Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

Constant Distraction May Cause Memory Loss

October 18th, 2016 at 5:39 pm by timigustafson
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You don’t have to be a senior to experience a “senior moment,” meaning you forget an otherwise familiar word or name, or can’t exactly remember what you planned to do the next minute. It happens throughout life, it just seems to happen more frequently with age.

But it’s not always due to mental decline in our later years that we lose track of things. Much of what we ascribe to forgetfulness may actually be a matter of loss of focus, concentration and attention span that begins much earlier.

In our busy lives, distractions are ubiquitous and nearly impossible to avoid. Most of us are in fact used to juggling several chores at once – a.k.a. multitasking – day in and day out. It has become so much part of us that it almost feels strange to dwell on just one subject matter for too long.

Unfortunately, there is a price to be paid for all this. Studies have shown that the brain actually suffers from being pulled in too many different directions.

For example, researchers from Stanford University found that talking on the phone or sending text messages while doing other things or having other interactions at the same time can cause what they coined “impairment of cognitive control”.

We admire people who act with great efficiency, and it can be a real asset to be able to function this way. But participants in tests showed that when they were regularly bombarded with multiple streams of information and demands, they paid less attention, could often not remember important details, and switched from one job to the next with less ease, compared to others who completed only one project at the time.

Moreover, the multitaskers had a harder time figuring out which information was relevant and which wasn’t to a specific project. People who get inundated with data and messages can become “suckers for irrelevancy,” as one study author put it.

Especially an intense (some say, addictive) use of media may impact the brain in ways we are not yet fully comprehending. Clinical studies have already detected changes in the minds of adolescents and young adults who spend a lot of their time on social media. Since the technology that drives such behavior is relatively new, long-term outcomes are still unclear.

However, experts do agree that a constant exposure to media and communication in the so-called digital age does indeed shorten the attention span most people can muster.

While more research is needed to establish direct connections, the effects of distraction and lack of focus do seem real, and may become more pronounced as people grow older.

As it gets harder to digest information or commit data to memory, it becomes ever more important to remain mentally engaged. It may take longer to learn new skills, or even just read through a newspaper article or an entire book, but it’s definitely worth the effort, and the benefits are myriad.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Don’t Stop the Music Too Soon

October 9th, 2016 at 5:04 pm by timigustafson
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The Rolling Stones have announced the release of a new album before year’s end. There may be no big surprises in the offing. Critics in the know say it will be more like going back to beginnings, a retrospective of sorts. Still, I find it nothing short of mindboggling how these guys just keep going after so many decades of – to put it mildly – living life to the fullest.

They are all in their late sixties to mid seventies now – and look at them! They may have wrinkled faces and dyed hair, but they remain lean and full of energy, while most of their contemporaries are likely overweight, balding, and no longer too swift on their feet. So what’s their secret? Why do people age so differently?

There are, of course, multiple factors to consider. There are genetic predispositions. There are differences in lifestyle, standard of living, and education. There are geographic and environmental influences. There is diet and physical fitness. There is stress and anxiety. There may be accidents and diseases along the way. And yet, there is also something else, something deep inside a person that lets him or her fare better than others.

Some studies have shown that open-mindedness, intellectual curiosity and creativity do in fact benefit the aging mind, and may even play a role in longevity. A positive attitude and outlook on life may also factor in.

The brains of highly creative and inquisitive individuals like artists and scientists often continue to perform at a high level as they get older, and may even keep improving instead of declining, as one would expect, according to Dr. Nicholas A. Turiano, a psychologist at the University of Rochester and co-author of one such study.

Well-functioning mental capacities may also influence how people age physically. While there is myriad evidence that physical fitness also promotes mental well-being, surveys have found that people who have many interests, stay closely connected with their social surroundings, and continuously expose themselves to new experiences generally suffer from fewer illnesses and age-related debilitations.

