14 Cheap but Fun Ideas for a Valentine (or Any Time!) Date Night

Love isn’t free…that is, if you are trying to prove your love with an extravagant Valentine’s Day gift. In fact a survey from the National Retail Foundation found that Americans are expected to spend a record amount on Valentine’s Day this year…an average of $161.96, which is up 13 percent from the average in 2018.

Think quick: Where did that money go last year? We bet you don’t even remember because it was probably either wasted on an overpriced, mediocre meal at a crowded restaurant or spent on a “meh” gift like a stuffed animal or chocolates. This year, instead of spending money on stuff you don’t want or need, why not create some real memories with an activity that is both frugal and fun. Here are 14 choices we love.

  1. Get physical. Come on; we’re talking exercise. There’s not much that’s more romantic than working out with your partner—think about it; you’re in close proximity, you’re dressed down, and you’re doing something that will help you live an even longer life together. A class like yoga or Pilates can be a good choice with its relaxing combination of mindfulness and stretching, but you could also take a romantic stroll or go ice skating or roller skating. Don’t forget to hold hands during couples skate. 
  2. Cook at home. This is a no brainer…cooking together doubles as an activity and a meal. Since Valentine’s Day is the second biggest restaurant day of the year (after Mother’s Day), there’s no reason to go out with the masses when you can cook a perfectly fabulous steak or other luscious delicacy at home. 
  3. Dine out for dessert.  If you really want to eat out, your best choice is a sweet treat…you’ll spend far less than you would forking out big bucks for overpriced pasta. Less money, far more fun. Find a bakery that has your favorite desserts or go to the nicest restaurant in town and eat something decadent a deux, with a price tag that’s pretty sweet. 
  4. Sing karaoke. If there’s ever a night that calls for a power ballad duet, it’s Valentine’s. Find a local hotspot and sing your heart out to your beloved. 
  5. Go window shopping. Honestly just looking and trying on is half the fun. Go to a posh boutique or specialty store and indulge your inner fashionista by trying on clothes and shoes you’d never buy—and maybe would never even wear outside the dressing room. Or go to a thrift store and pick out comical options for your partner.
  6. See a production at a local community theater. Seek out free or low-priced local shows to have a Broadway-style evening at an affordable price.
  7. Get your paint on. Whether painting a keepsake piece of pottery or attending a “wine and paint” night where an instructor helps you create a masterpiece, getting arty together makes for a fun evening—and you’ll get to bring a souvenir home.
  8. Visit a museum. Fun fact: Many libraries have culture passes that offer free or reduced admission to local museums. 
  9. Babysit for a friend or relative. This maybe doesn’t count as the most romantic night ever, but you’ll feel good letting them have an evening out—and you can see whether parenthood appeals.
  10. Plan your dream vacation. Get on your devices and research a place you’ve always wanted to visit—or that you think your partner has always wanted to visit—and create an itinerary. Dare to dream.   
  11. Have a scavenger hunt. Make clues based on special places the two of you have been and hide them around town. Or if the weather is bad, take it indoors to a mall. 
  12. Participate in a trivia night. Many restaurants and pubs host trivia nights; make it a double date or join with some others and make a team for an information-packed night out. 
  13. Find a bar with free music. Check out the local arts paper to find a place or two that offers free music. Don’t forget to tip the musicians, though. 
  14. Huddle in with board games or a movie. Light some candles, open a bottle of wine…what more would you need? 




Resolution Reboot: Ditch the February Funk and Recommit to Your Resolutions

When February rolls around, some of us fist pump the air. “Yay! A whole month with my resolution.” Others (a larger amount, by the way) think, “Ugh. I have already failed.” Here’s the thing: February is a great time to reboot your resolution. In fact, ANY TIME is a great time. There is nothing magical about January 1.

As author and behavioral scientist Daniel Pink shares in his book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, “imbuing an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning generates the power to activate new beginnings.”

That means that while January 1 carries a weighty significance as a change catalyst, we really could choose any day as that ideal day for new beginnings. So, why not today?

