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Summer Fun While Living in Limbo

It’s been over three months since the COVID-19 pandemic put a hold on life for many in the US. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t think all the closures would last as long as they have! Now that it’s summer, and after the months of isolation, people are really ready to get out and do things. We are in a transition phase of getting out into the world again, yet there’s also a sense of living in limbo with uncertainty about how our lives will look going forward. I know it’s nearly the end of June, but I feel like I’m just now jumping into summer, and I’m jumping in with both feet – cautiously! I’m trying to balance embracing the summer months and staying safe, so I researched, and came up with plans to keep me dancing through the limbo. Here are my tips and ideas for making the most of the rest of your summer!

Step 1: Determine your level of comfort with outings

Ask yourself if you want to continue to isolate or if you are comfortable with some social distance outside and inside. Some may be comfortable around others, or maybe only while outside, at the same time, others may feel it’s best for them to continue with strict isolation. However you feel, no matter your approach, it’s okay to do what’s best for YOU and you may find some ideas here to add more fun to your summer.

In my family we decided to put our summer fun into three categories:

  • Adventure Day – something new, or a longer activity
  • Local Outing – a shorter activity that can be done between meals
  • Home Day – less structure, but still engaging in activities.

Step 2: Create of list of possibilities

At the top of my list for an adventure day this summer is a zip line and stand up paddle board. I’ve wanted to try both of these for years, so I’ve got plans to make it happen this year. Berry picking is a fun, family activity I have scheduled and I include it in adventure day because for us it’s a longer drive to the farm, so it will take up half the day and may include packing a lunch. Visiting nature centers and museums provides learning opportunities and some museums offer free days once a month. Walking/hiking is also a priority, and I’ve already started doing some. While walking can be done in your neighborhood, of course, in this case I’m talking about exploring a State Park or a new location. Last week I posted a video on my Facebook page while I was in a park and if you haven’t seen it, you can find it here.

Local outing options will depend on your comfort level with being around people even more, or will take planning to attend during less busy times. Some ideas for both indoor and outdoor local outings include: bowling/arcade games, browsing in a bookstore or library, visiting the humane society, miniature golf, farmer’s market, having a picnic at a local park – try a different one and bring a ball or kite. One of the local outings for my family will be purchasing supplies for one of our home activities (keep reading).

Staying home doesn’t have to be boring! One of my favorite rainy day activities is an indoor picnic. You can make it fun for everyone by spreading out a blanket, making decorations or a centerpiece, making a meal together and then playing a game or watching a movie. Baking has been a popular pandemic activity, but why not experiment with a healthy recipe instead?! You could read, or listen to music and when you need to get up and move, crank the music up and have a dance party, or try some yoga. Artwork can be done on windows using window crayons or whiteboard markers and another creative activity I have planned for my family this month is to make a terrarium. These miniature gardens can be in a closed or open container, and there’s plenty of information on the internet to determine which is best for you and how to get started. Mine will be open, and we will be adding items to make it into a fairy garden. If you are avoiding travel this year, now is the time to plan your next vacation! Even if you don’t make reservations, researching locations and making plans for your next vacation can be really fun.

The best part about summer is the nice weather and you can take advantage of it even while at home. I’ve mentioned picnics in parks and in your home, but you can also picnic in your yard, or even camp out in your yard. Playing catch or kicking a ball around is a great way to move the body. On the really hot days, a squirt gun fight among your family members might be just the thing to cool everyone down. Using sidewalk chalk you can draw pictures, play tic-tac-toe, draw and play hopscotch, or leave messages for people walking by. As long as you’re not expecting rain, you can leave a bucket of chalk outside with a note inviting others to stop and draw or write their own message.

Step 3: Research and plan

Whether you are planning adventures, local activities or staying home, it may take some research and planning to make the most of your summer. I’ve learned through this process that while some businesses are starting to open up, it may vary on the type of business and where it’s located. Many websites have updated information, but some do not and if you really want to go somewhere, it’s best to call ahead. You may need to purchase supplies (My squirt guns arrived yesterday!), plan specific menus, or watch how-to videos. The preparation in itself can be a family activity. Once you have a list of ideas that everyone is on board with, or at least willing to try, then plan specific days for the various activities. If you are solo and cautious about being with others, many of my ideas can be done alone as well. Be thoughtful about pacing yourself, and know that the weather or other factors can throw things off, but by being intentional, you will be able to look back on a summer full of memories. Safety and fun is my summer wish for you!!

