Sunday, February 22, 2015

why don't we relax?

It seems to me that we live in a world that celebrates DOING. "What do you DO for a living?" or "What did you DO today?" or "Whatcha DOIN'?" or "What are you DOING tonight?" The assumption is that you must be DOING something, and the asker wonders if you could fit in another thing to do, in the middle or whatever else you're doing. Yikes!

How did we get to this place where WHAT WE DO is more important than WHO WE ARE? Truthfully there is a part of the that wants to write my dissertation on this topic. Certainly the industrial age helped promote the "work ethic"; but that's more about working well, rather than working all the time. However this is not the place to begin my dissertation. Instead, I want to focus on what relaxing has done for me personally. I like this quote:

Oh, I hate those words "should," "ought to," "must." I went to a seminar once where the speaker encouraged us not to "SHOULD" on ourselves! When the rubber hits the road (like when pain derailed my "doing"), it surprised me how few of the "should" I actually had to do. If I didn't do them, and they didn't get done, the world didn't end. It was fine. How much do we force ourselves to do more, when it's truly not necessary?

It took a great change of perspective for me to switch from being proud of my accomplishments to being proud of myself. Part of this came from my experiences in my former home church. The Pastor there would consistently praise those people who were "at the church every time the doors were open." The message I got was that I was worthy of praise if I came to the church building all the time. For a short time, I considered working there - for surely, those folks would be worthy of praise. As our congregation grew, and our activities expanded, pretty soon the church was open all the time. And then I began to realize that it was impossible to meet the standard of attending "every time the doors were open." This is not a criticism of my church, but of myself: to realize that I am worthy, whether I show up to the church once a week, twice, 4 times, 6 times... the number isn't important. What's important is that I AM a part of the church.

At my work, more and more time was required of me to earn the same salary. We talked about "work-life balance" but the reality was that work intruded into my personal life. I wanted to be a good employee, and that often required working at home at night and on the weekend. But, I lost the balance where I could just stop working and BE.

So, in the next few blogs I'm going to explore ways and ideas about relaxing that may be new to you. They were certainly new to me just a few short years ago. I've lived most of my life believing that my WORK was what earned me praise, my ACCOMPLISHMENTS made me a good person, my CONTRIBUTIONS showed the real me. Nonsense! Who I AM is the real me, regardless of WHAT I DO.

Now, certainly, out of our hearts come our words, deeds, and actions. So the external stuff we DO does reflect a part of who we are. But, for me, I had to separate the two ideas so that I could turn off the DOING in order to learn to just BE. Just BE. Just BE. Ahhh......

Look at the table below. Which person would you rather be?
It seems to me that the best of both worlds can exist when we both BE and DO. I think Americans in general are very good at DOING, but not so great at BEING. Let's work on both!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

relaxation - not just a 'luxury' any more!

Ahhh... Relax. Relax. No, really, it's time to relax. "I'm sorry I can't take your call, I'm too busy relaxing!" Relax. Relax right now! I only have 10 minutes set aside to relax, now just DO IT! "Lord, give me the patience to relax, and give it to me now!" Aarrghh!

There are many things that our society and culture expect of us: work hard, play hard, pay your bills and your taxes, be nice to your neighbors, give to charity, be a part of the arts, support your favorite sports team (Go DUKE, just saying), love your family, go to church, take your dog for a walk, cook meals at home or enjoy a meal out, wash your car, wash your laundry, wash your face ... the list could (and does) go on and on... Quite frankly, it's exhausting just to do the first few on this list, and the actual list that each of us attempts to fulfill each day seems never-ending!

I give you this image because one of my favorite places to relax is at the beach. Many people find the beach especially relaxing: to feel the warm sun and soft sand, smell the salt-scented air, hear the shushing of the ocean waves, taste something ice cold to refresh your parched lips... ahh... that's relaxation, right? Yes, but it's not the ONLY relaxation we need.

