Author Archives: jason@cybermintz.com

85-16

How One Man Lost 110 Pounds – and Kept It Off

How One Man Lost 110 Pounds – and Kept It Off

Try his 10 tips for successful weight loss and maintenance.

85-16

My neighbor Tim, a digital technologist, looks like an outdoorsy guy who’s probably always been slender and active. He’s proof that looks can be deceiving. In reality, just three years ago, Tim weighed 290 pounds. He lost 110 pounds in two years and is now maintaining his weight at 175 to 180 pounds.

How’d he do it? I asked the same question. Here’s what he said:

1. Pay attention to red flags. 

At only age 46, Tim already had high cholesterol and blood pressure, and not much energy. He was also diagnosed with and treated for sleep apnea – often a complication of being overweight or obese. But because he was overwhelmed with life’s obligations, Tim missed these red flags. Then, one hot spring day, while riding the Metro from work, Tim felt faint, collapsed and landed in a hospital emergency room, where he was evaluated for a possible heart attack. As he listened to the “bleep, bleep, bleep” of the cardiac monitor, he realized how grateful he was for every “bleep” and how terrified he was of the alternative. When his wife and son rushed to his bedside, both shaken and begging him not to die, he finally acknowledged he was ready to change.

2. Learn how to do it – and how to keep doing it.

Since his 20s, Tim had removed and regained the same 60 pounds three times. He knew how to shed pounds – he just didn’t know how to keep doing it. This concept was a major revelation for Tim. He realized he needed to shift from a weight removal mentality to a weight maintenance mindset. This meant accepting a lifelong commitment to a new set of healthier lifestyle habits that could continue after he achieved his goal weight.

3. Try not to break the chain. 

When asked about a secret to productivity, Jerry Seinfeld said he marks an X on a calendar every day he makes progress toward a goal. “After a few days, you’ll have a chain,” he said. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain. Don’t break the chain.” Tim used this call to action to fuel his weight maintenance mindset. He could easily visualize creating each day’s link, and connecting one day to another. His daily lifestyle habits took on a deeper meaning, strengthening his drive to stay on track. In no time, he was doing it – and keeping at it.

After landing in the emergency room with a suspected heart attack, Tim Chambers committed to getting healthy. (COURTESY OF TIM CHAMBERS)

After landing in the emergency room with a suspected heart attack, Tim Chambers committed to getting healthy. (COURTESY OF TIM CHAMBERS)

4. Know your “must do” numbers. 

One way Tim kept doing it was by determining the minimum he had to do every day to build that link. After doing his homework, he settled on three daily numbers: 1,600 calories, 10,000 steps and seven hours of sleep. As long as he kept to these numbers as best he could, and regrouped quickly if he slipped up, he was making progress.

5. Don’t sweat day-to-day weight fluctuations.

After beginning his sedentary computer work at age 22, Tim’s natural 170-pound body ballooned. So when setting his goal weight, he chose a range of 175 to 180 pounds. If he reached the higher end of that range during weight maintenance, he readjusted his nutrition and physical activity behaviors – without worrying about daily fluctuations. He learned to trust that by staying consistent with his healthy choices, his weight would balance out as planned.

6. Stop floating into mindlessness and stay accountable. 

Reflecting on his past experiences, Tim recognized he had trouble maintaining weight loss because he would fall into a pattern of becoming mindless and unaccountable. So he tapped into his digital expertise and found a new world of tools – including a wireless scale, My Fitness Pal and other apps – to keep him accountable. He became acutely aware that he could not outrun his fork – that is, he couldn’t use exercise to correct any overeating. He continues to log his food and activity today.

7. Find support. 

Tim counted on apps like Lose It! and Nerd Fitness for support. The virtual voices of folks like him who were working through challenges, and who welcomed sincere encouragement and advice, helped him stick to his plan. His family also supported him by joining in his healthy lifestyle campaign, which benefited everyone.

8. Burn calories wisely and well. 

Tim knew he had to exercise every day to reach and maintain his goal, so he decided he might as well enjoy it by discovering the outdoors. He’s since explored new neighborhoods, hiked park trails and adopted a dog to help incentivize his walks. He “spends” his physical activity calorie burn wisely, squeezing every ounce of pleasure and joy out of each foray into the outdoors and weight-lifting session with his son. Getting up and being more active has other advantages, including a cleaner garage, and tidier living and work spaces.

9. Look at weight maintenance as a life-long practice.

When Tim launched his new lifestyle program three years ago, he initially saw it as a second job. It took the same level of daily vigilance, work and determination required of his professional and family roles. Over time, the lifestyle habits have become more ingrained. With humble acceptance, he’s now entered a new phase of the lifelong practiceof healthy living. In doing so, he’s also inspired and mentored friends and coworkers.

10. Be patient with the mind. 

After years of hiding under loosely fitting baggy clothes, Tim is not yet comfortable donning skin-hugging workout gear – even though he’s dropped almost five suit sizes. He’s also still surprised when people he hasn’t seen in years remark about his weight loss, and worries the weight will return. But these thoughts are normal after weight loss of any magnitude. In fact, for every 25 pounds of weight loss, it tends to take about one year to mentally adapt and adjust to the physical change. But with patience and daily practice, I’m certain Tim will solidify his mental and physical “new normal” and, in doing so, maintain his healthy weight for life.

Some people's brains are better wired to resist temptation than others. (GETTY IMAGES)

How to Avoid Weight Regain, According to Science

How to Avoid Weight Regain,
According to Science

Follow these six research-backed strategies to keep those pounds off for good.

Some people's brains are better wired to resist temptation than others. (GETTY IMAGES)

Some people’s brains are better wired to resist temptation than others. (GETTY IMAGES)

Regardless of where you are on your weight-loss journey, you’re likely living with the constant fear of gaining it all back. Your worry is not unfounded: Research suggests men and women on most traditional diets drop 5 to 10 percent of their original weight within the first six months, but less than 5 percent maintain that weight loss over time. Even worse, over two-thirds of dieters regain more than they lost. No wonder folks stay up late at night worrying if weight creep is lurking around the corner.