Here are three common resolution fails, along with reasons why now is the perfect time to start back up.

 

  1. Your gym membership is already gathering dust.

If you were one of the hordes who enthusiastically joined a gym at the beginning of the year, you are far from alone. If you are one who quit going by February 1 (or earlier!), again, far from alone. In fact, one survey found that nearly half of Americans had given up their exercise resolution to hit the gym by the end of January. Some felt judged; others found a gym membership too pricey; and still others couldn’t find the time.

But February is actually a fantastic time to give the gym one more shot—precisely because so many people have abandoned it, thus negating at least one of the reasons mentioned above. Of course a gym can feel intimidating when it’s overly crowded; you can feel as though you’re not getting your money’s worth when every station is in use or you’re turned away from class; and it can be extra hard to fit into your schedule when you have to wait to get a parking spot or time on the machines.

And remember, a gym isn’t the only place to get your sweat on. Temps are starting to climb from the polar freeze of January, and February is a great month to try snow shoeing or ice skating or even a walk outdoors to spot those crocuses pushing through. Or, you could commit to using your Netflix for something other than binge watching and find an exercise video to try.

 

  1. You gave up eating healthfully.

Here’s something that people don’t always realize: Winter fruits and vegetables aren’t always that exciting. In fact, it can be far easier to start a healthy eating plan as you head toward spring and the promise of berries and tomatoes. Alas, we’re not there yet, but you can still make strides in that direction, incorporating frozen fruits into smoothies, or trying a new recipe with a winter veggie, knowing that more choices are around the corner.

And remember that eating well doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Even making small changes—forgoing that afternoon vending machine cookie or after-dinner ice cream—can add up to big results when done consistently, and is often far more palatable than making a drastic change that’s hard to sustain.

 

  1. The clutter has piled up—again.

Did you join the Marie Kondo bandwagon? The pressure to decide if your items “spark joy” can be intense. But what many would-be organizers don’t realize is that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. A better strategy if you want to keep your house a little more organized is to adopt some daily habits that keep clutter at bay. For example:

  • Handle the mail and recycle liberally every day so it doesn’t pile up. (Bonus: You’ll never get hit with a late fee if you take care of paying bills as soon as they come in.)
  • Create a system to deal with jackets, shoes, mittens, etc. You might be surprised at what the calming effect of a clutter-free entry. This change alone can make your house feel less disorganized.
  • Run your dishwashers every night and empty it every morning so dishes don’t pile up in the sink.

There! With these three small changes you’ll be back on track…and you can tackle those drawers and closets at your leisure.

(And if you want to feel a little better about not getting rid of everything in your house, consider this story of a mom who inadvertently gave away one of her son’s mugs, which unfortunately was crammed with cash. No joy there!)




Keeping Your Office Healthy: Five Ways to Keep Germs at Bay

It used to be that one sign of a good worker was just powering through the day, even if you felt crummy. Now, the opposite is true, as workplaces get wise to the fact that a sick employee isn’t likely to get much done—except potentially spreading their germs to the rest of the team.

In fact, those coughing, sneezing coworkers can be a health hazard to everyone around them—just by breathing. One study estimates that more than 60 percent of people with flu symptoms admitted to leaving their house—presumably many of them to head to work—while they were sick. And that’s a lot of germs being passed around, infecting even healthy people.

Here are some ways that the HR team can contribute to a healthier workplace.

 

  1. Offer sick days

 

Many employees come to work sick because they think it’s expected. But creating a relatively lenient sick day policy might actually save you money in the long run, if workers stay home and keep their germs to themselves. One study found that “presenteeism,” the lack of productivity in workers experiencing health problems, can cost U.S. companies up to $150 billion annually.

 

Sick days can help stem the tide of germ-sharing in the workplace, according to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Researchers found that flu cases dropped in cities that adopted paid sick-leave mandates.

