Posts Tagged ‘Wellness’

Who Teaches Us About Health?

August 11th, 2016 at 12:42 pm by timigustafson

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.

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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A Widening Gap Between the Fit and the Fat

November 10th, 2015 at 4:58 pm by timigustafson

More people pay close attention to their physical health and well-being, and yet obesity rates and diseases stemming from weight problems continue to rise. While healthy eating and regular exercise have become commonplace among the educated and affluent, the less fortunate show little signs of improvement regardless of efforts by health experts and government policy makers to change their fate. In fact, studies find that the gap between the fit and the fat keeps widening.

Physical appearance has been an important issue in most societies throughout the ages, but today, how we look has become a reflection of how we live and visa versa, says Dr. Florentine Fritzen, a journalist and historian who studies sociological trends.

Being well-fed was once a sign of wealth, but poor people are now most prone to unhealthy weight gain and related diseases, while the well-to-do enjoy greater fitness and vitality, even longer life expectancy, than ever before.

Life presents itself very differently to these two groups. To which one you belong determines multiple aspects of your well-being, not just how well you eat, Fritzen says.

Your good looks also play a role in how society judges you. For example, if physical beauty and fitness are equated with hard work, discipline and success, overweight can then be identified with laziness and lack of self-control. If slim is thought of as healthy, then fat can be considered as sick.

Numerous studies have investigated how physical appearance plays out in the workplace. Just being overweight can hurt your career, according to Steve Siebold, a self-help coach, business consultant, and author of “Die Fat or Get Tough: 101 Differences in Thinking Between Fat People and Fit People.”
“Many employers look at obese candidates and immediately think, ‘this person failed in controlling their own health, how are they going to run a division,’” he warns.

More and more companies actively encourage their workers to stay on top of their health and offer wellness programs and other incentives, which in turn help them prevent productivity loss and lower healthcare premiums. But, as some have reported, there can also be a lot of pressure on those who ‘don’t measure up.’

What gets too often overlooked in all this is how much easier it is to stay in shape for people who have the necessary means to take care of themselves. What is feasible with a good education, financial security, access to supplies and services, a safe home and neighborhood, etc., can be a never-ending struggle without them. And that is not simply a matter of personal choices.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists a number of determinants that decide whether someone’s living conditions are beneficial or detrimental for his or her health. Only one of them is based on biological factors like age, gender, and genetic predispositions. Only one is based on individual behavior such as diet and lifestyle choices. All others are environmental and circumstantial in nature, meaning they are largely outside a person’s control.

To fully understand the existing health disparities and inequities among the public today, we must take into account the social and economical disadvantages that affect individuals or entire groups in ways they cannot easily influence but expose them to heightened risks, the agency says. To narrow the gap towards greater health equality, it urges aggressive investing in broader access to healthcare services as well as health education.

Obviously, we have a long way to go.

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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It Takes a Town to Be Healthy

August 23rd, 2014 at 4:49 pm by timigustafson

How healthy you are, or can hope to be, depends on multiple factors, including where you live.

For example, if you call Minneapolis-St. Paul home, you breath cleaner air and will find it easier to exercise outdoors than in most other American metropolitan areas because there are more walk- and bike paths than almost anywhere else. Washington D.C. has the highest number of swimming pools, tennis courts, and recreational centers in the nation, and health care providers are abundant here. Denver has the lowest obesity rate among big cities and the highest percentage of residents who are in excellent or very good health.

Of course, metropolises offer plenty of opportunities to stay healthy and fit smaller communities just can’t afford. But that doesn’t mean that small town residents are doomed.

Any place, the smaller, the better, can become a model in health-promoting living, according to Esther Dyson, a healthcare technology investor and founder of the Health Initiative Coordinating Council (HICCup), a nonprofit organization that sponsors health and lifestyle initiatives in communities all over the country.

So far, her organization has chosen five towns for a five-year trial run named “Way to Wellville,” a program to raise greater awareness of health risks such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer – all mostly lifestyle-related ills that could be avoided.

While HICCup will cover initial administrative costs, the selected towns will be responsible for running the program independently.

“First, we want places that can succeed. The Wellville Challenge is not a random selection but a search for places that can make the most of the help HICCup can provide and the connections we can help them to establish,” says Dyson. “But in the end, the communities themselves will be doing the heavy lifting.”

As investors, HICCup and its partners will support Wellville communities in much the same way startup investors support promising business ideas. “In this case, the community is the startup – and the community’s product is health,” says HICCup CEO Rick Brush.

Obviously, the actions of a handful of hamlets won’t have much of an impact on big issues like the ever-worsening obesity crisis. But Dyson hopes that they will establish a model for other small and mid-size communities elsewhere.

“The programs by and large won’t be remarkable,” she concedes. “What’s remarkable is doing them together, reinforcing one another in small, self-contained communities where they will have maximum impact.”

The ultimate challenge these localized initiatives will have to grapple with is how to address the concrete health problems that are most pervasive in the country. Poor diet and lifestyle choices are certainly at the forefront and must be addressed through education and other preventive measures. But so must poverty and limited access to healthcare. Even when more people have access to insurance coverage, doctors and hospitals must make greater efforts to keep people from getting sick, not just treat their ailments. Civic and business leaders can provide incentives and infrastructure, but they cannot make everyone take advantage of them.

Still, the idea of enlisting entire communities in the fight against debilitating diseases that occur unnecessarily and are perfectly preventable is laudable, even if it takes one small patch at a time.