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Want to know a secret?

Have you ever had the potential for something big, but didn’t want to share with others until it was a for sure thing? I’m one that prefers to share exciting news when I know it’s going to happen, rather than have to retract and show my disappointment publicly. However, today I’m going to be transparent about something I was sitting on, the result, and the lessons I learned in the process.

The back story…

You may know that I have been doing some public speaking. I’ve found it to be exciting for me, and I’ve received great response from the audience. By sharing my story, I’ve been educating and inspiring others, and I had begun reaching out to people to partner in future events. The ironic thing is, I’m an introvert by nature and have to re-charge myself with alone time. When I look back, I was drawn to the stage with dancing and theater throughout my childhood, and even into young adulthood.

In late February of this year, I was contacted by a colleague, Dr. Terry Wu, who suggested that I apply to be a Tedx speaker. Many are aware of TED Talks available on YouTube, but have you ever noticed that some of the videos are labeled as Tedx? TED Talks started out as an annual conference to bring together the fields of technology, entertainment and design. As TED has grown, the mission is to nurture and spread powerful ideas. When you see the “x” in a video, it means that the talk was done at an locally organized TED event. There are groups all over that organize one day events with the TED license. Speakers apply and those chosen go through a coaching process before the big day. Dr. Wu was a speaker in 2019, and his TED Talk is, “Neuromarketing: The new science of consumer decisions.”

Talk about being on stage!

When the idea of doing a TED Talk was first brought to me, I hesitated. Internally, actually, I panicked. It felt like a great opportunity, and at the same time, the idea terrified me! Although I have done some public speaking, having a talk in front of a large audience, having it recorded, and put out into the world was scary! Plus I had a short window to submit my application before the deadline. I was drawn to express my conflicting thoughts to someone I trusted, but who I also knew would be frank with me. And boy did she call me out! She knew I gave talks about facing fears, and here I was hesitating about a great opportunity because I was scared. Don’t you just love people like this?! Elaine Goepfert of I Love Photography LLC, was the mirror I needed to take the leap, and I did, in fact, submit my application. She is also the photographer of my beautiful headshots, by the way.

Applying is step one, which is where I was at when the pandemic closed things down. If I had been chosen to speak at this particular event, it would have been held a few weeks ago, on May 9. Although I had not even been notified if I had been chosen as a speaker, it was disappointing to receive the email that the event was cancelled (due to the pandemic). When May 9 did roll around, I also found myself feeling like I was supposed to be somewhere. Once I had gotten over my fear, I had become excited about the idea of not only the talk, but the process.

Lesson 1:

Trust your instinct, but in doubt, find a mirror. When presented with the idea of applying to be a TEDx speaker I knew I should do it, and I knew I would love to do it, but I doubted myself. Thankfully, although I ignored the instinct to take action at first, I followed the instinct to talk with someone about my doubts. Our own self doubt can stop us from taking steps forward, but others have a way of showing us what we know deep down.

Lesson 2:

Opportunities may present the unimaginable dream. I had never thought about the process of applying to be a TED speaker, let alone dream about being on that stage. However, once the idea was presented to me, and I got used to the idea of it, I realized this was something I did want. To date I have no idea if my application would have been accepted, but I’m grateful to Dr. Wu for believing in me.

Lesson 3:

Disappointment doesn’t mean it’s the end of the dream. Life is full of disappointments, that’s a fact, but that doesn’t mean the dream has to end. Maybe it’s on hold or maybe it will look differently. If the disappointment is due to something falling through, perhaps the time can be used for self improvement or continuing education. Then when a similar opportunity presents itself, you are prepared to jump with both feet into the dream. Or, maybe it means a change in direction, a re-direct, which just may result in an even bigger dream presenting itself.