The key is to make sure employees know the policy and the protocol for calling out sick (see below for more on helping them telecommute.) And be aware of the duration of the illness; you might need to touch base with an employee if a spate of sick days is stretching into a case for when short-term disability insurance should potentially kick in.

 

  1. Create work-at-home protocols.

 

When deadlines loom, many employees might feel that taking a sick day will just make things worse when they return. According to one study, more than 40 percent of employees said that was the reason they came to the office while sick—to avoid future work overload.

 

But the truth is that many employees can do key parts of their job remotely—even if it isn’t feasible all the time. However, that can raise the question of whether the employee has actually taken a “sick day” or not, which can impact their compensation. That’s why you might want to consider implementing a policy that covers some of those issues, such as how their time will be tracked and how many “work-at-home-while-sick” days each employee can take.

 

Having a clear policy can protect your company so you can verify that work is actually being done, while avoiding the risk of having employees spreading germs to others.

 

  1. Encourage your team to get flu shots.

 

Of course it’s best to get the flu shot earlier in the season, but it’s never too late to help prevent an office epidemic. In fact, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season.” And since flu outbreaks happen at different times in different communities, you may still have time. If yours hasn’t hit yet, getting vaccinated pronto could help keep people safe from it.

 

  1. Kill workplace germs as fast as you can.

 

It’s amazing how fast a virus can move in an office,” says Charles Gerba, a microbiologist and coauthor of The Germ Freak’s Guide to Outwitting Colds and Flu. “If one person comes in with the cold or flu, he can infect as many as one-third of his fellow office mates within a day.”

 

Pay special attention to wiping down objects in community areas like the printer, copier, refrigerator handles, and door handles—and don’t forget the coffee pot. And encourage employees to wipe down their stations frequently also.

 

  1. Encourage healthy habits.

 

One of the best ways to build immunities that help stave off illness is to adopt healthy behaviors, such as getting adequate sleep, eating well and exercising regularly.

You can play a role by sharing articles with healthy tips (such as those found on this site) or by encouraging employees to sip water and munch on healthier choices, if your workplace offers snacks at meetings.

 

With these tips, a healthy office can be within reach.




The top 10 health and nutrition trends to look for in 2019

Health and nutrition trends come and go, and 2019 is guaranteed to bring about some interesting changes to keep an eye on. Natural Grocers surveyed more than 70 of the company’s nutrition experts and identified the top 10 trends in health and nutrition in 2019.

