Love Your Guts!

Intestino

The health of your intestines effects, not only how you digest and absorb foods and nutrients, but also contributes to the health of your body and how your brain functions.

We still do not fully understand all the different links between our gut and the rest of our body, but we have enough research that links our gut health to the health of our body and risk for diseases.

Our goal should be to reduce inflammation and increase good bacteria in the large intestine.

How do you do this?  There are multiple factors that contribute to gut health.

  1. Stress.  Some individuals have intestines that are more sensitive to stress than others.  I am one of those individuals.  The combination of certain foods and a stressful situation can result in irritable bowels.  Why does this happen?  Stress slows down the digestion of food and as a result may cause abdominal pain and discomfort.    Practicing stress management, taking time for you (doing non-food related activities) and using different types of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Relaxation Therapy, or Hypnosis can all be beneficial.
  2. Be physical active!  Activity is important and helpful for the movement of the intestines.  The key is to be active regularly and throughout the day.  If you have a sedentary job, try to stand every 20-30 minutes and move around.  Optimally, walk around for 2-5 minutes.  It is better to move and be active throughout the day than to have a 30 minute workout in the morning and then sitting all day long.  Walking is one of the simplest and easiest forms of exercise as it can be done any time and does not require any special equipment except a good pair of shoes.IMG_2936
  3. Eat Fiber!  It is reported that Americans consume less than half of the recommended amount of fiber per day.  Fiber is found in all our plant foods including vegetables, fruits, beans, lentils, nuts, legumes, and whole grains*.*(check with your doctor before eliminating wheat/barley/rye as often it is not an issue with gluten but may be FODMAPS or other factors; some people may be gluten sensitive/gluten intolerant – but these do not cause damage to the intestines. Individuals with celiac disease must eliminate gluten completely – the body cannot handle it and as a result the body attacks the small intestine wall and destroys the villi which how nutrients are absorbed.)* Research on non-gluten diets for weight loss in those who do not need to eliminate gluten has been shown to not be effective.
  4. Eat whole foods.  Make the majority of your diet whole foods, foods that have little to no processing.   Limit and reduce packaged/processed foods and drinks. Prepare foods at home vs. eating out.mix of foods
  5. Include Resistant Starch in your diet.  If you are eating a variety of whole foods, than you are likely already getting resistant starch in your diet.  Resistant starch is found in grains, seeds, legumes, cashews, raw oats, green (unripe) bananas, raw potato starch, cooked & cooled (retrogradation) potatoes, pastas and rice.   Resistant starches are not digested in the small intestine, passing into the large intestine similar to soluble fermentable fibers. It feeds the good bacteria which then produces short chain fatty acids, specifically butyrate which fuels the cells that line the large intestine to maintain a strong intestine wall.
  6. Probiotics and Prebiotics.  -Probiotics are good bacteria in foods or added to foods (yogurts, kefir, milk, cheeses).  They work to inhibit the growth of bad bacteria, antigens, toxins and carcinogens.-Prebiotics are non-digestible foods that promote the growth of good bacteria in the large intestine found naturally in raw garlic, raw leeks, raw dandelion greens, raw onions, cooked onions, raw asparagus, raw wheat bran, baked wheat flour, raw banana.

Foods to limit and avoid

The following are foods that are known to destroy good gut bacteria and increase bad gut bacteria.  A greater prevalence of bad bacteria has been linked to a number of diseases (heart disease, diabetes, obesity, etc).

  1. Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS).  Limited research (mostly done on saccharin), but so far it does not look good. Research shows that it alters the gut bacteria in just 5-7 days. They have observed that gut bacteria is negatively different in those individuals who consume NNS.
  2. Added sugars.  Foods with added sugars, sweetened beverages, (including any NNS beverages), processed packaged foods.
  3. Fried Foods
  4. Long term antibiotic use – destroys the good bacteria – which can lead to weight gain as a result of higher rates of digestion.

To improve the health of your intestines, use a combination of all six factors discussed above.

