How to kick your sugar habit

"Sugar is everywhere, and it makes sense, because it tastes great! Food flies off shelves when there is even a little sugar added, and a few sugary pecans can make a bland salad go down that much easier.

A little sugar here and there will not hurt anyone. A small sweet morsel at the end of a meal, even with a meal, will not spike blood sugar as much as a box of candy or large piece of cake all by itself. A small amount can even tell the body and brain that the stomach is full and help signal the end of a meal. For athletes, sugar can be a useful tool in regulating blood sugar in and around competition and grueling practices, travel, and unpredictable meals.

But for many of us, sugar can quickly become addictive, activating many of the similar pathways in the brain. If we eat it every meal, we ‘train’ ourselves to be less sensitive to sugar. It gets easier and easier to consume more and more, and then cravings set in. Then the guilt.

But if you are struggling with this, there are a few simple solutions you can try RIGHT now to start kicking the habit today. Avoiding sugar will have positive effects on your health, and help you look and feel better and younger!  Read on for more tips to avoid sneaky additives and stave off the cravings.

Eat at home more

This is a simple solution we can all use to avoid sugar and many other additives. If we are putting others in control what we are putting into our bodies, it becomes much more difficult to know exactly what is causing us to feel bad or gain weight.

There are challenges to this, and adding in more time for grocery trips and cooking may take an adjustment. But the long list of benefits to your health should motivate you, including lower salt consumption, risk of heart disease and stroke, diabetes, hypertension, and more!

Buy Whole Foods

Since you are already going to the grocery store more often, while you are there, choose the whole foods rather than packaged versions whenever possible. Just buying them at the grocery store is easy, but sticking to this can be much easier said than done. 

Whole foods go bad more often, so it takes more effort and time to prepare them when you get home. You have to have a plan and know what to cook ahead of time, and you may be busy or stressed or not like to cook or know how.

As with anything, the key is to start slow, and start with foods you know and like and are easy for you to prepare. Gradually start to expand your horizons by trying one or two new recipes per month and then freezing them if you liked what you prepared.

Another good way to keep up foods fresh is to always buy some frozen, some fresh, and prepare some of each type of food every month (i.e. protein source, veggies and fruit, and sauces, oils, and good fats). Whatever you choose, you will get better at it with practice and develop your own healthy eating system.

Avoid Packaged Food

While you are at the grocery store, avoiding packaged food becomes essential to a healthy lifestyle. Not only is it a billion dollar marketing industry designed specifically to pray on your addictions and cravings, but there is actually very little regulation and many work-arounds for additives to food. 

 In 1994, the The Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act was passed, which allows any claim to be made on a food or supplement package regardless if it is actually true. For example, it can say ‘low fat’ on the package, but when you look at the food label they are allowed to claim ‘0g trans fat’ as long as the amount is less than 0.5 grams.  So there are still trans fats in that food you cannot avoid consuming.

For supplements, there is no FDA regulation on what is actually in the bottle, and the only way to know if a supplement has been tested is by using consumer websites like USP.

The safest thing to do is to control what goes in your body by choosing whole foods like fruits and veggies, meat and fish, and whole food sources of good fats like olives, nuts, and avacados, and consulting a doctor or pharmacist when deciding whether certain supplements are right for you.

Avoid ‘Skim’ or ‘Low Fat’ Dairy Products

Many of these products have been processed so the nutrients and good fat have been removed, leaving only the lactose (carbohydrate that causes fat storage) and protein (whey and casein). The process continues by adding sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup to make it takes good again. This applies to many yogart and milk products, as well as cottage cheese, sour cream, and imitation butter products.

As a surprise to many of us, the fat in dairy is the healthy part. So you want the higher fat, lower sugar versions of dairy to get the nutrients and not the blood sugar spikes. Spikes in blood sugar lead to more cravings, weight gain, and less nutritional value in the food.

Gradually Decrease Consumption at Home

The body will not notice more than 20% decrease in something. So, you can apply this rule to sugar in your diet however it makes sense for you. For example, if you are eating sugar 5 times per day, cut it down to 4 times per day. Or, if you are eating 2 tablespoons of sugar with your coffee, cut it down to ~1.5 tablespoons.