  1. Mitochondrial optimization will keep healthy fats in focus. Microbiome has been a buzzword for the past few years, but this year, it is mitochondria. Mitochondria convert oxygen and food into the energy, and when your mitochondria are dysfunctional, but you can become vulnerable to degenerative diseases like heart disease, diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. In 2019, expect to hear more about mitochondrial health and look to see brands embracing more high-fat focused and ketogenic products to support optimal mitochondrial function.
  2. Collagen and bone broth are easier than ever.  Collagen has gained mainstream interest over the past year. In 2019, as more collagen and bone broth products enter the market, so will convenient opportunities for consumers to take collagen on a daily basis. Companies are looking for unique and simple ways for consumers to try out bone broth, including bone broth protein bars, pre-made soups and even bone-broth infused coffee.
  3. Say goodbye to sugar. Consumers are continuing to stay aware of how much sugar is added to almost everything they eat. This year, nutritionists are urging consumers to learn how to break up with sugar, claiming once you become a savvy monitor of added sugar, it will become easier to avoid it.
  4. A mushroom boom.  Mushrooms hold the power to support the immune system, blood sugar balance, brain health, liver health, respiratory health, hormone balance and can even boost energy levels. In response to the growing mountain of research promoting the health benefits of mushrooms, the supplement, grocery and even body-care industries are introducing more ways to introduce mushrooms to consumers. We’ll continue to see the category grow, with more mushroom teas, tonics, broths and coffees making an appearance in 2019.
  5. Nootropics + neuroplasticity Neuroplasticity is the now proven principle that we can change the structure and function of our brains throughout our lives and that our thoughts, emotions and behavior are the primary means of doing that. The discovery of neuroplasticity has led to the explosion of natural nootropics. Nootropics are substances that can be taken to improve mental performance in healthy people, and they are most often used to boost memory, focus, creativity, intelligence and motivation. Nootropics may also reduce age-related declines in brain function. Look for more brain-boosting formulas on the supplement shelves in the coming year
  6. Promoting the body’s ability to heal itself. We will see companies meet the demands of consumers who want to swap their use of over-the-counter (OTC) meds and prescription drugs for natural remedies that support the body in healing. Instead of opening the medicine cabinet, people will use a combination of lifestyle choices, herbal remedies and vitamin supplementation to support the body in times of discomfort. Immune support remedies like mushrooms, elderberry, manuka honey throat sprays and natural zinc lozenges will dominate.
  7. Green beauty boom. Consumers are becoming more aware about the slew of chemicals that come from body care products, including ubiquitous endocrine disruptors, and are looking for products with ingredient lists that don’t require a chemistry degree to understand. In 2019, expect companies to offer a wide variety of clean body care products with simple, natural ingredients that work.
  8. Ingredient lists over nutrition facts.  In 2019, expect to see nutrition labels demoted and instead, consumers will read and make food choices based on ingredient labels. Rather than glorifying macronutrient logs and adhering to extremely strict dietary guidelines, 2019 will foster a friendlier relationship with food that focuses on simple, clean ingredients in products made with whole, real foods.
  9. Lutein reigns supreme over blue light. Blue light—from our smart phones, tablets, computers, TVs and even light bulbs—has become ever-present, and a growing body of research is showing that all of this blue-light exposure can damage the retina of the eye and can lead to age-related macular degeneration1 Enter lutein. Lutein preferentially accumulates in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision, where it filters damaging blue light and increases macular pigment density. In 2019, lutein will solidify its role as protector of the eyes and the brain.
  10. Love your liver. In 2018, research showed millennials were getting fatty liver disease faster than any other age group. According to the National Institutes of Health, up to 40 percent of U.S. adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In 2019, it’s expected that consumers will clean up their diets, and there will be an increase in sales of herbal supplements that support liver health, like milk thistle and berberine, as well as MCT oil.

 




How to stay on track with your weight loss goals this New Year

It’s no surprise that losing weight is the top three of most New Year resolutions year over year. But, it tends to be easier said than done. Life can easily get in the way, and come February 1st, some are left feeling defeated.

But, your New Years goal can carry you through 2019 and help you make life-long changes with regard to your weight and overall health — just as long as you keep things in perspective, take it slow, and set realistic and measurable goals for yourself. In addition, making fitness and healthy foods something to enjoy rather than a must-do is the key to keeping weight off. Mental clarity, improvements to your skin and sleeping habits, and a boost in confidence are all things to enjoy with living a consistently healthy and active lifestyle.

Ready to make the change and have 2019 be your healthiest year yet? Below are some top tips for accomplishing your New Years weight loss goals.

