Timi Gustafson, R.D.

Helping people to live healthy and fulfilling lives.

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.

In the Fight Against Obesity, Experts Remain Divided Over Strategies

June 28th, 2016 at 5:09 pm by timigustafson
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Do food manufacturers bear a responsibility for the global obesity crisis? Of course they do. So do restaurants that offer nutritionally poor fare and exorbitant portion sizes. But the decision to consume foods and drinks that cause waistlines to expand ever further still rests with the individual. So, from which end should we try to tackle the problem?

Experts remain divided over the issue, despite of decades-long research on the true causes of excessive weight gain. What is unclear to most is where countermeasures should be implemented first, at the supplier- or the consumer level.

In a special series on the subject, the medical journal The Lancet has published different points of view, leaving considerable space for further discussion.

A majority of study findings, however, seem to lean towards top-down solutions such as regulatory measures that force food suppliers to better comply with dietary guidelines and recommendations by health experts, rather than a bottom-up approach with a primary focus on consumer behavior.

Although obesity is a complex issue, many debates about its causes and solutions are centered around overly simple dichotomies that present seemingly competing perspectives. Examples of such dichotomies explored in this series include personal versus collective responsibilities, supply versus demand-type explanations for consumption of unhealthy foods, government regulation versus industry self-regulation, and so forth, according to the series’ final report. While people ought to be held responsible for their health and wellbeing, environmental factors can support or undermine their ability to act in their self-interest, the authors conclude.

“Today’s food environments exploit people’s biological, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities, making it easier for them to eat unhealthy foods. This reinforces preferences and demands for foods of poor nutritional quality, furthering the unhealthy food environments. Regulatory actions from governments and increased efforts from industry and civil society will be necessary to break these vicious cycles,” they argue.

Not everyone agrees with one-sided attempts at solution finding of either kind. Dr. Mike Gibney, the director of the Institute of Food and Health at the University College Dublin, Ireland, and author of “Ever Seen a Fat Fox? Human Obesity Explored,” calls for a combination of bottom-up (consumers) and top-down (governments, industries) approaches. Multi-faceted action that attacks the problem at its roots, namely individual eating behavior, but doesn’t let ‘Big Food’ off the hook, is the most promising way to go, he says in an interview with Food Navigator. We do have the required resources to make a change, he says, it’s just the will that is lacking to follow through on what we know – on either side.

While obesity has been acknowledged as a global epidemic, it is unlikely that universally applicable solutions can be found. Methods that may work locally or regionally may fail on a larger scale. Differences between cultures, customs, education, economic status and governance may prove too great to overcome.

Some have suggested to take up the fight against obesity in similar fashion as the so-called “tobacco wars” in the 1990s, when policies were put in place that helped reduce tobacco use. But although anti-smoking campaigns and programs played an important role, it was also due to intense education efforts about the health risks that led many smokers to quit.

We should be careful, however, to expect too much from such strategies, even if they have worked in the past, because the issues differ. Looking at the tobacco or alcohol model with their top-down measures is flawed because neither has much in common with food, Dr. Gibney cautions. You can wean yourself from smoking or drinking but not from eating, he says. That means that ultimately consumers remain in the driver seat when it comes to making lasting changes, albeit they can use all the help they can get.

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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.

Been Everywhere, Done Everything? How About Some Food Travel?

June 14th, 2016 at 2:21 pm by timigustafson
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Having just returned from visiting Japan and having been thoroughly spoiled by the country’s unique culinary culture, I found my interest in exotic foods and cooking styles renewed. I have enjoyed such experiences before, but never made it a specific quest. This time was different, and I’m glad I finally joined the ranks of international food travelers.

Food travel – or culinary tourism, as it is sometimes called – is a fast growing trend, and not only among seasoned globetrotters who seek new perspectives on their journeys. Widely popular TV shows like Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” or Andrew Zimmern’s “Bizarre Foods” have put food exploration high on many people’s bucket list. And travel agencies are more than happy to comply.

Over the past decade or so, food-themed vacationing has become a trendsetter in the leisure travel industry. According to the Ontario Culinary Tourism Alliance (OCTA), a consulting firm for specialty travel organizers, interest in local, regional or national cuisine, heritage and culture is at an all-time high. And this is by no means limited to gourmet dining or fine wine sampling but extends to all things related to food production, preparation and consumption as well as environmental issues like climate change and sustainability.

“A culinary adventure can be a welcome change from the standard travel itinerary,” says Sabah Karimi, a travel writer for U.S. News. “The goal of culinary tourism is to educate and inspire food and wine enthusiasts while giving the traveler a chance to explore the local area and learn about local food trends, cooking techniques and food history.”

At a recent business conference, sponsored by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) in Quebec, the rising popularity of culinary travel and its impact on the travel industry as a whole was the main topic. A survey that was conducted for the event showed that over 70 percent of travel itineraries now included food and beverage-themed components.

Food is a leading draw in travel these days, industry analysts say. It transcends borders, builds bridges between cultures, and connects us as human beings with the planet and one another.

Not everyone, however, is overly enthused about this newfound love for culinary discovery.

