Posts Tagged ‘health blog’

Well-Being with Whitney: Fasting from Comfort Food

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016

Who doesn’t love comfort food? Chips, brownies, macaroni and cheese, ice cream — it’s all fun to eat. Holiday food (from casseroles to cookies) is often comforting. Indulging in comfort food is fine once in a while. But eating comfort food regularly is a sign of using it for something it can’t reliably provide: good feelings. God designed food to nourish our bodies in enjoyable ways, but not to be the source of our comfort, as emotional eating leads us to believe. So fasting from comfort foods to lessen our dependence on them is a healthy choice to refresh ourselves in body, mind, and spirit.

That’s easy for me to say, but not to do.

Potatoes, cheese, and gravy sat before me at the table, all piled on top of each other in a deliciously squishy mess of a meal called “poutine” — the signature dish of Montreal, Canada. As I dug into it on a recent trip there, I savored every bite of that tasty concoction featuring not just one, but three of my favorite comfort foods.

Poutine was so comforting, in fact, that I found myself seeking it out whenever I felt stressed on the trip. Wait a minute, I finally reminded myself, poutine isn’t a friend — it’s just food!

Once again, I’d fallen into the trap of emotional eating. That’s something I’ve struggled with since childhood, when I began rewarding myself for finishing school homework by eating chocolate candy. Fasting from comfort foods from time to time is a great way to remind myself that food is meant for my body — not my emotions — and get back on track with healthy eating habits.

What foods do you turn to for comfort, and why? Do you tend to eat brownies when you’re worried? Do you relieve stress with a bowl of popcorn in front of the TV screen?

After you’ve identified what you’re feeling when you eat, you can choose new ways of dealing with those feelings — ways that don’t involve food. So instead of eating a brownie when you’re anxious, you can pray about what’s worrying you, and rather than eating popcorn to try to relieve stress, you can take a walk. Both prayer and walking can actually help you achieve your emotional goals, unlike comfort food, which may make you feel better for the few minutes you eat it but do nothing to help you in the long run.

Try fasting from your favorite comfort food for at least three weeks, since it takes at least 21 days to develop a new habit. Then, when you return to it, do so only in moderation and after you’ve already filled up on a healthy meal or snack. You can still indulge once in a while — just not in an emotionally dependent way. Enjoy a treat occasionally, but get your comfort from more reliable sources: God and caring people.

Well-Being with Whitney: What are You Willing to Change?

Wednesday, August 24th, 2016

When healing — of body, mind, or spirit — happens, it’s never by magic. Healing happens by relationship, through decisions to grow closer to God. Too often, we pray for better health and then passively wait for something to improve. But God always asks us to participate actively our healing. Saint Brother André Bessette (who became famous for many healing miracles that happened after he prayed for people at Saint Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada) often asked people seeking healing one key question: “What are you willing to change in order to grow closer to God?”

The power to heal ultimately comes from God. So when we want to be healed in some way, the most powerful step to take is to move closer to God — Creator of our bodies, minds, and spirits; and the source of all healing.

Brother André, who spent many decades praying for people in need of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing, challenged people to open their hearts when approaching God. Rather than seeing God as some sort of magician they hoped to convince to help them with a trick for their health, people should engage in personal conversations with God in which real love is exchanged, Brother André advised. “When you pray,” he said, “you talk to God the way you do to a friend.”

I visited Saint Joseph’s Oratory (named for Brother André’s patron saint, St. Joseph, Jesus Christ’s father during his earthly life) recently to learn more about this humble man who believers say God worked through to heal thousands of people in different ways. What was the meaning of wellness to him?

It was simple, yet profound. Wellness, from a faith perspective, means being connected to God in relationships where we’re willing to do whatever God asks, because God loves us and we love him.

God doesn’t expect us to be perfect; only to be willing to say “yes” to what he asks us to do. What are we willing to change in our lives that we know is currently putting distance between ourselves and God? That’s a challenging, yet worthwhile, question to consider. If we dare to ask in prayer or meditation with God, we’ll get the insights we need.

