Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Year Without Kale (and the best tofu scramble you’ve ever tried).

Before I explain the title, I want to say that I’m very excited to be speaking at the 5th Annual New York City Vegetarian Food Festival. I’ve attended each year in the past and having watched the event through its evolution, I can honestly say it has constantly gotten better. This year the speaker line up includes some of the countries foremost experts on fitness and nutrition including Dr. Joel Kahn, Rich Roll, and Sid Garza Hillman, among many others.

I will be presenting a talk called the “Facts and Fallacies of Fats.” The talk will examine the research on which fats are truly healthy, and how much fat our bodies actually need in an attempt to clarify a topic which has become increasingly confusing. I’m very excited for the opportunity, and look forward to seeing many of you there! I talk on Sunday afternoon so be sure to stop by and say hi!

Now, back to the title… A year without kale.


Wait? What!? Why?

Yes, it’s true; you’ve read that correctly. As some of you may know, I announced the other day that I’m about to make a large, life-altering change. It’s easily the biggest and scariest decision I’ve ever made, which is also what makes it so exciting.

At the end of April, I will be saying goodbye to my home in New York City and getting on a plane bound for Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a one-way ticket in hand.



If you are curious as to why I would move to a city famous for it’s beef and it’s leather, it’s simple… my time in South America begins as many such adventures do… the pursuit of a beautiful woman.

Two Octobers ago, I met a woman at Jack Rabbit Sports Running Group. She is a doctor from Buenos Aires who was doing a month long observership at a New York hospital. We made an instant connection, and since then it’s been a wild ride of facetime phone chats and wonderful visits, which always seem far too short with far too much time in between. Anyway, we’ve now reach the point were it is time to take the next step.

But why a year without kale? Well, sadly, kale hasn’t caught on down in Argentina the way it has in the States, and it’s pretty hard to come by.  That said, I am being a little disingenuous, because we know of one market that has it on occasion, and I’ve also purchased over 1,000 seeds of different heirloom varieties, which I hope to grown on our balcony.

Now don’t worry, BYOL will continue and I’ll never be further than an email or skype message away from my readers in the States. During my time in Argentina, I plan on hosting some plant-based nutrition seminars and hope to work on some larger writing products. I will also continue the BYOL Nutrition & Wellness Counseling. And of course, I will be sharing many new recipes throughout the year!

Thank you to everyone for all of your continued support. It means more to me than I can adequately express.

***




Now for the reason you’re all really reading this post. The best tofu scramble you’ve ever tried!

I’ll do another post going through some of the questions and controversy about soy, but for now, know that whole sources of soy such as edamame, tempeh, and tofu can all be part of a balanced and health promoting diet.

That said, I always recommend purchasing organic soy products. I try not to be too much of a stickler about organics, because I don't want a plant-based diet to seem cost prohibitive. Soy, however, is a bit different, and to ensure you are getting a healthy, non-genetically modified product, organic is the way to go.

This tofu scramble is perfect for lazy weekend mornings or as a power dinner after a hard workout. But there are a few tricks to getting this just right.



Tofu Scramble:
Serves 2-3

½ block of organic tofu – drained and broken into small pieces
½ cup of quick cooking or old-fashioned oats (gluten free if desired)
4 – 5 stems of kale or spinach or any dark green
1 handful of fresh cilantro -chopped (optional)
½ avocado – cubed (optional)
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp Indian black salt* (aka kala namak)
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Black pepper to taste

Roughly 2 cups of your favorite sautéed veggies: (try)
Broccoli
Bell pepper
Carrots
Mushrooms
Onion

* Black Salt is actually pink and is often found in Indian dishes. This is one of the secrets for the scramble, as the salt has a sulphur odor and taste that helps replicate the smell and taste of eggs. It will be found in almost any Indian market as well as online.



