March 25, 2019

#565 – Live Better with RA – Tip #2

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Image courtesy of Patrycja Cieszkowska.

Tip #2 – Choose to Eat Well

Or at the very least, choose to eat better. Unlike arresting a habit, such as nail-biting (one I gave up in the 8th grade), you can’t just stop eating, wherein lies the challenge.

Small dietary changes can help you build a healthy relationship with food, which can lead you into making even bigger ones. Feed your body what it needs to thrive. Pay close attention to how you feel when you eat certain foods. Not only can certain foods trigger a flare, but “mood by foodcan set you back.

Good Habits Go Together

The International Journal of Obesity published a study that showed that participants—2,680 of them—who implemented a 15 week exercise program improved their eating habits. Simply by making changes in one area (exercise), participants were prompted into making other changes, which included healthier food choices and increased monitoring of their food intake.

When participants exercised for a longer duration, it was found that they were less interested in snacks and foods that characterize a standard American diet (SAD). When the intensity was increased during each session, participants began to choose healthier foods.

In Atomic Habits, James Clear suggests habit stacking as a way to build better habits. In a nutshell, habit stacking is when you attach a desired habit to one you are already performing. (Habit Stacking is part of the 1st Law of Building Good Habits.)

Here is a simple formula, courtesy of James: After [old habit], I will [new habit].

Perhaps the participants in this study were unwittingly stacking their habits. After I exercise, I will choose to eat a healthy lunch.

Another supposition: as the participants improved their level of fitness and began to feel better, they felt inspired to adopt other healthy behaviours that showed respect for their bodies.

Remember, small changes are cumulative.

Consider These “Appetizers”:

  • Next time you go grocery shopping, buy an unfamiliar fruit or vegetable. If you’re uncertain about how to prepare it, the internet is full of helpful advice. If you are in an ethnic market, ask another shopper. I’ve always walked away with a delicious suggestion for what to do with that unfamiliar fruit or vegetable.
  • If you normally serve one vegetable per meal, add another one, two or three.
  • Give your tastebuds time to adjust to new flavours. “Taste training’ is about learning healthy eating as a life skill,” says dietitian Sophia Baker-French in a blog post on Healthy Families BC. (It begs the question: When did healthy eating become a life skill?)
  • Have healthy choices readily available. In other words, make it easy to choose more wholesome foods (Incidentally, “Make it easy.” is James Clear’s 3rd Law of Building Good Habits.)
  • Slow down when you eat. You want to give your stomach time to signal your brain that you are satiated.
  • Chew your food well, which is also a good way to slow down. This is what Robert Santos-Prowse has to say on page 12 in The Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet about using your chompers to break down your food:

    Saliva, which contains the aptly named enzyme salivary amylase, begins the breakdown of carbohydrates, and the lingual lipase enzyme does the same for fats. As you chew, carbohydrates are already being broken down into simple sugars in your mouth, which is why even the wholest of whole-grain breads (the ones that tastes like sticks) will begin to taste sweet if you chew them for a few minutes. Proteins just get wet and smashed up. Enzymatic breakdown of proteins does not begin until they reach the stomach.

  • If you fall off the fruit and vegetable cart and succumb to temptation, don’t let months go by. Make your next meal a better one. (Thanks to my sister-in-law for sharing that bit of advice two decades ago! Previously, my fruit and vegetable cart rolled away down the hill leaving me struggling for a very long time.)
  • Enjoy your food by being mindful.
  • Spend time sharing your table with family and friends.
  • If you’ve been inactive, talk to your healthcare team to discover ways to help get moving and along the way, you might just start making better food choices. (2,000 people can’t be wrong! That’s how many participants completed the exercise program, described above.)
  • Bon Appétit!

Stay tuned for Tip #3/10.

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March 22, 2019

#564 – Live Better with RA – Tip #1

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If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you are no stranger to its marauding gang of symptoms: aches, pains, brain fog, fatigue, insomnia, and stiffness, to name just a few. When you take care of your mind, body, and spirit, you might just find that your RA symptoms improve.  You can live better with RA with these 10 tips, which will be posted one at a time.

Tip #1 – Transform Stress

My journey with RA is definitely better since I’ve become Auntie Stress (AS), almost 13 years ago. I often joke that I am my own best client. However, neither RA, nor stress, are jokes. When I transform my stress, I am better equipped to manage my life.

Self-care becomes easier when your system isn’t flooded with stress hormones, which have a tendency to move you further away from what you want.

The Why

If you want to live well, it’s imperative that you learn strategies that help you break out of the stress cycle. Stress and RA have a direct influence on each other. Stress can increase inflammation. RA can increase stress.

If you’ve ever driven with someone who is stepping on the gas-brake-gas-brake-gas-brake, you’ll know how distressing that is. The 2 branches of your autonomic nervous system (ANS) – sympathetic nervous system and parasympathetic nervous system, are operating in a similar fashion. Go-stop-go-stop-go-stop – it’s not a good feeling. This type of action tends to wear out the nervous system and sets up the scene for worsening health. Your system is disorderly and you pay the price.

Instead onboard techniques that can bring your nervous system into balance.

The When

Anytime. Anywhere. The beauty of these techniques is that they are not dependent upon waiting for a quiet room, after work, after school or a retreat. You can do them anytime once you know what to do.

The How

Employ a mindful, deliberate approach and use your feelings to help you navigate out of The Stress Zone. When you learn to manage your thoughts and feelings, you gain invaluable emotional management techniques that allow you to shift out of the Stress Zone. A change in perspective can result in an internal change.

For example, last week I awoke with a number of stiff and swollen joints – something I haven’t experienced in quite a long time.

