Living 100 Adventure Packed (and worthwhile) Years

Ever since I read the following quote I’ve pretty much considered it my philosophy on life:

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely and in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow, what a ride!”

That being said, as adventure packed as I’d like my life to be, I still want it to be a long life, which is why I’m always interested in articles about people who live to over 100 years of age.  Most of these articles say the same thing: be active, eat lots of vegetables, have a good social circle, but recently I read one that was a little different.  It was called “Odd tricks people who lived past 100 swear by”, and some of the recommendations at first did seem a little odd compared to what you usually hear for longevity and health.  Among the “tricks” were: eating bacon daily, drinking port wine, eating 2 pounds of chocolate every week, participating in extreme sports, doing what you love, drinking scotch, and, my personal favorite, do what you want and eat what you want.  But after thinking about it, none of those sounded odd to me.  Sure bacon isn’t exactly a health food, but I’ve always said “all things in moderation” because a piece or two of bacon a day is unlikely to drastically alter your health.  It’s more about the big picture (i.e.  what are you eating the rest of the day?).  I think that particular centenarian might have been on to something else that promotes longevity: enjoyment.  Allowing yourself things that you enjoy can reduce stress and make life, well, more worth living for 100 years.  So next to each seemingly odd suggestion I wrote my interpretation of what actually helped the person live so long.  I came up with: enjoyment, indulgence, being social, movement, stress management, adventure, humor and laughter, doing what you love (that one speaks for itself), fun, happiness, having a “I don’t give a F$%# attitude, and keeping your mind sharp.  Yup, those are the keys to a long life.

But, how does one interpret the plethora of  nutrition studies about what is “good” for us to eat and also apply the quirky habits of those who have lived to over 100? Nutrition authorities (self included sometimes) are always saying “eat this, don’t eat this, eating this will increase your risk of this, eating this will decrease your risk of this” etc etc.  However, studies rarely “prove” anything.  They usually just show a link.  So while eating bacon daily might increase your risk of developing heart disease, there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. So how do you decide what to do?

Here is what I recommend:

  • Health is important, but so is enjoyment.  While I’d still recommend to base your diet on productive foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats, I believe it’s okay to include not so healthy foods that you enjoy in moderation.  And moderation may even be on a daily basis.  A life of deprivation is, in my humble opinion, not worth living for 100 years. The occasional indulgence (chocolate and port anyone?) is okay.  I myself just might’ve had ice cream for dinner not that long ago.
  • Be active, but know when to slow down.  A common thread in this article (and all I’ve seen on living to 100) was being active on a daily basis, but it wasn’t logging long hours at the gym or 80+ mile weeks.  It was gardening, dancing, biking around town.  It doesn’t have to be hard core, just get out there and move your body. Find an activity you actually enjoy doing, because you’ll be more likely to stick with it and thus reap the long term health benefits. But also know how to listen to your body and give it rest when needed.
  • Have an awesome social circle.  Whether it be friends or family it’s important to surround yourself with people you enjoy.  Few who lived to 100 did it alone.

To end, I’ll leave you with another of my favorite quotes that fits the topic:

“Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — a reluctant enthusiast… a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.” – Edward Abbey

Coconut Water is Not a Real Snack

 I recently read a line in a famous fashion magazine from a certain waif-like starlet who claimed “I love to snack”. As a professional in the eating disorder field, this was so refreshing to hear! Except that she followed this comment by saying that she “is constantly reaching for coconut water and fruit”. * Sigh* Seriously? Coconut water and fruit?! That’s not a real snack!

It’s not that I have anything against coconut water. I actually find it a quite refreshing way to rehydrate after some of my longer runs. And obviously fruit has health benefits. It’s the message the statement sends that concerns me. I worry that women and girls who struggle with their body image will think that if they just have coconut water and fruit all day they will look like her, when in reality they will miss out on the real nutrition their bodies need, and potentially set themselves up for problems with disordered eating.

A small (11 oz) container of coconut juice has about 60 calories in it, roughly the same as a small piece of fruit. That’s not nearly as much as the average person needs for a snack and it’s certainly not going to keep anyone satisfied until the next meal or snack. No wonder she is “constantly” reaching for that snack! I for one would be hungry again in less than 5 minutes if that’s all I ate. Even for those trying to lose weight healthfully I wouldn’t recommend a 60 calorie snack. That being said, I am a fan of having snacks in between meals, but it’s important to snack effectively.

Here is what I recommend for snacks:

• Space meals and snacks out as evenly as possible throughout the day, typically every 2-4 hours. Don’t wait until you are starving for your next meal or snack, but don’t feel you have to eat a snack 2 hours after a meal if you are still full. Listen to your hunger and fullness cues.

• Be sure to include a source of protein at all snacks. This will help keep blood sugars and energy levels steady until your next meal or snack. It will also help ensure that you meet your protein needs for the day.

• Try to include fruits and veggies whenever possible. It’s not easy to get the recommended 5-9 servings of fruits and vegetables in every day so if you rely solely on meals, you’re not gonna hit the quota. Try carrots or other cut up veggies with hummus, an apple or banana with peanut or almond butter, greek yogurt with fruit, or blend a smoothie with the milk of your choice (dairy, soy, almond), some frozen berries and a handful of spinach or kale. Add protein powder to make it a little more satisfying. Oh, and by the way, you are never too old for “ants on a log”- celery sticks with peanut butter and raisins.

• Plan ahead. If know you’ll be on the go, throw a protein bar or a bag of mixed nuts into your purse or bag so that you don’t have to rely of fast food or a vending machine.

Happy (and healthy) Snacking!

Sugar and Elf (and you)

“We elves try to stick to the four main food groups: candy, candy canes, candy corns, and syrup!”

