Category Archives: Healthy Living

National Nutrition and Obesity Week – Breakfast: The best way to start your day!

alarm clockMorning rush

Of course, our mornings are more urgent than our evenings. It is harder to relax and enjoy a meal when you’re anticipating everything that needs to be done in the day ahead and you have time pressures. However, it just takes a bit of planning and preparation to fit breakfast in. It helps to do as much breakfast preparation as you can the night before. Before you go to bed, set up your kitchen for breakfast. Soak the oats and slice the fruit so you don’t have to do it in the morning. Cook extra maize meal porridge for the next day’s breakfast when making supper, or boil some eggs the night before. Planning can make breakfast quick and easy.

health food

I don’t like typical breakfast foods!

Most people do find something they like amongst the range of foods we generally eat for breakfast, but it is important to remember there are no hard and fast rules. It doesn’t matter whether you eat the same things as others for breakfast – it just matters that you have a healthy start to the day. This means having a minimally processed starchy food, fruit or vegetable and combining it with at least one other food group. For example, maize meal porridge with maas, brown bread with pilchards, fruit and unsweetened low-fat yoghurt. Last night’s leftover beans can be used as a sandwich filling on brown bread for a great breakfast.

happy family

yawnIt takes my system a while to wake up, I don’t feel like eating in the early morning

Although breakfast is ‘breaking the fast’ between our longest sleep and lunch, there are many people who question the advice to eat when they don’t feel hunger. What’s important to consider is that breakfast can take place within 3 hours after waking.

avo & egg breakfast

Breakfast is easiest to ignore and I’m skipping meals to lose weight
scale

It is important for those who are overweight and obese to follow a sensible, results-driven weight loss programme guided by registered dietitians and nutritionists. There are an abundance of studies that show that children, adolescents and adults who eat breakfast have better weight outcomes and lower risk of overweight and obesity.

making breakfast

children

As parents and caregivers, we are role models for the healthy lifestyles we hope our children will adopt for their lifetimes. Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast perform better at school than those who skip it. Eating breakfast has an immediate, positive impact on cognitive function, especially memory and concentration. Parents are the major influence on whether children make eating breakfast a habit, and studies have shown that 1 in 5 of South African children skip breakfast. It helps to make breakfast a family activity and involve children in preparing breakfast and eating together. Parents also need to ensure that healthy breakfast options that their children like to eat are available in the house.

Diabetes: More than managing!

diabetes-day-2I started the education programme at the Diabetic Outpatient clinic at Helen Joseph Hospital (in Johannesburg) in 1997 and ran it for 3 years. At the time, my education framework was mostly a medical one and my main message to patients was: “Manage your Diabetes so you won’t get (insert any of a number of serious and scary long-term complications here!)”.

Diabetes remains an epidemic with nearly 10% of the world’s adults now diagnosed with it!* The long-term complications of poor management of the condition remain serious to life-threatening.

But my message to people with Diabetes has changed.

My new message for them (and anyone living with a chronic and systemic condition) is that you can do more than just manage this condition; you can live your life fully!

How? Through caring for your whole health!

I love that the international symbol of Diabetes is the blue circle. It was chosen in 2006 because it symbolizes life, health and the unity of the team of practitioners and people addressing Diabetes. (The blue colour is that of the United Nations). This circle also speaks to me of wholeness – that our health is about more than the physical body. It includes our spirit; our mind; and our interaction with others and the environment. All these parts of our whole health are interconnected and influence one another.

So, for example, your anxious thoughts during a stressful time in your life can cause the secretion of stress hormones, like cortisol. These not only give you that feeling of anxiety, but cause physical responses in your body like high blood pressure and a rise in your blood glucose levels. Stress can play havoc with your glucose control! This is your mind/thinking influencing your body.

Likewise, when your glucose levels are poorly controlled you can feel either fatigued and “low” in a way that mimics depression; or ‘edgy’ and anxious. This is your body influencing your mind and emotions.