It goes without saying that not everyone is creatively inclined or artistically talented. But that is not required. Anything that enhances the quality of a person’s life is worthwhile pursuing. It can be travel, continued education, taking up a worthy cause, joining a group of like-minded people. There are endless possibilities. The only constant that matters is that it keeps you occupied, interested and engaged.

There is no need to stop the music inside before nature says so. And the sooner you start, the longer you can hear it play.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Why Fat Shaming Is So Misplaced

October 4th, 2016 at 7:45 am by timigustafson
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Should carrying extra weight be judged as a matter of personal failure? Considering the fact that two thirds of Americans are now diagnosed as overweight and one third as obese, it feels strange that there should be any prejudices against body fat. And yet, stigmatizing heavyset people is more common and seemingly acceptable than any other form of discrimination left on the planet.

Women in particular are routinely targeted for their appearances. Their ‘imperfect’ bodies can keep them from advancing in their careers (if they can get lucrative jobs in the first place), from getting married or finding partners, even from receiving proper healthcare.

Overweight itself is widely seen as a problem. Obesity is now officially called a disease. But people who are afflicted by it are not treated like other patients who, for example, have cancer or heart disease. Presumably, they brought their ailments upon themselves – by their self-indulging, undisciplined and irresponsible behavior. That makes them easy prey.

The reasons why body weight is so often looked upon as a moral rather than a health matter are complex and not easily understood. In my own practice as a dietitian, the topic comes up frequently by clients who despair more over their looks than what is happening to them health wise. In fact, many accept some of the discriminatory messages they receive in person or in the media as ‘truth.’

Sadly, when it comes to weight issues, moral judgment is never far away. Not by accident, love for food, a.k.a. gluttony, is listed in Christian religious teaching as one of the seven cardinal sins. With such labeling, eating behavior becomes a matter of right and wrong, of good and evil. And because weight control can take effort and struggle, those who fail at it or don’t try hard enough are then viewed as losers or slackers who don’t put in the necessary work, and should be called out for it.

In reality, there are countless causes for unhealthy weight gain. Lack of self-control is not the most common. Traumatic childhood experiences, poor self esteem and body image – resulting in all kinds of eating disorders, genetic predispositions, lack of access to quality food, among many other possibilities, are much more decisive factors in overeating.

The worldwide obesity crisis we are facing today is not the product of personal failure. Overweight people don’t just overindulge because they cannot resist their urges. The undeniable fact is that much of our food supply – especially the cheap, fast, and highly processed kind – is harming us. Period.

Moreover, most consumers are basically illiterate when it comes to nutrition. Nobody teaches them how to eat right – not in schools, not at the workplace, or anywhere else, and certainly not in ways that are commonly understandable and actionable.

To the contrary: Lunches in many public schools remain of poor nutritional quality, kids are constantly bombarded with junk food and soda ads, and low-income families struggle to put half-decent meals on the table.

These are structural, not personal failures. Here is where the root of the ‘evil’ lies. As long as these issues are not addressed, no moralizing about weight has a place.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Good Posture Matters More Than You Think

September 25th, 2016 at 6:18 pm by timigustafson
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When you grew up, your parents or teachers probably told you to sit and stand straight, instead of slouching your back and shoulders. They themselves may not have exactly known why that was important, it just seemed that way. But more recent science has found that they were actually right in many more ways than they imagined. As it turns out, good posture enhances physical fitness, helps reduce stress, and contributes to healthy aging.

That good posture plays a role in health and fitness should come as no surprise. Only when the body is properly aligned, the supporting ligaments, tendons and muscles can function at their best. Sitting or standing hunched over for hours – as many of us do at work and other activities – can lead to chronic pain and permanently debilitating damage. By contrast, good posture can help prevent such wear and tear and maintain greater flexibility and strength.

Research suggests that good posture can also foster people’s psychological well-being. One study from the University of Auckland, New Zealand, found that the way people conducted themselves physically did indeed influence their self-esteem and how they were able to cope with stress and problem solving. As tests showed, sitting or standing upright helped participants feel more powerful and competent when facing a number of challenging tasks they were assigned to. In other words, bodily experiences can significantly affect cognitive and emotional states as well, the researchers concluded.