If you’re one of them, relax. There’s no need to stress about this if you’re using the right science-based strategy. Here are six key steps you can take to create a powerful foundation for long-term weight maintenance success:

1. Convert the willpower stereotype into a ‘wellpower strategy.’ 

A newly released national survey found that Americans feel that a lack of willpower is the most significant barrier to achieving and maintaining weight loss. These study participants also felt that obese people should be able to shed weight on their own by eating less and moving more. These findings are alarming since they fly in the face of evidence-based science. Here’s the truth: Gaining excess weight is caused by a complex interplay between genetics and environment. The newly emerging science of epigenetics has unmistakably shown that hundreds of obesity-prone genes can be activated by a spectrum of conditions, from childhood abuse and trauma to the nutrition status of grandparents.

It’s time to stop blaming yourself and others for a lack of willpower. Appreciate that relying solely on eating less and moving more is too simplistic and trivializes substantial challenges to weight maintenance, such as impaired mental health and compromised socioeconomic status. Let’s strive for a holistic, integrative “wellpower strategy” that honors and works with your unique mind-body history, as well as your living and working environment.

2. Use your head.

You’re not a robot. You can’t just get up one day and eat healthy foods in appropriate portions and miraculously become more physically active. You also need to engage your mind. This involves psychology, as well as brain science. New studies shed light on how our brains can help support weight maintenance:

  • In the first, scientists scanned chronic dieters’ brains with functional MRIs and found that some of them are literally hard-wired to maintain their weight better than others. Peering into the brain’s white matter, the scans revealed a “super highway” between an area that perceives reward and one that provides a braking system. Successful weight maintainers showed greater connectivity, coherence and integrity between these two brain regions. In other words, their brains’ braking systems successfully say, “Hold it right there” as soon as their reward systems launch with, “I’m stressed out of my mind and want that candy now!” Not surprisingly, these master maintainers had lower body fats as well better weight maintenance.
  • In the second study, researchers found that for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) of weight lost, appetite increased enough to drive people to eat an extra 100 calories a day. This is apparently a primal biological feedback control of energy intake that kicks in when weight loss occurs.

Worried you may not be optimally hard-wired for weight maintenance? Fretting about your own body’s push to drive you to regain? No need to stress – there are ways to improve your own hard-wiring and cerebral control systems to keep you on track. Read on.

3. Practice mindfulness.

Meditate your way to a more effective brain. Neuroscientists have demonstrated that a consistent mindfulness practice promotes neurogenesis (the creation of new brain cells), which enhances learning, memory and emotion regulation – something you may need when a bad day tempts you to reach for the chip bag. Other research shows that meditation – including transcendental meditation – can also lead to a thickening of the brain’s pathways, meaning you can improve the communication between the brain break and the runaway reward system.

4. Define your ‘power why.’

Don’t launch into a new lifestyle program without first connecting with the reason(s) you want to change. Go deeper than the usual “I want to be healthy” retort. Visualize your goal. Do you see yourself hiking, biking or running with your friends and family? Looking and feeling energetic and happy? Being there for your kids and grandchildren? Acing that promotion because you’re filled with confidence? Being fit and healthy enough to live your dreams? Once you identify what’s really driving you, test it out to see if it can keep you on track in the face of temptation. If not, keep refining your “power why.” It will anchor you in the present, support your mindfulness practice and allow you to supervene over any biological drive to regain the original weight by encouraging you to patiently, persistently practice your healthy lifestyle habits.

5. Nourish your brain.

Just as with meditation and physical activity, a healthy diet will lead to a more effective, focused brain because it, too, promotes neurogenesis. You’ll also improve the health of your gut’s microbiome, or the 100 trillion friendly bacteria than exert a powerful influence on everything from immune function to your ability to maintain weight.

6. Move to maintain.

Getting more physically active isn’t just about burning calories. It’s about encouraging the growth of more brain cells to improve neural pathways, enhance vigilance and promote the optimal ability to stay on track. Both the practice of mindfulness and regular physical activity counter the body’s primal directive to regain weight. This has been demonstrated by the over 7,000 participants in the National Weight Control Registry, an ongoing prospective study of people who have maintained, on average, a 50-pound weight loss for 10 years or more. Over the past 20 years, these study participants have demonstrated that their consistent healthy lifestyle habits override alterations in appetite that could result in weight gain.

Successful long-term weight maintenance becomes a reality the moment you utter, “I am going to shed these extra pounds and get healthier” – and then commit to an integrative, mindful wellpower strategy.

Always looking to sneak in a snack? It may be time to change your approach to nutrition. (GETTY IMAGES)

To Eat Well, Ditch the Idea of ‘Cheating’

To Eat Well, Ditch the Idea of ‘Cheating’

Instead of cycling between deprivation and eating poorly, take a balanced approach.

Always looking to sneak in a snack? It may be time to change your approach to nutrition. (GETTY IMAGES)

Always looking to sneak in a snack? It may be time to change your approach to nutrition. (GETTY IMAGES)

My patient looked down with shame and despair and announced, “I was so bad – I cheated, and ate junk.” I cringed. There’s that word again: cheat. The notion of cheating is so often bundled with morally reprehensible acts – cheating on taxes, a test or a spouse. So how does cheating apply to eating? We’ve all been exposed to media hype and personal discussions about cheat meals, foods and days. But what does this really mean?

Why would you need to deviate and cheat if your diet was balanced, delicious and satisfying? Well, most diets aren’t. They typically work off the belief that if you want to drop excess body weight, you must restrict food intake, often to an extreme. This eat less to weigh less ethic has been the modus operandi for over a hundred years. The first diet book, “Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public,” was published in 1863 by the undertaker (which is somewhat prophetic) William Banting. In it, he professed the importance of banning sugar, sweet foods, starch, beer, milk and butter, all based upon his own personal weight loss experience, absent any credible science. Followers referred to their restrictive eating as “Banting” or a “Banting diet,” which eventually morphed into simply “dieting.” This then ushered in an era of countless diet books espousing some form of caloric restriction. Deprivation and the consequent dietary deviations became the norm.

Today, we now understand that significantly restricting calories and obsessing over dietary intake can be unhealthy, let alone impossible to sustain. One study found that severe food restriction and calorie counting programs can elevate levels of the stress hormone cortisol, and by doing so, ignite cravings for comfort foods, thereby defeating the original purpose of the diet. In other words, the greater the level of dietary restriction and perceived deprivation, the higher the incidence of cheating.