  1. Set measurable, attainable goals. Goal setting is key and will help you clarify what you want to accomplish and within what time frame. Creating a goal — along with detailed action steps — will make your weight loss journey feel attainable versus unreachable.
  2. Track your progress.Documenting personal information and your individual process can help you stay on track toward your goals. Results are important to keep you motivated. Finding a health-related app — like MyFitnessPal — is a great way to track not only your food but also your exercise. Additionally, the app lets you set caloric goals and nutritional goals for each day.
  3. Find an easy-to-follow, flexible program that works for you.A weight loss program that is simple, safe and effective will be more manageable for the long term and will help you achieve your weight loss goals. Additionally don’t be afraid to try something new. Exercise should be something you enjoy, and finding an activity that your excited about will help you maintain an active habit further down the road.
  4. Be mindful of your eating habits.Understanding the motivation behind your food choices can help you make more conscious decisions. Try and choose real, fresh food whenever possible, which will make your weight loss manageable for the long term. Have a craving for a certain snack? Take to Google and see if there’s a healthier alternative made from all natural products. Meal subscription services — like HungryRoot — are another fantastic option to try, even for a week or two. HungryRoot offers comfort food — like cheese, chocolate cookies, casseroles, Pad Tai and more — all certified vegan and gluten free.
  5. Sleep well and avoid stress.Sleep deprivation and stress can increase your hunger and cravings leading to higher calorie intake. Additionally, solid sleep will allow you to better recover from intense exercise. Limit T.V. and cell phone use an hour before bedtime to fully enable your body to wind down. Another habit to try that could aid in sleep? Meditation.
  6. Eat plenty of protein.Protein has powerful effects on appetite such as increasing the feeling of fullness, reducing hunger and can help you eat fewer calories. Protein should be included in every meal and is available no matter what your dietary decisions are.
  7. Control your environments.Stocking your kitchen with healthy options, choosing the right restaurants, and bringing your own healthy snacks will help you avoid temptations. Are you a sucker for Oreos or a pint of ice cream? Cut down your grocery list by eliminating those items, or try to find healthier alternatives.



Sleep is the Most Fundamental Part of Your Daily Wellness Routine

Man waking up in bed. Most of us know that sleep is important. Our sleep — or lack thereof — can make or break a day, a job, or a relationship. With enough sleep we’re happier, healthier, more productive people. Without it, we become moody zombies who can barely remember what day it is, only that the weekend seems too far away.

We spend so much time, money, and effort on other aspects of our health and wellbeing. We pay for gym subscriptions and yoga classes. We make a mess in our kitchens every morning attempting to make a green juice that’ll somehow fix our tired minds and bodies immediately. (That, or queuing for a giant coffee becomes a top priority in our morning routine.) What if we were to invest in something utterly free — our sleep.

Sleep is Essential For Wellness

It is recommended that adults get between seven and nine hours of sleep a night. And when your colleague at work says that she can survive on just four hours a night, ignore her. While we may be able to complete a given task on less sleep than our well-rested counterparts, throw an obstacle into the equation and we’re rendered useless.

Dr. Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles, authored a study on how sleep deprivation disrupts the ability of our brain cells to communicate with each other. “We discovered that starving the body of sleep also robs neurons of the ability to function properly,” he said in a statement. “This paves the way for cognitive lapses in how we perceive and react to the world around us.”

Sleep deprivation not only makes us less effective at our jobs and all areas in our life, it can also have detrimental effects on our long-term mental and physical wellbeing. A lack of sleep has been linked to anxiety and depression, while physically it can lead to conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart disease.

How to Improve Your Sleep Habit

Here are four things you can do to improve the quality and quantity of your sleep:

  • Exercise: By doing at least half an hour of exercise a day – walking, jogging, swimming, whatever gets you moving – you’re giving your body a stretch and distracting your mind from whatever stresses are plaguing you. They’ll thank you by shutting down when you need them to.
  • Eat right: This doesn’t just mean eating healthily, although of course that’s an important part of any wellness routine. There are certain foods which actually promote sleep – for instance, almonds and cereal – so by having these an an evening snack you can boost your chances of getting those zzzs in at a reasonable hour.
  • Get some fresh air: Whether it’s a hike in the mountains or a quick power walk around the block, a little fresh air can go a long way in helping you settle down at night. Or why not dine al fresco whenever’s the weather’s nice and eat your lunch in your nearest park? Your eyes will thank you for the change from your computer screen.
  • Establish an evening routine: Winding down for the night early can make all the difference in sleeping peacefully or tossing and turning until morning. Switch off those screens an hour before bedtime and do something that will help you relax. Have a bath, read a book, meditate, hang out with the cat, fold the laundry, whatever it takes. Do this regularly as a prelude to sleep and you’ll find that your brain is that much more able to unwind.

By weaving these habits into your daily routine, you’ll start to see the impacts in your wider life. With a body and mind that is well rested and alert, you’ll be that much more resilient both physically and emotionally.