First, you need to make sure you drain the tofu well. You can easily do this with any number of tofu presses available for purchase. However, as a person who has been criticized for owning one too many kitchen gadgets, I’ve resisted making such a purchase. Instead I place the tofu on one plate and then place another plate (or two) on top of the tofu. I normally leave the tofu with the plates stacked on top of it for at least 30 minutes. This will help ensure you get all of the water out of the tofu. If you skip this step, your scramble will be watery.

While the tofu is being pressed, start chopping all of your chosen veggies. As I mentioned above you can make an endless amount of different combinations.

Once the tofu is done, use a fork to break it up into a mixing bowl. Add the spices and oats and mix well. Depending on the type of veggies I use, I normally add them to the bowl once the tofu and oats are well combined. If using the veggies above, consider keeping the greens as well as the onion and carrot to the side for now.

Now heat a pan and add the tofu and the veggies (consider adding the onion and carrot first to let them soften). Keep the greens, cilantro and avocado to the side for now. Stir the scramble frequently to prevent it from burning.

As the spice mix starts to cook into the tofu, the tofu will begin to turn a bright yellow color. Once this happens you can add the greens and cook until the greens begin to soften.


Serve and top with fresh cilantro and avocado and a piece of toasted Lentil Bread.  If you like, add hot sauce.



As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Broken Hearts Club

This is a more personal post than I normally like to share, but since February is national heart month, and I believe this post has an important and relevant message.

At the beginning of the month, I shared an amazing post from Dr. Ostfeld about how a heart disease patient changed his diet, and not only prolonged, but truly saved his life without any surgical interventions. Unfortunately, the story I’m about to share is it’s polar opposite, and happens far too often and to far too many families every single day in western countries.


While visiting Buenos Aires at the end of January, I received a message that a family friend had a second heart attack, and was in the hospital. I didn’t realize how serious it was at the time, however, I would arrive back in New York just in time for his wake and funeral. To say the least, it’s been a very sad and tiring time for my family.

Part of what makes this so incredibly sad, is because I believe his death was avoidable. Throughout my entire life, he ate an incredibly rich diet full of meats, dairy, and processed foods. He was always overweight and when I was young, he became the first person I knew to be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. This didn’t change him in the least.

Than less than a year ago, he had his first heart attack, and an emergency triple bypass surgery. At the time, it seemed like he wasn’t going to make it. Yet, even to the astonishment of his doctors, he made what seemed like a full recovery. He was given a second chance; however, he didn’t seem to understand how serious his situation was. He refused to follow the doctor’s instructions to eat less saturated fat and cholesterol, and continued his sedentary way of life.

I even approached him and offered to talk with him and his wife about the impact that diet could have on his health. Unfortunately, he declined.

And now, he is gone. His wife, children, and grandchildren are now forced to cope with the results of his decisions.

While even Dr. Ostfeld writes that his story was one of the most remarkable transformations he’s ever heard of, there is a growing amount of evidence that shows that heart disease – America’s number one killer - is not only avoidable, but can also be reversed with a proper, plant-based diet.


Back in 1995, Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn, M.D. of the Cleveland Clinic published his bench mark long-term nutritional research on arresting and reversing coronary artery disease in severely ill patients. He then published a 12 year update in the Journal of American Cardiology, and then a 20 year update in his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease. So what were these findings?

Starting in 1985, he took 24 severely ill heart disease patients and placed them on a very strict plant-based diet. He had a simple hypothesis; a low-fat plant-based diet could arrest heart disease (fat was kept to 10% of total calories). He came to this theory when he realized that coronary disease was essentially nonexistent in cultures whose nutrition assured a total cholesterol level of 150mg/dl or lower. Vegetables, berries and whole grains were able to be eaten without limit, fruits and juices were limited to a few severing’s per day. Fatty nuts and avocado were even more limited to a few times a week if at all. Oil, meat, and dairy of all kinds were completely off the menu. Two tablespoons of ground flax seeds daily was recommend for omega 3.

