Posts Tagged ‘Lifestyle’

Don’t Stop the Music Too Soon

October 9th, 2016 at 5:04 pm by timigustafson

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.


How You Can Reach Your Health Potential

August 2nd, 2016 at 8:25 am by timigustafson

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.


Men Must Learn to Cope with Longer Lives

March 28th, 2016 at 8:10 pm by timigustafson

Men used to have shorter life spans than women, according to statistics that seemed unchanging for many decades. But lately the gap started to close, and at least part of the male population is now making headways in terms of healthy aging and longevity.

Causes for higher mortality rates among men were traditionally seen in health problems like heart disease, pulmonary disease, liver disease, and greater accident proneness, all mostly related to diet and lifestyle habits.

Many of these outcomes are related to behaviors that are encouraged or accepted more in men than in women, according to government research, such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating highly caloric foods, and also engaging in risky activities like gun use, extreme sports, and working in hazardous jobs.

Smoking in particular is still seen as a leading contributor to early deaths. On the other hand, reduction in tobacco use is being credited as one of the most important factors in the improvement of public health and life expectancy, especially among middle-aged and older former smokers.

However, the benefits of positive lifestyle changes are not equally distributed. Almost only educated and well-off males are seeing their odds turning in their favor. High earners in non-hazardous occupations who live in safe and clean environments, can afford to eat well and have easy access to healthcare can expect to live significantly longer than their less fortunate counterparts, recent surveys report.

Surprisingly, it is older women – even if they live reasonably long lives – who nowadays suffer from more diseases and disabilities than other demographics. One reason may be that aging females, especially if they live alone, have on average fewer economic resources available to them. Therefore they may not be as able to accommodate their declines in functioning when they occur, says Dr. Vicki Freedman, a researcher at the Population Studies Center of the University of Michigan and lead author of a new study on age-related health issues.

Unfortunately, debilitating illnesses tend to build on each other, she says. That, of course, applies to both sexes. It becomes harder to perform daily routines like dressing, bathing, cooking, shopping, driving, etc, which all worsen outcomes in many ways.

The fact is that we cannot simply judge the health status of older generations in terms of added years of life expectancy, but that we should look more closely at the quality of their day-to-day lives.

While expanding lifetimes can certainly be seen as part of healthy aging, how this extra time can be filled and enjoyed may be the more compelling issue.

For aging Baby Boomers, this may become the greatest challenge they have to face yet, namely how to make their unprecedented longevity sustainable, both for themselves and for society at large.

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Shared Lifestyle Supersedes Genes, Study Finds

March 7th, 2016 at 8:19 am by timigustafson

When it comes to weight problems, many people, including experts, are inclined to put much of the blame on genetic predispositions. Yes, diet and lack of exercise are also known culprits, but ultimately our genes determine how well or badly we fare, common wisdom goes.

Now a new study claims that those we share our lives with, our spouses and partners, have a much greater influence on our health- and fitness status, regardless how genetically programmed we are.

The more decisive factors, it seems, are the choices we make in connection with other adults. Even the diet and lifestyle patterns established during childhood and adolescence eventually cease to dominate, according to the researchers.

“By middle age, choices made by couples – including those linked to diet and exercise – have a much greater impact than the lifestyle each shared with siblings and parents growing up,” they say.

The good news coming from these findings is that people who are obese and suffer from related illnesses are not cursed by birth or poor upbringing but can make changes that supersede their genetic profile. Even those who come from families with a history of weight issues can lower their health risks by altering their eating and lifestyle habits, says Dr. Chris Haley, a professor of the Medical Research Council’s Human Genetics Unit at the University of Edinburgh and lead author of the study report.

Husbands and wives can be each other’s role model for both healthy and unhealthy behavior, says Miranda Hitti, a medical writer at WebMD. They can function as a mutual inspiration for positive changes like improving their diets, taking up exercise routines, giving up smoking, getting regular physical checkups, and so on.

Unfortunately, loved ones can also get in the way when corrections are needed. I have seen it happening in my own practice as a dietitian and health counselor time and again. One party is ready, but the other isn’t and refuses to join in. Now there is a conflict, and oftentimes the one who wants to change course loses out and gives up.

There can be multiple reasons for noncooperation between life partners, including emotional misgivings like insecurity and jealousy. To overcome these kinds of obstacles, skillful communication is crucial.