While food-related tourism is growing, food-borne illnesses are also on the rise globally and have been identified as a major public health concern by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

At destinations where accommodations, hygiene and sanitation, medical care and water quality are of a high standard, there are relatively few health risks for travelers. However, exposure to infectious agents and contaminated food and water, combined with the absence of appropriate medical facilities, can make traveling in remote regions particularly hazardous, the WHO warns.

Obviously, exposing yourself to the unknown, whether it concerns your surroundings or your dinner plate, always carries a certain amount of risk. But safety should come first, wherever you go and regardless of what you do. While travel is supposed to be fun, it is not a time for recklessness. If your experience is unpleasant because of a stomach ache or much worse, you probably won’t give it another try. And what a shame that would be…

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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.

Longevity – To What Avail?

June 7th, 2016 at 5:20 pm by timigustafson
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A long life has always been considered a desirable objective for most people, and modern science, abundant food supply and hygienic living conditions are making it possible for ever greater parts of the population to achieve this goal.

Over the past 200 years the average life expectancy has doubled, and some experts say that human longevity has not even reached its peak yet. They are not talking about the distant future. In fact, the first person to live to a 150 may already have been born.

According to the National Institute on Aging, the once leading causes of illness and death – mostly through infectious and parasitic diseases – have all been dramatically reduced with vaccinations, dietary improvements, better health education, and overall higher standards of living.

Obviously, conditions still vary widely from country to country, but generally people now live much longer than ever, worldwide. In some places, those reaching 85 and older already make up the fastest growing part of the populace. Globally, their numbers will quadruple by mid-century. The number of centenarians is projected to increase 10-fold over the same time period.

Being able to extend life, of course, is a great success, especially when it comes with a reasonably high quality of life. But simply adding years of sickness, frailty and decline is not a very appealing prospect. Unfortunately, the progress we are making in terms of keeping people around longer is not always matched by advances in personal health and fitness – both physically and mentally.

Today’s seniors, especially in the developed world, could not only be the longest living but also the healthiest generation, based on the level of healthcare and health education available to them.

But sadly, the facts don’t bear this out. Dying prematurely from infectious diseases may be a thing of the past, but those threats have been replaced by a host of diet and lifestyle-related chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.

Most of these are treatable and could be prevented altogether. But according to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only a miniscule percentage of the population pays enough attention and adheres to behaviors that can reduce the risk of developing these ailments.

And yet, the steps to take are simple and widely accepted as effective, proactive health measures. They include a healthful diet, regular exercise, persistent weight management, stress reduction, sufficient sleep, and avoidance of smoking, alcohol- and drug abuse. To follow any (or preferably all) of these, it is never too soon or too late.

Adding years to life may be a worthwhile pursuit for its own sake, but without adding life to years by maintaining good health, it will likely be a sadly diminished outcome.

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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.

Body Image and Self-Compassion

June 1st, 2016 at 11:28 am by timigustafson
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“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” the iconic supermodel Kate Moss once famously said, presumably suggesting that no indulgence is worth the damage it does to a slim figure. Being slim, of course, is the unquestioned standard of beauty and health set by the media and respective industries. It is also a cause for widespread body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, and low self-esteem that often develop in childhood and affect people of all ages, especially women.

Studies have shown that being considered overweight by oneself or others can lead to an array of emotional disturbances, including clinical depression. These effects likely worsen when contrary body images are idealized.

Women, in particular, tend to share their weight concerns with others, which often reinforces the negative views they already have of themselves, says Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. When women get together and have a “fat talk,” their feelings of guilt and failure become ever more aggravated, and it gets even harder to overcome obstacles. Engaging in conversations about body imperfections has often a contagious effect, Whitbourne warns, and should better be avoided.

A more constructive approach would be what some have coined “self-compassion.” Being compassionate with oneself and others means to realize that suffering, failure and imperfection are part of our shared human experience, says Dr. Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, and well-known expert on the subject.

“Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings,” she explains the concept.

That doesn’t mean that self-compassionate people give themselves an easy way out. Self-compassion is not to be confused with self-pity or self-indulgence where anything goes. It’s not even about lifting up your self-esteem, Neff says. It’s about self-clarity, about developing a better sense of what is real and what is possible.

Failings are more acceptable when they are not denied or covered up because of shame. By dealing openly with inevitable shortcomings, a self-compassionate person can become more resilient and able to overcome hurdles in the future.

For example, studies have found that women with disturbed body images who listened to audiotapes on self-compassion judged their appearance less harshly over time and developed attitudes that were more constructive in terms of weight management.

A lot of people have to relearn to love themselves, if they ever did. For someone who was subjected to constant scrutiny and criticism as a child or who never experienced unconditional love, compassionate self-acceptance can be hard to practice.

But it can be learned, step by step, according to Deepak Chopra, the prominent wellness guru. By following certain exercises of compassionate self-love and self-acceptance, he says, a new self-image can emerge that is healing and empowering. Such a transformation may take some time, but the benefits can be immeasurable.

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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.

Can Negative Thinking Make Us Ill?