Managing the physical nature of Diabetes is critical, but to go beyond managing and actually thrive despite Diabetes (or any other chronic condition) means takes caring of all the other parts of your health too.

Here are 10 questions to ask yourself in order to begin to do this:
1. Do I acknowledge and care for my spirit?
2. Do I have a sense of meaning and purpose to my life?
3. Do I monitor my thought life and challenge my beliefs?
4. Do I recognize and express my feelings constructively?
5. Do I feel in control of my life and free to make choices?
6. Do I include times of relaxation and leisure in my week?
7. Do I have a good support system of loving and trusting relationships?
8. Do I have any relationships in my life that I need to set better boundaries in?
9. Do I have a generally positive atmosphere in my home and/or workplace?
10. Do I have a safe and healthy home and/or work environment?

If you answered “no” to any one of these questions you have found a new part of your health to start caring for! You have discovered another way to begin living life, rather than just managing Diabetes!

*Global status report on non-communicable diseases 2014. Geneva, WHO.

Is your home a hazard to your health?

warning-sign-655244_1920It’s not just what you put in your body that can make you sick, but also what you put around it!

My definition of whole health goes beyond our individual spirit, mind and body to include the ecosystem we are part of – the physical and relational environment around us. It’s the physical environment I want to focus in on here.

While researching Fibromyalgia some time ago, I came across Dr David Brady’s book “The Fibro Fix”* in which he outlines a 21-day “foundational” plan as the starting point for reversing chronic pain and fatigue. One of the 3 components of this plan is embarking on, what he calls, a toxin-lowering lifestyle.

Dr Brady writes that toxins are now everywhere and unavoidable – they are all around us and also produced inside us by bodily functions. In particular, people with chronic pain and fatigue have certain metabolic dysfunctions that create more internal toxins than most of us and, in addition, inadequate mechanisms for eliminating them.

According to Dr Brady, growing numbers of people are developing Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) due to exposure to chemicals in their home and work environments. Some practitioners do not recognise this illness and believe its symptoms are too subjective and vague. The symptoms of MCS include depression, fatigue, muscle pain, gut symptoms and hypothyroidism.

Still, it’s always a good question to ask yourself: “What’s really making me sick?”

Detoxification may just change your diagnosis!

If you want to lower toxins in your life, here is what you can do:

Detox your body
Apart from those produced inside our body and stored in our tissues, toxins are also ingested through the food we eat, the tap-water and other fluids we drink and the medicines we take.

Consult a dietitian or integrative medicine practitioner to find a detox eating plan that’s right for you and help you implement it. This is usually a shorter-term plan to rid your body of the build-up of toxins. Afterwards, discuss a maintenance eating plan that keeps your body’s toxic load low.

Research these other recommendations:
• Minimize your use of plastics (especially in the microwave) and try to use glass, wood and ceramic dishes instead.
• Avoid Teflon or other non-stick coated pots
• Try home treatments like skin-brushing, hydrotherapy and Epsom salt baths.
• Filter your tap water
• Avoid or limit microwave cooking

Detox your home
I get an instant headache from those automatic air fresheners some people install in their homes or public restrooms! That tells me something (and I don’t think I’m just too sensitive).

We are squirting and spraying and pouring chemicals all over our homes and changing our safe sanctuaries to toxic zones!

I am inspired and educated by Lauren Dahl’s blog at thelivinghome.com. In her own words, she “strives to create a completely non-toxic and self-sustainable environment for her family” and can help you do the same. Specifically check out her blogs under the category “Detoxing your home”. Lauren tells you what to avoid using in your home and gives recipes for alternative, safer cleaning materials you can make yourself. (You’ll be buying vinegar in bulk!) Read her blog (here).

You can lower the levels of harmful chemicals in your home by minimizing or substituting products like air fresheners, bleach, cosmetics, disinfectants, fabric softeners, herbicides, perfume, pesticides, petroleum products, scented soaps, shampoo and toothpaste; and the fumes given off by wood smoke, car exhaust, cigarette smoke and new carpets/furniture.
There are ranges of bio/eco-friendly cleaning, health and beauty products available (and some of them have been around for a long time!) Do a little research for yourself.