The issue becomes ever more pressing with age. A study from Japan discovered connections between good posture and the risk of future disability. Participants who sat, stood and walked even only slightly bent forward in their mid-life years developed greater physical limitations than their counterparts who generally maintained an upright posture. The differences became ever more pronounced as they got older, and were eventually quite significant in terms of their overall health status.

There is also a social dimension to the way we present ourselves physically, especially in our later years. As surveys have shown, old age is commonly associated with physical deterioration and visa versa. Many seniors feel left behind and isolated from society, in part because of actual physical (and perhaps mental) shortcomings, but also based on false assumptions that they no longer can keep up. However, while some slowing down may be an inevitable part of nature, there is no need to accept premature degeneration and decline.

And there is much that can be done to counteract those processes. For example, stretching, yoga and other exercises that promote flexibility can do wonders for an aging body. So can brisk walking, keeping a good stride, moving with ease and confidence – all of which are signs of good health and vitality. A positive attitude and outlook on life can also do some good, particularly when it shows on the outside.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Why Seniors Should Not Neglect Their Looks

September 16th, 2016 at 2:41 pm by timigustafson
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Whenever I’m invited to talk or write about healthy aging – which also for personal reasons has become a specialty of mine – I’m usually expected to address issues of physical and mental fitness. These are certainly more pressing as we grow older, but they should not be the only concerns to consider.

Life in our senior years is as complex as at any other time. We continue to have goals to pursue and routines to maintain, although they may seem different now, and perhaps unfold at a slower pace. And while loss of abilities is a natural part of aging, we don’t have to hasten the process by being negligent. This includes every part of our existence, not the least the way we look and present ourselves to the outside world. Yes, I’m talking about such ‘frivolous’ things as fashion and style.

One of the unfortunate but inevitable effects of aging – for both men and women – is that personal care like grooming and makeup seems to require longer and greater efforts. But it remains as important as ever, and so does getting properly and tastefully dressed.

Granted, most fashion designers don’t have a mature clientele in mind when they create their collections, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking for new ideas and trends. Much of what you find in stores today is not that unheard of and is routinely inspired by periods we went through years or even decades ago. And then, who cares, as long as it makes us look and feel good.

But here is the thing: For many people, the ability to critically judge their appearance does indeed diminish with age. There are no obvious reasons for that. Perhaps they just stop caring or get too comfortable with what they have.

For instance, many seniors have a tendency to hold on to the things they own, including their clothing. It can be hard to toss out an overcoat or suit that once may have cost a lot of money and is still in perfect condition – but is now hopelessly out of style. Or, due to age-related loss of muscle mass and spine compaction, it no longer fits properly.

Especially older men tend to wear their clothes for too long. Eventually, their wardrobe becomes almost demeaning to them, with ill-fitting, rumpled and sagging jackets and pants.

Women make the same mistake if they keep dresses and costumes forever in their closets for those special occasions that rarely ever happen anymore. No ladies, those nineteen-eighties oversized shoulder pads won’t make you look as powerful as they used to. In any case, you don’t do yourself a favor by hanging on to that beloved old thing. Get rid of it.

Finding good color combinations is another issue. Lessening eyesight can be a problem when picking out fabrics both in coloring and texture. Of course, what goes with what is never written in stone, and arrangements that were once looked upon as no-nos have turned into must-haves later on.

But some rules usually apply one way or another. What they are at any given time is not always easily discernible, especially for those of us who don’t stay up-to-date. So, it’s worthwhile to look around stores every so often, even if you can’t find anything right away that calls your name.

There is also no shame in asking for advice. If sales personnel are not helpful, you can bring along a (perhaps younger) friend or family member who has some knowledge and interest to make you look your best.