Try this for 1-2 weeks, and you will be amazed at how much less you are using on a daily basis.

Good luck with kicking that sugar habit, and you’ll start feeling better right away!"

It's Never Too Late to Start New Year's Resolutions

How long does it take to start a new habit? If you have ever tried or done your homework, you know it typically takes about two to four weeks.

 

Learning or starting a new habit is a complicated process, similar to a group of people in a company working together to produce a product. The first time you learn something, every ‘department’ is working with the task for the first time, determining what is needed and streamlining action items and timing to complete it more efficiently the next time.

 

Similarly, a deadline may require many departments to be working in concert and then producing an action at exactly the right time. The next time the group or company is presented with this task, it will be more efficient – the leader will know what to expect and be able to direct workers efficiently, and workers will be able to work together to quickly produce the result.

 

Your body works the same way, becoming more and more efficient with practice. Repeating the task or action on a daily basis will increase efficiency even more.

 

The good news is that this means you can pick any time that works for you throughout the year to start making healthy changes. There are health benefit to losing even a few pounds and adding even one day per week of exercise!

 

You can identify an outcome goal, such as ‘lose 5 pounds’, or you can focus on the behavior that you need to accomplish that goal. Either way works, but to be successful, your focus must be on the behavior you can control each day. You will gain confidence each time you finish that workout, do your yoga, or take the time to cook your next healthy meal.

 

So good luck starting your new habits.  Every day is the first day of your New Year!

Healthy Travel Tips & Restaurant Recommendations

It has happened to all of us at one time or another: waiting too long to stop on a road trip, being stuck traveling with no food and no time or place to stop and even grab something small. So by the time you make it to a restaurant, you are starving and end up making a poor choice or have too much to drink before dinner. It can also happen in everyday life, where we are busy during the day at work and struggle with how to eat when we have to try to squeeze in a workout before dinner and life takes over. Sure, we all try to be smart about our choices, but some of us are better at it than others.

Many athletes struggle with figuring out what snacks they should have on hand, what will help them perform best and how to eat healthy in large groups. Keep in mind that your strategy is unique – no one else will be quite like you. But since fueling is so important for athletes, especially for recovery while traveling or competing, or during periods of heavy training or stress, figuring out a routine that works for you is imperative. During these periods, it can make the difference between feeling fast and unstoppable or feeling one step off.

COMMON CHALLENGES AND HEALTHY TRAVEL TIPS

Many of us face similar challenges. In daily life, we hurry from meeting to meeting or to our next obligation (which can include workouts), barely allowing time to eat, let alone cook or go grocery shopping. Traveling also presents the additional challenges of not knowing where your next meal will come from; limited and mostly unhealthy choices; long, unknown periods of time without food; and group decision making. The best we can do is try to prepare ahead of time and make good choices on the road, but it can help to have specific strategies.

Particularly when traveling, there are sometimes long or unpredictable times between meals, it is hard to always get all the food groups, and food quality is usually poor. In order of importance, eating at the right times is the top priority. Second is getting all the food groups, and third is nutrient quality. You can usually find all the nutrient groups, but the quality and timing may suffer. Just remember that eating as often as needed is the highest priority. These common challenges are explained in more detail below, along with some ideas for travel snacks and eating healthy at restaurants.

Challenge #1: Long Periods without Food or Meals

Tips: Plan meals ahead of time, bring snacks, focus on caloric fluid intake.

Athletes may face this challenge while training and working as well as during travel and competition. We can all try to be prepared with pre-made food, but a lunch box is not always practical or possible. It can be difficult to maintain the recommended frequency of food intake on the road, especially when you are not always in control of the circumstances. Groups are a specific challenge for some of us, so when traveling with a group, it is important to stick with people who have similar routines to yours or people who will make sure your needs are met during a grocery-store run.