The reasons for dieting and cheating are many. For some working professionals – from pro athletes to models to others in the public eye – pressure to improve body composition and appearance may lead to on again, off again cycles of eating well versus cheating with lots of junk food. Many diets include a built-in cheat meal or day, including Body for Life, the Paleo Diet, Atkins and a laundry list of bodybuilding nutrition plans. Up front, the issue of an eat-cheat is discussed, offered as a program option and considered the norm. On the other hand, some people struggle with disordered eating and addictive eating, which is so often associated with poor body image. For these people, dietary cheating is fraught with a sense of loss of control as well as shame, blame and guilt. Most binge eaters, for example, are overweight and chronic dieters. Acknowledging an episode of cheating can easily trigger a binge cycle.

Chances are you’ve tried cheating on your eating with mixed results. So how can you break the cycle? Here are some suggested rules of the road to help you stay satisfied so that you’re better able to succeed in eating healthy:

Ditch the draconian diet. Science now shows the only way to achieve optimal and sustainable body weight, health and wellness is by following a delicious, whole foods-based nutrition plan. This approach minimizes the likelihood you’ll feel deprived and cave to a self-destructive crave and potential binge.

Avoid pigging out. Restricting yourself, feeling deprived and then mindlessly eating anything you want for that cheat meal or cheat day shocks your biology and can harm your health. Suddenly bingeing on low-quality fat, especially fried foods, can lead to acute inflammation of your gall bladder. Overeating also disrupts the normal functioning of your microbiome, the 100 trillion helpful bacteria in your intestine. Avoid also abrupt increases in the consumption of refined sugar, which can wreak havoc on glucose and insulin levels and stimulate the urge to further overeat. Finally, be careful not to mindlessly eat low-quality food products, which can pack on pounds and seriously impact your health.

Substitute a mindful treat for a sneak cheat. The word “cheat” is loaded and negative for many people. Instead, think about how you can treat yourself in a sensible way. To do so, eat foods that you enjoy, but which you’re not inclined to scarf down in large quantities, from a piece of fruit that provides desired sweetness to nuts – not chips – for a savory snack.

Let’s stop the restriction-deprivation-cheat cycle. Cheating’s irrelevant when you take a balanced approach to eating well.

85-13

The Real Impact of Child Abuse on Life Span

85-13

The Real Impact of Child Abuse on Life Span

As part of a routine checkup, health providers keep track of factors that can profoundly influence a person’s longevity and quality of life, from monitoring cholesterol and blood glucose levels to inquiring about diet and physical activity. In light of this information, we offer clinical advice based on the latest science, and many patients do quite well.

However, most practitioners fail to ask one pivotal question that could make an extraordinary difference in the health and survival of our patients, including how long patients live. That question: “As a child or adolescent, did you ever experience abuse of any kind, including emotional, verbal, physical or sexual trauma?”

A patient’s past history of abuse and the associated trauma are infrequently discussed in a medical setting. This is partly because many health providers are not well trained in inquiring about and discussing this with patients, and often providers aren’t aware of the significance of abuse and trauma in regards to a patient’s overall health and well-being. Patients, too, may not be fully aware of how a history of abuse negatively alters their mental and physical health, and how important it is to seek therapy to recover from the trauma.

But new science is prompting doctors and other health professionals to take note of the impact of child abuse on long-term health and survival. In one recent, revealing study, scientists evaluated national survey data to determine the mortality rate of 6,300 people over the course of 20 years. The group was mostly white, roughly split between men and women, and had completed a questionnaire detailing any history of child abuse. At the end of the study, the average age of survivors was 47 years. The researchers controlled for other mitigating factors that could impact their findings, including socioeconomic status or mental health disorders.

The study’s findings were striking, particularly for women. Female subjects who reported having experienced physical abuse were 58 percent more likely to die from all causes during the study period. Women who were emotionally abused were 22 percent more likely to die during the observed 20 years. Men who had a history of child abuse did not experience any impact on overall mortality rates.

So women who experience child abuse are much more likely to become sick and die earlier compared to men who’ve had a similar experience or women who’d never been abused. This is a study looking strictly at death rates. Now, let’s examine how abuse can affect quality, not just quantity, of life for men and women.

A child subjected to ongoing abuse desperately seeks comfort from the pain. Food is the most common and accessible form of reward to neutralize the angst. But using food to self-soothe can lead to overeating, bingeing and weight gain well into adulthood, with its subsequent and serious medical consequences. Harvard researchers examined the relationship between child abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder and addictive eating, which is defined as the overconsumption of processed food products and is associated with a loss of control as well as shame, blame and guilt. Studying more than 40,000 women from the Nurses’ Health Study, an ongoing health assessment study, the team led by women’s health expert Susan Mason (who is now on faculty at the University of Minnesota) found that a history of severe physical or sexual abuse was associated with an astonishing 90 percent increase in addictive eating behavior as a self-soothing coping mechanism. In a related study, Mason found women who exhibited the most PTSD symptoms, and for whom trauma (including parental divorce and bullying) or abuse began at an earlier age, were twice as likely to struggle with addictive eating. In this study, the type of trauma or abuse didn’t matter.

In a previous groundbreaking study supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers investigated the prevalence of child abuse in 17,000 Kaiser Permanente health plan members. Led by Dr. Vincent Felliti, an expert in childhood trauma and abuse who founded the department of preventive medicine for Kaiser Permanente in San Diego, researchers reported that they found “a strong graded relationship between the breadth of exposure to abuse or household dysfunction during childhood and multiple risk factors for several of the leading causes of death in adults.” The research team created the Adverse Childhood Experience, or ACE, questionnaire, which is one of the most valuable evaluation tools used by clinicians and investigators today. ACE questions relate to an individual’s first 18 years of life, and document the presence of any form of abuse and neglect; domestic violence; family member substance abuse, criminal history and mental illness; and parental relationship challenges, including separation and divorce.

Researchers found over two-thirds of study participants reported at least one instance of neglect or abuse or another adverse childhood experience and more than 1 in 5 reported three or more ACEs. As the number of ACEs increased, so did the risk for a wide spectrum of grave mental and physical medical conditions. These included alcoholism, smokingand drug abuse; depression; heart disease; obesity; poor work performance and academic achievement; sexual promiscuity; domestic partner violence; and suicide attempts. The CDC estimates the lifetime economic costs associated with child abuse to be $124 billion, a figure derived from productivity losses as well as health care, special education, child welfare and criminal justice costs. As for the impact of adverse childhood experiences on life span, men and women with six or more ACEs died 20 years earlier on average than those with no ACEs. In essence, child abuse takes an astounding toll on society’s financial resources, and in the end, on the quality and length of an abuse victim’s life.