If you have a significant other who is out of shape but not interested in doing anything about it, you can’t force them into making better choices. Nagging will not work. If it’s not his or her own idea, there will likely be a lot of resistance and rejection. But what you can do, is trying to plant a seed and getting the conversation started, by being supportive and building your case on positive rather than negative emotions, advises Steve Kamb, the founder of NerdFitness.

Without support it can be extremely hard to accomplish goals like weight loss and other health-promoting measures in any environment. But encouragement motivated by love, respect and concern for each other’s well-being is the best starting point any of us can hope for.

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Eating Right – At Least Sometimes

February 23rd, 2016 at 4:32 pm by timigustafson

Consumers generally want to eat better and are willing to spend more money on healthy foods like fresh and organically grown produce, but they also remain prone to reach for fast food and snacks for comfort and instant gratification, according to a new study on today’s dietary trends.

While the public is given easier access to nutritional information and advice than ever, there continues to be a gap, if not disconnect, between what people voice as their health concerns and how they actually act upon them, the researchers found.

For the study, participants were grouped in different segments, based on their stated nutritional attitudes and priorities. As it turned out, even the most health-conscious among them routinely engaged in a “balancing act” between what they perceived as better choices and other factors like pricing or convenience. Upon closer examination, the researchers also detected some stark discrepancies between reported and actual eating habits. Moreover, people were often not even aware of the inconsistencies in their actions.

Of course, these findings are not especially surprising. Surveys have long shown that most of us are somewhat unsure about the requirements of a truly health-promoting diet.

In one poll that was conducted by Consumer Reports, ninety percent of respondents proclaimed they were eating “somewhat,” “very,” or “extremely” healthily. However, nearly half of those also admitted to having at least one sugary soft drink a day and to including pastries and other sweet and fattening items in their breakfast. Only about a third consumed the recommended amounts of fruit and vegetable servings on most days.

How people define “healthy eating” is what’s questionable, says Nancy Metcalf, a senior project editor at Consumer Report magazine who was responsible for the poll. If people are misinformed or don’t understand what a healthy diet entails, adherence to what they think they should be doing is getting them nowhere.

The blame for this widespread confusion over what constitutes sound nutrition does obviously not rest with the public. Because the messages people are given are often inconsistent or sometimes outright contradictory, they can do more harm than good for those trying to follow them. For good reason the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) warns against diet programs and guidelines that promise fast and easily achievable results for weight management and nutritional well-being.

Instead of focusing on narrow measures and oversimplifying solutions, it would be more effective to foster an overall “healthy food environment” where consumers can meet their particular needs and also be confident that the information they are provided with is reliable and actionable, experts say.

This, obviously, would involve multiple components, including better health- and nutrition education, greater access to healthy food outlets, and the creation of more health-promoting policies both at governmental and local levels – to name just a few.

Ultimately, only when health-conducive behavior is commonly accepted as the norm and facilitated accordingly can real progress take 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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Hypertension for Beginners

July 18th, 2015 at 1:54 pm by timigustafson

More than half of people who have hypertension, a.k.a. high blood pressure, don’t know enough about the condition and are unable to control it properly, according to a new survey.

Oftentimes patients don’t even correctly understand the meaning of the word “hypertension,” and think of it more in terms of stress, anxiety, or other psychological disturbance rather than what it actually is, namely a physiological dysfunction that can turn into a chronic disease if untreated, the researchers found.

Many healthcare professionals use the words “hypertension” and “high blood pressure” interchangeably when talking to their patients, which can be confusing for some, said Dr. Barbara Bokhour, a professor of health policy and management at Boston University School of Public Health and co-author of the study report, to Reuters.

Explained in a nutshell, blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of blood vessels. It is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). Measuring involves two readings: systolic, indicating the pressure as the heart pumps blood out, and diastolic, the remaining pressure as the heart relaxes and refills with blood.

Normal blood pressure ranges below 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. Readings of 120 to139 systolic or 80 to 89 diastolic are considered “pre-hypertension,” meaning there is a risk of developing hypertension without intervention. Everything above 140 over 90 is categorized as hypertension of various stages, with 180+ over 110+ seen as a medical emergency.

Hypertension can build up for years without ever showing discernable symptoms. But left uncontrolled, it can lead to life-threatening complications like kidney disease and heart disease as well as heart attack and stroke.

Hypertension is a growing worldwide epidemic. The number of people living with the disease has crossed the 1 billion mark in 2008 and is predicted to reach well over 1.5 billion within the next ten years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The causes are seen to a large degree as diet and lifestyle-related, including excessive consumption of salt and alcohol as well as excess weight and lack of physical activity.