3 Supplements to Boost Your Immune System

Elderberry teaFlu season is in full-swing, which has people hiding underneath the covers and doing whatever else possible to avoid getting sick. While the best path toward a healthy immune system is a combination of a proper diet, sleep, and exercise, there are a number of supplements that can help boost your defenses against the myriad viruses swirling around offices, schools, and public gatherings this time of year.  

Here are three supplements that can bolster your body’s defenses. They’re all natural remedies that have been helping humans fend off sickness for centuries. 

Elderberry

Elderberry can be purchased either in capsule or liquid form and is an excellent starting point for those in search of immune-boosting supplements. Its central compounds are known as “anthocyanins,” which not only help immune function, but can also reduce the severity of congestion in some people. Elderberry can reportedly reduce the longevity of flu symptoms by three days — a veritable lifetime for those who are feeling as if they’ve been hit by a truck.

Zinc

An essential mineral that works as an antioxidant within the body, zinc plays a critical role in proper immune system functionality. Zinc is necessary for the development and activation of T-cellswhich allow the immune system to operate at peak performance. While some know and love zinc due to its reported ability to reduce the duration of the common cold, its presence in the body can also help reduce the chances of catching a cold to begin with. Zinc is often sold in lozenge form, although tablets and capsules are also available. It can also be found in various foods, such as beans and nuts. 

Probiotics

Many people associate probiotics with gut health, and rightfully so. But did you know that as much as 70 percent of the immune system lives within the gastrointestinal system? As a result, poor gut health often leads to reduced overall immune functionality, which may manifest in the form of repeated colds, or even just a general feeling of malaise. This is often overlooked as people research ways to build up their immune health, yet it offers a powerful form of protection. Probiotics are essentially “good” bacteria that — when taken in supplement form — help to restore balance to the gut microbiome, fighting against disease and harmful pathogens in the process. A word of advice: don’t pay too close attention to colony forming units (CFUs) when shopping for probiotics supplements, as “more” doesn’t necessarily equate to “better” in this case. 

There’s nothing worse than feeling sick with an impending work-week ahead of you, and by the time you get to that point, it’s too late. So take preventative action now. By adding one or more of these supplements to your regimen, you can reduce your chances of becoming a sick day statistic. More than that, you’ll start to pave the way for long-term health and resilience. 




4 Natural Ways to Boost Your Energy at Work

Glass of water at a deskHow energized do you feel in your job? Are you battling to make it through each workday? According to the 2016 General Social Survey, a large portion of Americans are feeling tired in their daily working lives. Nearly 50 percent of people said they are often or always exhausted at work. People in 2016 were twice as likely to report that they were always exhausted compared to 20 years ago.

If you’re one of these people, it can be tempting to blame your job or the manic nature of modern life. But there are numerous things you can do to tweak and increase your energy levels on a daily basis. Here are four simple, natural ways to build resilience and energy back into your workday:

1. Eat Regularly

Breakfast cannot be overstated as a prerequisite for an energized day at work. By skipping breakfast, you’re opening up your body to a whole host of possible problems, from heart disease and diabetes to increased cravings later in the day. Make sure you make time for breakfast, then aim for consistent meal times throughout the workweek. Studies show that sticking to regular mealtimes encourages more healthy eating across the board. And during the day, have access to good, healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts.

2. Watch Your Magnesium

If you’re already eating regularly, take a more granular look into your diet. In particular, are you getting enough magnesium? This is an essential macromineral that helps to regulate the enzymes in the body, metabolism, and nerve functions. A magnesium deficiency causes a wide range of issues, from muscle aches to anxiety and sleep disorders. The foods with the highest amounts of naturally occurring magnesium include almonds and sunflower seeds—try to also choose whole grains wherever possible. If you decide to take magnesium supplements, consult with a doctor or naturopath first as these supplements can interfere with other drugs.