I have discovered that my body and mind require bits of relaxation throughout the day. Learning to relax was one of the first things I learned that actually helped my body heal and feel better (and we all want to feel better; that's why I'm writing this blog). Relaxation has many guises: time set aside purposefully to relax mind and body; a one-minute slow breathing break; a whole day or couple of days to "get away" and relax; relaxing while eating, while breathing, while walking, while sleeping (I think that many of us do NOT relax enough while sleeping, which is part of why we awake unrefreshed and still tired), while working, while playing.

So, please begin to consider for yourself: Do I relax? Ever? Sometimes? Enough? How do I relax? What methods are particularly helpful for me? What methods do I actually use? Which methods don't work?  What methods are available to use? Have I tried a new way to relax lately?

Be considering how you can incorporate relaxation into EVERY DAY of your life. I think you'll find that the time spent relaxing pays off in benefits that can't be achieved any other way. That's what I've found!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

drinking - the last word

So... this ends my current thoughts about what we drink. Let's recap, shall we?
  • Drink more water. Then drink more. My body really likes more water. I peed more at first, but things evened out and all is well.
  • Try drinking water first thing in the morning. I like mine with the juice of a lime; whatever works for you, do it! I thought my stomach would be upset, but it wasn't. For those who struggle with that, do your regular morning routine, then add water as soon as you can.
  • Consider carefully what other things you drink. Watch for caffeine; used judiciously, it can be a benefit; overuse of caffeine can harm your health. Energy drinks should only be used for emergencies (is there a "caffeine emergency"? Maybe...).
  • If you drink sodas, realize what you are putting in your body. If you want to feel better, reduce the number of sodas you drink. If you can, reduce it all the way down to zero.
  • Stay away from manufactured drinks, or at least carefully read labels. "Fruit juices" are often misleading. Better to eat the whole fruit!
  • Try some new things to drink: green (or white) tea, kombucha, coconut water. Experiment! You won't like everything, but be curious about what good things are available.
  • Watch out for sweeteners of all types. "Natural" sweeteners like sugar, honey, agave are still highly refined (unless you tend your own bees). "Artificial" sweeteners trick our taste buds and our bodies into thinking that we have eaten sugar, when no such thing has occurred. From my personal experience, once I stopped tricking my body with diet sodas my sugar cravings fell off dramatically! Imagine what will happen when I finally use no sweetener at all! (Will that day ever come? Not yet, but keep reading and we may find out together!)
  • Finally, drink more water.
Now I'd like to hear from you. Are you drinking more? If not, why not? If so, how's it going? I've been consciously adding water to my afternoons, where I've tended more towards tea. The most difficult part for me is remembering to do it!! So, adding post-its to the fridge is one way to help remember. (And, frankly, writing this blog is helping me too!)

Our next topic may be easier... or not... breathing!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

even our artifical sweeteners are not what we think!

I've had trouble with what to say about this topic, and I've procrastinated posting it (gasp)! So, I'm just going to show you what I've found and maybe some of you will have some insight.
When I wanted to try Stevia, my friend Deborah said "Make sure you buy a brand with only Stevia and no other stuff; it's hard to find." So, I found Sweetleaf, which meets that qualification. However, in my search, I found a disturbing trend: most of our artificial sweeteners are NOT primarily what we expect. For instance, Splenda is Sucralose, Equal is Aspartame, Sweet'n'Low is Saccharine, Stevia is Stevia. But in the vast majority of packages on my grocery shelves, these are NOT the first ingredients! The first ingredients are things like Dextrose, Maltodextrin, Erythritol. What are these "primary" ingredients? SUGAR!
  • Dextrose is a form of glucose, and both are "simple" sugars (monosaccharide) processed from plants.
  • Maltodextrin is a "complex" sugar (polysaccharide) also processed from plants.
  • Erythritol is a sugar "alcohol" which is also processed from plants.
So, what is the main ingredient in most of our artificial, zero-calorie sweeteners? SUGAR!
Now what do we do? If I hadn't already been concerned about my intake of artificial sweetener, I would be now! I'm trying to reduce my sugar intake by using Splenda, which is mostly sugar! Yikes!
I'd love to give some excellent scientific or philosophical statement about this issue, but frankly I'm stunned into silence. Ideas from you? Are you surprised? What is your experience with this?

