A Journey To Better Health

Welcome to my site. I hope to take you on a journey to better health. I will be focusing on health as we get older. This site will deal with not only physical health, but emotional, psychological and spiritual as well.

As a starting point, I've made a list of rules which I have been following in my own life. I hope they help you in your own journey towards better health.

25 Rules For Better Health

1. Don't diet.

2. There is no such thing as perfection.

3. Honestly evaluate yourself.

4. Set realistic goals and expectations.

5. Believe in something.

6. Small Steps.

7. Getting over the hump (One of many).

8. Make the right choices.

9. Put away the scale (Save for special occasions).

10. Reach out to those around you.

11. Get a pet.

12. Walk before you run.

13. Build Muscle.

14. Push yourself, but know your limits.

15. Rest.

16. Relax.

17. Have balance in your life.

18. Know yourself (Physically and emotionally).

20. Try to be a good person.

21. Boost your metabolism.

22. Don't be afraid.

23. Realize that life is hard.

24. Laugh at yourself and the absurdity of the world around you.

25. Reach your potential.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

7. Getting Over The Hump (One of Many).

     The hardest part of any type of health plan is overcoming the inevitable bumps in the road. Whether we're trying to lose weight, build muscle or just live a healthier lifestyle-we all will face obstacles in our way. Our success or failure will depend on how we face these challenges. I like to picture my own journey as a series of gently rolling hills which rise up in front of me. My goal is to get over each subsequent hump-one at a time. As I reach the crest of the first hill I find a level area to rest and prepare for the next hill, which is still a little ways off in the distance. I can see that the next hill rises a little higher. I also find the time to look back on the hill I just climbed. I measure my successes and failures. I determine where I can improve. The mistake I used to make is that I used to look at improved health as a climb up Mount Everest. As I struggled up a steep and perilous slope, I would inevitably lose my footing and slide back down. I would keep slipping and falling. After awhile I would either hurt myself and have to start over or get disgusted and give up. Most of the time I couldn't even see the top of the mountain. Remember some of the previous rules. In rule #4 we learned about realistic goals and expectations. In rule #6 we started by taking small steps.

     I can tell you from personal experience that the hardest hump, or hill to get over is the first. This hump hits you anywhere from 3-6 months. One of the toughest humps to get over is the one we face while on weight loss programs. On most weight lose programs the first few months are exciting. You're trying new programs with healthy foods. The pounds start melting away. You're losing about 5 pounds a week. You're looking and feeling better. People are complimenting you on how good you look. You're starting new exercises. You may have joined a gym or started walking. Everything is great, and then boom-something happens. Your weight lose slows. You may even have a week or two when your weight increases. (Go to rule #9). You go out of town to your cousins wedding or go on vacation, and your program slips. Your cravings start up. You may even pull a muscle at an aerobics class and have to stop exercising for a few weeks. So many things can happen. You may even have a stressful job. You may be forced to work long hours, and find it hard to eat right. The list goes on and on. It appears that the entire world is conspiring to ruin your health plan.

     I remember years ago when I took up a running program. I did everything right. I started slow, and worked my way up from jogging to running. I gradually increased my mileage and speeds. I ate right and got enough rest. My problem was I was having trouble getting over that first hump. After 3 months of running I was always tired, and my legs always hurt. I had a bad case of shin splints. I was pulling muscles no matter how much I stretched. I almost gave up. Then one day I was on a long easy run. The first few miles were a gradual up-hill run which led me to a hill overlooking a scenic valley. I took a few minutes to catch my breath and enjoy the view. The climb was hard, but I had made it. As I was starting to head back down the hill for my return trip I realized that I actually felt good. The pain in my shins was gone. It's hard to describe the feeling. I almost felt like a kid again. I had overcome my first hump.

     The million dollar question is-how do we get over the hump? I remember when I was sixteen, had just got my learner's permit and my Father took me out on the road for my first driving lesson. The first thing he said to me was- "Son, you need to keep a steady hand on the wheel". His words have always stuck with me. The key is to relax, and. to never get too high or too low. Another important component of getting over the hump is understanding. You have to learn to understand what's happening to your body. Get on the Internet and study how the body reacts to dramatic changes. Then there won't be any surprises. In the first few weeks of a weight loss program the weight you lose is mostly water. Weight lose will begin to slow down as your body tries to compensate for the changes you're making. Slowing weight loss is natural. See rules #13 and # 21. As your weight slows you'll need to build muscle and boost metabolism to keep the process of weight lose going. The key is to continue to think long-term. Make this a lifetime program with long-term goals. Also, keep in mind the big picture.When most of us our trying to lose weight our entire focus is on our caloric intake and our scale. We become so focused on these two things that if they're not doing what they're supposed to, we panic. Don't worry. You're facing you're first hump. How you handle it will determine your future success as you face new humps.