So, going forward, it’s time for all health care providers to document and address any history of childhood abuse and trauma. A referral to a trauma-based therapist for treatment can be lifesaving. Scholars like Christine Courtois, author of the seminal text on the subject, “Complex Trauma,” are training a new generation of trauma therapists to provide individual and family treatment to help victims recover. In addition, foundations like Childhelp now exist to provide individuals and families with guidance and services.

It’s time to ask the question – and save a life.

Pedernal Mountain.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Artistic and Culinary Pioneer

Georgia O’Keeffe:
Artistic and Culinary Pioneer

On a recent trip to Santa Fe, I scheduled a visit Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico. O’Keeffe, known as the mother of American modernism, is most renowned for her extraordinary paintings of super-sized erotic flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes.

Pedernal Mountain.

Pedernal Mountain.

As I neared the property, I immediately spotted her frequently painted wooden ladder, leaning against a wall, its top rungs extending high above the rooftop.

ladder

The ladder. Photo by Dr. Peeke.

Stepping into her pristine, uber-organized house, it was apparent that she’d done everything possible to optimize exposure to the breathtaking vistas surrounding the property, even to the point of never hanging any window shades whatsoever. The sparsely furnished residence reflected O’Keeffe’s drive for minimalistic, uncluttered living. A few of her paintings and samples of pottery were scattered throughout the rooms. Naked lightbulbs dangled in most rooms. Let nothing impede the light or the natural sceneries.

And then we entered the kitchen.

The kitchen. Photo by Pam Peeke, MD.

The kitchen. Photo by Dr. Peeke.

The kitchen, as well as the house, had been left exactly as it was when O’Keeffe passed away at the age of 98. Somehow, I’d envisioned the artist’s nutritional program to be as austere as her décor. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Filled with amazement, I stared at countless shelves of perfectly organized cooking tools and a wide array of equipment displayed in impeccable order. I spun around and viewed row of jars filled to the brim with dried herbs. Large freezers and a full assortment of pots, pans, bowls and blenders met my gaze as I studied every nook and cranny in her shiny white cook’s paradise.

Georgia O’Keeffe was not just an artistic pioneer. She was a nutrition maverick, well ahead of her time. In 1997, Margaret Wood, O’Keeffe’s caregiver after the artist turned 90, penned the cookbook A Painter’s Kitchen, which also includes memories of her time at Abiquiu.

The book was filled with culinary tidbits, including O’Keeffe’s having been a regular reader of Prevention magazine, as well as a follower of the clean food advocate Adelle Davis. O’Keeffe was a locavore, consuming only what she grew. A passionate gardener, she grew a wide variety of vegetables, fruit, and herbs all of which she picked and prepped for immediate cooking and storage. Dinner was dictated by “what’s ripe in the garden.”

Strolling through those gardens, I saw pear, apple, and peach trees, interspersed with thick raspberry bushes juxtaposed with basil, lovage, dill and mint. Working side by side, O’Keeffe instructed Wood in her cooking, drying, freezing and canning techniques, which I venture to bet harkened back to O’Keeffe’s upbringing on a Midwestern dairy farm.

Not a vegetarian, she enjoyed occasional organic free-range beef and chicken, and ground whole-wheat flour on her electric wheat berry mill. Alcohol was infrequent, while freshly ground coffee was plentiful. I counted no less than 12 different coffee pots neatly arranged by size. Her choice of snack was as simple and wholesome as her life—homemade yogurt, a wheat germ bar or fresh fruit.

Before the onset of macular degeneration in her later years, O’Keeffe’s pre-sleep ritual was to read cookbooks. Reflecting on the eye-opening new history about this beloved artist, I closed my eyes and imagined her dining on colorful, savory and healthy fare, followed by her love of climbing up the ladder at dusk to sit and view the stars.

After visiting Abiquiu, I drove the 13 miles to Ghost Ranch, O’Keeffe’s other residence. There, I saw the panorama of mountains and valleys that were the subject of some of her most acclaimed artwork. She was obsessed with two in particular. Pedernal, a flat-topped mountain to the south, was such a favorite that she once noted, “It’s my private mountain. God told me if I painted it often enough I could have it.”

Now knowing what I do about O’Keeffe’s nutritional leanings, I smiled wide when I discovered that the other chosen mountain was aptly called Kitchen Mesa, a sandstone monolith topped by a red rock chimney.

So, the next time you find yourself wandering through a museum or gallery eyeing with admiration any one of Georgia O’Keeffe’s paintings, remember that the tireless hours this master of modernism spent in her studio were supported by a truly holistic lifestyle. For that matter, nature, through her gardens, fueled her every stroke of the paintbrush… of nature.

My favorite from A Painter’s Kitchen:

Makes 1 dozen

  • 1 cup unbleached flour
  • ¼ cup soy flour
  • ¾ cup whole-wheat flour
  • 2 Tablespoons brewer’s yeast (optional)
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup safflower oil
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons honey
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped almonds
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped cashews
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • ¼ cup sunflower seeds
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan.
  2. In large mixing bowl, combine the flours, brewer’s yeast (if using), baking powder and salt. In a smaller bowl, beat egg and add oil, honey and milk.
  3. Add this mixture with nuts and seeds to flour mixture, and mix just until blended.
  4. Fill muffins cups two-thirds full with batter. Bake in preheated oven 12 to 15 minutes, or until nicely browned.
  5. Serve with butter/oil and/or fruit preserves.
(GETTY IMAGES)

Are You Fit to Live?

Are You Fit to Live?

Take steps to survive, thrive and realize your best life possible.

Ask yourself this question, “Am I fit enough to survive the challenges of living in the 21st century?” Could you:

  • Get up with no assistance after falling?
  • Dash after a child who was running toward a busy intersection?
  • Hoist your luggage into the overhead compartment?
  • Race up four flights of stairs?
  • Run for your life in the face of impending danger?
  • Mentally regroup after experiencing significant stress?

Contemplating these scenarios redefines fitness and elevates it to a whole new and uniquely functional level. Suddenly, possessing aerobic endurance and physical strengthisn’t just about looking hot in a pair of jeans or winning a 5K. It’s about surviving the gamut of life’s mental and physical challenges, from the mundane to the death-defying.

It’s fitness with a survival twist.

As a physician, my guiding mission is to help people save their own lives. My goal is for each person to be fit enough to survive, live their dreams and continue to grow and challenge themselves mentally and physically. Reframing the focus this way provides much more meaningful motivation to make the time and do the work to achieve and sustain overall fitness.