A few basic healthy snack ideas are outlined in Table 1, but first it is important to understand the overall goal. For athletes, the goal is to stay fueled – getting enough calories when you need them – so timing is most important, rather than worrying about quality when choices or time is limited. The exception to the rule is if you are trying to lose weight, but you still never want to starve yourself, or you will not feel good or perform well. In general, planning ahead means preparing healthy snacks as well as thinking ahead while on the road. Be prepared to fuel every two to three hours, and always have fluids with you: water and fluids with some calories but no added sugar.

What makes snacks healthy is their ingredient quality, as well as having good protein content. Healthy snacks have more good fat, fewer processed carbs and complete protein combinations. Common complete protein combinations include grain and seeds or nuts (e.g., bread with seeds or pretzels and nuts), beans and grain (e.g., hummus and pita) and some legume and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice, black beans and flour, refried beans and corn).

 

Challenge #2: Lack of All Food Groups

Tips: Prioritize going to a grocery store as soon as possible, choose meals at restaurants that include all the food groups, choose snacks with all food groups represented.

Missing out on food groups is frequently a problem on the road since meals are not always served in proper proportions, and you have to try and make good choices about what to buy and what to order when you’re out of your normal routine. This can be solved by being prepared and thinking ahead. Prepare well-thought-out snacks that are lightweight and sturdy. Pick foods that are fresh but won’t go bad within a day or two (e.g., pretzels and nuts, dried fruit). When you arrive at your destination, make it a priority to get to a grocery store as soon as you can. It can sometimes be difficult in large groups, but this is an obvious and useful solution. At restaurants, try to think ahead to the next meal, and order some food to go or take leftovers.

When shopping at a grocery store, convenience and taste are often more of a concern than healthy ingredients, but make sure you plan for all nutrient groups. Complete protein can be the most difficult since there is rarely pre-cooked meat available, but in these situations, you can make exceptions if needed and choose Italian dry sausage, the least processed pre-cooked meat possible or hard-boiled eggs. Some people can also eat canned tuna and sardines, which are good ways to get seafood on the road. The nut and grain combinations mentioned in Challenge #1 also make complete proteins and can suffice for most protein needs between meals.

Challenge #3: Healthy Options while Traveling and at Restaurants

Tips: Be as prepared as possible, snack and fuel between meals to help yourself make good choices later, choose the healthiest ingredients available as often as possible.

Hint: Use the activities below to practice making healthy choices!

Making healthy choices is often the biggest challenge facing athletes on the road. Always try to be as prepared and thoughtful as possible using the snack ideas and restaurant meal choices in Tables 1 and 2, but you will likely have to make some exceptions to your personal rules to get the calories you need. When faced with choices at restaurants, healthy snacking before

The more you can snack and stay fueled during the day, the easier it is to make healthy decisions when eating out at a restaurant.

arriving can help improve your choices when browsing the menu. But sometimes the food being appetizing is more important than nutrient quality. After going long periods without nutrients, just getting calories is a top priority for the body.

At restaurants, start with a healthy appetizer if possible, then make the healthiest choice you can based on the ingredients and meal composition. If you do not eat out very often, enjoy yourself, and do not over-analyze every decision. But if faced with these challenges regularly, the healthy meal versions above can help you make better decisions. The more often you can snack and stay fueled and the more often you choose the healthy versions, the better you will feel and the better you will perform!

 

ACTIVITY SUGGESTIONS

Activity #1: Healthy Snacks

Instructions: Write down three snacks you could make out of your fridge if you had to go on a trip tomorrow. Make sure to include some of each nutrient group! A snack = half a meal.

Activity #2: Healthy Meals at Restaurants

Instructions: Choose three menus and pick a healthy meal from each. Jot down any modifications you could make to be healthier.

Top 5 Tips to Avoid Inflammation and Increase Performance

Even though athletes can typically get away with not eating healthy and stay at a healthy weight, we should all admit to ourselves that bad foods still harm the body and can decrease performance. If you typically eat healthy, and every once and a while at a tournament you gorge on fruit snacks, you are probably not going to suffer any harmful consequences longterm. But even during a tournament, the body will perform better when the foods we are consuming are working for us and not against us.