Monday, February 9, 2015


My grandmother used to make the best "sweet tea" - 2 cups of sugar per gallon. Yummy! But, being conscious of my weight, I have always sweetened my beverages with whatever "zero calorie" sweetener was available. First, the pink stuff, then the blue, then the yellow, now the green. (What's next, purple?) I have my preferences, but I'm not too picky. So long as I can sweeten my tea and not gain any calories, where's the harm? Hhhmmmm....
As it turns out, they seem to be OK. Most research has determined that any initial concerns are unfounded. However, there is quite a bit unknown. First, artificial zero-calorie sweeteners don't meet my great-grandmother's definition of "food." Actually, I think they don't meet anyone's definition of "food." And, yet, we continue to develop, market, purchase, and use these products without having any idea what the long-term effects might be.
Let's start with a little history - do you know how artificial sweeteners started? Here's what writes:
In 1879, Ira Remsen, a researcher from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md., noticed that a derivative of coal tar he accidentally spilled on his hand tasted sweet.
So, saccharin (Sweet-n-Low) begins with coal tar. Yuck. But in the 1970's our love affair with artificial sweeteners is begun with the marketing of Tab and other diet soft drinks. Next comes aspartame (Equal), approved by the FDA in 1981. Sucralose (Splenda) received FDA approval in 1998, and is one of the few artificial sweeteners that can withstand heat. So you see it used in low-sugar baking. I've been using the big bags of this, one cup per gallon of tea every day for decades now. This was my first step in reducing my artificial sweetener intake. Sugar alcohols (anything ending in -ol, like xylitol and sorbitol) are usually less sweet and less caloric than sugar, but often cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Each person's experience is different. Stevia (Rebiana) came to the market in 2008, and claims to be "natural."

As our research continues, artificial sweeteners are considered to be generally safe to use in moderation. Ahhhh..... there's the rub. Is one cup of Splenda in my gallon of tea "moderation"? I have no idea. It's better than 2 cups and worse than 2 tablespoons.
"If somebody is trying to lose weight and cut back on calories, artificial sweeteners can add flavor to unsweetened beverages or other products," says Michael F. Jacobson, PhD, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington. That said, "somebody who consumes a lot of artificially sweetened foods should think twice about their diet and ought to be eating real food," he tells WebMD.
I like that last part: "somebody who consumes a lot of artificially sweetened foods should think twice about their diet and ought to be eating real food."  That's me!

One of the big problems with artificial sweeteners is that they are MORE SWEET than sugar. For instance, a new sweetener called Neotame (made by the folks who make aspartame) is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. ( has a great article about 10 sweeteners.) Those are not typos. So, 1 teaspoon of Neotame equals about 10,000 teaspoons of sugar. So, when we drink sweetener instead of sugar, we save the calories but we teach our taste buds to crave REALLY SWEET drinks.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