Dr. Pamela Peeke takes a break from hiking at WellFit Malibu, a healthy lifestyle retreat. (DAMON BOTSFORD/WELLFIT MALIBU)

I felt so strongly about this that I penned the book “Fit to Live,” which subsequently became the award-winning Discovery Health TV series, “Could You Survive?” that I co-directed and hosted. In each show, a small group of average people confronted a survival scenario they had to navigate. We started with a burning building segment in which participants had to quickly run up and down many flights of stairs, crawl under collapsing walls, drag an injured person to safety, climb over mountains of debris, and finally make it to safety. Their first attempt was always fraught with drama, trauma and tears, as no one survived due to their lack of overall mental and physical fitness. After participating in six weeks of individualized mind and body training, each person was finally able to repeat the same challenge successfully. One eye-opener was that looks can indeed be deceiving. Men and women, who were slender or appeared to be of average weight, were often in no better shape than their heavier counterparts.

How can you become fit to live? Consider these five factors:

1. Mental: It’s not the strongest or smartest who survive, it’s those people who can adapt and adjust to life’s constant stresses. To be mentally fit to live, you need to be able to regroup as quickly as possible after you get off track. Observe yourself under stress and find ways to practice resilience. Make it a daily practice to hone your coping skills. Think of yourself as a strategically fearless warrior. You’re fighting to save your life in every way. Add a spiritual dimension to help support your mental fitness. Reframe traumas, redefine normal when change occurs, and make time to rejuvenate through meditation and sleep. Incorporate joy through loving relationships and passionate pursuits.

2. Nutritional: Natural, nutritious and delicious whole foods are your ticket to fueling optimal mental and physical performance. Your very survival depends upon making the time to grow (if possible), prepare, cook and enjoy your meals.

3. Physical: Keep reminding yourself as you sweat through another brisk walk or workout that you’re doing this to maintain your independence as you age, and strengthen your ability to fend for yourself in any kind of challenge. This is about succeeding at daily survival on a primal basis. Don’t limit yourself to being indoors in gyms, either. Recently, I visited WellFit Malibu in California, a renowned healthy lifestyle retreat, and as I hiked through the hilly property, I was reminded of one “Could You Survive?” episode, where the participants had to run from an imaginary raging wildfire. Envisioning fireballs behind me, I picked up my pace and was gratified to realize I could indeed run for my life if I had to.

4. Financial: You may wonder why I bring up money when talking about survival fitness. Well, if you haven’t enough to buy sneakers, then you’re not taking a walk. There is a strong connection between wealth (defined as your available financial resources) and health. If you’ve planned well and have saved money effectively, then you can afford basic workout gear, equipment or a gym membership to improve your overall health and fitness. Financial fitness applies to people of every income bracket. Many communities provide options for children and adults to participate in group exercise programs at little or no cost.

5. Environmental: People are often oblivious to how stressful it is to live in a disorganized mess. Therefore, it’s imperative to declutter to de-stress. You don’t have to become a stringent Marie Kondo tidiness disciple. Just ensure that you have clean and open surfaces and living spaces. Environmental fitness also means taking full advantage of the outdoors as well. How about that walk in your local park? Why not start an organic vegetable garden? Bicycling down country roads on a summer morning is a priceless experience. Finally, carefully examine how supportive the persons, places and things in your life are to the achievement of your fit to live goal, and assess if it’s time for a sorely needed overhaul.

The Hunger Fix

The Hunger Fix

Food Addiction is Real
• What have scientists discovered about food addiction? Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health has been a leading scientist exploring the relationship between food and addiction, along with her colleague Dr. Gene Jack-Wang, of the Brookhaven Labs. Their teams found that it was primarily the continuous exposure to the “hyperpalatables”—sugary/fatty/salty foods, often refined and processed—that caused profound changes in the brain’s reward center, resulting in a decreased number of receptors for the reward/pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. This then leads to a vicious cycle of overeating and bingeing.

Dr. Volkow used tools such as PET scans and functional MRIs of the brain to determine that cues in the environment (such as ads on TV and radio, as well as smells and visuals) trigger an unstoppable yearning for a food. Scientists have added to these findings by showing that the prefrontal cortex, the center for executive function, was impaired during active addiction. As a consequence, the ability to use willpower and make the right decision was grossly hampered. Thus, two essential parts of the brain undergo significant organic changes leading to the perpetuation of food addiction. Food addiction, then, involves a serious psychobiological challenge.

• How many people have food addiction? recent study of 652 men and women in which researchers used the Yale Food Addiction Scale to assess the prevalence of the addiction, found that:

  1. Around 1 in 20 people (5 percent of the general population) met the criteria for food addiction
  2. There are a large number of people who don’t meet all of the criteria but who demonstrate a strong association between food and addictive behavior—the “almost addicted”
  3. Those with food addiction were heavier and had higher body fat percentages
  4. Women were more affected than men.

This is one of the first studies to provide a glimpse into the magnitude of this problem in the general population. It’s important to note that people who struggle with food addiction span the range of body sizes, from skinny to obese. The difference is in controlling the total daily number of calories ingested and expended.

• Am I a food addict? There’s a validated and peer-reviewed assessment you can take to find out if you have or are on the verge of food addiction. Known as the Yale Food Addiction Scale, this quiz is used by scientists for clinical and research work. You can take the full 27-item assessment, which is provided in The Hunger Fix, or complete the shorter version. Food addiction is indicated when there are three or more symptoms present within the past 12 months and the individual experiences serious functional impairment or distress in his or her daily life.

• What’s the relationship between food addiction and binge eating?Researchers have found a significant crossover between these two conditions. Yale researcher Ashley Gearhardt published data noting that those who experience binge eating and meet the criteria for food addiction are more likely to experience a higher level of mental and physical distress than binge eaters who do not meet the criteria. What exactly is binge eating? It’s the most common form of disordered eating and involves at least 30 percent of the population. Standard criteria for the diagnosis of binge eating include the presence of recurring episodes (at least once per week) of eating much more food than normal in a short period of time, often when not hungry, followed by feelings of being out of control, as well as shame, blame, and guilt. You can clearly see the overlap with food and addiction.

An exciting recent development is the inclusion of binge eating disorder in the fifth edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM-V). This means that those seeking help for weight management who have issues with binge eating and its often-associated food addiction will soon have insurance coverage for inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.