There is also myriad information available on the Internet, and not only for seniors. After all, we are not that much different from the rest of the population, just because we have been around the block a few more times.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

For a Child, Being Fat Is a Never-Ending Nightmare

September 10th, 2016 at 5:07 pm by timigustafson
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“She likes to eat,” the mother said. She didn’t have to spell it out. It was obvious that her child at the age of nine was well on her way to become obese. I counseled clients like her before. They keep coming to my practice on a regular basis. Children as young as three or four years old are being diagnosed with multiple health problems caused by overweight. Sadly, they will have to cope with the consequences for the rest of their lives. They are cut off from their future in so many ways, and so unnecessarily.

There are the physical aspects. Too much fat in a growing body wreaks havoc all around, from bones and muscles to vital organs. Overweight and obese children and teenagers are at an immediate risk of heart disease due to high cholesterol levels and high blood pressure. Most are pre-diabetic, meaning they are likely to develop full-blown type 2 diabetes before they reach adulthood. Their bones and joints, unable to carry the extra weight, will weaken and in many cases deform. The list of potentially catastrophic outcomes goes on.

Many of the health issues they are facing early on will only worsen as they grow older. Most will continue to struggle with weight management and related diseases for as long as they live. The long-term effects can become ever more severe, and at some point acutely life-threatening. Premature death from heart failure, stroke or cancer is a real possibility.

For children, the psychological impact of being overweight is equally as menacing. Many suffer from a poor body image and low self-esteem. Depression and suicidal thoughts are not uncommon among older kids and adolescents who struggle with their appearance. Some develop eating disorders and engage in other dysfunctional and detrimental behavior, like under-age smoking, drinking and drug use.

For parents, it can be hard to acknowledge that their offspring is having weight issues. They may hesitate to address the subject because they don’t want to hurt their child’s feelings and make things worse. If they are themselves on the heavy side, they may not see a ‘little chubbiness’ as such a big deal. Or they blame it on their family’s genetic makeup. Or they hope their kid will eventually outgrow it all.

That may be the case for some, but unfortunately, not for most. Childhood obesity is real and it has taken on epidemic proportions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), weight problems plague twice as many children and four times as many adolescents than just a generation ago. One in three is now diagnosed as overweight or obese before the age of 18.

We are not helpless in the face of this crisis. Enough information on how to address the underlying problems is available. We know what to do. What we need is to be clear-sighted and determined to take the necessary steps that can reverse these trends.

There are multiple obvious culprits we know contribute to childhood obesity. Poor diets consisting of fast food and sugary drinks are among them. So is lack of exercise and physical education (PE) in schools. None of these issues are isolated or occur in a vacuum, and I have written plenty about many of them and how they connect with one another.

But foremost – and this cannot be overemphasized – it is the parents who must act as gatekeepers. They are the ones who ultimately control what goes into their children’s mouths. If there is junk food in the house, the kids will eat it. If there are sodas, they will gulp them down. If these things are not brought home, the kids will not even develop a taste for them, let alone overindulge.

This is a choice all parents can make. Yes, healthy food can be more expensive and may not even be readily available everywhere. Yes, not all communities have parks, bike paths or swimming pools. Some may not even be safe enough for kids to play outside without supervision. But alternatives can be found and investments can be made if we only care enough.

The risks are too high and the damages too serious to ignore what’s at stake here. The children who fall prey to these diseases will never live their lives to the fullest and will probably succumb far too soon. For them this is nothing short of a nightmare. It doesn’t have to be this way. It must not.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Who Teaches Us About Health?

August 11th, 2016 at 12:42 pm by timigustafson
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When I was a child, doctors still made house calls. For those too young to understand what I’m even talking about, I have to explain that in those days a physician would actually come to your home, diagnose your medical condition while you were in your own bed, write a prescription, and dispense some advice on how to proceed with the cure.

Family doctors were almost like friends and neighbors who knew everything about you, not just your medical history. Oftentimes, they first met you literally at birth, gave you your vaccines, treated personally all your ills, and kept your records in their heads. No archives, no computers needed.

They were also teachers. Whatever folks learned about medicine, this was their one and only source. They trusted it, sometimes to a fault. The doctor was God, his (mostly his, back then) word was gospel. But this fundamental trust in authority and professional competence was an important component in getting people back on their feet. They also gained some expertise in the process themselves.