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am borderline obsessed with the movie Elf. That particular quote is one of my favorites, although as a dietitian I have to question the nutritional balance of a diet like that! Sugar is a popular nutrition topic these days, and it is generally all bad publicity. Want to know my opinion on it? It’s all about moderation.

I’ve probably used the words “moderation” and “balance” a thousand times in my nutrition consulting sessions and on this blog, and that’s because I truly believe they are the key to a healthy and well-rounded diet (and life). I don’t believe that sugar in of itself is bad. One of the first rules of working with eating disorders is not to place judgment on foods or to label them as good or bad, because in essence, they aren’t. There are just different foods that serve different purposes. I like to point out that even water, which is typically considered “good” or “healthy” can be deadly if drank in excess.

That being said, most Americans aren’t so great with the moderation piece when it comes to sugar. Sugar, in various forms, is added to a lot of food products, and some you might even not expect- peanut butter, breads, cereals (not just the little kid kinds) and salad dressings just to name a few. So it’s easy to over-do it. Excess sugar can definitely be a health problem, especially if done in excess over a long period of time and particularly for those with health concerns such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and metabolic syndrome.

The American Heart Association has put out guidelines for sugar intake: women should consume no more than 100 calories (6 tsp or 25 grams) of added sugar daily and men should consume no more than 150 calories (9 tsp or 37.4 grams). Those numbers are just for added sugars, so they don’t include naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit and dairy products, but that still isn’t a whole lot. If you put 2 tablespoons of sugar in your morning coffee you’ve already met that number (if you’re a woman). Reportedly the average American consumes closer to 355 calories (22 tsp or 90 grams) from added sugars every day. Okay, so that’s quite a bit more than recommended, but honestly I think these guidelines are ridiculously difficult for the average American to follow, so don’t feel bad if your sugar intake is above those numbers, I know mine is. After all, what’s life without a little sweetness? That being said, if you have health issues such as those mentioned above you should definitely be careful about your sugar intake. If you are generally healthy, however, while it would still be wise to eat high sugar foods such as soda (which packs 40 grams of sugar per can on average) and candy in moderation, it would also be important not to be overly restrictive with your eating habits. This can set you up for problems with disordered eating and frankly makes life less enjoyable. Enjoyment is one of the purposes of food after all! Instead of dwelling on grams of sugar, focus on broader nutrition goals such as increasing fruit and veggie intake or making sure you get enough lean proteins and healthy fats.

I would also like to point out that besides the enjoyment factor, there are other times when sugar can be appropriate, such as immediately before, during, and after endurance exercise when sugar is necessary for fuel.  So sugar doesn’t totally deserve the bad rap.

Me, I just ate a piece of chocolate as I was writing part of this blog. I might have 2 or 3, but I won’t eat the whole bag, and that’s what enjoying food in moderation is about!

Exercise and Eating Disorders

 It’s not always easy being an eating disorder professional and an athlete.  As I started thinking about writing a blog about my half marathon training (coming soon!) I had the thought that it’s a bummer I have to keep that part of myself somewhat hidden at work. The patients I work with are very sick and compulsive exercise is a common struggle for them, so personal exercise talk is pretty taboo, and understandably so.  When my patients ask what I do on the weekends I tend to play things down.  I say I went for a short hike when in reality I climbed a 14er.  A training run becomes a walk in the park.  A bike ride up Vail Pass a casual cruiser ride.  It’s not that I like lying, it’s pretty awkward actually, but it doesn’t seem appropriate to delve into my athletic adventures.  Exercise and eating disorders is a complicated subject.  While I fully believe my exercise is healthy, I understand how it would be difficult for patients to understand. But I do it because I love it, not because I am trying to change my body or because I feel like I have to.  I live for the adventure. I fuel myself properly before, during, and after my activities. Heck, the sports nutrition is sometimes the most fun part for me!  And I don’t stress too much if I miss a workout or if it doesn’t go as planned.

 
Why is exercise such a tricky topic with eating disorders?  I think it’s because it’s a healthy thing taken too far.  Sure exercise has health benefits, and it can be a great stress relief, but when it’s compulsive it can actually be detrimental to your physical and mental health.  And when it gets to that point it’s hard to cut back, so sometimes total abstinence is the way to recovery.  There is actually research about running and eating disorders that basically says it’s nearly impossible to recover from an eating disorder if you refuse to stop logging miles.  This all seems quite contrary to what we hear in the media about how most Americans don’t get enough exercise and this lack of activity is causing health problems.  I always have to reality check my eating disorder patients-are you more likely to suffer health problems from lack of exercise or the eating disorder?  I guarantee it’s the eating disorder.
So how do you know if your exercise is a problem?  Ask these questions:
– Is my day ruined if I don’t get in a workout?
– Am I working out because I feel guilty about food I’ve eaten?
– Am I eating enough to fuel my workouts?
– Am I avoiding spending time with friends and family in order to exercise?
– Is my workout routine interfering with my work, school, or other obligations?
A “yes” (or 4) doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder but it might be an indicator that you should further evaluate your exercise habits.  Remember, exercise should be enjoyable! If you’re forcing yourself to run on the treadmill but you hate it, not only are you creating an unhealthy attitude around exercise, but you’re probably not going to stick with it long enough to reap any health benefits.  Remember- balance and moderation are key.  Exercise is great if you are doing it for the right reasons and properly fueling yourself, but it’s also okay to cancel a workout in order to grab dinner with a friend, or because you are tired, sick, or injured. Be kind to your body.

Below is a link to a blog I was quoted in awhile ago about one woman’s recovery from an eating disorder and the role exercise played.  She has some good insight and is doing well with her recovery, but keep in mind this was just one woman’s journey.

http://blisstree.com/look/eating-disorder-recovery-exercise-personal-trainer-227/