• How do you treat food addiction? The Hunger Fix is the first consumer book to provide readers with both the science and the solution for overeating and food addiction. There is a range of options—from 12-step to cognitive behavioral therapy—to tackle the problem of food addiction. I have found that most people cherry-pick from many of these resources to customize a plan that works best for them. The book will help guide you through this process.

The over-arching goal is to create a new strategy for lifelong recovery. Food addiction presents a unique challenge. It’s unlike an addiction to drugs or alcohol in that you need food to live. You’re surrounded by cues to eat 24/7, as well as the daily stresses that drive overeating. The recovery strategy has to include a healthy lifestyle to provide the mental, nutritional, and physical activity elements that will support lifelong recovery. The Hunger Fix lays down a framework for healing and strengthening the brain’s reward and executive function centers. In three stages—Detox and then Beginner and Master Recovery—you’ll learn how to substitute False Fixes (the hyperpalatables, people, places, and things that enable your overeating) with Healthy Fixes (whole foods, stress resilience, and mental and physical fitness).

The ultimate reward, once you reclaim your brain as well as your life, is the joy and happiness you’ll feel pursuing cherished dreams. That’s a hunger you can spend a lifetime satisfying.

How to Bust Your Binge
Pizza and ice cream are calling. Here’s how to avoid their tempting siren songs.

Before eating a plate of donuts, ask yourself two important questions. There’s a scene in “Sex and the City” where Miranda comes home from a particularly rotten day, takes a distressing phone call and then whips up a batch of brownies, gobbling one after the other. Disgusted with herself, she tosses the rest into the garbage. Hearing more bad news from another call, she stumbles back into the kitchen, grabs the trash can and does a full-on dumpster dive, stuffing her mouth with whatever brownies she can retrieve. Now, consumed with shame, she calls her best friend Carrie and solemnly declares her need to be admitted to the Betty Crocker rehab center. Sound familiar?

The Oxford dictionary defines a binge as “a short period devoted to indulging in an activity to excess, especially eating.” Miranda qualifies. It’s funny how tuna on a bed of greens doesn’t quite do it when you’re anxious and want to soothe yourself. Instead, it’s a bingeable food/beverage product which, in my book “Fight Fat after Forty,” I have defined as any food that:

  1. Can be eaten in large quantities during a single sitting;
  2. Often comes in family-sized bags, boxes or cartons;
  3. Is grab-and-go, usually not requiring extensive or, for that matter, any cooking;
  4. Can be any food product but typically involves a “hyperpalatable:” sugary/fatty/salty food combinations;
  5. Does not include arugula.

In “The Hunger Fix: The Three Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction,” I noted that science has demonstrated that bingeing is highly associated with addictive eating behavior. It’s no surprise that research has also shown that the top 10 addictive bingeables include pizza, chocolate, chips, cookies, ice cream, French fries, cheeseburgers, sugared sodas, cake and cheese. The problem is that we’re surrounded with 24/7 temptation and often feel helpless, hopeless and defeated as we try to navigate the ubiquitous, multimedia bingeable land mines without overeating.

Here’s a simple guide to help you avoid the bingeables’ tempting siren songs, and stay on track to optimize your health and wellness.

1. Always ask these two questions before you consider eating. 

Since bingeing is so highly tied to addictive eating, these two simple yet powerful questions help ground you as you contemplate whether to eat at all.

  1. If I consume this food/beverage, will I feel loss of control?
  2. If I consume this food/beverage, will I feel shame, blame and guilt?

If the answer to each question is “yes,” then you’re sitting in front of a bingeable. Say to yourself, “this doesn’t work for me,” and leave it. Out of sight, out of mind.

2. HALT before you cave to the crave.

Make the connection between mood and food by using the acronym HALT and asking yourself if, when you feel like overeating, you’re really:

  1. Hungry ? if it’s truly time to eat your meal or snack, then do so.
  2. Anxious or Angry ?
  3. you need to confront your feelings, not eat.
  4. Lonely ? you need bonding and connection, not food.
  5. Tired ? sleep is the answer, not food.

3. Here’s your license to chill.

Sleep deprivation will impair the ability of your hunger and appetite hormones (ghrelin and leptin) to function properly making controlling your eating mission impossible. Start prioritizing high-quality sleep, and you’ll be rewarded with a greatly improved ability to say “no” to temptation.

4. Stressed spelled backwards is desserts.

Toxic stress is associated with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and defeat. When that happens, people want to feel soothed and comforted, and kale’s not going to do it. Learning how to become more stress resilient is key. Staying centered with mindful living and meditation and mind-body modalities like yoga is essential to avoiding self-destructive behaviors like bingeing.

5. Ditch the m’nage a trois.

There you are in bed, late at night watching another “Law and Order” marathon with your two best friends, Ben and Jerry. Ditch these guys and get some real people in your life. Bag the loneliness, and reach out to help others by volunteering, connecting with others and getting out of yourself and into someone else’s needs.

6. Stay mindful, and beware of cues and triggers to binge.

Science shows that it’s actually the cues to overeat, not the act of eating, that cause the highest levels of the pleasure brain chemical (dopamine) to be secreted. The anticipation of bingeing is really what’s driving you to binge. Protect yourself by being very aware of, and trying to avoid if possible, the persons, places and things that are likely to trigger you to cave and overeat.

7. Eat crave killers.

Combine healthy protein with fiber to feel full and satisfied, thus decreasing the need to binge. For snacks, try nut butter on apple or banana slices, yogurt with walnuts and berries or carrots and hummus.

8. Try a smarter soothing strategy.

Create a repertoire of ways to soothe yourself without bingeing. If you really want something sweet, throw together a fruit smoothie or yogurt parfait with fresh blueberries. Non-food strategies can include getting up and walking outside to breathe some fresh air and move away from a stressor. Calling a friend to unload a problem helps. Prayer and meditation can keep you grounded. And don’t forget the power of a truly soothing bath.

Throw these tips and techniques into your mental tool box and grab ’em as needed. Consider yourself locked and loaded, prepared to bust an oncoming binge anytime.

Recovery-Life

How to Live a Recovery-Centric Life

How to Live a Recovery-Centric Life

Recovery-Life

You might not be aware, but in every nanosecond of your life, you’re actually experiencing countless never-ending cycles of mind-body recovery that run the gamut from grieving a broken heart to mending a pulled tendon.