Against widely shared assumption, hypertension is not a disease that predominantly occurs with age. Recent studies found that young adults in their 20s and 30s are now increasingly at risk as well, facing complications much sooner than generations before them.

For this reason it is extremely important to keep blood pressure as low as possible, especially in the first half of adult life, said Dr. Joao Lima, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University and lead author of one such study, ideally even below the recommended limits.

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Creating a Culture of Health and Fitness

May 29th, 2015 at 6:11 pm by timigustafson

People who live in California spend on average almost 90 minutes per week on running, swimming, bicycling, lifting weights and other measures to stay healthy and fit, which is close to the minimal amount of time recommended by the U.S. government, and more than the residents of all other states seem able to manage, according to data collected by MapMyFitness, a manufacturer of activity tracking software with over 20 million users. Runner-ups are Arizona, Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

Some of these findings seem unsurprising. California offers good weather conditions for outdoor activities almost all year round, and the other leading states are known for their natural beauty as well. A comparatively high standard of living and an educated populace add to the advantages. And there are other important benefits, such as a health-promoting infrastructure that includes sidewalks, bike paths, public pools and other spaces for recreation, which are not as ubiquitous elsewhere.

None of this, however, can fully explain the sometimes dramatic differences within the country in terms of public health and fitness. While personal wellness depends on multiple factors that can be hard to calculate, it is clear that besides geographic diversity, culture also plays a role.

Much has been reported about the ‘über-generous’ perks the employees of giant tech companies like Google and Microsoft (headquartered in California and Washington respectively) receive, including cafeterias stocked with health food for free, state-of-the-art gyms on campus, all-inclusive healthcare plans, and more. But an ever-increasing number of mid-size and small businesses also realize how imperative it is, including for their own bottom line, to invest in the well-being of their staff – so much so that corporate wellness has become a multi-billion industry in and of itself.

Ideally, corporate health and fitness programs continue to influence people’s behavior outside the workplace as well. Studies have shown that once workers buy into a culture that emphasizes wellness, they stand a much better chance of succeeding long-term on their own.

Company policies work best when those whom they are designed for participate freely, not because they feel they are expected to but because they recognize the benefits they are reaping for themselves. Prying, prodding or punishing only gets you so far, says Al Lewis, a lawyer and consultant on issues of workplace wellness. He is critical of programs he considers unreasonably intrusive in people’s private affairs. Under federal law participation in all employer-sponsored wellness plans must be voluntary and non-discriminatory.

Still, nurturing a culture that favors healthy over unhealthy behavior can serve as an effective tool for the prevention of many illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Prevention should be woven into all aspects of our lives, including where and how we live, learn, work, and play,” the agency states in its recommendations, titled National Prevention Strategy. “Everyone – businesses, educators, health care institutions, government, communities, and every single American – has a role in creating a healthier nation.”

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Not One ‘Plus Size’ Fits All

April 23rd, 2015 at 1:20 pm by timigustafson

When it comes to treating weight problems, even experts believe that similar methods can be applied almost universally: Put your patients on a diet, have them engage in regular exercise, and, if all else fails, recommend some surgical procedure. What gets rarely looked at are the differences between overweight individuals that may have led to their unhealthy weight gain in the first place. Only one such study has recently been published, and the results are eye-opening.

For the study, scientists from the universities of Sheffield, England, Harvard, United States, and Toronto, Canada, analyzed medical data of over 4,000 overweight or obese men and women in terms of common and distinguishing characteristics. In the end, they came up with six ‘categories’ or ‘types’ that helped them better understand their subjects’ eating behaviors and lifestyle choices.

The first group was identified as “heavy drinking males” whose excessively high alcohol intake resulted in weight problems. Getting members of this category to limit their consumption of alcoholic beverages would obviously be an important step toward successful weight control.

The second group, named “younger healthy females,” consisted of women who were generally healthy except for their weight issues. Eating patterns and exercise levels were viewed as largely acceptable but were interspersed with bouts of binge eating and occasional heavy drinking, which, again, contributed to weight gain. Remedies hereto would be similar to their male counterparts.

A third type was called “the affluent and healthy elderly,” seniors who enjoyed retirement life a bit too much and paid the price with an unhealthily expanding waistline. Tuning it down a little would be the appropriate strategy.

