Archived Articles

Is a good night’s sleep really so important?

Image result for sleep stock photoPosted November 2015 Written by Liz Gold
If you’re like most people, you probably think you can get by on a fairly small amount of sleep.  A close friend of mine frequently boasts, “Oh, I only need a few hours of sleep and I am good to go!”  Although you may be able to “function” the next day, there are some important things a good night’s sleep provides that you might not be thinking about as you forge through your busy day.  As adults, we require at least six or seven hours of sleep in order to gain real benefits that allow us to live healthier, more energetic lives.  While we sleep, our bodies are not only processing the mental interactions that occurred throughout our day, our vital systems are regenerating and repairing.  It is well known that people who get less than six or seven hours of sleep each night are at greater risk of developing diseases like diabetes, hypertension, and even heart problems.  Sleep and its importance on health is an important topic and new studies are continuously conducted in order to prove the relevance of sleep in our daily lives.  Here are just a few things we already know:
Metabolism and Appetite:  Have you ever noticed how hard it is to stick to a healthy diet the day after that late night party?  Well, it isn’t your imagination.  Studies have shown that a lack of sleep causes us to crave carbohydrates and eat more overall.  In particular, Leptin, a hormone implicated in the regulation of food intake (appetite suppression) and metabolism, was found to be profoundly affected by sleep rhythms.  As well, present studies unequivocally demonstrate that other metabolic agents such as cortisol, insulin, and blood glucose levels are all affected in some way by sleep duration.
Immune System:  The strength of our immune system and its ability to respond to inflammation and prevent disease is directly related to how much sleep we get and to the quality of that sleep.  In a well-publicized example from February 2011, a study conducted at University Hospitals Case Medical Center links a lack of sleep to a 50 percent increase in the chance of getting colorectal polyps (a precursor to cancer if left untreated).  Perhaps not coincidentally, granulocytes, a category of white blood cells, exhibit a decreased ability to phagocytize (kill bacteria or other foreign material such as cancer cells) in subjects who were deprived of sleep for a 24-hour period.  Granulocytes are an area of high interest within the cancer community and many studies are being done to further understand their role in fighting cancer.

Mood and Stress Levels I don’t know about you, but I equate anxiety with stress.  The more anxious I am, the less equipped I feel to deal with a stressful situation.  Some people are naturally more anxious than others and sometimes a little bit of anxiousness is actually a good thing as it helps us adequately prepare ourselves for a given situation.  These anxious behaviors are sometimes also called anticipatory reactions.  However, we’ve all experienced those times when it becomes too much and that anxiousness develops into full-blown stress.  A recent study of 18 adult males revealed the anticipatory reactions of the brain are significantly increased when sleep deprived causing significantly higher levels of anxiety and stress.  As a society overall, we are getting two to three fewer hours of sleep per night than just 50 years ago and anxiety disorders are at an all-time high, affecting over 40 million American adults.  Lack of sleep also causes increased irritability and susceptibility to depression.

So, don’t forget functioning is very different from thriving.  Even if you only want to lose weight, sleep can play an important role in your ability to reach your goal.  A few things you can do to facilitate a good nights sleep:

·       Limit caffeine intake during the day and especially after 1 p.m.

·       Get 30 minutes of exercise each day

·       Don’t eat anything after 7 o’clock

·       Avoid interruptions in your sleep patterns by limiting your fluid intake right before bedtime (avoiding alcohol is especially important)

For women, it is also important to note that disrupted hormone levels can also make sleep difficult.  Visit with your doctor to explore whether this might be a problem.  In many cases, you might find all you need is a little help from a natural supplement like melatonin, whereas some women require hormone therapy.

Reference: Please see National Institutes of Health Article regarding the study on sleep and obesity.

What does the recommended “60 minutes per day” of exercise really mean?

Image result for exercise

Posted December 2015 Written by Liz Gold

Well, with all the talk of New Year’s resolutions I am hearing a lot about this topic.  The government recommends sixty minutes of exercise per day.  I know a lot of people, including myself, that think this is an unrealistic expectation.  I consider myself to be in the “very active” category and even I don’t work out sixty minutes every single day.  But if we take a closer look at what the guidelines really say, I think you’ll be happy to know your New Year’s resolution is very attainable.

The government is trying much harder to align their recommendations with the latest in scientific studies, and they are also doing a better job defining and clarifying what the expectations are for those sixty minutes.  The alarming rates of obesity in our country have brought significant attention to our sedentary lifestyle, and with an estimated $600 Billion Federal dollars allocated to healthcare costs, the government has an interest in the subject.