For instance, as you rest and recover after a long, sweaty hike, you’re probably not aware that at the same time, a very robust recovery process is also occurring in your muscle cells and even further into your genes. After that refreshing morning walk, your cells begin to rebuild and regenerate, switching out used cellular debris for newer, stronger muscle fibers. At the same time, the aerobic exercise you did is reducing any destructive expression of genes in your DNA that could increase your risk for diabetes, cancer, obesity, and heart disease. And these genetic marks are passed on to your children. Therefore, when we make healthier choices that support optimal recovery, we’re actually reaping a heap of life-supporting rewards—not only for ourselves, but for future generations, as well.

Recovery at any level is a process of renewal and regeneration that’s integral to maintaining your ability to survive. The problem is that we’re not always allowing ourselves an optimal chance to regroup and recover. As a result, we’re decreasing our quality of life while speeding up the aging process. We can avoid this problem by learning how to live what I call a “Recovery-Centric Lifestyle.”

I stumbled across this unique lifestyle concept while studying the field of addiction rehabilitation for my book The Hunger Fix, which describes the science and solutions for food addiction. As I familiarized myself with typical addiction treatment programs, I was shocked and dismayed to find that the majority were only concerned with achieving short-term abstinence, and were then discharging men and women with no realistic blueprint for how to live within a world of wall-to-wall stress and temptation. There are some exceptions (like Milestones Ranch) with excellent individualized and holistic programs, but not enough.

As a result, I set about creating a holistic and integrative lifestyle plan that incorporated what I saw as essential Recovery-Centric elements for optimal wellness: mind (mental, spiritual), mouth (nutrition), and muscle (physical activity). In doing so, I had an epiphany. I realized that everything I was constructing was also applicable to anyone, not just the addicted. In essence, everyone benefits from achieving and maintaining optimal mind-body recovery. And in calling it Recovery-Centric, we get a constant reminder that our minds and bodies really need appropriate recovery to rejuvenate and continue to expand and grow stronger over a lifetime.

The Recovery-Centric template includes recommendations specifically crafted to enhance our ability to achieve and maintain optimal overall mental and physical recovery. To help get you started, here are the three pillars of my Recovery-Centric Lifestyle Plan, along with practical tips and tools you can easily put to work.

Recovery Mind

Here are 7 strategies for achieving peak mental and spiritual recovery:

  1. Reframe. Begin by reframing your lifestyle goals. For instance, instead of obsessing about a clothing size or weight, step back and reframe by concentrating on correcting the behaviors that led to weight gain or lack of fitness. The secret lies within which habits you’re currently practicing. Why are you so self-destructive under stress? Now go deeper and look at why you have these behaviors in the first place. Often, counseling can help identify triggers, such as past trauma and abuse, as well as emotional cues like anxiety, loneliness, depression, and anger. Keep your thinking Recovery-Centric, and you’ll be more likely to stay on track.
  2. Redo. Carefully reorganize your “ecosystem,” the living and working environments to support your Recovery-Centric Lifestyle. This includes de-cluttering people, places, and things from your life that do not support your new habits and behaviors. You can’t take a walk if you can’t find your sneakers. You can’t cook and eat healthfully if your kitchen’s a disaster. It’s imperative that you attend to these factors because it will make your new lifestyle much easier to implement. It’s a challenge, but you need to gradually rid yourself of chaotic living circumstances, along with any enabling, destructive, and toxic people in your life. It’s time to clean house to gift yourself with the freedom and opportunity to sustain recovery.
  3. Relax. So many people feel like they’re incessantly running on life’s gerbil wheel with no downtime. You cannot mentally and physically recover unless you make time to hop off the wheel and rest. Taking time to be introspective through meditation or journaling favorably alters your genetic expression by decreasing overall body inflammation and supporting the recovery process. A positive, grateful, healing thought is powerful and so easy to summon.
  4. Refocus. Tap into your brain’s frontal lobe, which houses your executive function. Use this mental powerhouse to keep you focused on making the most health-promoting decisions throughout your busy day. Continually ask this centering question: “Will the choice I’m about to make help me to achieve and maintain my best mind-body recovery?”
  5. Regroup. The one thing that derails everyone is when stress leaves us feeling helpless, hopeless, and defeated. This is especially true for people who have any form of addictive habit that leads to self-destructive soothing. Therefore, it’s essential to learn how to become more stress resilient. That way, when stress does hit, you’ll bounce back more rapidly and without self-destruction. This requires the ability to adapt and adjust to life’s stresses without defaulting to self-destruction.
  6. Rejoice. Neutralize stress with joy. Choose joys that can substitute for your self-destructive habits. Experiment and be creative. Instead of social withdrawal and loneliness when you feel consumed with stress, reach out by volunteering to get out of yourself. Joyful pursuits are conducive to optimal recovery, so be assertive about incorporating more joy into your daily life.
  7. Rejuvenate. You need rest and sleep. It’s impossible for your mind and body to continue to recover and regenerate unless you give them the chance. Sleep is a golden opportunity for whole-body recovery. During sleep, the immune system can repair and regenerate. Even the brain undergoes a detox process through a sleep-induced activation of the glymphatic system. Most metabolic processes reset during restful sleep. Please get your z’s!

Recovery Mouth

Healthy nutrition is absolutely prerequisite and essential to achieving and maintaining your precious, life-giving mind-body recovery cycles. For so long, nutrition has been given short shrift within the addiction industry, as well as in traditional healthcare treatment plans. This is ludicrous and dangerous. Science clearly shows that vitamins, minerals, and natural macronutrients provide critical nourishment for our cells and support optimal regeneration. These nutrients also support our good bacteria populations, especially the gut’s microbiome, which is populated by 100 trillion bacteria that are in continuous communication with the brain. If those gastrointestinal bacterial are compromised by an unhealthy diet then we secrete less of the body’s mood-stabilizing neurotransmitters like serotonin (90 percent of this feel-good hormone is actually secreted by the gut) and we increase our total-body inflammation, which eventually heightens our disease risk.

Therefore, whole, natural foods (ideally, organic) are the answer. We need to rid our lives of processed and refined foods that do not promote recovery. We need to reframe our collective perspective about all things related to growing, selecting, preparing, cooking, and enjoying whole foods.

Recovery Muscle

Physical movement is critical to achieving both mental and physical recovery. All physical movement counts. Whenever you move your body—be it climbing stairs or doing yoga stretches—amazing things occur throughout your mind-body. In addition to feeling energized and calmer, activity facilitates actual physical repair in your brain. This includes your frontal lobe, which then helps you to increase your focus, organize, plan, and rein in impulsiveness (like caving to cravings). Your brain’s reward center can repair, as well, to help support nonaddictive behaviors.