Between these 24 patients, they had 49 coronary events in the 8 years before the study. Out of those 24 patients who initially signed up for Dr. Esselstyn’s study, 6 were nonadherent and were returned to normal cardiac care. At a 10 year followup, those 6 patients who did not adhere to the diet had 13 new cardiac events.

The remaining 18 adhered to the diet. After 5 years, not a single patient had a repeat cardiac event and 11 of those 18 patients agreed to a second angiographic analysis which demonstrated that the heart disease was arrested in all 11 (100%). Further, in 8 of his 11 patients (or 73%), the disease had regressed. Angina initially reported in 9 patients was eliminated in 2 and improved in the remaining 7.

Evidence of reversing heart disease.

Similar results were reported in the 12 year follow up.

For comparison, in another study published in 2000, Richard M. Fleming, M.D. took 26 patients and placed them all on a healthy high carb vegetarian diet. Dr. Fleming planned on using a new technology known as a SPECT scan which enabled him to actually measure the blood flow within the coronary arteries.

His plan was to measure the before and after effects of diet. However after one year, Dr. Fleming discovered that ten of his patients decided against the vegetarian diet in favor for a high protein, low carb diet, which they believed would improve overall health. This gave Dr. Fleming the unique opportunity to compare the two diets on coronary health.


At the end of the year, those who stuck to the healthy vegetarian diet all showed a reversal of their partially clogged arteries – showing an average of 20% less atherosclerotic plaque in their arteries. Those who jumped ship to the low carb high protein diet significantly worsened, as the SPECT scans showed an increase of nearly 40% more artery clogging.



If you look at the provided scans, you can clearly see this. The yellow and red represent blood flow. On the top, you see the increased blood flow of a person following the vegetarian diet. On the bottom, you see the decreased blood flow of a person who switched to a high protein diet. While even Dr. Fleming admits more of this type of research is needed, it is suggestive, especially when taken in measure with Dr. Esselstyn.

If any drug had even come close to this type of result, it would be publicized everywhere. Instead, this life saving message has largely been ignored. One large criticism has resounded time and again, “Yes, these are excellent results, but the trial groups are far too small.”


So in 2014, Dr. Esselstyn responded with yet another new study. This time he followed 198 patients and 177 individuals were compliant with the diet (89%). Of this compliant group, only one individual suffered a cardiac event. That is a recurrence rate of .6% which represents the absolute lowest recurrence rate of any study on heart disease.

Out of the 21 individuals in the noncompliant group, 13 of them suffered adverse cardiac events. That is a rate of 62%. They were following standard cardiology care and medical interventions which included pills and various procedures. For those of you who like math that is a ratio of .6% to 62% meaning that Dr. Esselstyn’s work is 100 times more effective than that of the standard care given to most heart patients. 

These results are important because heart disease kills over 300,000 people annually and over 700,000 people suffer a heart attack every single year. Yet, as the results of these studies suggest, this needn’t be the case.

Please help me share this message. As Dr. Esselstyn says, “If the truth be known coronary artery disease is a toothless paper tiger that need never ever exist and if it does exist it need never ever progress.




Dr. Esselstyne and Dr. Fleming aren't the only ones getting these results with diet and lifestyle changes. Dr. Ornish, Dr. McDougall and Dr. Ostfeld among others are all doctors who have created programs that have proven to arrest and reverse heart disease. In fact, just this week, Dr. Ostfeld and his colleagues at Montefiore Cardiac Wellness Program published a study that showed a patient completely reversed their angina simply by adopting a plant based diet.

For more on Dr. Esselstyn, watch the excellent documentary Forks Over Knives or get his book, Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease.

***
Esselstyn, Caldwell B. “Updating a 12 -Year Experience With Arrest and Reversal Therapy for Coronary Heart Disease (An Overdue Requiem for Palliative Cardiology)” The American Journal of Cardiology, August 1999, 334-39.