For instance, I was moved after my visit to ask God to show me one specific bad habit I could change to move closer to him. What came to mind was my tendency to yell at people around me when I’m under stress. That was something significant enough to be worth working on, yet manageable enough for me to handle. So, with God’s help, I’m working to grow beyond that. What motivates me is simply love for God, not an attempt to convince God to give me something I’d like to have in my life. Just like I want to do whatever I can to keep my relationships with other people healthy, I want to do the same with my relationship with God, just because I love him. The next time I ask God to heal something in my life, I know that whatever he decides to do will also be based on love.

We can’t predict what will happen when we ask God for healing, but we can be confident that God will respond with love, and we can best receive his love when we’re in close relationships with him.

Well-Being with Whitney: Alcohol Detox

Wednesday, July 27th, 2016

The health risks of drinking alcohol — from brain and liver damage to weight gain — are well known, yet alcohol use remains widespread. Popular culture portrays alcohol as a harmless way to relax and have fun. An occasional glass of wine with dinner or beer in the backyard isn’t too bad, but even one alcoholic drink does some damage to the body, and it can be challenging to stop at just one. So if you’ve been drinking alcohol lately, you can detox your body’s system from its effects by completely abstaining for a while.

I go weeks or even months between drinking any alcoholic beverages. From time to time, I enjoy a hard apple cider at an Irish pub or a glass of sangria wine at a social event. But I always stop at one drink only. I’ve never  gotten drunk. If I never drank any alcohol beverages again, I wouldn’t miss them much, either. Since I barely drink any alcohol, my body isn’t desensitized to it, and just one drink is enough for me to feel that pleasant “buzz” that many people enjoy from alcohol. Most importantly, I keep my mind clear. Mental impairment is too high a price for me to pay for any type of enjoyment. By exercising self-control with alcoholic drinks, I make sure they don’t control me.

Many people I know and love, however, struggle to control their alcohol consumption — especially when they’re drinking as a way of trying to escape from stressful problems. It’s easy to become addicted to alcohol. When I worked for The Salvation Army’s national magazines, I edited story after story about people working hard in rehab centers to rebuild their lives from the destruction that alcohol caused.

Here are some ways you can detox your body from alcohol:

  • If you’re addicted to alcohol, get help now. Reach out to caring, trustworthy friends and family, go to rehab, and participate in counseling or a support group.
  • If you’re not addicted but tend to overindulge, cut back to just one alcoholic beverage every time you drink and notice how good it feels to think clearly and feel fully in each present moment rather than numbing your senses with alcohol.
  • If you drink alcohol just occasionally like I do, abstain completely the next time you feel like having a drink (such as when you’re at a party). Fulfill your craving for an alcoholic beverage with something healthier that you also enjoy, like eating fresh fruit.
  • No matter how much alcohol you usually drink, consider the emotional factors that are fueling your desire to drink it, and identify any unhealthy patterns you can start changing. Why do you drink? What negative feelings are you trying to escape from through alcohol? What pleasant feelings are you trying to experience by drinking alcohol? Prayer and meditation can help you figure out how you’ve been using alcohol to deal with your emotions, and how you can start expressing those emotions in healthier ways.
  • Drink lots of water — at least 8 to 10 glasses every day. Water flushes out toxins from your body’s cells, so it will help get rid of toxins your body has stored from alcohol consumption.

Well-Being with Whitney: Caffeine Detox

Wednesday, July 20th, 2016

Caffeine is such a common part of everyday life that it’s easy to forget caffeine is actually an addictive drug. Coffee, tea, and other drinks containing caffeine are popular, and enjoying them in moderation can even lead to a variety of health benefits. Those range from physical benefits (such as antioxidant protection for cells that helps prevent disease) and mental benefits (better cognitive function and mood boosts). But consuming too much caffeine can harm your health, in ways that include insomnia, headaches, and abnormal heart rhythms.

So it’s wise to figure out how much caffeine is really the right amount for you to consume each day — and detox your body of the excess caffeine that you’ve been ingesting.

Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by causing the brain to release adrenaline. That’s fine if the body uses all of that adrenaline (such as for energy to handle a crisis). But if excess amounts of adrenaline hang around in the body, over time, it builds up in the body’s muscles, causing tension and pain. That’s when a caffeine detox can be useful.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with caffeine.

Tea is my favorite drink, and I’m fond of coffee, too. Caffeinated drinks play a prominent role in the experiences I treasure — from having afternoon tea with my daughter to reading the morning news while sipping a cup of coffee. I appreciate the many health benefits of tea in particular, and even made a pilgrimage to a tea plantation on vacation once.

But I’ve also suffered insomnia and a racing heartbeat from drinking too much caffeine. Never once have I ever tried an energy drink, because I’m wary of the unregulated and often excessive amounts of caffeine they contain. Sometimes I worry about people I know and love who have high blood pressure yet consume copious amounts of coffee (and have told me to keep my suggestions about reducing their coffee intake to myself).

So how much caffeine is too much? The Mayo Clinic says that up to 400 milligrams per day (up to four cups of coffee) is generally safe for adults and cautions going beyond that amount.

If you’ve been drinking more than that, here are some ways to cut back on the amount of caffeine you consume:

  • Replace just one of the caffeinated beverages you usually consume every day with a drink that doesn’t have caffeine — such as decaf tea or coffee — and gradually work your way to up to replacing most of your caffeinated drinks with no-caffeine alternatives.
  • Enjoy caffeine in the morning and at lunch, but stop drinking it later in day or in the evening. Give your body a break from caffeine from mid-afternoon on.
  • Drink more water. Water flushes out all sorts of toxins from your body, refreshing you. If you’ve already had enough caffeine for the day and find yourself craving more, drink water instead.


Well-Being with Whitney: Sugar Detox

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

By making just one simple choice, you can lose weight, gain energy, and experience a host of other health benefits that include reducing disease-causing inflammation and boosting immunity. That choice? Reducing the amount of sugar in your diet. Doing so is a powerful way to cleanse your body by detoxifying it from the harmful effects of consuming too much sugar.

A plethora of research studies have linked sugar to illnesses (such as cancer and heart disease) while also showing that cutting down on sugar consumption leads to greater wellness. When children in a large study by the National Institutes of Health reduced the amount of sugar they consumed, they experienced many health benefits (like better blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin levels) after only 10 days.

Making sure we don’t consume unhealthy levels of sugar is challenging when we’re constantly surrounded by sugary food and drinks. But it can do a lot to help our bodies function the way God designed them to work.

Growing up, I ate way too much sugar, like many Americans do. Candy, cookies, pie, ice cream, popsicles, cake, sweet tea, soda, punch — the list of sugary foods and drinks I consumed knowingly was long. Then there were all the ways that I was ingesting sugar without even realizing it, through sugary ingredients (like high fructose corn syrup) hidden in processed foods and beverages. Not only did I consume to much sugar physically, but I also developed an unhealthy habit of eating it for emotional reasons.

Fortunately, when I was training for a triathlon in my early 20s, my boyfriend (who was training with me) challenged me to give up drinking soda. He said that by eliminating as much sugar as possible from my diet, I would have more energy. At first, that didn’t make sense to me, since I had been drinking soda for late afternoon bursts of energy. But I had to admit that those bursts didn’t last long — and that they led to energy crashes later.

So I rose to the challenge and stopped drinking soda completely. It didn’t take long for me to have more energy throughout the day. I also slept better at night. Other benefits included feeling less stressed and being able to concentrate more. That was just what I could tell myself — lab tests, I suspect, would have revealed many more health benefits that resulted from my decision to get rid of sugary soda.

I haven’t missed soda since.