In my case, I’m choosing both options. I’m studying and practicing, so that if events are held again, I’m prepared to jump in with both feet. At the same time, I’m looking at all my options. It’s a matter of controlling I can control and adjusting along the way. Even though the pandemic has brought much change, uncertainty, and perhaps disappointment, there are lessons to be learned that may lead to an unimaginable dream.

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A Holistic Approach to Isolation During a Pandemic, Cancer Treatment, and Life

As I sit down to write this it has been over six weeks since school districts closed, events were canceled, and businesses closed voluntarily in my state due to the COVID 19 pandemic. A couple of weeks into the voluntary closures the state officially shut down with a stay at home order, with the hope of limiting the spread of the virus. Early on I could see parallels between the social isolation during the pandemic, and the isolation that cancer patients experience during active treatment. I wrote a blog about this very thing last month! Whether you are isolated due to the pandemic, cancer, or some other life event, it is likely an ever evolving situation. I’ve got some tips for you to maintain your health holistically as you navigate these changes, or maybe refresh your routine. First, let’s take a look at isolation scenarios.

Are you in a groove, or are you feeling quarantine fatigue?

During the pandemic, although “we’re in this together” is all over the news and social media every person may be going through a different experience during this challenging time. There are the essential workers, who may be under extra stress and putting in more hours. There are people who have lost their jobs, and suddenly find themselves struggling to pay bills and purchase food. Then, of course, a whole spectrum of people in between. Some are home alone, and highly isolated, while others are spending more time with their immediate family as they work from home. Parents are helping their children learn, while teachers are forced to re-invent their curriculum. Some may be going stir crazy, some may have found their groove, while others may be in a constant state of overwhelm. The fact is, it’s been a big change for nearly everyone, it just may look different for each individual, and we may each have varied emotions about our current situation.

And then there was cancer.

When a person is diagnosed with cancer, their life is immediately turned upside down. Their finances may change, they may end up isolated at home for an extended period, and they typically experience a roller coaster of emotions throughout the treatment plan. (See the parallels here?!) The big difference between the pandemic and cancer is that when you are going through cancer treatment, “normal life” is going on around you. This can actually accentuate the feelings of isolation for the cancer patient if they are unable to participate in activities that their friends and family continue to do, particularly if they are single. The cancer patient may be receiving some support, but the camaraderie is on a smaller scale than with a pandemic.

Life, age and accidents happen.

Have you ever fallen and injured yourself, or had surgery, or maybe you have a chronic condition? Any of these can cause lengthy down time, which may also result in isolation. While an accident can create sudden financial and emotional stress, in many cases the duration of isolation is likely to to shorter. With planned surgeries or chronic conditions, there may be pain and extended periods of alone time, but there isn’t likely the immediate fear of facing mortality that occurs with cancer or a pandemic. Again, the experiences vary from person to person, but the same basic thread of emotions can surface.

What is the holistic approach to health?

When people talk about health, often the first thing that comes to mind is either food or exercise. Your health is about so much more! Looking at health holistically takes into consideration all aspects of a person’s life, such as our relationships, finances, spirituality, sleep habits, as well as food and exercise. During periods of isolation, no matter the reason, the change will likely effect ALL areas of your life, as they are inter-connected. When finances are impacted, for example, that can create stress, which can have an impact on the way we eat, sleep, our physical health, and our relationships. Even under normal circumstances, some areas of our life may be doing really well, while others may need some work to bring ourselves into balance.

Bringing your life into balance doesn’t mean you have to check every box every day. Rather, you incorporate small, sustainable changes into your day that put you on a path of improvement. During isolation of any kind, incorporating changes can be hard, but you CAN do it! When I was going through chemo I was told to eat whatever I wanted to eat, and occasionally a nurse suggested that I get outside and walk. I ate whatever was easy or convenient, and hardly moved around. I ended up gaining 25 pounds that summer. I slept a lot during that time and struggled with lack of social connection. Not caring for myself during that time is a regret of mine. The hindsight I have about my months of chemo has now allowed me to do things differently during the pandemic isolation.

Where do I begin?