We have been fermenting our own kefir.  It requires daily processing, but can be done very quickly.

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Kefir fermenting

One of our favorite ways to use the kefir is to make overnight oats.  I use Coach’s Oats, fresh strawberries and kefir.  To me the strawberries are the perfect fruit to help mask the tartness of the kefir.

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Preparing overnight kefir oats with Coach’s Oats, Strawberries and kefir

Our kids love to have kefir in smoothies.  You can put anything you want in the smoothie.  Our favorite combinations have been banana berries or tropical using mangos, banana and pineapple.  Throw in some ice and it makes a nice frothy, thick smoothie!

 

 

References and Resources

  1. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) outright.org
  2. https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-the-food-you-eat-affects-your-gut-shilpa-ravella
  3. http://fodmapfriendly.com/what-are-fodmaps
  4. http://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/prebiotics-and-probiotics-the-dynamic-duo
  5. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-kefir
  6. http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/stress-and-the-sensitive-gut

Are you “the worlds best backwards driver”?

45209180001One of my favorite films is Disney’s Cars. Mater is tow-truck character in the film and self proclaimed “world’s best backwards driver”. Though I love Mater, and that is a lofty goal to shoot for as an automobile, it’s not a great way for humans to live life. How much time have you spent driving backwards, making sure you get away from what you don’t want? The more we focus on what we don’t want the less attention gets paid to what’s important to us. Additionally, what we do want is not always directly opposite of what we don’t want.

Building a meaningful, purposeful life means facing your life, the good, bad, and ugly, with compassion and openness. One way we can try to be more like Mater is to cherish and accept our imperfections. Dents, scratches, and rust come with experience, adventures, and time. Rather than try to pick and choose the parts we want to delete, cherish the meaning behind those experiences and focus and act on what you want and value. That pursuit will bring meaning and purpose. As you live your valued life you will realize that joy, happiness, and peace are all coins with another side to them. Pain, sorrow, and worry are part of a package deal. You can’t know sweet without bitter. I want you to have it all! After all it is your life. They are your emotions, thoughts, ideas, urges; all yours. Why not have them? If you have them, then they don’t have you. You are not a clunker that needs cleaning or fixing. You are a whole person. You are not broken.

Have you struggled with your emotions? Are you ready to drop the struggle? Having anger or depression or anxiety or stress does not mean you are broken. You don’t need to be fixed.

Are you stuck in the trap that says you need to change your thoughts and emotions before you can live your life?

What if there is a way to release the hold these thoughts and feelings have on you? I am not talking about teaching you ‘more, different, or better’ ways to manage or get rid of symptoms. You’ve lost enough of your time, effort, resources…LIFE trying to manage and suppress thoughts and feelings. You can build a life of meaning and purpose and value even with your painful or tough thoughts and emotions.

By realizing that thoughts and emotions are just part of you and they don’t define or control you, you free yourself up to act on your life and values. So go out and begin living the life you want to live. Don’t drive through life using rear-view mirrors. Update your education, start exercising (again), volunteer at your kids’ school or for a youth sports league, spend more time with family or friends, read that book you have been eyeing. Turn your life toward what you want to be and do. Take those uncomfortable thoughts and feelings along for the ride. Welcome them along on your new journey.

Chris Clark

Wellness Associates

Can certain words have an impact on how you feel about food?

How we think about our food impacts our food choices and how we eat.

11 Sep 2007, Garnerville, New York, USA --- Assortment of High Fiber Foods --- Image by © Envision/Corbis

In the article, Five words you should stop using when you talk about food, the author highlights the reasons to eliminate the words detox, cleanse, skinny, never and perfect from our vocabulary when talking about food.  A few other words we hear frequently that could be added to the elimination list include “clean” and “cheat”.
Clean in itself is not a negative word, but the way it is used in association with food creates an opposition in our minds, implying that some foods are “dirty.” Initially, trying to eat more “clean” may be a very positive step for some individuals, as usually processed foods are eliminated first.  For some individuals, this view of food can lead to extreme thinking resulting in the elimination of what is consider healthy and nutritious foods. Over time, they justify why a food is no longer “clean” or “pure” (some refer to this extreme way of eating as orthorexia) and eliminate even more foods from their diet until they only consider a handful of foods acceptable to consume.