There are many ways you can start decreasing the amount of sugar you consume, including:

  • Decreasing your sugar use one meal at a time (such as by replacing sugary breakfast cereal with healthier food at breakfast) and then gradually moving on to other meals.
  • Replacing food and drinks that have sugar additives with no-sugar added alternatives. For instance, stop drinking sweet tea and start drinking unsweetened tea flavored with lemon juice.
  • Cutting back on the amount of dessert you eat, and choosing natural options over processed food. Enjoy something that’s sweetened naturally (like fruit or honey) for dessert instead of something that’s loaded with processed sugar (like candy or cookies).
  • Avoiding products that contain high fructose corn syrup, a sugar additive that’s often hidden in food (like bread, peanut butter, and salad dressings) and beverages (like juice). Read nutrition labels to identify products that are more pure.
  • Using spices (such as cinnamon and ginger) or extracts (like almond and vanilla) when cooking instead of sugar.

Well-Being with Whitney: Detox Your Emotions by Crying

Wednesday, July 6th, 2016

Just like a refreshing shower washes dirt off your body, a good cry cleanses you of negative emotions stored deep inside you. A great way to detox feelings such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger, and disappointment is simply to let yourself cry.

Research from St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center and the Primal Institute shows that the act of crying releases stress hormones, detoxifying the body from the effects of storing up negative emotions.

After my mom passed away, I didn’t allow myself to cry about it for several years! I was afraid that if I started crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I’d developed a bad habit of suppressing my feelings because of past criticism for being emotionally sensitive. I missed my mom terribly but held back my tears — because I knew that letting one tear trickle down would unleash a torrent of tears that could overwhelm me and others like a gushing waterfall.

So much time went by without me weeping, though, that eventually I felt guilty that I had never cried over my mom’s death. Crying certainly seemed like the right thing to do in that situation. Remaining stoic made it seem like I didn’t care about my mom, and that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

One day, as I was driving home from an aerobics class at my gym — a route that takes me past my mom’s former apartment — a wave of grief rolled over me and I decided not to fight it. I just relaxed into the grief so I could feel it. Then I gave myself permission to express it by crying. Sure enough, after the first tear fell down my face, a torrent of other tears followed. After pulling into a nearby parking let, I sat in my car weeping for a long time.

Then a wonderful peace settled in my soul, and my body felt refreshed. Crying had cleansed me.

What do you need to cry about? A broken relationship with someone you love? A job loss? A frightening health condition? Whatever circumstances have led you to store negative emotions in your body, cry about them to release those feelings.

Who could you cry for to release compassion into a situation of suffering? Do you know someone going through a divorce, struggling with an addiction, stressed by the demands of caring for a loved one, or facing another type of painful challenge? Hurting people are all around you. Cry for them, and let your tears motivate you to help in ways that you can.

Crying is a powerful way to detox your emotions. When you let your tears out, you welcome healing in!

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking Helps Thinking — Nature Walks and Stress

Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

Facing uncertainty can be stressful. What will the lab results reveal about your health? Who will your friends be after you move to a new area? Which job will you end up getting? You may not be able to predict the future, but you can reduce the stress of uncertainty — and other types of stress — by taking a walk outside in nature.

Walking through a natural environment can change brain activity so people don’t ruminate on negative thoughts as much as they did before their nature walks, according to a research study by scientists from Stanford University and other organizations. The study showed that those who walked outside for 90 minutes experienced less stress as a result.

When we’re anxious about an unknown future, it’s easy to ruminate on those worries over and over. Stepping outside to enjoy a walk is a wonderful way to break that negative cycle.

I took a lot of nature walks when my husband was searching for a kidney donor for the lifesaving transplant he needed. Would he find someone willing to help, who was a compatible match, in time? The uncertainty and stress were intense. Prayer helped me cope, but so did walking, and I often found myself drawn to praying while walking outdoors.

On one of my nature walks, a thunderstorm suddenly moved in, and I watched how the trees around me handled the unexpected change. They swayed gracefully back and forth, staying firmly rooted in the ground while they endured rain soaking their trunks and wind blowing off some of their leaves. They stood strong in the face of whatever weather hit them and simply did their best to adjust to it.

Walking relaxed me enough to stop ruminating on my worries and learn a lesson from the trees. Every part of nature is constantly reflecting something about its Creator. As the Bible describes in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…”.

Whenever you must face uncertainty, your stressful emotions may feel like a thunderstorm. But just like the weather, emotions are always changing. So take a nature walk and soak in the simple yet profound lessons that you can learn in the process — about accepting that you don’t know what will happen, but believing that something good will happen if you trust God, yourself, and others on your journey.