First, identify where you want to make improvements in your life to create a healthier YOU. Choose just one or two things to start. It can be drinking more water, exercise, or connecting with a loved one. Then, once you’ve decided, don’t do anything…until that night. You see, I believe the healthiest of habits actually begins the night before, with sleep. Every person needs a different amount of sleep to feel their best, for me I know it’s 7-8 hours a night. I can get by on less, but I function better when I’ve had at least 7 hours of quality sleep. I have learned that after I get a good night’s rest, all of my decisions about my health that day are so much better than when I do not get good sleep. When I’m rested I rely less on caffeine and drink more water, I make better food choices, I have the energy to exercise, I’m more patient with my children, and overall, my brain functions better. While sleep cannot help pay the bills, it can help clear your mind and give you energy to take steps forward.

So, you see, it all begins at night, but then what? Once you recognize this and consider your situation and individual goals, it’s time to take action. Maybe you are isolated with others and need some alone time before the day begins. This, of course, means honoring a realistic bed time, so that you can get up and begin your day with reflection, or whatever feeds your soul. Maybe you are isolated alone, and you miss chatting with co-workers. Consider scheduling a video coffee date, or if you are going through cancer treatment, try joining an on-line community message board. Are you grazing on unhealthy food choices all day while home? Research healthy recipes and with a good night’s sleep you’ll have the energy to prepare nutritious food. Find yourself sitting too much? The internet is full of a variety of fitness videos for all levels. One quality decision, one step at a time, will lead you to another, giving you a little control within the uncertainty of any isolation.

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Through the eyes of a cancer patient – parallels of the COVID 19 pandemic and cancer

March is a big month for me, not because of joyous events, but rather, significant cancer dates. One could argue that the fact that I am still alive to witness these dates IS joyous, and while I agree, it doesn’t take away from the fact that along with joy there can be other emotions as well. This year, marking my five year diagnosis/no evidence of disease dates in itself, made it different, and then came COVID 19. This new coronavirus that has taken over and stopped the world in it’s tracks. Much shock, stress, fear, change, uncertainty, all due to the virus, is now tied to March also (in the US), and I couldn’t help but think that the emotions that many experienced with the virus paralleled a cancer diagnosis and treatment.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer I was, of course, in shock, had fears of my mortality, and I was full of questions. I had to navigate the seriousness of what was happening, and how it would impact me and my children. I also felt a need to prepare, and in that case, meant stocking up on some supplies and preparing and freezing some meals. This reaction of fear, wanting information and preparation is completely normal, but when COVID 19 came to the US it was taken to an extreme. People have prepared by hoarding supplies, which is a reaction to fear of uncertainty.

The next phase for my cancer experience was surgery and then chemo. During chemo I was very isolated, in part, because my immune system was compromised and I stayed away from others, or didn’t feel well. Many days I simply hung out with my children, and when I felt up to it, we went for walks. The biggest difference for me then and now is that I am healthy and productive now. This isolation phase is what our country is currently in, with stay at home orders from the government, but it’s whole families as well as individuals who are isolating in their homes. In both cases, people can be affected emotionally, physically, and financially by isolation. During chemo I mostly stayed connected with others who also had cancer, and now, because of the pandemic affecting so many, people are finding creative ways to work from home and stay connected to each other. Being spring, many are getting out and walking too. Although Zoom service began in 2013, I was not familiar with it while going through chemo. The online video platform has been popular through COVID 19 not only for businesses like myself, but also to keep families, friends, teachers and health care providers connected.

After five months of chemo and very little social contact, I was given a short time to heal before I began radiation. During radiation I was not 100 % back into my daily life, rather I was easing into it. I had to build my endurance physically, and relationships change with lack of communication, so I had to ease back into those relationships or assess the status of them. Although this phase of the pandemic is yet to happen to date, I imagine this to be the path we are on with the COVID 19 isolation, and I encourage it. I have seen social media posts asking people about the first thing they will do when they are no longer asked by the government to stay home, as if it will be like a light switch, off (being isolation) or on (back to daily life).