things I do NOT want to drink

Once I began reading labels, especially for the ingredient list (because the nutrition label is often not enough), my shopping changed dramatically. My general rule of thumb is that I want to eat things with just a few ingredients (no more than I would use if I prepared it at home) that I can actually pronounce or have some idea of what they are and why they have been put into this product.
I'll begin with a company that I admire: Ocean Spray. I like the way they do business, that they produce primarily cranberry products (which almost no one else does). But, their "Cranberry Juice Cocktail" contains only 27% juice, and not all of that from cranberries (they add vegetable concentrate for color). They have other products which are excellent and are 100% juice (again, be sure to read the labels to know which juices are actually used). As a side note, I can't imagine straight, unadulterated 100% cranberry juice would be palatable to many in the American consuming public. So, I don't mind that they add other juices, so long as they are actually juices! 
Here's some sad news: many things that "look" healthy or are marketed as "natural" are no such thing. The only way to know that is to read the label. For instance, Sunny Delight commercials show a beautiful, healthy, fit family enjoying life and drinking "Sunny D." To the left is the ingredient list from their website. It's water and corn syrup (sugar) with less than 2% of juices and other stuff. Even some of the other stuff makes no sense to me: cornstarch? canola oil? and the greatest of unknowns "natural flavors" - what in the world is that? I'm certain that they don't elaborate only because it would make us either afraid or angry!
I have been a fan of Crystal Light for many years, and I do still drink it sometimes (less often, now that I have this information). The little "bottle-sized" packets fit in my purse and make it easy for me to have something besides water. I found a blog about Crystal Light Pure from a great site called "Wellness Without Pity," and the title of the blog is "Diary of a Reluctant Athlete." Sounds like my kind of people! The front of the box shows fruit, a very "natural" beauty, and a guarantee of "no artificial flavors" and "no preservatives". Moreover, it claims to be sweetened with sugar and truvia (a variation of stevia sweetener; I'm already working on a post about sweeteners... stay tuned). As if these sweeteners are good for us, "pure"??? Look at the FIRST ingredient: SUGAR! And, although these may be natural ingredients, they don't sound very natural to me. I wonder what great-grandma would sat to this list? I can just picture her saying, "Honey, just eat the purple carrots instead!"
I want to be sure to include this item in my "do not drink" list: energy drinks. I'm fortunate that these came about after my days in college, or surely I would be as hooked on them as I was on diet soda. Does anyone need to say out loud that these are NOT GOOD FOR YOUR BODY?!!??!! In addition to the sugars and preservatives, the caffeine alone can kill you. In the spirit of balance of life, I don't completely rule them out. There may come a night when I have to drive somewhere for hours when I haven't slept and there are no other choices available to me in the whole world... then I would consider having one of these. But, I've seen people consume energy drinks like their bodies would like to consume water. There are even Monster Juice drinks. It contains 10% juice. Juice Drink = 10% juice. Hmmm... Are you surprised? I'm not.
Wait, it gets even better! During the Superbowl commercials, we were introduced to the new versions of Mountain Dew's Kickstart. Have you heard of these? First launched in 2013 as "Breakfast Drinks," the HuffingtonPost2013 wrote this:
PepsiCo said it doesn't consider Kickstart to be an energy drink, noting that it still has far less caffeine than drinks like Monster and Red Bull and none of the mysterious ingredients that have raised concerns among lawmakers and consumer advocates. 
Mysterious ingredients? A copy of the nutrition label is to your right. What do you think? Now they have introduced two new flavors, and Beverage Daily writes:
PepsiCo brand Mountain Dew Kickstart tells us its two new flavor lines with higher juice content, coconut water and slightly less caffeine are targeted at a core ‘cross cultural millennial male’ consumer....The new drinks (pictured below) contain Mountain Dew, 10% fruit juice, coconut water and 68mg of caffeine; they are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), Ace-K and Sucralose, and contain 60 calories per 12oz can. The nutrition facts panel is pictured.... Interestingly, original Kickstart is sold in larger 16oz (473ml) cans and is made from 5% juice; it contains 92mg of caffeine and no coconut water.
Need I say any more?

Cool commercial, but here's a clue: that world doesn't really exist, and if it does... you have bigger problems that just what you drink... I mean, really...



Thursday, February 5, 2015

new things to drink

One of the reasons that I didn't want to stop drinking soda was that I couldn't think of what else to drink. Wouldn't I get tired of just tea and water? The answer is, "yes" I do get tired of just tea and water, so I've been discovering other things to drink.

I make different kinds of tea now. When I make gallons of it for normal everyday use, I switch between decaffeinated black tea and decaffeinated green tea. Sometimes I combine the two. When I make hot tea, I experiment with many different tea blends (and there are so many to try). I find that sometimes I'm in the mood for a fruity flavor, or a mint, or an herbal soothing variety.  If you're in a "tea rut", I encourage you to try some new variations!