            “A Strategy to Arrest and Reverse Cornonary Artery Disease: A 5- Year Longitudinal Study of a Single Physician’s Practice.” The Journal of Family Practice Vol. 41 No. 6 December 1995 560-68.

            “A Way to Prevent CAD?,” The Journal of Family Practice. Vol. 63, No. 7 July 2014 257.

            “The Nutritional Reversal of Cardiovascular Disease – Fact or Fiction?” Experimental and Clinical Cardiology. Vol. 20, No. 7, July 2014 1901.

            Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease: The Revolutionary Scientifically Proven, Nutrition-Based Cure. Avery Publishers, New York, 2008.

Fleming, R. M. “The Effect of High-Protein Diets on Coronary Blood Flow.”
Angiology Vol. 51 2000 1075-1083.


Ostfeld, Robert et. al. “A Whole-Food Plant-Based Diet Reversed Angina without Medications or Procedures,” Case Reports in Cardiology Vol. 2015, 2015.

As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Patient Googles His Way Out of Bypass Surgery*

By Robert Ostfeld, MD, MSc



One of the most common operations performed in the world today is coronary artery bypass graft surgery (CABG). I would like to share with you the remarkable story of a recent Cardiac Wellness Program patient here at Montefiore Medical Center (I’ll call him Mr. J), who changed his diet and averted the CABG knife.

Mr. J is a middle-aged man with high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease. Understandably, he desperately wanted to avoid the problems that many in his family had faced, so he ate a “healthy” diet of chicken, fish, and low-fat dairy, with a few fruits and vegetables mixed in. And he exercised. A lot. In fact, he loved exercising so much that he would do it for two to three hours a day — brisk walking, playing sports, etc.

Mr. J. first visited a cardiologist at age 55, after having experienced several weeks of tightness in his neck during physical activity. The condition had worsened to the point that only 30 to 45 seconds of exercise brought on significant discomfort. The doctor ordered a stress test, to see if heart disease could be contributing to this symptom. The test results were so wildly abnormal that he was sent immediately to the hospital for a cardiac catheterization, to look for cholesterol blockages in the vessels that supply his heart with blood. Such severe blockages were found that he was admitted directly to the hospital for coronary artery bypass graft surgery. In less than one day, his life had changed dramatically.

While lying nervously in his hospital bed, he began to think that maybe there was another way to approach this disease, so he went online. There, he read about the impact of a whole-food, plant-based diet on heart disease, and he decided that was the path for him. He called the nurse, gave back his hospital gown, and despite the pleas of his medical team, signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice. Mr. J’s nurse was so concerned that before he was able to leave, she called his wife to have her convince him to stay. He did not. Later, the nurse even called Mr. J at home to plead for his return. He politely declined.

Soon thereafter he found our Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore. He was already taking all the appropriate medications, and he chose to completely change his lifestyle as well. He fully embraced a whole-food, plant-based diet without oil and had perhaps the most remarkable turnaround I have ever seen. Within one week, he went from being able to walk only a block before feeling tightness in his neck to walking 25 blocks without incident! Fast-forward three months and he was back to exercising two to three hours each day without symptoms. That is what I call remarkable!

A few weeks later, Mr. J got another call from his nurse. She had just been diagnosed with cholesterol blockages in her heart, and her doctors were recommending cardiac procedures. With Mr. J in mind, she told her doctors no way and called him to learn how to do exactly what he did: embrace a whole-food, plant-based diet!

Mr. J never did get that bypass surgery, nor did he get a coronary stent. In fact, he did not need to have any procedures at all. He got healthier with appropriate medications and by wholeheartedly embracing a whole-food, plant-based diet.

The key to health, it seems, lies at the end of your fork.

* * *

*Postscript: While many heart patients may reverse their disease with lifestyle change alone, Mr. J also continued his prescribed medications, given the severity of his condition, and their doses were lowered as his health improved. Please note that I am not recommending lifestyle change over medical intervention for any particular person, as every case is of course different. Some cases are fraught with more risk than others, so please consult with both your physician and a physician trained in lifestyle medicine before making significant lifestyle changes.