First, everyone is different, and depending on your age and how active your lifestyle might already be, then thirty minutes a day should be adequate if combined with a healthy, balanced, nutritional plan.  If you are over forty, have an office job and sit at your computer every day for nine hours a day, eat unhealthy lunches at your desk, and then commute in a car for three hours a day, then sixty minutes of exercise is probably a good idea.  But between all that working and commuting, getting that exercise time seems even more impossible, right?

But here’s the good news, sixty minutes of exercise can mean almost anything.  Walking to and from your favorite lunch spot at a brisk pace counts as exercise.  Walking up and down three flights of stairs with full laundry baskets counts as exercise.  So what are the actual guidelines? Check here or here for the latest official details.  I personally like the guidelines put forth by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention because they give a few scenarios you can customize to your own lifestyle.

In a nutshell, their message is this:  Take sixty minutes out of your day and figure out how to make them more active. Get a sense of how active you are today and then brainstorm of all the ways you can increase your movement.  Some examples might include:  Stop taking the elevator to and from your fourth floor apartment, take half of your lunch hour to walk around the block a few times, actually walk your dog around the block instead of just letting him out in your yard in the morning (he’ll love you for it anyway), do fifty sit-ups every night while watching the news, use a pedometer and start monitoring your activity.  Did you know the average Amish adult takes almost six times as many steps each day than an average American adult?  Probably just one of the many reasons the obesity rates in Amish communities are 87% less when compared to other American communities.  Many people just don’t realize how little exercise or physical activity they are getting every day. The main goal of the guidelines is to force people to actually think about it.

My husband and I are big proponents of Tony Horton and P90X.  We actually did the entire 90-day program and just loved it.  I felt like I was in better shape than ever before.  In one of his videos, Tony says, “We stumble, we fall, but we MOVE”.  So you don’t necessarily have to be in a full sweat for sixty minutes each day, but just get out there and MOVE.  And don’t forget healthy eating habits, because even if you work out for two hours every day, the basic fact is, if you take in more calories than you burn, you will still gain weight!

It’s All In The Planning
Posted January 2016  Written by Liz Gold

Image result for chopping vegetables

We really try hard to focus on good nutrition at our house.  With two growing boys, we are continuously challenged with balancing desires versus needs.  Not only are there differences in what each of them like, they seem to never be hungry at the same time.  Between all of the sports and homework and various busy schedules, we have to really work hard to make it easy for everyone to eat healthy meals and snacks.  So, planning our meals for the week is a Sunday priority, and I usually spend the day doing laundry and preparing a few meals for the upcoming week.  Although not a glamorous way to spend the day, I enjoy the cooking and come Wednesday when everyone is clamoring in the kitchen asking what’s for dinner, I am thrilled to have that White Bean Chicken Chili waiting in the freezer!

My husband does most of the grocery shopping in our household and this is a good thing for two reasons.  First, he refuses to spend money on things we don’t need.  Therefore, he is an expert on escaping the store without giving in to any impulse purchases.  Secondly, he knows if he buys any junk food he will most likely be the one eating it because he has limited self-control when it comes to cookies, cakes, or chips.  But, this also means I have to be explicit when giving him a grocery list as he takes everything quite literally.  It took quite a while for me to trust him to get the right items. One of the first times I sent him to the store, I asked him to get several bunches of mint and he came back with basil.  After weeks of shopping, he is now an expert grocery shopper.  As a matter of fact, he is truly the best at picking out fruits and vegetables….better than I could ever be.  He has this innate knack of knowing if that mango will ripen properly or if those tomatoes will actually have any flavor, and he never brings home soggy, stinky greens.

So our Sunday starts with me getting up early and while our youngest son spends some quality time playing Legos, I will plan the week out and compile a grocery list.  Then Rick, my husband, will head off to the grocery stores.  Notice I said stores (plural).  Rick and I are both pretty picky about certain things.  My pet peeve is produce that is less than perfect and, having spent time on the East Coast, Rick is selective about his fish and seafood.  Unfortunately, in Chicago, this means trips to different stores unless you want to spend a fortune.  Staple items can be tricky, as well, because some of the best organic staples are available at Whole Foods but can usually be found elsewhere for less.  We have it down to a science, though, and Rick is usually back by noon and I can begin cooking.

When we first started doing this, Rick was really just following my lead.  He would ask me what was for breakfast or what was for dinner hoping that I would have something planned.  After a couple of years, he is now starting to take charge.  I will notice him grabbing the Chicken Lime Burgers out of the freezer on Monday morning knowing we can use those for dinner that night.  My favorite part is that he is so proud when he can pull together what we have in the fridge or pantry into a healthy meal without my guidance.  The other day he sent me a picture of what he made the kids for breakfast (above).  We had some leftover broiled salmon so he made eggs, salmon, ½ bagel with cream cheese and some strawberries and took a picture and sent it to me!  On a day when I had to leave very early for an appointment, it was fun to see his enthusiasm and know that all of our hard work is paying off!  Now I just need to work on his photography skills!