Another group of older individuals was diagnosed with one or more chronic health conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure, in addition to being overweight. Those “physically sick but otherwise happy” people were often unaware of how their weight aggravated their other ills. Counseling with the aim of diet and lifestyle changes could lead to major improvements in such cases.

Mental dysfunctions like anxiety and depression were also found to be increasingly damaging to people as they grew older. The “unhappy, anxious middle-aged,” as the researchers named this group, often showed a close connection between their inner feelings and their outer appearance, especially in terms of weight. As psychological disorders oftentimes manifest themselves physically, equal attention must be paid to both the roots and symptoms before any progress can be hoped for.

Lastly, the research team focused on those whom they found in the “poorest health.” The prevalence of weight problems and chronic illnesses was especially high in this group, and eating and lifestyle patterns were predictably dismal. Overweight and obese patients of this type require intensive care and should be treated with the most effective methods. Because of the severity of the health conditions typically found in this category, the researchers saw here justification for the clinical weight loss approaches now widely in use.

Obviously, attempts like these to find patterns in complex phenomena have their limits. There might be numerous additional factors leading to weight gain that have not received enough attention in this particular study. But its central take-away is that the overweight and obese are not a homogenous part of the population with the same health needs, says Dr. Mark Green of Sheffield University, the lead author of the study report, in a press release about his findings. If we don’t come up with better solutions and more customized, or as he calls it “bespoke,” forms of treatment, we will continue to fail serving those who need our help most.

As a dietitian and health counselor, I couldn’t agree more. After all, that is what one-on-one counseling entails. But, unfortunately, the system is not set up for this sort of effort. For instance, health insurance companies favor short-term treatments like weight loss surgery over open-ended approaches, including diet and lifestyle coaching. We can only hope that studies like this will eventually bring a different view to the agenda.

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


Chronic Sleep Deprivation Considered a Public Health Threat

October 9th, 2014 at 2:43 pm by timigustafson

Nearly half of American adults are regularly sleep-deprived, according to a Gallup poll that has been tracking people’s sleep habits for decades. Less than seven hours a night has become the rule rather than the exception, down by more than an hour since the 1940s. Especially those who are starting careers and young parents don’t get the amount of sleep they need, and it has long-term consequences for their health.

43 percent, according to the surveys, say they would feel better if they got more rest. Potential implications of chronic sleep deprivation include inability to focus, accident-proneness, memory loss, overeating, vulnerability to illness, and, more seriously, increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and some forms of cancer.

The widespread lack of sleep among the public has alarmed health experts for some time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has gone as far as calling insufficient sleep “a public health epidemic.”

“Sleep is increasingly recognized as important to public health, with sleep insufficiency linked to motor vehicle crashes, industrial disasters, and medical and other occupational errors. Persons experiencing sleep insufficiency are also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases, increased mortality, and reduced quality of life and productivity,” the agency warns.

What adds to the danger of sleep deprivation is that the sleep-deprived are often the worst judges when it comes to their own sleep needs. According to the Gallup polls, most Americans (56 percent) with the least amount of sleep believe they are getting enough.

People don’t understand that messing with their sleep patterns by staying up late or waking up too soon has consequences for their circadian rhythm, their inner clock that regulates wake and rest periods, says Dr. Michael Terman, professor of clinical psychology at Columbia University and co-author of “Reset Your Inner Clock” (Penguin 2012).

A part in your brain called the hypothalamus functions as your body’s timepiece, telling you when to fall asleep and when to wake up again. This inner clock can be changed, however, only in small increments and over extended periods of time. Otherwise, you will feel jet-lagged, as it is common when travelling long-distance over different time zones. By taking liberties with bedtimes, similar effects take place in the body, with similar symptoms such as tiredness, irritability, eating disorders, and so forth.

In other words, going to bed later or setting the alarm earlier than usual causes shifts in the circadian clock that need to be compensated. This can happen in a number of ways, for example by taking an afternoon nap, or by returning to a normal schedule as soon as possible.

Besides wreaking havoc on the inner clock by irregular wake/sleep patterns, there are other disturbances that can interfere with getting a good night’s rest. For instance, working, watching movies, or doing other stimulating things shortly before bed can make it hard to fall asleep. A less than conducive sleep environment like a cluttered bedroom, room temperatures that are too warm or too cold, insufficient darkness – all can contribute to sleep disruptions.

While our busy lifestyles don’t always allow us to maintain regular schedules, there are multiple steps we can take to keep to certain habits that are important to us for our wellbeing. Our sleep should rank high among those priorities.