     You may have noticed that many of the 25 rules deal with things outside of ourselves. #10 deals with reaching out to others. #11 has you getting and taking care of a pet. One of the best ways to get over not only your first hump, but subsequent ones is to relax, keep busy and worry, not about yourself, but about other people. I don't know if you feel the same, but most of my overeating was not because I was hungry or loved the taste of food. I ate a lot of times because I was bored, lonely or had nothing better to do. I also ate out of habit. I remember sitting down with a big bag of chips to watch TV. Half the time I didn't even remember finishing the bag. I find it easier to not over-eat if I'm busy, or if I'm helping others. The people you reach out to may also become a support structure when you need to get over one of the inevitable humps.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Recipe - Muriel's Chicken

I was at my Mother's this weekend, and we got to talking about some of her recipe's. I grew up in a household with 10 children. My Mom was always cooking. It was a constant battle to not only feed, but also provide healthy meals to 10 hungry children. This was one of my favorites growing up. The recipe was given to her from her Aunt Muriel who lived in Washington State. It's been in the family for at least 50 years. I made some subtle changes to lower the calories and fat content. My son was in charge of the display. At the top of the plate are slices of yellow squash from my garden. On the left are mushrooms which were sauteed and used as a side.

2 lbs boneless/skinless chicken breasts (You can substitute boneless/skinless chicken thighs- growing up my Mom usually used thighs- they were cheaper).
2 cans of cream of chicken and mushroom soup.
fresh garlic ( make to taste- I found that an 1/8 of a large clove worked best).
Scallions-green onions (Chop up the green stems-I use about 1/4 cup).
2 lbs Mushrooms (I use baby Porto-Bella's. We love mushrooms. I  saute 2 lbs. Half goes into the recipe, the other half is used as a side dish).
Optional- 2 ounces cooking wine. (I use just a little red wine. The alcohol burns off during sauteing).
4 oz. part skim mozzarella cheese. ( My Mom's recipe calls for 4 oz. of grated sharp cheddar cheese- I like mozzarella and wanted a lower fat alternative). You can eliminate the cheese if desired.
2 tablespoons Olive or Canola oil.
Optional- 2 tablespoons I can't believe it's not butter.

Cooking Directions:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.
Brown the chicken breasts or thighs, place in 4" pan.
On stove, saute: mushrooms, oil, fresh garlic, cooking wine, scallions. Saute until mushrooms are golden brown. Butter subsitute optional.
Remove 1/2 of mushrooms and put on side.
Add cans of cream of chicken and mushroom soup.
Add preferred cheese if desired.
Lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.
Cover chicken breasts or thighs with mixture.
Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes.
Ten minutes before completion spoon extra mushrooms on top if desired, or use as a side dish.

Chicken Muriel is a quick and easy meal. It will serve 8.
Approximate calories per 6 ounce serving: 485 calories- 435 without the part-skim cheese.

Monday, October 4, 2010

6. Small Steps

     I can still remember my son's first steps. My wife stood across the room with her arms held wide open, while I held him up for the big moment. We had tried before over the preceding weeks without success. This time we felt his legs were strong enough, and he was ready. As I released his arms, my wife called out to him. "Who's mommies big boy. Come to mommy". As I released his arms he took a tentative step, stretched out his arms and moved towards my wife. As he picked up speed his body leaned forward as if he would fall at any moment. Somehow he maintained his balance, and continued his journey before falling safely into my wife's waiting arms. It seems that anything worth achieving in life requires small steps. From a child's first tentative steps to learning to read and write to getting that first job.

     Through experience, I've learned that endeavors usually fail because we rush into them. We want instant gratification. We want to see results right away. If things don't happen quick enough we become discouraged, and sometimes give up. This can be especially true when starting a personal health plan. The other night I couldn't sleep and I turned on the TV at 2:00am. Almost every channel had some new and miraculous wonder diet, fat burning all natural supplements, exercise videos, or devices to tone and shape my body. Everything was guaranteed to transform me in a few days, weeks or months. Two rules to remember are #12-Walk before you run, and #23-Realize that life is hard. We should constantly remind ourselves that anything worthwhile takes time. Nothing is easy. Small steps. Everything should be small steps. The only way to be successful in improving your health and to attain your goals is to start with small steps. You have time. By following these 25 rules you're looking at improved health for a lifetime.

     When I first started my journey to better health I looked back at all my past failures. I've had a lot of failures. I've been on multiple diets and exercise programs. My garage is full of weights and every known piece of exercise equipment. I swear, I can't even remember how to use some of them. I have a shelf by my TV with at least 20 exercise videos. I'm embarrassed to even name some of them. I joined and quit 6 gyms over the past 10 years. Why did I fail so many times? Why did my weight go up and down like a Yo-Yo? I think its because I make things so complicated and I want quick fixes. I forget about small steps.