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Foods that are bad for you are typically bad because they require more processing than the calories are worth, overwhelming the body with stress hormones (i.e. cortisol) and free radicals (particles that can damage cells) and eventually inflaming the body. This is not only detrimental to your health, but can lead to serious health consequences (e.g. having a heart attack during marathon even though at a healthy weight). Below are the top 5 things you should know to help decrease inflammation and increase performance. Incorporating this knowledge will also increase your overall health. See Tables 1 and 2 for lists of the healthiest, mostly healthy, not very healthy, and foods to avoid in each nutrient group on a regular basis.

Even though every athlete is different and has a variety of other health factors to consider at one time, diet is one aspect of our performance we can control to a certain degree. The knowledge that exercise and training is inflammatory should translate to engaging in behaviors and eating foods that reduce inflammation. This will in turn increase performance and overall health, and could be the edge you need for the championship.

Tip #5 – Avoid Dyes

Dyes are not always harmful when derived from natural sources (e.g. betacarotene, paprika, beet juice, turmeric), but many companies find cheaper, brighter, and more stable sources by deriving them from petroleum (they were originally derived from coal tar when first developed). There are dyes in many foods, including everything from gatorade, to candy, cereals, fruit snacks, cosmetics, and dog food. Although dyes are tested by the FDA for levels determined to be safe, there are many studies that show links between dyes and kidney, thyroid, and bladder tumors, and cancers in mice or rats, and ADHD in some children. Limit or avoid US these dyes if possible due to their lack of need in the diet and potential harmful effects.

 

Tip #4 – Avoid Sugar and Fake Sweeteners

 

Sugar spikes glucose levels in the blood and is highly inflammatory. Sugar also feeds unhealthy bacteria in the gut, further contributing to inflammation. A small amount of organic sugar on some grapefruit every once and while or honey in your tea is not necessarily harmful, but regular consumption of sugar in breads, cereals, dairy products, salad dressings, jellies, etc., can elevate the blood sugar too much on a regular basis, leading to higher than normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream, leading to insulin-resistance and eventually diabetes. Fake sweeteners are two to seven times sweeter than table sugar and can also interfere with the normal blood sugar response6 . In addition, if the body is always full from sugar and then is not getting needed nutrients from whole foods, protein, fruit and vegetables, etc. that help decrease inflammation. There are many healthier ways to get a sweet taste after a meal, such as dark chocolate, coconut ice cream, and fruit with natural chocolate syrup, that are not full of sugar (also desserts made with nut flour, eggs, and smaller amounts of sugar). Look at your food labels, and if sugar is in the first three ingredients, that food should be avoided or eaten as little as possible. You will gradually lessen your taste for sweet foods, and you will naturally eat more of the foods you need like protein, fruits and veggies, and good fat.

Tip #3 – Avoid Partially-hydrogenated Oils

These oils are other highly processed oils that are added to foods to make them less perishable (e.g. margarine, baked goods, potato chips). They have an extra bond between the molecules, making them very difficult breakdown, both on the shelf and in the body. They sit in the fat cells of the body and increase the LDL (bad) and decrease the HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as increase inflammation, and they are associated with insulin resistance and obesity. Light-colored oils that are processed and unstable to begin with are high in free radicals, and avoiding consuming foods fried in these oils and will help decrease inflammation.

Tip #2 – Limit Dairy and Wheat 

Dairy and gluten may be included in the diet as a useful sources of calories if desired, but they are best used as condiments to meals and not the main course. Athletes should be aware of the inflammatory properties in both the lactose (milk) and casein (cheese) in dairy. Wheat proteins, including gluten, can be inflammatory to the gut, as they mimic certain foreign substances and can cause an immune response (i.e. inflammation). Gluten is found in much higher concentrations now than in the past, leading to more frequent gluten allergies (called Celiac’s disease).