May 25th, 2016 at 5:29 pm by timigustafson
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They are just thoughts, no big deal, people often say when they find themselves engaging in bouts of anger, hatred, or cynicism. We hear plenty of that in this (or any other) election year where differences in opinion tend to become aggravated beyond normal. What we don’t ask enough, however, is what all that negativity does to our health and well-being, not only psychologically but also physically?

Science is pretty clear on the mind-body connection of health issues, and negative thinking has long been recognized as a culprit for many illnesses – as has the healing power of a positive mindset.

Negative thoughts and emotions can cause problems for your health, especially when they manifest themselves over time as permanent dispositions or habitual outlooks on the world, says Dr. Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, science director of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley. Their destructive nature can adversely affect a number of body functions, including metabolism, hormonal balance, and the immune system. Long-term results can be chronic stress or depression. Powerful stress hormones like cortisol are known to promote inflammation, which can lead to any number of diseases, she warns.

Oftentimes it’s not even outside events that cause the most damaging responses, but rather people honing in on their own shortcomings, disappointments and failures, says Wendy Lustbader, a psychotherapist and author of “Life Gets Better: The Unexpected Pleasures of Growing Older.”

“We make our own misery,” she says. “Life is hard enough, but we make things worse by exaggerating our failings and missed opportunities, […] while giving ourselves hardly any credit for obstacles overcome and small victories attained on the way to where we are.”

Much of this, of course, is also a personal choice, although it doesn’t always appear to us that way. We cling to these self-imposed all-or-nothing standards, Lustbader laments, that leave no room for more generous interpretations. To release ourselves from this perpetual self-condemnation, we must first acquire a different way of thinking.

That may include going back in time to the roots of our misgivings – perhaps as far as childhood – to make peace with unpleasant or hurtful memories.

Whether you feel guilt or shame, have regrets or are sorrowful about something that happened long ago, the only meaningful thing you can do now is to learn your lessons, move on, and leave the past where it belongs. Don’t drag it around with you. It will only pollute your present life and probably even your future.

Memories are there to be enjoyed, and they are to be learned from in any case, whether we recall them as successes or mistakes, advises Jennifer Boykin, the author of “Breakthrough, How to Get on With It When You Can’t Get Over It.

We may not always find that positive thinking eases our qualms, and expressing our displeasure may be a justified reaction once in a while. But negativity as an attitude is not something anyone should cultivate for long. If for no other reason, it’s not healthy.

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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 Healthy Aging, Stay in Control

May 17th, 2016 at 2:58 pm by timigustafson
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In his latest book, Charles Duhigg, the author of bestsellers like “The Power of Habit, Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” and now, “Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business,” describes how a group of seniors changed the daily routines they were supposed to follow in an assisted living facility. They ‘rebelled,’ if you will, against a regimen that was forced upon them – not violently, of course, but in subversive ways nevertheless.

For instance, they would trade food items from their pre-set lunch trays among themselves according to their individual tastes and preferences. That may seem insignificant, but still, it gave them a sense of control they wouldn’t have had by eating everything that was put in front of them.

Even more rewarding was the idea that they could rearrange the furniture in their cookie-cutter-style rooms to give them a more personal flair. When those actions were met with resistance from management, those rebellious spirits had ever more fun in doing as they pleased.

But getting a brief moment of satisfaction from some random acts of defiance wasn’t the point of this story. The consequences were much more profound. As it turned out, experiencing a bit more control over their lives did the health and well-being of these people enormously good. They ate better, were more physically active, improved their mental capacities, and had overall fewer health problems – just because of a little boost in self-confidence and determination. In other words, for these folks, control seemed to be a crucial element for healthy aging.

Being able to make decisions for themselves signals people that they are still alive and that their lives still have meaning, Duhigg writes. Even deciding to stage a nursing home insurrection can become proof that someone is alive and can assert authority over his or her actions.

The changes that typically take place after retirement and as the natural aging process progresses are monumental, to put it mildly, says Dave Bernard, a California-based blogger who specializes in issues around retirement and aging.

When people stop working after decades of employment or in business, they exit abruptly from the world they knew. In many ways, they lose their identity, which they must regain in some other fashion, and they must reorient themselves. At the same time, they find themselves more isolated and have to rely on their own devices as they plan their days, organize their financial affairs, or try to take care of their health needs. They also gradually undergo physical and mental changes that don’t work in their favor. As they get more fragile and vulnerable to health problems, they become increasingly dependent on others, something seniors dread the most among all effects of aging.

Loss of independence can happen suddenly through a catastrophic event or insidiously through natural decline. But most seniors don’t prepare well for either. They believe they can stay in their home indefinitely and take care of themselves, even if that means to struggle on their own. But the vast majority does eventually end up requiring some help with daily chores like cooking, cleaning, shopping, or simply getting out of the house.

Thankfully, there is assistance available that enables people to have both, remaining reasonably independent and being cared for to the extent it is needed. Organizations like the National Aging in Place Council and countless other programs try to enable their clientele to continue the lifestyle they are used to and also get support like adult day care services, home remodeling, or financial advice.

Of course, the quality of life at old age depends largely on the personal choices an individual makes. The best care is to take proactive steps towards health aging. And for this, it is never too early and never too late.

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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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