This post was originally published on the Forks Over Knives blog, here.

* * *

Cardiologist Robert Ostfeld, MD, MSc is the founder and director of the Cardiac Wellness Program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, where he encourages patients to embrace a whole-foods, plant-based diet. He earned his MD at Yale and his MSc in epidemiology at Harvard, and he is an associate professor of clinical medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.



As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Dietary Guidelines and Food Politics

Warning. This post is political. While it is very different from previous posts, and may seem like I’m abandoning the mission of hosting a plant-based nutrition website. However, as Mark Bittman makes clear, to write or blog about food, is inherently a political act. Therefore I hope you’ll forgive me for such transgressions and continue reading.

2104 was a big year for food politics if you paid attention. Multiple battles over GMO labeling laws brought new urgency and illumination to the issue – although most of those battles didn’t go quiet as well as one would hope! There was a ban against growing GMOs in Maui, soda taxes gained headlines and were passed overwhelmingly in Berkeley, gestation crates turned critical eyes toward New Jersey, and food writer Michael Pollan made a public statement in support for a national food policy!



However there are still many battles to fight – and many of them in the not-to-far-off future.

As some of you may know, the Federal Dietary Food Guidelines are currently under review. These guidelines are reviewed every five years, and have taken form in the past as the Food Pyramid and more recently MyPlate. 



When the panel of experts on nutrition and health announced that they were considering taking the environmental toll of food production into consideration for the new guidelines, there was outrage by certain food industries.

No, Big Broccoli didn’t throw a fit! But organizations like the American Meat Institute (AMI), National Beef Association, and the International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) among others, have issued statements basically arguing that the expert nutritionists selected to participate in the panel do not have the expertise required to take environmental questions into consideration. Borrowing from the NRA’s playbook, these lobbyist groups announced that they plan to grade Congresspeople on their votes regarding food issues.

This matters because, unfortunately, it roughly costs each of those members of Congress $7 million dollars to run a campaign and win office. While the $100 or so I donate to progressive candidates every election cycle makes me feel good, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the money spent by businesses and trade groups. According to David Robinson Simon, animal food industry spends more than $100 million paying lobbyists every year! This is a sad but important lesson in American Democracy.

In one study, members of the House of Representatives who received money from the dairy industry were almost twice as likely to vote for dairy price supports as those who received no money from them. While it is illegal to “buy” votes, it is completely legal to vote for a bill your constituents donors want. Furthermore, when a Congressperson votes against their donor’s wishes, those donors often abandon the lawmaker in their next campaign. Money, as they say, talks.

How does all of this relate back to the Dietary Guidelines? Well shortly after the new Republican controlled Congress took session, they did the unthinkable… They passed a bill! Feeling pressure from groups like AMI and IDFA, lawmakers from both parties came together and attached a list of "congressional directives" to a massive spending bill that was passed by both the House and the Senate. One of those directives expresses "concern" that the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee "is showing an interest in incorporating agriculture production practices and environmental factors" into their recommendations. The Congressional directives then issued a statement telling the Obama administration to ignore such factors in the next revision of the guidelines.

The question, then, remains, why are these industries so insistent that environmental factors be excluded from the Dietary Guidelines?



It’s because animal foods have a huge carbon footprint. While the numbers vary, it has been estimated that between 14 – 40% of total carbon emissions is attributable to the livestock industry. The 2006 United Nations report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, claimed that animal agriculture makes up 18% of all greenhouse gases. Even this comparably conservative estimate accounts for more than all modes of transportation combined. That’s right. The volume of emissions created by the production of animal foods is greater than those created by operating cars, trucks, buses, airplanes, and ships!