As for dairy, most of us lose the ability to digest lactose after weaning, so it can be slightly inflammatory for everyone. Greek yogurt contains bacteria that have already digested the lactose for you, making it less inflammatory and easier to digest. Many dairy products also contain hormones and added sugars and have had the fat removed (the healthy part from an organic source). Lactose-free milk, coconut milk, and full fat almond milk are good alternatives. Full-fat dairy sources from organic and grass-fed cows, e.g. cottage cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese, and butter are also healthier choices.

Tip #1 – Eat Up!

The foods we should be eating more of to fight inflammation include fruits and vegetables, probiotics for the gut (available in pills or formulated dairy-like drinks), and more Omega 3 fatty acids from olive oils, fish, shellfish, walnuts, and avocados. The type of fat in olive oil (monounsaturated) turns into anti-inflammatory molecules that help prevent asthma, arthritis, and protect the heart . Other spices like ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and basil, can be anti-inflammatory. Ginger acts like an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aleve), suppressing inflammatory molecules, but with no side effects. Turmeric, the yellow colored spice in curry, contains curcumen, which blocks inflammatory chemicals in the body. Fruits and veggies specifically known for their anti-inflammatory properties include broccoli (vitamins C and K, beta-carotene, and calcium), pineapple (contains bromelain that helps break down proteins, aid in digestion, reduce swelling, and aid in circulation), and sweet potato (contains lots of vitamins B6 and C, manganese, beta-carotene, and fiber).

Weight Loss & Fertility — Healthy Strategies for Overcoming PCOS

WHAT PCOS IS:

PCOS, or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, is a condition that affects many women in their 20s and 30s hoping to have a child.  The exact cause is not known, but symptoms include an irregular menstrual cycle, weight gain or difficulty losing weight, developing hair in unwanted places, acne, thinning hair, darkening skin, and skin tags.  It may also be difficult to conceive, as regular ovulation (when the egg is released from the ovaries) may not occur.

CAUSES & EFFECTS:

The causes of PCOS can include a combination of factors, including genetic, higher levels of androgens (male hormones) than estrogens (female hormones), and being overweight. PCOS can also cause Insulin resistance, which prevents the body from being able to process food and sugar properly.  Other health problems may also arise, include diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, sleep apnea, depression and anxiety, and an increase in the likelihood of developing endometrial cancer.

STRESS & DEPRESSION:

Hormonal imbalances, as well as increased stress and the inability to conceive, can exacerbate the physical effects on the body.  If you are unsuccessful with either weight loss or fertility or both, you may experience an increase in stress and depression, both of which can lead to unhealthy behaviors.

WHAT YOU CAN DO:

To help with the hormonal imbalances associated with PCOS, medications such as birth control for androgens and/or Metformin for insulin resistance can be effective.  Weight loss can also reduce many of the symptoms, but many doctors may not be able to provide the help and support you may need in achieving your weight loss goals.  Simply reducing calories may not have worked in the past, and exercise is often unrealistic and can be counterproductive under these conditions.

TO HELP YOU IN THIS JOURNEY, WELLLIFE PLANS CAN HELP 

We will provide weekly coaching, support, and education that will guide you toward the foods and habits that are under your control.  Through working with your counselor, you will identify your goals and motivations and begin your journey to a healthy weight and a healthy lifestyle.  You have the motivation, but you also need the knowledge and the skills to be successful.  You do not need killer workouts – you will benefit the most from someone who understands what you are going through, listens to your experiences and concerns, and guides you through healthy eating strategies that will work for you.  

THE WAY WELLLIFE WORKS 

Our program works by personalizing a nutrition plan that will help your body heal from stress and hormonal imbalances.  Since everyone processes energy in a different way, you will work with your counselor to address your stressors and discover the foods that will work with your body instead of against it.  WellLife plans help you not only reduce calories, but also help you get the right kind of calories, at the right times.  You will also work with your counselor to stay accountable to making time to prepare and eat those foods. When you follow the plan successfully, the result will be reduced weight, fat, cholesterol, and blood pressure.  At the same time, you will also start to feel better, have more energy, and increase muscle, mood, and motivation as you see results.  This will also all help your body increase the chances of ovulation and conception.  And all this is possible with NO drugs, diet pills, or surgery!  All you need is a commitment to your health and to work with your doctor and counselor to find the right combination of foods, medications, and/or supplements that will work for you.

