Archive for ‘Education’

August 22, 2010

Baby Steps :: Start Eating Breakfast

by Ashley Solomon

Before we get started, I want to introduce you to a new series that will occur periodically – though not consecutively – on Nourishing the Soul. The series (as you’ve figured out by now, because you can all read) is called “Baby Steps” and it introduces small changes that each of us can make to better nourish our bodies, minds and souls. These are designed to be practical tips that you can incorporate into your life – starting today! (or maybe tomorrow…)

Baby Steps :: Start Eating Breakfast

Just like your day, what better way to kick off this new series than to focus on breakfast! I remember long, long ago when I didn’t consistently eat breakfast – or when breakfast for me consisted of a jaunt to Dunkin’ Donuts drive-thru (and no, I was not just getting their amazing coffee to accompany my homemade flax-seed muffin) – and I would hear those annoying know-it-alls in their sing-song voices say, “You know, breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” …And then I would want to smack these people in the face. Breakfast didn’t seem all that important to me. Is cereal really that appetizing? Besides, I wasn’t even hungry in the morning. How could you possibly eat right after waking up? No, my body needs a few hours to “get going.”

Any of this sound familiar?

It should, because at least 51% of you out there do not regularly eat breakfast, according to the International Food Information Council (2007). Interestingly (at least I find these things interesting), there appear to be significant racial differences, as only 22% of blacks reported eating breakfast every day in a Harvard study. I’m happy to report that I am no longer counted among these statistics. And now I’ll tell you why:

It keeps my weight under control. The Mayo Clinic reports that eating breakfast not only jump starts our metabolism, but it helps reduce overeating later in the day. Breakfast keeps us satiated long enough to make it to mid-day, which prevents us from going bananas at Taco Bell on our lunch hour. Not only that, but skipping breakfast means you’ve fasted for at least twelve to eighteen hours. That’s a long time for our bodies to go without energy – and can result in an increase in our insulin response. Know what happens next? (I’ll tell you.) Our blood sugar drops, our fat storage increases, and we gain weight.

It keeps me on the right track. If I’ve eaten a semi-nutritious breakfast, I notice I’m more likely to continue making healthy choices throughout the day at other meals. Not only do I not feel that burning hunger and end up eating whatever sugary concoction the nurses on my unit have brought in that day (it’s incredible how many sweets are on a hospital unit!), but I have at least one success to draw from in making other food choices.

It helps me focus and concentrate. We always hear about the importance of children eating breakfast for improved school performance, and the same is true for work performance as well. I personally notice a major difference in my ability to focus when I’ve eaten my Wheaties (okay, I don’t really eat Wheaties…). And considering I work with people who expect me to listen carefully to their problems and provide (usually) sensible responses, I think it’s probably important that I can concentrate. Maybe.

It makes me nicer to my husband and coworkers in the morning. Low blood sugar can leave you irritable, depressed, and with a mean headache, and I notice a distinct difference in my mood if I haven’t eaten breakfast soon enough. Just ask my husband if you don’t believe me. In addition, breakfast foods rich in folic acid, B-vitamins, and omega-3s keep our emotional health in check. For more on the mood-food connection, check out this post.

Hopefully if you’re weren’t eating breakfast before, you’re convinced enough to start trying to make it a daily habit. If you’re not yet convinced (or you’re just being difficult), I’ve pulled together some of my favorite blogger breakfast ideas to tempt you into giving the first meal a fair shake.

Weekdays

From Living With a Healthy Hunger :: Banana Oatmeal

From The Front Burner :: Peanut Butter and Jelly Oatmeal (a personal favorite!)

From A Weight Lifted :: Watermelon Smoothie

From Oh She Glows :: Overnight Oats (love them!)

From Oh She Glows :: Grilled Cashew Butter and Blueberry Sandwich

Weekenders

From Carrots ‘N’ Cake :: Almond Butter Stuffed French Toast (Can I get an “Amen”!?)

From Carrots ‘N’ Cake :: Polenta Breakfast Pizza

From Health for the Whole Self :: Asparagus Quiche

From Hangry Pants :: Sour Cream Coffee Cake

From Hangry Pants :: Ricotta and Orange Pancakes

Do you eat breakfast? What are some of your favorite foods to eat in the a.m.?

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August 15, 2010

Beyond the Pro-Ana/Mia Culture

by Ashley Solomon

“At a certain weight, which is different for everyone, you will lose your period. This is a good thing because it means that you’re losing weight.”

“Getting a pedicure is a good way to distract from eating AND to make yourself feel prettier.”


These quotes, heartbreaking on a number of levels, come directly from a website I was just browsing to research this post on Pro-Ana/Mia websites (“ana” is jargon for anorexia nervosa and “mia” for bulimia nervosa). Despite being very familiar with these sites from working in the field, I never cease to be amazed, and horrified, by the information being promoted. Examining these sites, my heart breaks for their authors, for their readers and members, and for the families of those suffering.

If you’re not already familiar with Pro-Ana/Mia websites (which, in most cases, is a very good thing), I’ll offer a brief description. These sites serve as a forum for the advocacy of eating disorders as a lifestyle choice as opposed to a serious and deadly mental illness. While admittedly these sites differ in their philosophy and approach, most offer support not for the individuals who are engaged in eating disordered behaviors, but for the eating disorder itself. They provide eating disorder tips, tricks for hiding the disorder, “thinspiration” (e.g. photographs of very thin celebrities), chat rooms, message boards for posting latest weights, and a multitude of other resources for those who are not ready for recovery. Some even include contests and a subscription for a daily e-mail to remind the user “just how good being thin feels.” (Please note that I am avoiding detailed descriptions or including URLs so as not to promote these sites.)