As such, any inclusion of emissions would force the new dietary guidelines to recommend a decrease in the consumption of animal products. As NYU professor Marion Nestle explains, while it is clear that Americans could benefit greatly by reducing animal and highly-processed food products in favor of more fresh fruits and vegetables, in the past, Animal lobbyist have been able to argue over language in the past, rather than saying eat less meat, eat “lean meat.” These types of arguments and compromises have a long history. Going back to the George McGovern report of 1977 – the very first Dietary Guidelines – declared that “most all of the health problems underlying the leading causes of death in the United States could be modified by improvements in diet.” The report blamed the increase in consumption of rich animal foods increasing saturated fat and an increase in added sugars.  It also specifically recommended decreasing meat consumption as the best way to decrease saturated fat intake.

As one of the authors of that original report later accounted, the meat, milk, egg, salt, and sugar producers were all very upset. The National Dairy Industry actually suggested that the food industry should be involved in creating the guidelines.

When the final report finally came out, almost all of this language had been removed. Specifically, the recommendation to decrease meat consumption was altered to read, “choose meats, poultry and fish which will reduce saturated fat intake.” Do you see what happened there? The recommendation went from a negative, “consume less” to a positive “choose meat…”

Even this wasn’t enough. In the end, the nutrition committee was disbanded and folded into the functions of the Agriculture Committee – the committee that is responsible for protecting producers rather than consumers. 

However, much of Big Agricultures power over the Guidelines will diminish if the committee begins considering the environmental footprint of the food. As Miriam Nelson, a Tufts University professor, and member of the panel, told the rest of the committee, "in general, a dietary pattern that is higher in plant-based foods and lower in animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with less environmental impact."

Now, perhaps you are thinking, “big deal, I ignored the food pyramid, I’ve ignored My Plate, and I’m going to ignore the next set of regulations too.” Well, you’re probably not alone. Most Americans don’t pay much attention to the Federal Dietary Guidelines; however, these guidelines do play a large role in helping to decide which industries are subsidized, and perhaps more importantly, they serve as the guiding principle for federal feeding programs, including school lunches, foods legible for purchase with food stamps, and federal prisons. Such an update to the guidelines could mean that thousands if not millions of Americans would consume less animal products.

Unfortunately, it seems that this fight has already been lost. After a draft was released earlier this month, which included the recommendation to consume less meat, the USDA bent to the pressure of Congress and their masters, and have declared that the environmental impact of food will not be considered when creating the new guidelines.

These types of issues are vital to improving the health of our nation. Being healthy involves knowing what is in your food, where it comes from, and how it is made. These should be rights – not privileges. We must continue to demand that politicians are being held accountable to us, the people, rather than to Corporations. As Lincoln famously once said, " Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it."


 Further Reading:

Brendan Brazier, Thrive Foods Da Capo Press, 2011.

Dan Charles, “Congress to Nutritionists: Don’t Talk About the Environment.” NPR December 15, 2014.  

David Robinson Simon, Meatonomics Conari Press, 2013.

Richard Oppenlander, Comfrotably Unaware: Global Depleation and Food Responsibility Langdon St. Press, 2011.

Richard Oppenlander, Food Choice and Sustainablity, Langdon St. Press, 2012.

Roberto A. Ferdman, “The Meat Industry’s Worst Nightmare Might Soon Become a Realtiy.” Washington Post January 7, 2015.

T. Colin Campbell, Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition BenBella Books, 2013.

United Nations. Livestock's Long Shadow FAO Rome, 2006.

United States. Congress. Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs. “Dietary Goals for the United States” Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office. 1977.


As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Resolutions, and New Ways to make them stick

Last month, friend and BYOL contributor, Sid Garza-Hillman, laid down some excellent advice on how to approach the holiday season. Since it’s now January 1, I want to build on his post with some thoughts about how to create realistic New Year’s goals and what is needed to stick to them.


First, I’d like to point out that New Year’s resolutions are completely arbitrary. If there is something you’d like to achieve, don’t wait - just start. Start today. It’s the most powerful first step you can take.