I propose we take a dimmer switch approach to life after isolation, when we are able to proceed. While we move back towards our prior routines, let’s hold on to quiet moments and quality time, let’s take walks, and make efforts to connect with those we cannot see in person. This is not to say our previous routines were bad, but perhaps, a blending of the two can happen if we move slowly.

As with cancer, you and your relationship dynamics may not be the same on the other side of this experience. Or you may have changed physically. You cannot go through something so significant and be unchanged to a degree and change can be unsettling. I get it. If it happens for you, know that it’s normal and I’m here to support you. Check out my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/InspiredVitalityMN/where I have been providing stress management tips, recipes and inspiration. In addition, I am providing coaching via Zoom, and if you are interested, you can schedule a consultation by emailing me at hhckatherine@gmail.com . All the best to you and your loved ones.

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Dear Cancer Center

March 5, 2015 was the date of my stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. I didn’t choose cancer, but there are many people that devote their lives to the patients. They choose to be immersed in it, and this is for them.

Dear Cancer Center Staff:

You may be a receptionist, a volunteer, a cleaner, a nurse, a doctor, a lab tech, a radiation tech, scheduler, or social worker. You may be someone I don’t see, or forgot to mention, but this is for you. You are my village.

It was five years ago today that I received that call. A call from someone I didn’t know who told me I had breast cancer. I still remember exactly where I stood during that conversation, as my life turned upside down. After setting up appointments, my thoughts turned to my children and how I would tell them, how I would explain it to them. 

The following week I walked into the cancer center for the first time. The appointment was a blur, with so much fear and unknowns, even once I left. The place that was then so big and scary, is now so familiar and welcoming. You, who work there, you have become my village.

After all the tests and decisions about the plan of care, then surgery, I became a member of the village. This community that could not exist without each other.

I remember receptionists asking how I was feeling, as I checked in the day after chemo. 

I remember conversations with volunteers, various staff and nurses before and during treatments. Know that I loved learning about you, because in doing so, you allowed normalcy in a situation that was anything but normal. 

I remember you listening with compassion. You allowed me to vent, but also offered me ideas or solutions too. I remember the concern in your eyes.

I remember the gentle care. I know you didn’t want to hurt me with the needle sticks, or when accessing my port. I know you felt sorry when it did hurt. 

I remember that my scars did not phase you, as I lay down for radiation. 

I wonder if you knew I was shaking that day I came back for a check up, months after after the end of active treatment. As much as I cared about you, I didn’t want to be a member of the village anymore.

I remember so, so much more, but some memories are starting to fade, and that’s good. 

Now, when I visit each month, I still get the greetings, the gentleness and the care, but I am more of a visitor than I am a member. Eventually my visits will become less frequent, but today, the day my life turned upside down I wanted to visit you and tell you ‘Thank you.’ While patients don’t choose to become members, you do. You show up and care for people that very much need you. You choose to be here, and in doing so, you make a difference. 

Thank you, with all my heart.

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Honoring National Cancer Prevention Month

February is National Cancer Prevention Month, which was first observed in 2004. It is intended to encourage communities to educate each other on the steps you can take to prevent cancer. If you follow me on my Facebook page, Inspired Vitality of Minnesota, you may have noticed that throughout the month of February I did just that! There are four important pillars that I believe contribute to cancer prevention, so let’s start at the beginning.

Week one was about exercise and maintaining a healthy body weight. Exercise is good for all of your organ function, like lungs and heart, but it is so much more. It helps you move throughout your day by improving strength and flexibility. It may reduce the risk of cancer by helping control weight, reduce sex hormones or insulin, and strengthen the immune system. By choosing activities you enjoy you will be successful at incorporating exercise into your daily routine.

Week two (Valentine’s week) I focused on the importance of quality relationships. When you are unhappy or stressed as a result of your relationships, or lack of them, it can have an impact on your immune system. If you are lonely, or unsatisfied in the relationships you have, I suggest you seek out more people with whom to connect. You can join a group or take a class.

“Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.” ~ Mike Murdock

Week three I dove into plant based eating, and showed you just how simple it can be to put quality food into your body. There was this recipe for a
plant based “egg” salad sandwich, I gave you the ingredients for a homemade soup, and showed you a simple on-the-go snack of veggies and hummus. Nourishing your body does not have to be difficult!