The Pro-Ana Food Pyramid, as seen on a popular website.

Think that just the very troubled teeny boppers frequent these sites? Think again. A recent survey (Custers & Van den Bulck, 2009) revealed that 12.6% of girls and 5.9% of boys reported having visited these sites at some point. While many young people may visit out of relatively benign curiosity, even a single viewing can be dangerous, according to researchers. In a well-designed experiment, Wilson and Cass (2007) found that participants who viewed a pro-ana website just once developed lowered self-esteem and an increased preoccupation with weight loss. Among those with eating disorders, the rates of reported viewing are expectedly higher. And, once again, their visits can be dangerous. Over 96% of these individuals indicated that they learned new weight loss and purging methods through these sites (Wilson, Peebles, Hardy, & Litt, 2006).

New research, however, indicates that it’s not the latest purging technique that draws visitors to these sites, but rather the allure of social support. Possibly as both a cause of and a result of their disorders, individuals with eating problems tend to feel segregated from the others, stuck in their own personal dungeons. An eating disorder can be a very lonely place, and thus some individuals use the internet to alleviate the potentially crushing feeling of isolation. Pro-Ana/Mia sites, while full of potentially dangerous ideas, offer their users the holy grail of womanhood… acceptance.

Understanding this need for acceptance and support, Michael Levine, PhD, a professor and author (and, for the sake of full disclosure, one of my personal idols), along with a student, Kelsey Chapman, developed an answer to Pro-Ana/Mia sites. Their site, Beyond Ana and Mia, aims to provide a support network for individuals who may or may not be ready for recovery, but does so in a safer and healthier manner. Their site offers users a section for creative expression, information about eating disorders and recovery, and a moderated forum (meaning no diet tips or “thinspiration” permitted).

The beauty of Beyond Ana and Mia and similar efforts is that, instead of simply dismissing or chastising the more dangerous websites, they have used research to identify what the real purpose of these sites are – to offer the human connection that all of us, even those with eating disorders, desire. They are then able to offer that same service in a way that supports not the disorder, but the person. This speaks to the importance of research and a thoughtful exploration of the issues. And to that I say, Bravo.

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August 1, 2010

Body image: Are we wired for distortion?

by Ashley Solomon

ALERT!!!! It’s Change the Way You See, Not the Way You Look Week! This week is the the brainchild of Caitlin at Operation Beautiful, a website (and now book!) that aims to help individuals change the way they see themselves “one post-it note at a time.” Check out the website for more information on this mission. It’s cool stuff!

Speaking of changing the way that we see… Do you ever wonder why you can’t seem to move past those disparaging thoughts about your hips or belly? Your weight may be less to blame than your brain, according to recent research on body image.

While body image admittedly has many sources of influence (such as parental commentary and the media, to name a few), scientists have discovered that there may be biological bases for distortions of our actual body shape and size. These misrepresentations are characteristic of those with eating disorders (and in fact are part of the diagnostic criteria), but are also a struggle for those of us who, say, live on Planet Earth… Thus, this new understanding of how we perceive ourselves is particularly relevant.

First, let’s establish how our brains perceive our bodies. Obviously it’s important for our brains to understand both where our bodies are in space (called proprioception) and our relative size in order to make judgments related to movement. For example, we need this information to decide if we can squeeze behind the chair of that jerk who is clearly not moving his seat for us… Or how hard we can plop down on the couch without scaring the cat. People with extremely distorted body image have an extremely difficult time with these seemingly simple decisions.

Research tells us that these individuals’ difficulties may actually be related to brains that are functioning differently. Perceptions of our body size require a fairly complex process that’s completed by the posterior parietal cortex (there will NOT be a test!). Neurologist Henrik Ehrsson actually conducted a study in which he created the illusion of a shrinking waist (No, you can longer sign up to be a participant in the study!) utilizing the Pinocchio Illusion. What he found was that not everyone experienced the shrinking sensation in the same way or to the same degree. This indicated to Ehrsson that our brains might all be slightly different in how we calculate our own size, an important factor in considering what might be contributing to body image issues.  

A newer study by one of Ehrsson’s colleagues at the University College London, Matthew Longo, also delved into the roots of body perception. Longo and his buddies asked participants to estimate the location of their knuckles and fingertips while their hands were hidden under a board.  They found that the participants misjudged their hands, thinking that their hands were wider and their fingers were shorter than they actually were, despite being able to pick their hands out of a “line-up” of photographs. Longo called the distortions “dramatic” and explained that visual image of ourselves seem not to be used for position or feeling sense.

To take this a step further, a severely underweight boy could thus look in the mirror, and despite the visual cue, “feel” much larger than he physically is. People of average or greater-than-average weight can also have a distorted body image, calling their bodies “fat” when others fail to see the basis for their criticisms. Thanks to researchers (and their willing participants), we are starting to develop a more scientific understanding for why. And once we have a richer understanding, we may be able to develop new ways to address our negative body feelings.

What ways have you discovered to address your negative body feelings?

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