I remember my mother, who was not very educated, having conversations with our doctor about how to deal with my childhood illnesses and occasional injuries, how to administer medicines, and how long to enforce bed rest. Nothing ever seemed rushed. It appeared to me almost like gossip what was going on between them. But it was reassuring, even to me, that everything would always turn out all right because the doctor said so.

None of this still exists, of course. The family physician is now the general practitioner (GP) who functions mainly as a gatekeeper between the patient and a specialist. Schedules are tight and waiting rooms are full. Forget taking time for a friendly chat. In-dept consultations are practically unheard of. Anything beyond tests and prescriptions does not get reimbursed by insurance companies. So it doesn’t happen.

I’m not nostalgic about the ‘good old days.’ They had their downsides, too. But being a health counselor myself, I do know first hand that conversing with patients about their concerns can make a real difference in their healing process. Being listened to and taken seriously is something we all want in our everyday lives. How much more so when we are at our weakest and most worried?

Another important aspect is what I call teaching people “health literacy.” Good health ranks at or near the top of almost everyone’s priorities, and yet there is so little knowledge among the public about pro-active, health-promoting measures anybody could take up right away.

Our healthcare system is mainly geared towards treatment of disease after it strikes. It is good at repairing damage, but less so at preventing it in the first place. That is where better education in health matters would come in handy.

The doctors of my youth knew that and they practiced it extensively. Their expertise may have been limited in comparison to today’s standards, but it was acquired over a lifetime of hands-on experience and practice. They not only knew their patients intimately, they also had the skill of communicating with them in ways they themselves could understand and act upon.

Nowadays, we have more information at our fingertips than ever before. The Internet allows us access to almost everything known to mankind, and medical science is no exception. But at the same time, there seems so much disconnect between people’s health needs and their actions.

Somehow I think my mother was better instructed on how to get me back on track after a little tête-à-tête with our doctor than she would have been had she browsed a thousand websites.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

How You Can Reach Your Health Potential

August 2nd, 2016 at 8:25 am by timigustafson
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According to polls, most of us think of ourselves as healthy, despite the fact that the obesity crisis keeps growing and multiple diet- and lifestyle-related diseases continue to rise. While the exact causes for this ongoing epidemic are still in dispute, there is general consensus that they are best counteracted by health-promoting measures like diet, exercise and positive lifestyle changes.

But regardless of the information available to all, a great deal of confusion persists about how to implement even the most basic recommendations for healthy living. What many still fail to see is how to apply this knowledge in their daily lives, and how to maximize the benefits for their health and well-being.

Why is diet so important?
For example, understanding and following dietary guidelines. Most people consider dieting, particularly for weight loss, as something restrictive, if not punitive. Having to divide one’s food preferences into dos and don’ts is not especially pleasant. Because most diet programs don’t work in the long run, they usually end up in disappointment and frustration. Including or excluding certain foods or food groups in itself can be problematic. As serious nutrition experts will tell you, a better way is to adhere to a diet that is balanced. (It doesn’t matter whether it has a fancy name or someone famous swears by it.)

A balanced diet is one that has all the important nutrients the body needs to function properly. It helps prevent diseases and infections, and supports healing and recovery when injury or illness strikes. It is at the core of all successful weight management. It is essential for healthy growth and development during childhood and adolescence, lasting physical and mental health throughout adulthood, and healthy aging in later years. It is an instrumental part of reaching a person’s health potential at all times and in every way.

A balanced diet includes a great variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds, and healthy fats. These offer invaluable benefits in form of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants – all of which are necessary for the body to perform at its best. An optimal diet also requires good sources of protein from lean meats and seafood for growth, maintenance and repair of muscles, bones and organs. Carbohydrates provide energy, dairy products support bone health, and dietary fiber helps with the metabolic process. All of these must be supplied and replenished regularly because prolonged depletion can lead to detrimental consequences for the entire system.