The last pillar in week 4 is about alcohol, which can increase one’s risk of cancer. For more information about the link between alcohol and cancer, read this article.

Anybody that who has gone through cancer wants their loved ones to do all that they can to prevent cancer. This is because they know what the treatment is like, and thatprevention is better than the cure.

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Cervical Cancer 411

The best way to beat any cancer, is preventing it in the first place. While we don’t want to become overly obsessive in a quest to, “do everything right” in prevention, it is important to be aware of what is within our control and make the best choices for ourselves. Many people are not comfortable with the topic of cancer, I get it, I used to feel that way. But, having cancer and going through treatment is far more uncomfortable than learning the facts about it.

January is Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, so, ladies, this one is for you!

You go in for that check up, you know, the one you don’t like, but do it anyway. The doctor talks with you, does a breast exam, and then…the stirrups. We know it’s important, but do you really know what the doctor is doing?

Do you even know the purpose of a Pap smear?

A pap smear involves collecting cells from your cervix to test for cervical cancer. Cervical cancer is the fourth most common type of cancer for women worldwide, but because it develops over time, it is also one of the most preventable types of cancer. And, if caught early, it may be curable. While the cause of cervical cancer isn’t clear, HPV does play a role. Most people with the virus never develop cancer, which means lifestyle factors contribute to a diagnosis, but HPV is found in the majority of cervical cancers.

What are the risk factors?

This is a no judgement zone, but you do need to be real with yourself and know that early sexual activity, as well as many sexual partners, increases your chance of acquiring HPV and puts you at a higher risk for cervical cancer. Having other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) also increase your risk. Smoking puts you at risk for one type of cervical cancer and if you have a lowered immune system due to another health condition and have HPV you may be more likely to develop cervical cancer.

Steps to prevention!

Most women who have abnormal cervical cell changes that progress to cervical cancer have never had a Pap test or have not had one in the previous three to five years. Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions so they can be monitored and treated. Talk with your doctor about their recommendation for routine screening. While you’re there, you may want to consider discussing whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you. Practicing safe sex and not smoking are additional lifestyle practices that will keep you on the path of prevention.

The health of your cervix is not likely on your mind daily, but perhaps this gentle reminder this month will encourage you to make your health a priority. What’s good for your cervix, is also good for your whole body! Besides maintaining healthy relationships, fuel your body with nutritious food and quality sleep. These things are the combo for prevention of a multitude of disease, and will allow you to truly live in health.

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How to Stop a Food Pusher in Their Tracks – Lessons From a Dessert Supplier Turned Veggie Advocate

I love to bake. I don’t remember at what age I began, but it seems I have loved baking all of my life. When I was in high school, thinking about my future, I considered becoming a baker, but then decided it would take the fun out of it for me to have to do it day in and day out. When I bake, it is for the joy of it, on my terms. For me, the process of stirring, rolling and creating is very meditative, and then watching the look on the faces of those eating my treats brings me joy.

Over the years, baking became my escape at times. When I was stressed, or needed time alone, I would bake, and I became good at it. Not professional quality, but good enough for people to ask me to be the one to provide dessert for holidays and gatherings. My specialty was Scotch Shortbread cookies, using a recipe from my Scottish grandmother. Even she was thrilled when I would make her some shortbread.

I never considered myself a food pusher. Although I always offered and it made me happy when people did eat my treats and enjoy them, I don’t think I ever went beyond a, “Are you sure?” when someone rejected my offer.

For decades I happily baked sweet treats on a regular basis, and even looked for reasons to bake for others. But, since being diagnosed with cancer and then learning about the effects of sugar, I only bake when I have a specific reason. You see, I have a hard time justifying making sugar and fat loaded items, knowing what it does to the body. I began asking myself why would I provide those I care about with something that may ultimately cause disease?

Instead I now want to provide people with food that nourishes them. And guess what? Preparing nourishing food to share with others gives me as much joy as watching the faces of those eating the sweet treats. Now when I go to gatherings I’m more likely to bring a colorful plate of veggies and a bean dip, or make a comforting pot of veggie soup for someone in need.