That said, I would argue that most New Year resolutions are set with little thought or planning about how to achieve them, and then, they are abandoned even more quickly then it took to set them. Just take a quick look in the window of any gym in January, and then again at the end of February to see what I mean.


It seems to me, there are two main problems at play here.

First, many people don’t know how to set realistic goals. While goals like, “I’m going to eat better,” or “I’m going to go to the gym more,” sound great, in reality, they’re not actually goals, but rather, they’re ideals. Ideals are statements which are too vague, and leave a person without a clear action plan towards actually achieving their desired end. An ideal can be a great end place for where you will be if you achieve your actual goals, but first we need to find and set those concrete standards. Naturally, before setting any goal, we should first reflect on what we really want to achieve. Then create simple steps that can help you walk your way to success.

If you really want to “eat better” think about ways you can do this. Perhaps your first step should be as simple as committing yourself to eating one serving (or one extra serving) of fruit/vegetables every single day for one month. The point is, you first need a realistic understanding of where you currently are, and then you need to find a way to actively work on achieving your goal (of eating better). For most people, going from zero to ten isn’t achievable, so be realistic. You need to be able to walk a mile before you can run a marathon.

The second issue is one of willpower. We often assume that to achieve our goal (especially goals where one resolves to be healthier and fitter) we need a certain amount of willpower. One needs to exercise their willpower to drag themselves out of bed and force themselves to the gym. Then we call upon that same strength when challenged later in the day with decisions about which foods to eat.

Part of the problem is, that every decision we make uses some of our brain’s energy. After a long day, many of us experience a mental fatigue where our willpower has essentially been exhausted. As a result, we begin to react more impulsively. At this point, you are far more likely to abandon your once quixotic resolutions. This is why at the end of a long day, a person is far more likely to skip their workout or binge eat on unhealthy foods.

As an example, one study took two groups of children. The first group spent one hour having fun and playing outside. The second group spent the hour performing challenging math problems. Then each group was placed in a room containing a table with a plate of cookies on it. The children were told the cookies were not for them, and were promised a reward if they didn't touch the plate. I’m guessing you know where this is going. The group that was more relaxed had less trouble resisting the tasty, tempting treats.

Your willpower works the same way.

When we exhaust our mental reserves, we lose our ability to resist temptation, even when we know we would be happier if we did. If, or more accurately, when we fail, we often self-flagellate, and then make excuses about our inability to achieve our goals. This often leaves us feeling even worse than before we even set the goal.

Instead of following this all-to-common path of abandoning your resolutions, try these two simple steps for maintaining your willpower.

Similar to the muscles of athletes, stress and mental taxation (ie: decision making) burn glucose. Mental fog is the result of depleting your brain’s glucose stores. Often, when this happens, the brain begins to crave sugary treats. Just as athletes need to take in fuel to continue exercising, having a healthy snack - like a banana, or an apple - can help replace the needed sugars your brain is craving. Before caving in and having a piece of cake that you might later regret (which will only increase your stress and further reduce your willpower), try eating something healthy first. It might be exactly what you need.

Another great strategy for helping to clear your brain and resetting your willpower is to take a short timeout when feeling overwhelmed or even just fatigued. While exercising itself can tax your willpower and be a cause of stress, by taking a few minutes to get up and walk around your home or office (or better yet getting out and walking around the block) can help you reset some of your mental prowess. It doesn't have to be high intensity, but you should aim to raise your heart rate, at least slightly.

By combining these couple of tips, you can set yourself up for a far more successful 2015! But remember, even when you stumble, the important thing is to learn from those occasions, not to be too hard or critical of yourself, and to keep going forward with new resolve.

Here is to a wonderful 2015.

***  
Also, I’d like to add that BYOL Nutrition & Wellness Counseling is now open. There is a 10% off deal on all programs for the month of January. Visit here or contact me at Anthony@bringyourownlentils.com for more information.


As always the information presented in this blog is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered as specific medical, nutritional, lifestyle, or other health-related advice.