     Let's take a look at what it means by taking small steps. I'll use myself as an example. You have a man in his early 50's whose not only over-weight, but has multiple health issues. I don't like the way my body looks, but my body likes itself. It's comfortable. The body is an amazing organic machine. I eat too much food and my body will convert any surplus into fat and store it for future use. If I go on a drastic diet, my body won't like it. It will use some stored fat, but it will also lower my metabolism to conserve fat stores. If I try to start an exercise program, my body will rebel if I put to much strain on it. The secret to my health plan is to take small steps. To get your body to slowly change the way it works. Remember-think long term. Instead of short-term goals, think of longer term goals. This is meant to be a lifetime plan, but if it makes it easier set a plan of five years.

     The first small steps I did was to slowly alter my eating habits. I didn't go on a diet, I didn't drastically change my eating habits and I didn't start a crazy exercise program. My initial steps included: going from whole milk to skim milk, eliminating sodas (including diet), cutting fast food to one day a week, changing my ice cream to frozen yogurt, eating breakfast every day, eating pretzels instead of potato chips, cutting my red meat intake by 50%, taking one multi-vitamin, and drinking more water. On the food front those were my only changes for one month. My caloric intake was cut, but only by 20%. The secret is to ease into a health program. Small steps and small changes. As a warning-do not fall into the low-fat, no-fat trap. Calories are calories. The sneaky item is sugar. It's hidden everywhere. Your body will quickly and easily convert sugar into fat.

     On the exercise side I started walking my dog. I took it slow. About 2 miles a day.I bought some 5 and 10 lb. hand weights. I did exercises at home including push-ups and crunches. In the first month I did nothing crazy. I wanted to start building muscle to support my joints so that I could up my exercise routine in the future. I also was building lean muscle to boost my metabolism.

     I found out a few things in that first month. I started to feel better and sleep better. I also started to feel better about myself. I began to smile more, to start conversations with complete strangers. As you've seen, good health isn't just about appearance. When you get to step #10 you'll see how reaching out to others is good for our own health. I also wasn't starving all the time. I didn't feel deprived because I didn't cut out all my comfort foods. I was also eating small healthy snacks all day. My stomach size was shrinking, and I wasn't always hungry. In the first month I only lost 2 lbs, but I looked better. People at work were saying that I looked like I was losing weight. I was losing fat, but I was also gaining muscle and bone density. As you'll learn in rule #9- don't let a scale rule your life. As you start this journey your accomplishments won't always be measured on a scale.

     As the months went by I continued with small steps in my life.I started to implement some of the other 25 rules along with changing my eating habits. I started to learn about nutrition and began reading labels on food products. I learned about fructose and sucrose and how to avoid them. I learned  about good fats and bad fats and started eating more nuts.I went from white bread to whole wheat. Instead of buying convenience foods I bought whole foods and cooked at home. I've heard it said that its more expensive to eat healthy. I don't believe its true. I just saw a jumbo bag of potato chips in the store for $3.99. I used to sit down and eat an entire bag in one sitting. I bought red delicious apples at 99 cents a pound. I got 6 medium size apples for $3.25. Some healthy foods are still expensive. Rather than buy expensive fish, I'll eat canned albacore tuna. Nuts are expensive, but they're very calorie dense.You might only eat a handful. Peanut butter's always a good buy. I also continued to cut my red meat consumption. I would look for specials on skinless chicken and buy in bulk. I invested in a small freezer which I put in my garage. It's full of chicken and frozen vegetables.

   As I started feeling better I increased my dog walks by a mile a day. I started riding my bike with my family. When I was at the grocery store I would park far away and walk. I would help elderly people load their groceries into their car and I would take their carts back for them. I started taking the steps instead of taking the elevator. I bought 15 and 20lb. hand weights.

     Small steps. I'm still taking small steps. Everything hasn't been perfect though. I've gone on food binges. I've had a number of injuries from pushing myself to hard. I'm starting to find that if you slowly change your eating habits that a lot of your cravings stop. I still like chocolate, but I control it with one Hersey's bar a month as a reward. I can also now drive past Burger King without pulling in for a Double Whopper with cheese. I was never a heavy drinker, but I limit alcohol to weddings and special occasions. What I keep finding out is that becoming involved in life is just as important as what you eat and how much you exercise. I met a man a few weeks ago who is 92 years old. He's thin, in good shape and has the energy of someone half his age. We got to talking and I asked him his secret. He said his secret is living life to the fullest. He volunteers at a retirement home, drives for Meals on Wheels, and has so many friends that there's no time to slow down or worry. I think I'm going to follow his advice and start taking some more small steps.