Back to the Basics — Foods to Fuel Ultimate Workouts

With the club season and championship series now behind us for another year, are you already hungry for more and thinking about next year? Ideally, the off-season is where most of your fitness, strength and power gains should occur. You will likely be doing many different types of workouts throughout the year, and each type of workout and training has its own nutritional demands.

BACK TO BASICS

Because there is no one specific diet or calorie requirement for all athletes in any given sport, it is up to us as individuals to see how our bodies react to training. What we do know is that ultimate is a demanding sport, requiring both cardiovascular and muscular fitness, strength and power. Similar to determining when to eat, the simplest way to determine what to eat is to go back to the basics and decide 1) what type of workout you are doing (e.g., strength, agility, endurance, etc.), 2) how intense the workout is going to be (e.g., how hard you will be working on average, on a scale of from zero to 100 percent), and 3) how long the workout will be. Then you decide what to eat and when. Done.

Well, okay, maybe it’s not quite that easy, but if you can answer those three questions, you can use the resources below to choose your foods and decide when to eat them.

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The next step is to understand each type of workout and what kind of energy you are using for the workout, so you know what you’ll need to replace. Below are two tables describing each type of workout and the foods needed to fuel each of those workout types before, during and after. All recommendations are based on starting exercise three to four hours after a meal (so you basically have an empty stomach) and are assuming individuals are at their goal weight. Carbohydrates refer to healthy grain-based sources (e.g., dense bread, pasta, flour products, etc.) with no added sugar. Protein sources include meat, fish or eggs and some vegetable and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice), and sources of good fats are high in Omega 3s, including nuts and nut oils; coconut and coconut oil; olives and olive oils; avocados; and whole-fat, organic dairy sources.

DETERMINING FOODS BASED ON TYPE OF WORKOUT

Keep the five tips listed below in mind when planning what to eat and when for your workouts. Then use the tables to determine what energy source is used and how to refuel after the workout.

 

Things to Remember when Planning Meals and Snacks around Workouts

1. Blood starts to leave your stomach and go to the muscles once you are exercising at approximately 70 percent of your heart rate max (HRM), about when you start sweating.

2. Leaving undigested food in the stomach when you start your workout can leave you with a bad stomachache a few hours later, and your performance may be affected due to a delay of energy and blood flow to the muscles.

3. One handful of carbs takes about one hour to digest.

4. One handful of protein takes four hours to digest.

5. One handful of good fat can take up to nine hours to digest!

 

Using the tables above can help you determine which foods are best at supporting your workout. For example, you can see that if you eat a meal within three or four hours of an endurance run, you probably won’t need a pre-workout snack. But if you are a little hungry, you can follow the instructions in the table to determine that, for an endurance run, you would only need about one handful of carbs within an hour of the run, then liquid carbs about every 30 minutes during the workout, and some carbs (one or two handfuls) and good fat (about half a tablespoon) after the workout. If this is how you work out most often, your normal diet would only require about one handful of complete protein per meal.

The requirements for an ultimate tournament are quite different. As an extreme example, during a tournament, ideally you would have a small meal an hour or two before playing and continue fueling during and between games with liquids and carbohydrate beverages, handfuls of carbs and protein. Then you would have a snack – two or three handfuls of carbs, one or two handfuls of protein and some good fat – right after playing AND a normal meal a few hours later.

FOODS TO FUEL WORKOUTS

As an ultimate player with a defined season and pre-determined tournament competition dates, you should ideally be following a periodized workout cycle. This means you will rotate through different types of workouts to 1) build an endurance base in the off-season, 2) focus on strength and speed during the pre-season, then 3) focus on power and agility during the season. Your dietary and caloric needs will need to cycle as well, which can sometimes catch us off guard. Using these simple guidelines and charts can help keep you healthy and performing well all year long!