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“Cheat” on the other hand, is a negative word and implies we are doing something wrong or something we should not. Many individuals will eat “clean” all week and then allow a “cheat” day where they can eat those foods they do not consider “clean” or they view it as a free day to eat whatever they want that day. This mindset contributes to unhealthy eating behaviors. On “cheat” day many individuals tend to over-consume or over-indulge in what is considered the not-so-healthy food choices.  This approach is similar to restrictive dieting, where individuals eliminate foods they enjoy because it is not “allowed” on their diet.  The funny thing about restricting foods from our diet, is it creates a desire to want it more.  As a result, when individuals get to the point where they just can’t deny their favorite food/treat any longer, they typically over-consume that food.  This can lead to a cycle of negative feelings, such as shame, failure, and unhappiness followed by compensating with additional unhealthy behaviors including more over-eating (some would call this emotional eating) and/or trying to compensate by exercising.  mix of foods

How can you have a positive relationship with food?  The first step is to eliminate negative words you associate with foods. Second, focus on consuming a balance of different foods which include, vegetables, lean meats/proteins, fruits, whole grains, healthy fats and low fat dairy.  Each food group provides the body with important nutrients the body requires.  If you eliminate a whole food group – you will likely be eliminating important and required nutrients your body needs.  Third, it is okay to have treats or the not-so-healthy foods on occasion.  We like the 90/10 guideline which means try to make 90% of what you eat each day as nutritious as you can allowing yourself 10% of what you eat to be from not-so-nutritious foods.  When you plan in the treats and less nutritious foods, then there is no association of guilt or shame from consuming them.

The research supports this idea of eating healthy the majority of the time and planning in small treats in moderation.  Why does this work?  If you plan in your treats (dining out on occasion, going to a party, etc) then you eliminate the negative feelings that come when you eat something that you have decided is restricted from your diet.  Eliminate the restrictions and focus on a balance of whole foods with your favorite treats in moderation and you will find yourself happier and more satisfied with eating.

If you are struggling or have a negative relationship with food, let us help you think of food in a positive way in order to develop a positive relationship with eating.

Kristine Clark

Wellness Associates

Supporting article written by some professional colleagues: “Why Treats should be Part of any Healthy Diet”

Make Stress Your Friend

In the past few years I’ve had to rethink my view of stress. Based on solid research from University of Wisconsin – Madison, there is evidence that stress may not be as bad for us as believing stress is bad for us. In fact, as many as 43% more people died when they believed stress was bad for them even when their stressors were less intense than their stress-friendly peers. That’s right, believing stress will kill you, can kill you!
This weekend I had a big reminder that I am not alone in this world. Thankfully, there was no emergency that necessitated this reminder. I simply needed help doing something I could not do myself. My wife and I asked for help and help was given. Some helpers I had never met. So what does this have to do with stress?
The stress of preparing my part for this project focused my mind, prioritized my behaviors, and increased my awareness of what needed to happen and how we could do it safely. In other words, stress was my friend. I also had a sense that the stress I was feeling had a purpose and was related to something important to me, my children’s happiness. Health Psychologist Kelly McGonigal in her TED Talk “How To Make Stress Your Friend”  presents the research and reasoning for why stress is not our enemy.
In my stressful weekend project I was reminded that social support in the face of stress is a protective factor. Having close relationships and feeling that you can rely on others brings about biological changes that protect us against stress. One such change is the release of oxytocin. This hormone is also known as the cuddle drug. Oxytocin helps us to feel calm, connected, and courageous. Oxytocin also has a cool side effect of protecting your heart by binding to special receptors in heart cells. This effect blocks the negative side effects of stress hormones. Oxytocin is released during pleasant social interactions. For example, hugging for 20 second or longer may stimulate the release of oxytocin. It is also released in higher doses during sexual activity.
So how do we make stress our friend beyond seeking out social support and loving relationships? Embracing stress and the events that stress us out will help. For example, recognizing that the increased heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure prepare your body and mind to meet the demands of the stressful challenge. Breathing rate increases oxygen intake. Increased heart rate moves that oxygenated blood to meet the energy needs of the body. Increased blood pressure directs that blood flow to specific areas. So smile when you feel the stress coming on and know that your body is preparing for action, and seek out help from others.
For more information on how stress is good for your body and mind check out this article, “7 ways stress does your mind and body good”.
For more strategies on how to make stress your friend contact Chris Clark Wellness Associates at 307-630-3466 or find us at http://www.WAcounseling.com.

