As a pre-diabetic, I do not do well on intermittent fasting beyond a 14-hour period (if I finish dinner by 7pm, I usually have to eat breakfast around 9am the next day) but this varies widely by individual. I have family members that easily fast for 18 hours and do not even realize it.

If you skip breakfast and feel tired and weak, then make it a goal to start eating a protein-full breakfast each morning. This will make it less likely for your appetite to spike late at night, and will keep your blood sugar steady.

 

Balance your meals

When you eat, ensure that you’re eating enough fiber, protein and healthy fats (you can read more about which fats to use in our blog post here). The combination of fiber (from veggies and complex carbs like beans), protein and healthy fat keeps your blood sugar steady.

Similarly, avoid highly processed, sugary foods, especially drinks! Everything in moderation of course—don’t feel like you have to cut out every bit of sugar from your life. Make an effort to decrease your sugar intake, however, as it can become addictive and fuel hormonal imbalances. Starting by cutting out any sugary sodas or coffees can help get your hormones and blood sugar back on track.

 

Regulate your stress
The stress-hormone cortisol often has a multiplier effect on worsening other parts of your physical health, including appetite and weight. If you find yourself eating when you’re stressed, consider adding more mindfulness into your habits with food. This means asking yourself things like: “Am I actually hungry? What do I feel in my body right now? Why do I want to eat this right now?”

Following that mindfulness moment, see if there’s another stress-reducing action you can take: a few minutes of deep breathing, a short walk, a conversation with a friend. Weave stress-relieving techniques into your daily schedule, too, to decrease your overall stress and better regulate your hormones! Check out our article on stress management here for more research-backed ways you can decrease stress.

 

Consider supplements
Some supplements can help you balance your hormones and blood sugar as well. Two in particular—Omega-3 fats and Vitamin D—can be especially helpful.

Omega-3 fats, typically found in fish oil supplements, can help fight insulin resistance and decrease erratic appetites. Here’s a high-dose omega 3 supplement that’s been third-party tested:

Vitamin D is another supplement that can work wonders for your health. It regulates hormones and balances insulin. If you find your stress weighing on your mental health, too, Vitamin D is often recommended to increase overall mood.  

Medium dose (2000 IU):

High dose (5000 IU):

Binge eating can feel defeating and shame-ridden, but when you realize that your body and hormones are driving you to overconsume, some of that guilt can be mitigated as you’ll realize it’s not just an issue of willpower. Use these tips to start balancing your hormones, and check back on another post on how to manage the emotional components of overeating!