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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The Healthiest Places to Live in the U.S.

June 8th, 2013 at 5:17 pm by timigustafson

How healthy you are depends largely on the diet and lifestyle choices you make. It also matters how educated and financially secure you are. And where you live – not only in what kind of neighborhood but also in which part of the country – plays a role as well.

If you are looking for the most health-promoting environment in America today, Minneapolis, Minnesota, is the place to be, according to a survey conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), titled the American Fitness Index™ (AFI).

The report, which has been issued annually since 2007, measures the state of health and fitness at the community level throughout the U.S. Among the considered factors are opportunities to exercise and be physically active, including access to safe sidewalks and bike paths, athletic facilities, playgrounds, public parks and so on.

“What Minneapolis does so well – they are firm believers in the ‘if you build it, they will come’ attitude,” said Dr. Walter Thompson, a professor at Georgia State University and chair of the AFI advisory board in an interview with NBC. “They spend a lot of money on their parks. They spend $227 per capita on their parks. […] So you can see they put their money where it needs to be to create a healthy environment,” he added.

By contrast, the least proactive places in terms of fitness promotion on the AFI list spend about $62 per capita on parks and other recreational facilities.

Runner-ups were Washington D.C., Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California. Seattle, Washington, came in eighth.

The existence of public parks is an especially important indicator because it provides people with the lowest hurdle preventing them from exercising. Unlike many sports facilities such as gymnasiums, swimming pools, basketball courts, running tracks or golf courses, parks don’t require memberships or have limited opening hours.

When you provide the environment for people to exercise, there is no excuse to be a couch potato, said Thompson. And that translates to lower personal health indicators such as obesity and diabetes as well as poor lifestyle choices like smoking.

Minneapolis was also found to be especially conducive for the health of seniors. According to the United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Ranking Senior Report, more older people report being in very good to excellent health in Minnesota than in all other states. Also, the poverty rate among the elderly is lower here than elsewhere.

The aspect of senior health in our communities is of growing importance because the baby boomer generation, a large segment of the population, is about to retire. It is also a group of people plagued by considerable health problems, many due to less-than-perfect lifestyle habits. Creating environments that allow for the betterment of their health status is in all our interest and should be given much attention.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “How Healthy You Are Also Depends on Where You Live.”

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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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com).

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Pillars of Wellbeing

April 3rd, 2013 at 10:51 am by timigustafson

I practice a special kind of meditation on an almost daily basis. Perhaps meditation isn’t the right word since it doesn’t require me to sit in silence with my eyes closed and legs crossed or anything like that. It’s more a form of taking stock of where my life is going at any particular time.

For this, I have five issues to consider: my physical health, my diet, my emotional state, my intellectual rigor and my social/relational life. These I think of as the pillars of my wellbeing. Each one matters greatly by itself, but each must also be in balance with all the others. If one goes missing, the rest will suffer as well.

Let me give an example. When I injured my shoulder in a tennis game a few years ago, I realized how much was taken away from me, not just because I had to give up playing for a while but also because a dear routine was interrupted with all sorts of consequences.

During my prolonged absence from the court, I lost my tennis buddies whose comradeship I had enjoyed tremendously. One of them, a university professor and a true intellectual, had not only been a great partner in doubles but also a stimulating presence in my life that gave me many insights in a vast variety of subjects. Due to the reduced physical activity, I felt less energetic and not as motivated in my work. And I had to watch my diet more carefully to prevent unwanted weight gain.

Needless to say, I was saddened about losing a part of my life that was more important to me than I had been aware of. In fact, it made me miserable for quite some time.

The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once said: “Health is not everything, but without it, nothing is anything.” I am a great believer in that. I know now that my physical health is the foundation of what I can do in life, whether it concerns work or leisurely activities. It also affects my state of mind, my interest and participation in the world around me, and my ability to relate to others. And it works both ways: The happier I am, the more fulfilled I feel, the easier it seems to stay healthy and fit.

Obviously, my little meditational routine is nothing original. If you are interested in taking up this kind of exercise, I can recommend using the so-called “Wellness Wheel”, which follows a similar pattern. As the name indicates, the different components of wellness relate to each other like spokes in a wheel. Each is necessary to hold the whole thing together, none is expendable.

Wellness Wheel

Good nutrition, regular exercise, weight management as well as avoidance of smoking and alcohol and drug abuse are at the core. But so are stress management and getting enough sleep. Our emotional, intellectual and spiritual needs must be cared for. Having goals, a sense of purpose and satisfaction and fulfillment in what we do are all part of it, just like having good relationships with loved ones, colleagues and community.

Not all areas will always be at peak performance. And that’s not even necessary. We can focus on work and put our social life on the backburner for some time. We can take a break from our exercise routine for a day or two and make up for the missed time on the weekend. We can overindulge for a special occasion and then go right back to a healthy diet afterwards. What we can’t do is neglecting or sacrificing entire segments of our wellbeing because, sooner or later, it will affect the whole person.

If you liked this article, you may also enjoy reading “Creating a Health-Promoting Work Environment” and “Healthy Eating – A Never-Ending Learning Curve.”

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 amazon.com.  For more articles on nutrition, health and lifestyle, visit her blog, “Food and Health with Timi Gustafson R.D.” (www.timigustafson.com). You can follow Timi on Twitter, on Facebook and on Pinterest.

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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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