Reference:
Keller, A., Litzelman, K., Wisk, L. E., Maddox, T., Cheng, E. R., Creswell, P. D., & Witt, W. P. (2012). Does the Perception that Stress Affects Health Matter? The Association with Health and Mortality. Health Psychology : Official Journal of the Division of Health Psychology, American Psychological Association, 31(5), 677–684. doi:10.1037/a0026743

Psychological Flexibility

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Wellness Associates is all about improving performance and quality of life. We all know that physical and mental health impact each other. Today I’d like to take a concept most are familiar with in the physical sense and relate it to the emotional and psychological. Flexibility is the ability to move joints and limbs through a full or functional range of motion. Without flexibility the strength your body has is limited. I’m sure at some point you’ve dealt with an injury or the stiffness and temporary inflexibility that comes with over-exertion at the gym or a hard day’s work. Regardless of the reason for our inflexibility it restricts our behavior and movement.

In life sometimes we become mentally inflexible. We get stuck thinking things ‘must’ be a certain way or that ‘I have to’ do this or that. These statements of absolutes (like must, have to, can’t, won’t) are often a clue that we are thinking inflexibly. Inflexibility often leads to a need for control.  Now this is not necessarily a bad thing, sometimes we need to be stubborn, but it can lead to problems if we believe or cling to these inflexible ways of thinking when not helpful. Sometimes our inflexibility is behavioral. For example, sometimes we may think we need to do somethings in a certain order. Some routine is good, but when the routine turns into a ritual then it can be problematic. Perhaps we rely on behaviors like drinking (alcohol) or eating or using substances to control our internal states of emotion or thoughts.

Psychological flexibility is all about doing what works and doing what is important to you in the situation. Sometimes we get stuck in a pattern of avoidance, inaction or procrastination because the conditions for some behavior or activity are not met the way we had anticipated or hoped. But what if we can open up to a situation, even if it is uncomfortable or sub-optimal. Now I’m not suggesting you to settle for mediocrity. I am suggesting that sometimes we get caught in a trap thinking that we need or want to get rid of fear, anxiety or self-doubt and then we can live the life we want or be happy. This is a trap we set for our self. So how do we get out of this trap?

There are three skills related to mindfulness that play a major role in helping us to act in ways that are more confident, intentional and meaningful. These skills are defusion, willingness, and engagement.

Defusion is the process of separating from thoughts and allowing them to just be, allowing them to come and go without getting hooked by them or doing what they say. Defusion gives us space between our thoughts and actions. Thoughts that may be self-defeating, unhelpful, or painful can be observed, noted, (and here is the different part) left alone. What if we don’t have to change or get rid of them?

Willingness is the second skill. It could also be called acceptance or expansion. Opening up to and making room for difficult and uncomfortable emotions, sensations, and feelings is the essence of willingness. Fear, anxiety and anger tend to bully us around. They bait us into thinking we must either act on them or get rid of them. But what if we can just let them come and go or let them be? What if the negative experiences we have with these emotions come from all the efforts and time we put into trying to change or get rid of these worries, anxieties and fears? What if we can save that energy and those resources we’ve been pouring into trying to stop or change our negative emotions and put them into our passions and values?