I have also enjoyed trying out various brands of coconut water. I first enjoyed coconut water when on a cruise to the Caribbean. During a break day at the beach, a young man was carrying a bag of fresh coconuts and cutting off the tops for people who purchased them. The lady in front of me bought four, and when I asked her about it, she confessed that they were all just for her. She said "nothing keeps me hydrated like coconut water." Since I'm interested in hydration, I found this new information valuable. And, certainly, nothing is as good as fresh, right-from-the-beach, coconut water. But there are many good brands to try. Be sure to read the labels; many have added sugars or other flavors. I don't like coconut water enough to drink a lot of it, but it's a nice change of pace.
Kefir is another new drink for me. It's a liquid form of yogurt, flavored with many different things. I first saw this on Dr. Oz, and I was primarily interested in it for it's probiotic component. It's a pleasant treat and reminds me of "lassies" at Indian restaurants. Maybe it's the same thing?
At any rate, be sure to read the labels for Kefir, as many of them are highly sugared or 'improved' with chemicals. (Why do "they" think that adding other stuff  will actually improve the taste? I suppose our American need for sugar partially drives this process.)
Have you ever tried Kombucha? I'm not sure I would call this a 'drink' as much as an 'experience.' I've never tasted anything quite so striking and yet strangely pleasant! I feel very healthy when I drink Kombucha, in part because it is very healthy, and in part because the vinegary-fermented-jolt-of-flavor let's me know that I'm really doing something out of the ordinary. Also, it's really good for my body, and I think my taste buds may somehow know this. I always drink the multi-green... not quite sure why... I'd love to know what you think of the other flavors... anyone out there drinking Kombucha?
Finally, let's talk about drinking juice (not 'juicing' at home; I'll discuss that in a later blog). A good rule of thumb is that eating the whole fruit is always better for you than just drinking the juice. However, there are some times when I don't have the whole fruit available, or it's not in season. Also, a 100% juice will concentrate all the goodness of the fruit, minus the fiber. I especially appreciate the POM juices; the one mixed with coconut water has become a staple in my fridge. I only drink half of the bottle at a time, being aware of the calories and natural sugars present in this treat.

ALWAYS read labels when purchasing juice - NOT ALL JUICE IS JUST JUICE! I'm stunned at how many things that look like juice have almost no juice in them. Or, items labeled 100% juice contain apple, grape, and other juices you didn't intend to drink. More in my next post on "what not to drink!"

Addendum: For fun, buzzfeed has a fun list of 33 Signs that Coffee Owns You"

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

when to drink water; plus, lime-water first thing in the morning!

You know by now that my answer to "When should I drink water?" would be "Whenever you want!" or "Whenever you can!" But there are certain circumstances where water is especially effective:

For some people, drinking just plain water is hard to do at first. It was for me. After all, I had bombarded my system with highly flavored drinks for my whole life; water seemed like a let down. So, I experimented with adding things to my water: cucumbers, mint, lemon, lime, ginger, fruits. All of them helped me when I first started drinking more water. Now, during the day, I drink just plain, room temperature, bottled water. Room temperature because it doesn't cause me to get cold, it's not a shock to my teeth or esophagus, and because it's easy to drink a lot at room temperature. Bottled (either purified or spring, whichever is on sale) because I don't like the taste of my tap water; purely a personal preference. I don't like to carry around a water-jug all day; but I do carry several in my car. (In addition to my own drinking, I like to give them out to homeless people.)

I like to START my days with the juice of half of a lime in my 16 oz. of morning water. I like the "jolt" of the sourness of the lime, and it seems to clear some of the "funk" out of my mouth and brain. Also, there are good health reasons to add lime or lemon first thing in the morning. Here are some:
Start your morning with lemon-water . . .