Detoxing your workplace
I’ve covered some of this before in my blog on workspace changes that help you manage stress. Read it (here). You may or may not have much control over your company’s choice of cleaning products and some other toxic aspects; but you can look at my suggestions for lowering the effects of toxic noise, air quality, lighting and space in your workplace.

* The Fibro Fix: Get to the root of your Fibromyalgia and start reversing your chronic pain and fatigue in 21 days by Dr David M. Brady. Published by Rodale, 2016.

Diabetes? Style your life for wellness!

yellow-wallWe are living longer but not better. We have more years in our lives but less life (and love and laughter) in our years. You’ve heard it before: it’s our style of living that’s the problem.

Lifestyle diseases, like type 2 Diabetes, are commonly caused by bad habits such as substance abuse, lack of physical activity and unhealthy eating in the context of a stressful life. The good news is, whatever habits we have learned we can unlearn and style our lives to suit the healthy future we want. Even if your chronic condition is not lifestyle-related, you can live more fully and learn to thrive.

Cultivating these 4 characteristics will set you up for life:

1. Self –efficacy
This is the sense of power or control we feel we have over ourselves.

Do you find yourself constantly saying “I can’t do that” or “My Diabetes won’t let me”?

When you have a chronic condition you may begin to believe it is the cause of all your problems and the reason behind your every limitation. This is your clue that you have transferred power/control from your self to it. You may even have allowed it to define you: Do you tell people “I am a diabetic” or “I have diabetes”?

If you’re honest, do you have diabetes or does it have you? You can’t manage something you believe is unmanageable.

Apart from the condition itself, you may feel controlled by others in your life – your nagging spouse, your worried children or your frustrated healthcare practitioner. Do you always feel like you will get in trouble when you visit your Doctor? Do you usually leave appointments feeling afraid or guilty? Your answers to these questions reveal your self-efficacy and determine your capacity for self-management.

Grow your self-efficacy by:

• Accepting your condition and the responsibility for managing it well.
• Choosing healthcare practitioners who treat you like a collaborative client and not a passive patient. Adopt a partnership approach with your healthcare practitioners. Work with them to identify obstacles, set goals and plan interventions together.
• Be proactive. Obtain the knowledge and skills you need to make informed choices and develop healthy habits.
• Focus on promotion of wellness, not just prevention of illness. Remind yourself of the things you can still do and control in your life.

2. Self-regulation
If we believe we have self-efficacy, we will self-regulate. Self-regulation means applying self-control and limits to our thoughts, feelings and behaviours in order to get a desired outcome – in this case, wellness. When we self-regulate we can respond, rather than react, to things that happen to us. It enables us to choose the best course of action based on healthy mindsets, attitudes and habits; rather than living impulsively from unhealthy ones.

Self-efficacy and self-regulation depend on us having a healthy and positive perception of ourselves and our lives.

Which do you cultivate in your life – optimism or pessimism? Is managing your Diabetes pushed by the fear of what can go wrong or pulled by the joy of a healthy and happy life?

The contentment that comes from good self-regulation also causes physical changes. Levels of stress hormones (like Cortisol) are lowered making glucose control easier, decreasing blood pressure, reducing inflammation and boosting immunity! You may not be happy about having diabetes, but being happy despite it will change your health.

According to the American Diabetes Association, Depression affects 20–25% of people with Diabetes and their overall incidence of mental disorders is almost doubled. You are most vulnerable to mental and emotional distress when you’ve just been diagnosed; when your treatment regime needs changing; and when complications are setting in.

Grow your self-regulation by:

• Identifying, challenging and changing any problem beliefs, attitudes and habits related to Diabetes. (Particularly those that come from or feed hopelessness and powerlessness in you.) You may need to enlist the help of practitioners like health coaches, counsellors or psychologists to do this.
• Having realistic expectations of interventions and their outcomes. Regularly re-evaluate your current management approaches and be open to trying new ones. Discuss the outcomes you can expect with your medical practitioner.
• Resourcing your mental and emotional life. Get adequate rest; make space for creativity and fun; and get positive input from books and other sources.