3. Take a Walk

It sounds obvious, but this is remarkably effective in practice. If you’re feeling tired, uninspired, or just need a break, head out for a quick, brisk walk around the block. Studies show that taking a walk at lunchtime can significantly improve productivity and lift moods. When you go on a walk, you’re breathing in lungfuls of fresh air, taking in the larger world around you, broadening your perspective, and stretching your legs. You can be guaranteed you’ll have more of a spring in your step when you walk back in the door. And if you don’t have time to leave the building, other studies reveal that taking walking breaks even more regularly—such as five-minute walks every hour—can boost energy levels.

4. Hydrate

Just over half of the human body is made of water, and your brain holds a significant amount of H2O. A study by H.H. Mitchell published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, found that 73 percent of the human heart and brain is made of water. So if you’re feeling dull, tired, or uninspired, could your brain literally be dry? Keep a glass of water by your side, and be aware of what could be further dehydrating you. It’s not just coffee and alcohol that are to blame—there are a whole host of hidden causes of dehydration.

By tweaking your habits and building new routines that help you to move, stay well fed, hydrated and filled with the right vitamins and minerals, you will start to feel dramatic changes in your overall energy levels and sense of wellbeing on the job.




Tolerating Gluten Intolerance

Jan-celiac-imageAt 18 months old, my son suddenly changed from the happiest little dude in town to a miserable and often inconsolable kid. Without warning, he became thoroughly unhappy, bouncing between periods of lethargy and periods of frustration. His sleep, which had been challenging anyway, as it is with most little ones, became a constant battle; he struggled to get comfortable and would wake several times each night. His enthusiasm for eating and trying new foods disappeared, causing us to coax most meals into him. And, perhaps most troubling, he began to loose weight.

His pediatrician was stumped. She couldn’t identify an illness. There were no injuries to explain the situation. No significant changes in his daily life.

Eventually a blood test was ordered, mostly to rule out celiac disease. When the results showed extremely high tTG levels, the doctors thought there must have been an error. To confirm, an endoscopy was performed. Sure enough, numerous ulcers in his small intestines were discovered.

I was positive this was karma’s way of punishing me. Over the preceding couple of years, several friends had joined the anti-gluten trend and decided to remove the protein from their diet for no reason, as far as I could tell, other than following a fad. So I began telling people that I had become intolerant of gluten intolerance. My son’s diagnosis felt like payback.

We immediately removed gluten from the little monster’s diet, and almost immediately his mood improved. Within a couple of weeks, he began to put the lost weight back on, and was once again the happy, exhausting kid he had previously been.

An Invisible Autoimmune Nightmare

My son’s sensitivity is high. After diagnosis, we began regular check ins with a gastroenterologist. At our first visit, we learned it could take as long as a year for his body to fully heal. We also learned that a single gluten-containing crumb small enough to fit under my fingernail would be enough to make him feel sick for a day or two.

For reasons unknown, the gluten protein causes the villi in the small intestines to flatten out, which then prevents them from absorbing the nutrition passing through the body. This not only results in discomfort, but in some cases the body is so deprived of nutrition and vitamins, that the disease can prevent growth and may lead to additional problems such as anemia, osteoporosis, and weakened bones.

It’s Everywhere!

We became gluten fanatics almost overnight. It was fairly easy to cut out the obvious problems – wheat, rye, and barley – but we soon discovered it’s more complicated than just avoiding bread and crackers. The stuff shows up in soaps, shampoos, soy sauce, candies, some hot dogs, dry-roasted nuts, vitamin supplements, toothpaste, and laundry detergents! We had to make special play dough to send with him to daycare, because the store-bought stuff isn’t safe. If they blow bubbles on the playground and he pops one, they have to wash his hands before he sticks a finger in his mouth. When I repaired a small crack in a wall at home, he had to be out of the house until dust from the drywall and joint compound was thoroughly cleaned up, because even those have gluten in them!