Engagement is about knowing what is important to you and acting on those things. Engagement is also about being present and aware of what is happening in the present moment. It allows you to bring a sense of curiosity and special attention to what we are actually experiencing.

These skills allow us to be more fluid and intentional in our behaviors. We can shed the shackles of symptom management and getting rid of unwelcome thoughts and emotions. As we make room for these unwanted events they lose much of their power and we make available more of our resources for pursuing valued action in our lives.

In the physical world, flexibility brings a level of usefulness to any level of strength or endurance. Similarly, the function of psychological flexibility allows greater functionality of mental power, capacity, and usefulness than mere stubbornness or sheer will power.

Practicing these skills of defusion, willingness, and engagement can help you to act with more confidence, enjoy valued activities, and enhance relationships. If you would like more specific information on how to develop these skills or apply them in your life, please contact Chris Clark Wellness Associates at 307-630-3466 or check us out at WAcounseling.com.

Take a “Bite” into Food!

We truly are blessed in so many ways. We are fortunate to have so many choices when it comes to food. Unfortunately, this abundance of food choices has also had a negative affect on our health (plus the contribution of lack of exercise, stress, poor sleep, etc.) I am fully supportive of anyone who is making healthier choices and working to improve their health. I am deeply saddened to see people I know spending money on products that claim more energy, or help with weight loss or any other claims that motivate you to buy their product. We all have the right to choose what we do with our body. However, before you spend the money on a product, I urge you to truly research the product (please do not research the product on the product website as all you will find there are positive reviews for the product). Rather read the ingredients (unfortunately with supplements it may not contain everything in the product or tell you how much of the active ingredient is in the product) and research the ingredients separately on reputable sources such as eatright.org or the NIH, etc. If taking a pill, powder or drink claims that you will lose weight – ask how – what inside the product will do that? How will the product give you energy? Typically, products claiming a boost in energy contain stimulants like caffeine or other similar substances. Is that how you want to get your energy?

Exercise provides numerous positive benefits for our body – but one positive side effect is that it can help you have more energy throughout the day – naturally – without putting any substances in your body. Eating the right foods (whole foods vs. highly processed packaged foods) will also naturally give you energy you seek as it helps the body to operate properly.

It is so easy to get sucked into the claims on supplements and diet products because they sell their product so well. People who sell these products will have a smooth answer that “sounds” right when they tell you, so it is believable. Unfortunately, many of the diet products and supplements are spin offs of past products that have been banned, but they modify the ingredients enough to make it seem like a whole new product. Realize that the people that sell these products do not care if they are safe or effective – they are only in it for the money.

Yes – choosing to eat healthy does require some work and some planning. However, it can be done and it does not have to be expensive. There are ways to eat healthy and do it inexpensively. The first step is you have to decide not to purchase the processed packaged foods that you do not need to eat. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t room for the occasionally treat – but it should be that – a treat – something that you do not have every day or regularly, so when you do have it it is a pure treat.

If you are unsure where to find reputable information – please go first to eatright.org. They discuss a number of different topics on Nutrition, Health, and Fitness. If you would like to speak with someone – then please seek out a Registered Dietitian with current and proper credentials (you can find these individuals in your area on eatright.org).

It is daunting to sift through all the information that is thrown at us in so many media outlets. But it truly comes down to the basics:

  • Focus on making the majority of your diet from whole foods that have minimal processing
  • Be active in some way every day
  • Sleep – most of us need on average 8 hours of quality sleep each night
  • Use healthy stress reducing activities (not food)
  • Partner with a buddy to help you on your journey

Remember, if you are looking to change from where you are now – think about how long it took you to get there. It is unlikely that those changes occurred overnight – so don’t expect them to reverse overnight. Be patient and celebrate the small success along the way in your journey.

Kristine Clark

Wellness Associates