What does all this have to do with food pushers?

People who lovingly create food for others get joy and satisfaction out of watching you eat the food. Watching the look of, “Mmmm” on your face makes the time and effort worth it, which in turn, feeds their soul. But, there is a line between lovingly creating and offering food, and pushing it upon someone. Pushers cross that line and become insistent that you take a taste, or eat more, or even hand you food that you either didn’t ask for or already had stated you didn’t want to eat. They take the emotional satisfaction of providing food for others to a whole new level! Food pushers attempt to make your food decision for you.

Do you know a food pusher, perhaps at work or in your family? With the holidays people are making more food, and going to more gatherings and you are bound to encounter food pushers.

What can you do when a food pusher crosses that line?

The quickest and most effective way to stop a food pusher in their tracks is simply to say, “No, thank you,” and then change the subject. A good tactic in changing the topic is to compliment the food pusher. Imagine this: You’re at a family gathering and that well-meaning relative comes to you with a plate of her home baked favorite treat. Maybe you don’t like the item she is offering, or maybe it is not within your health goals, or maybe you simply are not hungry. It does not matter! You CAN simply say, “No, thank you. What a beautiful _________ you are wearing! It really matches your eyes.” If you don’t want to be quite that direct, you could say, “That looks amazing. I’m full now, but maybe later.”

Hear me loud and clear when I say, you do not need to explain yourself to ANYONE! You do not need to add an explanation to your response, Like, I’m not eating sugar right now. That will only elicit discussion and more pushing. But, giving the food pusher a compliment turns the situation around and will make them happy in the same way it would if you had eaten their creation. And you will get bonus points if you ask them for the recipe.

You see, people who make food for others put the L ingredient inside of it – that’s LOVE. Not eating the food that is lovingly prepared may evoke a feeling of personal rejection, even though the recipient is only saying no to the food and not the person. By showing the giver some love, they may not even notice your food choices. Coming from a place of love and appreciation, while still respecting your own wishes and boundaries, is the bridge of peace between you and the food pusher.

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Natural Sugar vs Added Sugar

What is sugar anyway?

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate and it gives you energy. Sounds good, right? Not all carbs are the same! The two types of sugar, natural and added, are very different in how they provide you with energy.

The natural sugars are what you will find in fruits, vegetables and milk. The great thing about natural sugars in the fruits and veggies is that they also have fiber, water, and nutrients. With the natural sugars, not only are you getting so much more, but because of the fiber, the sugar is released slow and steady. This means a steady stream of energy, as well as the benefits of fiber, vitamins, minerals and water. You may be wondering about fruit or vegetable juices. If the juice is 100% juice, without any added sugar, it will contain some nutrients and water, but it does not have fiber. Fiber is really the key to the slow absorption of the natural sugar and prevent sugar spikes.

Added sugars are found in many processed foods that you purchase. Of course there is added sugars in sweet treats, but it is also hiding in bread, crackers, cereals, dressings and sauces. Anything made in a factory likely has sugar added for texture, preservation and taste. Items that are labeled low fat typically have more sugar to compensate. When foods that contain added sugar enter your body it gives you a spike of sugar – your liver gets hit with an excess amount of fructose and what isn’t used for energy turns to fat. Over time, excess fat in the liver can cause Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), which means the liver is not functioning correctly. Too much added sugar over time is also associated diabetes, heart disease and joint pain.

How much added sugar is too much?

The FDA currently recommends added sugars be limited to 50 grams, or about 12 1/2 tsp, per day for those consuming 2,000 calories a day. The American Heart Association, on the other hand, recommends women limit themselves to 25 grams, or 6 teaspoons, of added sugars per day and men limit themselves to 38 grams, or 9 teaspoons, of added sugar per day. There is more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar in one can of a popular soda!

The FDA is now requiring food manufacturers to list the amount of added sugars on the products nutrition facts label, but they have until 2021 to make the changes. By having the information consumers will be able to gauge their added sugar intake and make choices based on the information.

Do you want to learn more?