Posted January 2015 Written by Liz Gold

Cleanse Day 11
The last few days have been a bit of a challenge keeping the weight on.  I was down to 122 lbs. yesterday.  I really needed to get some good snacks lined up to make sure I was able to keep eating throughout the day.  While teaching, it is really important for me to have something to munch on between classes.  Last night, I began playing around with almonds in the food processor and came up with a real winner.  Almond butter is a great treat and easy to just grab and go but the store-bought kinds are really tasteless and expensive, in my opinion.  My recipe is sugar free but delicious and innovative.  I started by taking almonds and put them in the processor raw and just ground them up until they were close to a grainy flour consistency.  Next, I melted some virgin coconut oil and added just enough to the processor to get a creamy consistency like peanut butter and it worked fabulously!  For some crazy reason, I had half a lime sitting on the counter from earlier so I decided to squeeze some fresh lime into it (I know it sounds weird but it tastes unbelievable).  A few drops of stevia and that’s all you need.  This will be a staple snack for me…..Mary’s Gone Crackers and Lime Almond Butter!

Posted January 2015 Written by Liz Gold

Cleanse Day 8
Everything is going great…energy is back today.  I felt a bit tired on days six and seven.  I noticed my nose was running profusely on day six and it stopped on day seven so I know it was just all of the toxins leaving my body.  One wonderful thing is that I have been going to bed around 10:00 and I am sleeping like a rock all through the night until 6:00.  That’s eight hours of sleep!!  This is one of the best aspects of this cleanse.  Normally, I get up every couple of hours to go to the bathroom or just wake up at 3:00 a.m. and then lie awake the rest of the night!  I feel so rested and my skin is looking vibrant again.  Sleep is so important!!  I created a wonderful recipe that my whole family loved last night…even my picky nine year-old liked it.  It was a healthy, easy, version of paella.  I am a huge Cook’s Illustrated fan and use a lot of their recipes, but I always try to swap the unhealthy items for healthier options.  I made a huge eight quart dutch oven pot and it is GONE… kidding.  My husband said this was the best thing I have ever made….ever.  I couldn’t help feeling a bit insulted at that.  I said “Come on….EVER?”   I like to think everything I cook is perfect…..but I guess not!  See my recipe page for details on the paella recipe (it fits the cleanse).  I wanted to mention one thing about dairy.  My husband said something to me yesterday morning that reminded me to talk about this.  He said, “You didn’t cough at all last night in your sleep.”  You see, I have a slight dairy intolerance just like my son.  It is something easy to forget about because my only symptom is persistent post nasal drip that causes me to dry cough mostly at night. Although this might seem like no big deal, it really does affect my sleep patterns, and I never noticed how much that tickle in my throat was such a nuisance until it stopped.  This is day 8 and it is completely gone.  So now my husband is getting better sleep too!  Weight is 126 lbs.

Posted January 2015 Written by Liz Gold 

Cleanse Day 4
Well, it’s that time of year!  Cleanse time.  I just finished some heavy-duty coursework (Microbiology and Biochemistry) and the finals were so stressful that my mind and body could really use the rejuvenation.  Many people view cleanses as torture because they can be very restrictive and often entail eating or drinking foods that are not tasty at all.  I guess, technically, I wouldn’t really even call what I do each spring a “cleanse” because it certainly isn’t like the traditional ones you hear about.

On this cleanse, I am never hungry and the list of “allowed” foods is plentiful.  Granted, they are not foods I eat on a regular basis while I am not cleansing.  I began cleansing four days ago and already I am feeling pretty great.   The rough part of the sugar withdrawal was over in a couple of days and the thought of anything sugary actually makes my stomach do a bit of a flip (in a bad way).  Giving up alcohol was easy but the caffeine and dairy were a bit more difficult.  Thankfully, green tea is allowed!  I will try to go herbal next week.  The great thing about eating relatively healthy year-round is that the initial bad effects of this cleanse are now minimal for me.  This year, I didn’t feel irritable at all or have any headaches….my husband was especially happy about this!  I did experience a low-grade fever at night for a couple of nights.  Not really sure what that was, exactly, but it felt oddly good.  I have some really awesome new recipes to share over the next few weeks that fit the cleanse so stay posted.
I never set a timeframe goal for my cleanse.  I just let how I feel dictate when I stop.  The first year I did this it was three months, but usually it ends up being about three weeks to a month. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go for too long because my weight is pretty much right where it needs to be due to marathon training last fall (I am at 128 lbs), so I don’t have much wiggle room.  This first four days, I managed to keep the weight loss to a minimum so that is good!  Stay tuned for recipes!