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (


The “Slow” Diet

July 13th, 2013 at 5:40 pm by timigustafson

The Mediterranean diet is praised by its proponents as one of the healthiest eating styles around. Dominated by fruits and vegetables, it is considered well suited for the prevention of heart disease, stroke, cancer and even mental decline. What gets rarely mentioned, however, is that it is not so much the dietary principles but rather the underlying lifestyle that sets the Mediterranean diet apart. For example, not rushing things too much and enjoying a leisurely clip are just as important as the food itself. And that does not only apply to food preparation or consumption but to life in general.

The Mediterranean diet as we know it today is inspired by many, often ancient, culinary traditions from southern European and northern African countries bordering on the Mediterranean Sea. It’s not a specific cuisine but rather the product of centuries-old struggles for survival in lands that can be harsh and barren.

In fact, contrary to popular belief, the Mediterranean population never had it particularly easy. The region is by no means a bountiful breadbasket. The landscapes that surround the sea, mostly mountainous peninsulas and islands and narrow coastal plains, do not easily yield a livelihood to their inhabitants. The food supply comes mostly from small farms that have been operated by the same families for eons. Industrial farming methods are neither practical nor welcome.

“For all the sun-drenched ease we associate with the Mediterranean – in reality little more than a vacationer’s fantasy – there is an undertone of harshness to the region’s beauty,” writes Ayla Alger, co-author of “Mediterranean – The Beautiful Cookbook” (Harper Collins, 1994). “It is indeed remarkable that agriculture has flourished at all in the Mediterranean, the result not only of skillful cultivation but also of the peasant tenacity and hardiness of its peoples.”

Still, despite all the difficulties (or, perhaps, because of them), there has always been a deep appreciation for nature’s gifts. People’s relationship to their food is profoundly personal. Those who don’t farm themselves buy locally grown produce at the market and prepare their meals at home from scratch. Hardly anyone ever eats alone. Having food is a communal affair that involves families, neighbors, friends and visiting guests.

By contrast, our lifestyles demand ever-greater speed and efficiency in nearly all aspects of our lives, including our mealtimes. Many of us skip breakfast or grab something from the coffee shop on the way to the office. We work through lunch and watch TV or spend more time on computers and other devices while having dinner, which is usually take-out or something microwavable.

Fast food, an icon of Western culture, is the quintessential opposite of the home-cooked family meal. It is available almost anywhere and at all times; it comes ready to eat; it can be consumed alone; it doesn’t require a table or even a plate; and its non-descript taste never varies. Instead of bringing us together, it allows us to keep to ourselves, we don’t even have to get out of our cars if we don’t want to. As such, it doesn’t just impact our physical health but our entire well-being, including the quality of our familial and social life.

We must pay more attention to the consequences of our constantly accelerating world, warns Jay Walljasper, a contributing editor to National Geographic and author of “All That We Share.”

“The human time world is no longer joined to the incoming and outgoing tides, the rising and setting sun, and the changing seasons,” he says. “Instead, humanity has created an artificial time environment punctuated by mechanical contrivances and electronic impulses.”

Our eating habits are a direct reflection of our lifestyle that is becoming increasingly unsustainable, says Walljasper. Feeding ourselves has become just one of the countless activities we engage in day in and day out. It has no special meaning. There is no attention being paid, no gratitude felt. It’s just consumption.

It wasn’t always like this – and it doesn’t have to continue this way. “People want to slow down because they feel that their lives are spinning out of control,” he says. Polls have shown that a majority of Americans would accept pay cuts if they were given more time off in return.

There is also a growing hunger for getting back to basics. More young people now consider farming – the small kind – as a career option, and also because they want to do something meaningful with their lives. And their sentiments are widely shared. The popularity of farmers markets all over the country speaks for itself.

The desire to slow down and take more time for things that really matter can become a reality at any moment and without much ado. Walljasper describes his own “conversion” to a slower-paced existence like this: “I’ve started the “Slow Is Beautiful” revolution in my own life – right in the kitchen, scaling back my busy schedule to find more time for cooking good meals and then sitting down to enjoy them in a festive, unrushed way with my wife, son and friends. Even cleaning up after dinner can offer a lesson in the pleasures of slowness, as I learned a while back when our dishwasher went on the fritz. […] I’d put some jazz or blues on the stereo and sing along, or just daydream as I stacked dishes and glasses on the drying rack.”

Who says you can never go home again?

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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”®, which is available on her blog and at  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

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