Why is exercise so important?
Like healthy eating, if you are not into it, regular exercise can seem like a nuisance. But it matters just as much. Still, there can be countless reasons (or excuses) for not exercising enough. It’s too time-consuming, too painful, doesn’t produce the desired results, and so on. But the fact is that a sedentary lifestyle does not only increase the likelihood of unwanted weight gain, it is downright unhealthy and can even lead to premature death. As a recent study showed, being unfit due to lack to physical activity is as dangerous to people’s health as smoking and similarly harmful habits.

In addition, exercise has been proven as the best antidote to stress there is. It helps to protect the body from multiple diseases like heart diseasediabetes, and even cancer. It strengthens muscles and bones, which becomes ever more important with age. And it benefits the mind as well by preventing or slowing age-related decline in memory and other cognitive functions.

Why are lifestyle improvements so important?
We all have our dear habits and routines, some of which serve us well, but also others that can do us harm. Smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and drug use are the obvious culprits. But tastes for overly sweet, fatty or salty foods should also be examined. My clients often hear me say when we address diet and lifestyle changes: “Nothing is forbidden, but everything counts.”

Small, incremental steps are a good approach when it comes to making improvements. Stopping ‘cold turkey’ is not for everyone. All ingrained habits, good or bad, serve (or have served at one point) a purpose, which must be taken into account and replaced with something that fills the void.

Aiming to reach one’s full health potential – that is consciously trying to stay or become as healthy as possible at any given time in life – is foremost a choice, a commitment that must be renewed again and again through successes and failures alike. It is an open-ended, never fully completed project. But it is the best thing anyone can ever set out to do.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

Love Your Food

July 21st, 2016 at 5:12 pm by timigustafson
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When nutrition professionals talk about “befriending food,” they usually do so in the context of eating disorders. They point out the importance of not seeing “food as the enemy,” as one well-known author put it, or “making peace with food,” as others have counseled. For me – also a nutrition expert – it’s a much simpler proposition. Loving food is to understand what it does, how it nourishes us, and also to appreciate what it takes to make good food available.

Food, especially ‘real’ food, is a wonderful thing. It should never be taken for granted, wasted, or disregarded for all the benefits it provides. “Let food be your medicine,” the Greek physician Hippocrates famously said. Indeed, food can keep us healthy and help us fight and overcome disease.

Unfortunately, it’s no secret that most people are alienated from their food supply. Few of us know, or care to know, where our food comes from, how it is processed or prepared, and how we benefit from it. Yes, we have more nutritional information than ever given to us, but such data are oftentimes either confusing or outright misleading.

To understand the true value of food is to understand what the body requires to fully function. I know, it sounds corny when health counselors sometimes advise their clients to ‘listen’ to their body, but it does make sense. The body does make its needs known if we pay attention.

Just ask yourself how you feel after eating a big meal? Probably sluggish. After too much fat intake? Sick. After a highly nutritious boost? Energized – right? Your body lets you know right away what you have done to it.

Our relationship with food is tricky. Even if it’s dysfunctional, we cannot put an end to it, unlike with alcohol or drug use. We can’t live without food. It’s essential to our existence.

But when the way we eat makes us sick and causes us diseases like obesity, diabetes or heart disease, we need to recalibrate and develop a different approach to how we handle the presence of food in our lives.

Throughout my years as a dietitian and health counselor, I have seen many clients with an antagonistic attitude towards food, while still exhibiting addictive behavior they seemingly could not overcome. Yes, there is such a thing as a love-hate relationship with food. They couldn’t enjoy eating, and they couldn’t resist it either.

What is the answer to such a dilemma? Learn to love your food, I would say. Because it reflects how you love yourself, and the way you live your life.

How we relate to food translates and broadcasts how we feel about our very existence, says Pilar Gerasimo, a founding editor of the health magazine Experience Life.

“Whether we eat consciously or unconsciously, strategically or randomly, pleasurably or dutifully, with voracious hunger or ho-hum disinterest, we can always see in our relationship with food something true and essential about the way we experience other aspects of our lives,” she says.