You may be wondering about all the different names of sugar on food labels. Or, is honey natural or an added sugar? I know it’s not realistic to significantly change sugar habits during the holidays, so if you are in the Twin Cities, I will be holding a class all about sugar in January 2020. Watch my social media for details, Facebook: Inspired Vitality of Minnesota and Twitter: @InspiredMN. Enjoy the upcoming holidays, in moderation, and in 2020 we will tackle sugar together!

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Which is easier – preventing cancer or treating it?

Making healthy choices every day is hard, there is no denying that, but I can tell you first hand that going through cancer treatment is harder than any workout, or changing the way you eat. Yet many people follow a path of unconscious decisions that lead them to the consequence of disease.

Being in the midst of Pinktober, aka, breast cancer awareness month, I want to be sensitive to those fighting the disease. I know the onslaught of pink can be encouraging for some, while for others, it can be painful to be reminded of the disease that has forever changed them. My first October after being diagnosed I was angry at being surrounded by pink, and the reminders that came with it. I didn’t want to be in the pink club, and I hated that I was that one in eight diagnosed with breast cancer. I also didn’t like retailers benefiting under the guise of awareness. Where was the money going, really, I wondered. But, this year I decided it is my choice to ignore the retailers promoting pink products and instead put my energy into education.

Cancer screening is important, and if awareness months are effective, people will be reminded to get their screenings done. But, to truly prevent cancer a person needs to make conscious choices every day that brings them further away from the path of a diagnosis.

Will you choose the path of prevention?

What can you do? What are the choices on the path of prevention?

First, move. Walk (or run, or swim, or dance) the path, literally. If you are new to fitness, always talk with a doctor prior to starting, and start slowly. Physical activity helps with weight loss, or to maintain a healthy weight, and it strengthens immune defenses. For women, excess fat cells produce estrogen, which help cancer cells to form and spread. Maintaining a healthy weight is ideal in prevention of an original diagnosis, as well as a recurrence. The immune system plays an important role in preventing cancer, as well as other disease. It detects and destroys abnormal cells, and most likely prevents or curbs the growth of many cancers, as part of its normal function. So many reasons to make exercise a part of your daily routine!

The next step is to limit alcohol. Alcohol increases estrogen levels and impairs immune function. While red wine is known to have heart healthy benefits, you can get the same benefits from eating red grapes and without the cancer risk. The World Health Organization division of International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that all alcoholic beverages are carcinogenic to humans. For some, completely eliminating alcohol is not something they want to do, but limiting the intake to one serving a day is recommended.

What is it about estrogen?

We all have estrogen in our bodies, yes, even men. Despite the symptoms, post menopausal women have some amount of estrogen as well. When it comes to breast cancer, approximately 80% of breast cancers are hormone positive, including estrogen positive. This means the cancer has receptors that respond to, or feed off of, hormones. When you put excess amounts of that hormone into the body with food and alcohol (yes, we’re getting to the food), it can cause DNA damage, which is the first step towards cancer. Even if you choose organic, grass fed animal products, the animals naturally contain hormones and you ingest them.

If you haven’t already guessed, the third step in cancer prevention is to choose plant based foods. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds all lower the risk of cancer in several ways. Not only do plant based have the ability to lower estrogen levels, they also provide your cells with a nutritional armor that protects against mutations. There are a great deal of various compounds in plant based foods that create an anti-cancer environment, so much so that rather than go into detail I will link you to reliable sources. If you want to dive deep into the scientific reasons for plant based eating, specifically for breast cancer, I highly recommend the book: Breasts – The Owner’s Manual by Dr. Kristi Funk and her website, https://pinklotus.com/powerup/ Additional resources I trust are: https://www.pcrm.org/ and https://nutritionfacts.org/

If you currently consume a standard American diet, drink alcohol and don’t exercise on a regular basis, following the path to prevention of cancer will take time and effort. The changes don’t have to be done all at once. It’s a step by step process! It is truly a conscious choice every day, and having been through cancer treatment, I choose to make choices that will reduce my risk of going down that path again. My sincere hope is you will learn from my experience and make preventative choices for yourself.

This blog is dedicated to all those who have experienced cancer.