Initially, I was concerned about lemons and my teeth. I know that eating lemons will etch the enamel off teeth and cause sensitivity (did that once as a teen). So, I consulted my dentist. (Yes, I still admire and require my western medical docs.) He had two things to say about drinking lemon/lime water.
  1. Lemon/Lime water is no more harmful to your teeth than drinking a soda. (Actually, that made me stop and consider another reason to give up soda.)
  2. DO NOT sip Lemon/Lime water throughout the day. This will change the pH balance in your mouth, which can lead to other issues. When you drink lime water, drink and enjoy, and then go on to drink just plain water or something else.
So, now I pass on these ideas to you. As always, consider which part of this makes sense for your life and start small. Try just a sip or two of lime water in the morning. You might be surprised! I now start my days with 16 oz of lime water (juice of half a lime), followed by another 16 oz of water with breakfast. Quite a big change from two Diet Dr. Peppers and a pack of crackers. My body feels better with this change, too!

Sunday, February 1, 2015

how (and why) I stopped drinking diet sodas

I never thought I would stop drinking diet sodas. They have been a part of my life for every day that I can remember! As a kid in the 70's, when TAB came out, it was a real treat and not something that we kept at home. As I got older, diet soda was just a way of life; the fridge was always stocked. I liked Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Sprite, and then really enjoyed Diet Dr. Pepper. Every diet I had ever been on (and there have been lots), had encouraged diet soda. One even encouraged Diet R.C. Cola, which has no sugar, no caffeine, no sodium ( flavor, no fun)... but it's better than nothing.

It wasn't until I began to consider 'food as medicine' that I thought about the soda that was a regular part of my day. For me, part of this process included a question: "Is this food?" Sometimes, I would couch it this way: "Would my great-grandmother (died circa 1930) recognize this as food?" That question is often easily answered. My great-grandma would never think that the following things are food or drink options: Cheetos, Cheerios, skim milk, Cool Whip, "I can't believe it's not butter," Fruit Loops, "Go-gurt," Mountain Dew, Diet Sodas, Goldfish crackers  .... Of course, being a farmer in Randleman, she probably would not recognize coconuts, papaya, mango, avocado, salsa, hummus, pesto, or frozen foods of any sort. So, this is not a fool-proof method, but I did get a new sense of "what is food" from asking this question! Certainly, diet sodas have NO nutritional value, and a bunch of chemicals which do unknown things to our bodies.

There is a great article from Healthy Sustainable Living about drinking sodas that compares the damage done to our bodies equivalent to the damage done by smoking. This research was about sugar-sweetened sodas, but there is still great info for diet-drinkers, too. Plus 10 reasons to stop drinking soda. It links to a 2012 study of soda drinkers:
Scientists at Boston University’s medical school say people who drink more than one regular or diet soda each day develop the same risks for heart disease.
What’s more, people who drank more than one soft drink a day were between 25 and 31 percent more likely to become extremely overweight, have larger waists, and develop higher levels of triglycerides and lower levels of "good" cholesterol than folks who drank only one daily soda, according to the findings.

Low-calorie diet soft drinking clearly do not prevent weight gain or obesity.
So, in addition to having no nutrition and lots of unknown chemicals, diet sodas don't even help me lose weight! Yikes! Although, I must admit, I have had my share of using diet coke to validate overeating. "Diet Coke has negative calories; drink it with pizza and it all evens out!" Have you ever heard (or said) that? So, it also gives us "permission" to overeat, since we're "undereating" with diet sodas... yuck...

I discussed on January 30 how I quit caffeine (which, for me, was part of why I drank soda). I'll summarize: a little at a time. I counted an average of how many sodas I drank in a day (4-5). On a good day, I would have 1 less soda than the day before. On bad days, I'd have my "normal". Pretty soon, I was used to 1 less. Then, I would reduce by one more. It didn't matter to me how long it took; it mattered more to me that it was easy to do. I also want to give a "shout out" to my friend Deborah, who had quit months before and was living proof to me that "normal" people could do this! Thanks for showing me the path, Deborah! Now, it's your turn... want to put fewer chemicals in your body? Want to stop "tricking" your body into thinking it's getting sugar when it's not? Think about it, and try it.