My husband did end up getting that lifesaving transplant — thanks to a caring, generous man from our church who donated a kidney to him. Something good can happen in your unknown future, too, when the timing is right. Until then, walking outside can help you move forward with less stress and more confidence.

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking and Thinking – Moods

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2016

If you’re in a bad mood and want to improve it, take a walk.

Walking for 30 minutes boosts people’s moods by increasing their feelings of well-being, according to a University of Texas research study. Even those who had been diagnosed with depression reported experiencing better moods after taking a walk.

I was in a bad mood one summer night after fruitless discussions with some family members while trying to resolve an issue. Frustration and sorrow hung over me like a wet blanket. So I decided to try to walk it off.

Setting off from my yard, I walked around the neighborhood as thoughts about the conflict swirled around in my mind. I was ruminating on a negative subject, but still found my mood improving after a few minutes. Fireflies flew past me shining their lights, crickets chirped around me, and a warm breeze enveloped me as I kept walking. I hadn’t noticed the wonder of the summer night when I first began walking since thoughts about the family drama had weighed so heavily on my mind. But the more I walked, the more I gained a better perspective. By the time I returned home, I was in a good mood.

How about you? If you’re in a bad mood while you’re reading this, take a walk as soon as you can. If you’re in a good mood, great! Try to walk for at least 30 minutes on a daily basis to keep both your emotions and your body strong.


Well-Being with Whitney: Walking and Thinking — Memory

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016

Want to improve your memory? Take a walk.

Exercise such as walking helps the brain grow new cells — especially in the hippocampus region that relates to memory and cognition, says Preventive Medecine Research Institute founder Dr. Dean Ornish.

Walking has helped me remember something important on many occasions.

One day, I took a walk to solve the mystery of mysterious noises in our home’s attic. As I walked, the details of different instances came to mind, so I could connect the dots between the various clues. There were several times I heard running and bumping sounds. On one occasion, I remembered, those sounds were accompanied by noises that seemed like animals chattering. I also recalled seeing shredded bits of wood showing up inexplicably at a place that was located right below the attic.

After walking boosted my memory, I solved the mystery: It was squirrels! They had invaded the attic, and the strange sounds were coming from them scrambling around and chattering with each other. Thanks to that memory walk, I figured out what was going on in enough time to evacuate the squirrels and prevent significant damage to our home.

What are you having trouble remembering right now? Mull it over during a walk. Afterward, make a note of the new insights that came to mind while you were walking. Hopefully you won’t have squirrels in your attic, but some new cells in your brain for memory wouldn’t hurt!

Well-Being with Whitney: Walking and Thinking – Peace

Wednesday, June 8th, 2016

Need some more peace in your life? Take a walk.

Walking promotes a sense of peace by relaxing your mind. A Princeton University research study found that exercise such as walking reorganizes brain neurons, helping people relieve stress and anxiety so they can experience more peace.

When you walk, your mind’s attention centers on basic, fundamental focuses: simply putting one foot in front of the other and noticing what’s around you. You’re not as concerned with what you’re doing as much as you are with just being. That’s why walking promotes mindfulness, which in turn promotes peace.

If I have a disagreement with someone, I’ll replay the conversation afterward in my mind, trying to figure out different possible meanings of what the other person said and wondering if I had said what I should have or not. If my mind starts spiraling into stress, I’ll try to take a walk. Walking quiets my mind and gives me a clearer perspective on any situation that had been making me feel anxious.

Usually when I take a walk specifically to relieve stress, I’ll meditate on, or pray about, that intention as well. Then the peace I experience deepens to become especially strong. As I take each step on a walk, I let go of my worries. Step by step, I transfer the energy of my thoughts from negative (worry) to positive (trust in God). Walking enriches the process by giving me a foundation of relaxation on which to build.

How has walking helped you experience peace in your own life? What stressful situations are you going through right now that you could think about more clearly on a walk? How could that clearer perspective give you the peace of mind you need to navigate those situations well?