Before AS

I would immediately jump into “Oh no, is this the start of a major flare? What am I going to do? What if…?” That sort of fear-based thinking put me into The Stress Zone. The Stress Zone triggers a cascade of hormones that are designed for flight or fight. Additionally, it also triggers the inflammatory response.

After AS

I regularly address and undress my stress. I am my own best client, after all! For example, last Friday, I awoke unusually stiff. I had rusty hinges for knees. My fingers were about as useful as sausages – they looked like them, too. Apparently I had marbles in my slippers – at least that’s what my feet felt like.

I knew that panicking, wondering and worrying if this was the start of a flare, especially since I hadn’t experienced this in quite some time, was not the best route to take. So, I started with a session on the Inner Balance. While I was doing that, I had ice packs and heat packs. I followed up with an easy swim, since exercise can help reduce inflammation. It didn’t take long and I was moving as well as I normally do.

Heart rate variability (HRV), is the way in which your heart speeds up and slows down. Learning to improve my HRV and regularly practising it has made a difference in my health and well-being.

Here’s what Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School’s blog, has to say in Heart rate variability: A new way to track well-being:

 If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease.

People who have a high HRV may have greater cardiovascular fitness and be more resilient to stress. HRV may also provide personal feedback about your lifestyle and help motivate those who are considering taking steps toward a healthier life.

Here is how technology (Inner Balance) helps me improve my HRV:

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I use this device on a daily basis to assist me in living my best life with RA. The techniques can be done without the device, however, there is power in having proof that I am in high coherence.

Are you curious about what this is showing you?

Level

There are four challenge levels. As you build coherence within your system, you are encouraged to move up into the next level, which is more challenging to do. In level one and two you can move into high coherence by changing the way in which you breathe. Level three and four require a willful letting go by changing your feeling state. 

Coherence

Coherence indicates synchronization between your cognitive, emotional and physiological systems.  When you are able to move out of low coherence into medium and/or high coherence you enjoy greater feelings of well-being, as well as increased immunity, and other physical and mental health improvements.

Coherence Over Time

This shows a real time picture of what is happening with the two branches of your ANS.

You can see where I dropped from high coherence to medium coherence at about 2:25. This is when my thoughts shifted to an ongoing family issue. That’s an example of how our ANS is influenced by how we think and feel.

HRV

HRV is the beat to beat way in which your heart speeds up and slows down. The smoother the rhythm, the more harmony within your system. Your heart is constantly speeding up and slowing down. When you take your pulse, or when you use the heart sensor on gym equipment you are getting an average, rather than your HRV.

I was unable to capture the entire session on my phone, but you can see the speeding up/slowing down rhythm of my heart.

Another Look

On The Language of Stress you can see a different picture of my use of technology. This time it’s the emWave, a desktop unit that I like to use before I sit down to do any writing.

I do have some specials on these. If you’re interested in the DIY of stress transformation, or stress coaching, please send me an email.

Watch for Tip #2.

Related Posts:

With Gratitude

For Graham Shaw’s TED Talk video: Why people believe they can’t draw.

HeartMath is a registered trademark of the Institute of HeartMath.
emWave and Personal Stress Reliever are registered trademarks of Quantum Intech, Inc.
Inner Balance Trainer is a trademark of Quantum Intech, Inc.

 

February 21, 2019

Save Your RA Hands and Use a Pressure Cooker XL or Instant Pot

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Canned goods certainly add weight to your grocery bags. Lugging them into the house can be an unnecessary challenge for those rheumatoid arthritis-ravaged hands.

My solution is to forego the canned goods as much as possible. Not only is it healthier, but there is less recycling involved.

I’ve written about the joys of using a pressure cooker to prepare chickpeas and beans in bulk.  It’s also very budget-friendly when you prepare beans and chickpeas this way.

I always had a certain amount of trepidation using the stove-top pressure cooker. I was sure it was going to be a thar-she-blows type scenario. It never was, thankfully! Now that I have the Power Pressure Cooker XL, I don’t have those fears.

I soak a big batch of dried chickpeas or beans overnight. The next day I rinse them and cook according to directions. When slightly cooled, I scoop them into small batches for freezing. These margarine containers are the perfect size for freezing. Since we don’t eat margarine, my mother-in-law supplies us with the containers.

If I have one regret, it’s that I didn’t buy the Instant Pot. It has a yoghurt setting, while the Power Pressure Cooker XL does not.

January 17, 2019

#562 – An Exercise Tip for Lazy Bones

 

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I make sure I get some form of exercise on a daily basis. I sleep better, but the big pay-off is that I feel better.

Having Holly helps, as dogs need to be walked in rain, hail, sleet or sun. However, there are days when I feel like a lazy bones. Marianna’s Law as Applied to Exercise usually gets me to the pool. As incentive, I agree to do half my swim. Invariably, I end up doing the full workout, since I’m already in the water.

If I’m feeling lazy I recall all the times in the past when everything hurt to move. When I was in excruciating pain before my hip replacements. How my feet felt before forefoot reconstructive surgery (Warning! Graphic image on that page!) When I even needed help pulling the blankets up at night. Yes, I think about that. Then, I reflect upon how grateful I am that I can go for a Holly dog walk, or enjoy a refreshing swim.

Listening to my body means that unless I am in agony or are in dire need of rest, I give my lazy bones a wake-up shake and make sure I do something physical, even if it’s only to get up and dance around the living room. Dancing just isn’t Holly’s thing.  Her predecessor, Murphy, would often join me whenever I said, “Murphy, dance!”

Mobility – please don’t take it for granted! The best way I know to honour my mobility, is to move. Plus, it’s a great way to build in the practice of gratitude, which has enormous health benefits.

This also goes for all you able-bodied people who prefer the couch. If you can move easily, do so! Do it for those who cannot.

Move it, don’t lose it! If you’ve got it back, be grateful and move it again!

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