In other words, we not only are what we eat, we also choose who we want to be in our relationship with food.

So what does a healthy relationship with food look like in terms of everyday living?

People with a healthy relationship to food eat mindfully, says Sarah Klein, a wellness coach and contributing editor at Huffington Post. Their approach to food is based on moderation, good timing, and planning ahead. They enjoy their food and appreciate its value. They don’t get seduced by fads and trends. And they don’t let diet concerns interfere with their daily routines. In sum, their relationship with food is constructive and empowering, instead of destructive and dysfunctional.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

A New Emphasis on Mental and Emotional Well-Being in Healthcare

July 14th, 2016 at 2:57 pm by timigustafson
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That diet and exercise are important pillars of good health is common knowledge, even among those who don’t necessarily follow suit. But when it comes to caring for their mental and emotional well-being, most people remain largely in the dark. According to the current U.S. Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Vivek H. Murthy, it is time to pay greater attention to the treatment of mental and emotional conditions, which he considers as crucial as all other forms of healthcare.

Mental illness is responsible for more disabilities than any other group of illness, Murthy says. A lot of people with mental and emotional problems may not feel comfortable talking about them or seeking professional help. But in the absence of mental and emotional health, it is impossible for people to properly function and reach their full potential.

Oftentimes people mistake mental and emotional disturbances for lack of intelligence or disability. That is far from what the facts tell us, according to the Surgeon General. Mental and emotional dysfunctions can have countless causes, some of which can be addressed relatively easily. Chronic stress, sleep deprivation, traumatic experiences – all well-known culprits that can wreak havoc on both body and mind – can be successfully treated with appropriate countermeasures, sometimes even with a few adjustments in behavior and lifestyle habits.

Many of the mental and emotional damages people suffer from have been inflicted early in life. Negative childhood experiences can lead to lasting consequences later on and sometimes persist for a lifetime. By contrast, fostering emotional wellbeing in the earliest stages of life through skilled parenting can be instrumental in building a solid foundation for overall health throughout adolescence and adulthood, according to the Surgeon General’s recommendations.

Like most other illnesses, mental and emotional health issues don’t occur in isolation. They are affected by multiple environmental and social factors, by personal choices and habits, by events and circumstances beyond an individual’s control. Any effective form of treatment must take all of these possibilities into account.

For this reason, the Surgeon General’s office (then under former Surgeon General Regina M. Benjamin) commissioned a plan to improve the health of citizens on every level and at every stage in life, and titled it “The National Preventive Strategy,” which was released in 2011. The National Prevention Council, consisting of more than a dozen health departments and agencies, authored the final report with emphasis on proactive healthcare measures whenever possible, including for mental and emotional concerns.

Surgeon General Murthy takes his views on the importance of mental and emotional health even further by adding happiness and inner peace to the equation as health-promoting states of mind, which can be attained through yoga, meditation and other exercises.

Besides healthy nutrition and physical exercise, we must look at other components that constitute wellness, including mindfulness and feelings of gratitude and satisfaction, he says in an interview with Huffington Post. Happy people live longer, are less stressed, and have lower levels of inflammation and heart disease. Happiness can change health in ways we never even imagined, he says.

Sounds like a plan.

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Timi Gustafson R.D. is a registered dietitian, newspaper columnist, blogger and author of the book “The Healthy Diner – How to Eat Right and Still Have Fun”®.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.

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About timigustafson

Timi Gustafson, RD, LDN, FAND is a registered dietitian, health counselor, book author, syndicated newspaper columnist and blogger. She lectures on nutrition and healthy living to audiences worldwide. She is the founder and president of Solstice Publications LLC, a publishing company specializing in health and lifestyle education. Timi completed her Clinical Dietetic Internship at the University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. She is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an active member of the Washington State Dietetic Association, a member of the Diabetes Care and Education, Healthy Aging, Vegetarian Nutrition and the Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition practice groups. For more information, please visit http://www.timigustafson.com

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