Awareness is on the Rise

The good news is having celiac disease in 2018 is a lot better than it would have been even 10 years ago. Our local grocery store has an entire gluten-free section. Most products list all ingredients on their labels, often highlighting known allergens. And overall awareness of gluten intolerance is high. We’ve learned to avoid most cereals, breaded foods, and even some non-wheat grains, as they can have trace amounts of gluten if processed in a facility that also processes wheat. We learned that even if a pizza joint offers a gluten-free option, wheat flour in the air could impact our pie. And we’ve learned that “gluten-free” is definitely not the same as “Certified gluten-free.”

Luckily, in addition to special sections in the grocery store, many restaurants are also proving options for a growing population of celiacs. Even in our relatively small city, there are several gluten-free restaurants. And the local gluten-free bakery is worth a visit, whether you have an intolerance or not.

The Numbers Seem to be Growing

While celiac disease is estimated to impact only 1% of the population, general gluten intolerance is on the rise–four times more common today than it was in the 1950s! It’s not clear why more people are becoming sensitive to the protein, but theories range from changes in wheat, to too much gluten in processed foods, to poor diet and excessive use of antibiotics, contributing to an overgrowth of candida in the gut.

Only One Treatment…For Now

There is currently no cure for celiac disease, and the only real treatment is a gluten-free diet. However, thanks to more people suffering from an intolerance, there is more research underway today than ever before. Several new drugs are being tested, and trials of vaccine-like treatments have already begun in Europe and Australia. It’s possible that an effective solution will be developed before my son grows up and has to opt for gluten-free beer (yep, most beers have gluten, too).

Until then, we’ll keep the house gluten-free, make our own play dough, read every label, and visit that celiac-safe bakery as often as possible. And lots of chocolates are gluten-free, so we have that going for us!




Put Muscle Into Your Metabolism

Jan-BuildMuscle-imageHow’s your metabolism these days? If your body isn’t looking or feeling the way you’d like it to, maybe it’s time to take a closer look.
As we get older, especially in our 40s, our metabolism tends to slow down. Even for people who jog or cycle a few times a week and maintain an average weight, their metabolism can continue to decline. What’s going on?

 

The basics of your metabolism are simple. You eat food, most of it becomes glucose (sugar), insulin delivers the glucose to cells, and how well all of this happens is your metabolic rate.

 

For too many Americans, diet is the primary cause for a slowing metabolism. Consuming too much sugar or carbohydrates can lead to more stored body fat that sets off a chain of problems involving blood sugar, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

 

Faster at Any Age

How to speed up you metabolism is simple, but first there are some misconceptions to get past. Getting older doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about your metabolic rate. In fact, with some important changes, an older person’s metabolism can outperform that of a 20 something. Being thinner isn’t necessarily an advantage for having a faster metabolism. And regular exercise such as running, cycling or walking is all you need to help manage your metabolism.

 

Muscle for Metabolism

To create a healthy metabolic rate, building muscle is the answer. More muscle burns more sugar for fuel. And the more muscle you have, the faster your metabolic furnace runs. Strength training – yes, working with weights – is absolutely essential to ward off useless fat. You don’t have to be a gym rat to change your metabolism. Simple resistance training even at home can start to build more muscle mass.

 

With a focus on strength training, you’re engaging the most important metabolic tissue in your body. A pound of muscle burns far more calories than a pound of fat. Unlike cardio training that is important for the heart and lungs, weight training consumes more sugar and delivers more strength. All you need to do is to start resistance work on the muscles you have. You can start at sixty and older and still get great results.

 

Getting Started

If you haven’t done resistance training before or it’s been a long time since you last did, here are few suggestions to get started. Like anything new, start slowly to avoid burnout or injury. If you have any concerns about lifting weights or using weight machines in a gym, be sure to consult with your physician. Begin with light weights and work on good form. You’re looking for a complete range of motion with good posture and alignment. You can start a program at home, but to really get results, visit a nearby gym and seek the advice of a good trainer. Just spending two–three days per week doing resistance training will start putting good muscle into your metabolism.