3. Supportive relationships
One of the main contributors to our health and happiness is the availability of stable, caring and supportive relationships in our lives. Do you have a support system of friends and family? Remember that ‘support’ does not necessarily mean ‘agreement’! Build relationships with people who will be honest with you and even disagree with you if they believe your health is at stake. If they really care for you, they will.

Grow your support system by:

• Communicating your feelings honestly to people and letting them help you.
• Prioritising social time in your schedule.
• Maintaining boundaries on difficult relationships and taking down walls in others you want to develop.
• Connecting into a Diabetes support group or community if this kind of interaction fuels you.

4. Spiritual and cultural traditions.

We are strongest and happiest when we feel our lives have meaning and purpose. These may come from different sources for each of us, but are most commonly from our spiritualty and/or culture.

Grow your spiritual and cultural life by:

• Connecting with a community that shares your faith, spirituality and/or cultural background.
• Exploring your community’s beliefs about illness, wellness and your condition.
• Adopting spiritual and cultural habits or traditions that are helpful to your wellness.

References:
American Diabetes Association Standards of Medical care in Diabetes – 2016: http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/suppl/2015/12/21/39.Supplement_1.DC2/2016-Standards-of-Care.pdf
http://www.informationaboutdiabetes.com/lifestyle/lifestyle/powerful-medicine-and-diabetes-manager-happiness
https://www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/15/03/science-resilience

 

Diabetes & Exercise Safety

diabetes exerciseRegular physical activity is strongly encouraged for people living with diabetes. This includes type 1 and type 2 diabetes, both on the rise. In addition to healthy eating, an active lifestyle is an important key to good blood glucose control and the prevention of long term complications of diabetes.

Exercise makes the cells of the body more sensitive to insulin which results in a more optimal uptake of glucose. Better blood glucose levels lead to a better HbA1c level which may mean a reduction in medication or insulin. In addition to improved insulin sensitivity, exercise removes glucose from the bloodstream via a non-insulin related pathway. This is great news if you have insulin resistance or diabetes and there is more …

Other benefits of exercise include:

  • weight management
  • reduction of cholesterol and high blood pressure
  • increased energy levels
  • improved blood circulation
  • stress relief
  • better sleep
  • strengthened muscles and bones
  • improved balance and joint flexibility
  • reduced symptoms of depression

It is, however, important to be sensible when exercising with diabetes. Here are some safety tips before starting:

  • visit your doctor to check bloods, feet and eyes
  • start off slowly
  • warm up before stretching prior to exercise
  • stay hydrated by drinking water (if exercising for a prolonged time, use a beverage containing carbohydrates)
  • wear light weight and light coloured clothing to prevent excessive sweating summer
  • when exercising in winter, keep your head, hands and feet warm
  • wear the appropriate shoes and socks for your chosen activity
  • check your feet for blisters or injuries after exercising
  • protect against fungal infections by wearing slops if you shower at the gym
  • air your sports shoes out in the sun
  • carry your glucometer for blood glucose monitoring
  • notify your/ your child’s coaches or trainers about your diabetes

Preventing low blood glucose levels when exercising with diabetes is also very important. Blood glucose levels can drop during and after exercise (up to 12 hours post exercise). While you want an improved HbA1c, you do not want extreme lows during or after exercise as this can be dangerous. Be sure to eat an adequate meal or snack a minimum of 1 hour prior to exercising. Additional steps to take include:

  • testing your blood glucose 30 minutes before and just prior to exercising
  • if your blood glucose id dropping before exercise, eat an additional snack prior to exercise
  • If exercising for more than an hour, test every 30 minutes and snack if your blood glucose is dropping too fast
  • If exercising hard for an extended period of time, continue checking regularly during the 24 hours following your exercise as the body will use glucose from the blood to replenish glycogen stores (glucose supply stored in the liver and muscles)
  • Depending on your exercise, your blood glucose level can also rise with exercise as the body converts stored glycogen back to glucose in the blood. Test for ketones if your blood levels are too high.
  • If you use insulin to manage your blood glucose levels, work with your doctor to learn how to adjust your doses for your activity level
  • If exercising competitively or at a high level, consult a dietician to create a tailor made eating plan to assist you in managing your diabetes
  • wear some form of diabetes alert band or bracelet for increased safety when exercising or participating in events.
  • always have an extra carbohydrate containing snack readily available

Diabetes Sports Bands

Really ready for change? Recalibrate your life!

piano-196280_1920Over the years I’ve noticed a funny thing about October. It seems to be the month that people make big decisions! Maybe it’s because they have spring-fever and need to spring-clean a few things out of their lives? Maybe it’s because they are looking ahead to the New Year already and needing change? Whatever the reason, making big choices that bring big changes can really take it out of us and we can prepare ourselves better for that.

I made a life-changing decision around this time last year and felt some of those effects. Amongst those was feeling very tired for no good (physical) reason and despite sleeping deeply every night. It wasn’t my body that was tired. I realised I needed a kind of transitional time-out to let my spirit, mind and body catch up with each other and the change I’d made.
Since then, I’ve come to understand it was my RECALIBRATION time before I entered the next phase of my life. If you’re making a life-changing choice right now (for whatever reason), I recommend you let yourself be recalibrated too.

What does this mean?

In technical terms, recalibration is the process of getting an instrument back in tune or a machine back in order according to some standard or “factory” settings. Instruments need recalibration on a routine basis (e.g. every few years), but also when they have been subjected to adverse conditions (like a piano dropped on a move to a new home!) or have been modified to serve a new purpose.

You may need recalibration of your spirit, mind and body just because you’ve been carrying on too long in the same place or space and need the tune-up! But you may need it even more so if you’ve been “bumped” by others while there. Relational abuse or a damaging environment can knock you into a place of self-doubt or self-deception. You may be struggling to think, feel or decide authentically as a result. Or the reason for recalibration may just be a great one: bigger and better things are in store for you in this next part of your life and you need to be in the mental and physical condition that matches the upgrade!

If we don’t give ourselves to being recalibrated like this, we may not function at our best in the phase we enter next. Like an out of tune instrument, our “outputs” become unreliable, our “measurements” of things inaccurate (We use that phrase: “skewed by our perceptions”!); and we waste resources (like our mental and emotional energy) unnecessarily.

So, here are 3 steps for getting recalibrated:

1. First, you need to employ the services of a “calibration technician” (or maybe even a few!) These are people who can help you take honest stock of your current condition and identify the adjustments needed to get you back to your unique “factory settings”. They may be a medical or mental health professional, a spiritual advisor or just a wise friend. You need someone who can objectively assess your life with you and steer you true again.

2. Secondly, let them do a basic but wholistic “damage check”. This is about comparing the state of your spiritual, mental, emotional and physical health to norms for these areas. E.g. Are you feeling in control of your life? Are you thinking rationally? Are you emotionally stable? Are you getting the recommended amount of sleep? Are you deficient nutritionally?

Then, based on the “damage report”, run some “routine maintenance”. Concentrate on the areas of your health that need some simple work. E.g. attend to your physical health by improving your diet, sleep and exercise. Reintroduce the creative and leisure activities that feed your spirit and mind. Cut out other unhelpful activities or bad habits that keep you off course.

3. Finally, with your “technician’s” help, fine-tune the process by going a bit deeper. Identify the problematic mind-sets and attitudes you have adopted during this past phase that need challenging and changing in order to for you to function at your best again. Take note of the gaps in your knowledge or skill-set that need filling in order to be prepared for the new phase. What new frameworks do you need to use? What life-skills do you need to learn to meet the new challenges? Professionals like psychologists, occupational therapists and coaches can help you with this.

Set a deadline for the completion of this recalibration period so that you can intentionally work through it. Then you will be ready, steady…. to go!