Physical activity also supports neurogenesis, which is the process of creating new brain cells and circuitry to supersede the self-destructive connections. In other words, for every step you take, every movement you perform, you’re rejuvenating and regenerating brain cells and actually growing a bigger, healthier brain while at the same time, you’re reducing your risk of dementia and brain aging.

None of these wonderful rewards requires you to join an Olympic training camp. Instead, consistently (at least five days a week), do something as simple as walk for the equivalent of an hour (you can break this up throughout the day). Assume the vertical (stand up) as much as you possibly can, getting up for 5 to 10 minutes for every 45 minutes that you sit. The more you sit, the less optimal your overall mind-body recovery process will be. The bottom line: Stay as active as you can throughout the day to support a healthy brain, mind, and body.

In summary, to achieve optimal lifelong mind-body recovery, adopt a Recovery-Centric Lifestyle by:

  • Focusing on achieving and maintaining optimal mind and body recovery.
  • Creating a new healing ecosystem, a living environment of people, places, and things that support your new Recovery-Centric Lifestyle Plan.
  • Nourishing your body with natural and organic whole foods.
  • Becoming more physically active to support optimal brain and body health.
  • Revitalizing the quality of your life with sustainable mind-body recovery.
Painful-Pounds

Trauma, Food Addiction, and “Painful” Pounds

Trauma, Food Addiction, and “Painful” Pounds

Painful-Pounds

For years I’ve listened to women and men recount an agonizing spectrum of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse and trauma that occurred during their childhood, often continuing through adolescence. Most remember that period in their life as the time when they began to overeat.

Neglect, abandonment, isolation, and physical harm usually send young people on a desperate search for a way to numb and soothe their pain. Of course, food is the main accessible and primal reward. Laurie has her “Cheerios moments”—a habit of bingeing on cereal in the face of anxiety and stress—just as she did when her addict mother would play a twisted game of “Let’s pretend you’re adopted and not a member of this family.” Alice remembers her father adamantly declaring, “No one loves a fat woman.” She was 10, and believing that statement sent her into a panic, with years of fridge raids and bingeing and, eventually, bariatric surgery as an adult. Then there’s Erica, whose As in school were never good enough for her dad, who insisted on A-pluses. Emily endured years of physical and sexual abuse, resulting in constant self-soothing with food and an extra 100 pounds born of her pain.

I call them painful pounds.

The good news is that there is now evidence-based science to explain the connection between the trauma of childhood abuse and weight gain. And it’s beginning to revolutionize how we approach nutrition and weight management.

If you are one of the countless people who continue to repeat endless cycles of every imaginable diet and exercise craze to shed those extra pounds to no avail, early-life abuse and trauma might be a factor you should consider. Mounting scientific evidence is now linking early-life abuse and stress with eating behaviors that can lead to overweight and obesity and disordered eating. Childhood abuse of any kind often leads to self-soothing with foods that can counteract the pain of ongoing emotional and physical abuse. It’s not surprising that overeating hyper-palatable (sugary, fatty, salty) food combinations creates a long-term psychobiological habit of seeking out these products in the face of life’s stresses.

Recently, Harvard researchers studied 57,321 women enrolled in the long-term Nurses’ Health Study II (NHSII), specifically examining the association between child abuse victimization and food addiction, a form of stress-related overeating. They used the Yale Food Addiction Scale to assess the presence of addictive eating patterns. Their findings were striking: Both severe physical and sexual abuse were associated with a stunning 90 percent increase in food addiction risk. Women with food addiction were 6 units of BMI heavier than women without food addiction. The researchers concluded that, “A history of child abuse is strongly associated with food addiction in this population.”

In a follow-up study, the researchers examined the relationship between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and food addiction. Noting that PTSD appears to increase obesity risk, they once again surveyed the NHSII population, this time studying how food addiction could be related to the age of trauma onset as well as the type of trauma.

Once again, the scientists uncovered extraordinary links, revealing that approximately 80 percent of the study group had been exposed to some kind of trauma, with 66 percent noting at least one lifetime PTSD symptom. As the number of PTSD symptoms increased, so did the prevalence of food addiction. The women who had noted the highest levels of PTSD had more than twice the incidence of food addiction as the women with no PTSD symptoms or trauma history. This study informed health professionals that it is critical to assess past history of any trauma, stress, or abuse in order to individualize treatment plans that directly address how to manage trauma-based behavior.

You may be wondering about your own unique history. First, examine your eating behavior by answering the following two questions:

  • If I consume a particular food/beverage, do I feel a loss of control?
  • If I consume a particular food/beverage, do I feel shame, blame, or guilt?

Typically, people with addictive binge-eating behavior will answer yes to both questions. If this is the case for you, then the next step is to examine whether abuse and trauma may have played a role in the development of any painful pounds. A simple way to assess this is to take the adverse childhood experience (ACE) assessment and then correlate your score with health consequences. The ACE test was created Vincent J. Felliti, MD, founder of the California Institutes of Preventive Medicine, as a tool to assess the prevalence of abuse and neglect in a population of 17,000 adult Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program members. Felliti and his team found that almost two-thirds of study participants reported at least one ACE, and more than one in five reported three or more ACEs. As the number of ACEs increased, so also did the risk for an extensive laundry list of conditions, including substance abuse, depression, suicide, domestic violence, poor academic performance, and obesity.

Please keep in mind that you don’t need to have experienced severe childhood abuse to become an adult who self-soothes with food. There’s a wide spectrum of childhood abuse and trauma. Each child or adolescent perceives life events uniquely, and what is traumatic to one might be something another easily manages. The key is to know your own story and, in knowing it, enable yourself to customize a strategy to switch out self-destructive habits for health-promoting behaviors.

Here are some first steps to guide you as you begin your own healing journey.

  1. Therapy. If you’ve never confronted your past history, it’s advisable to get help in doing that. If you seek out a therapist who specializes in abuse and trauma, he or she can provide homework and immediate practical tools you can use. The key tenets of trauma and abuse-based therapy are to help clients reframe what happened to them and, thus, better manage issues related to trust, safety, and trauma processing—then the person, armed with that knowledge, re-integrates into a healthy and productive life.
  2. Trauma and food-addiction resources. Here are a few reading and organization resources you might find helpful:

Becoming aware of the abuse-weight connection is key to beginning your own healing journey. Taking action requires courage, self-compassion, and support. In his poem “Invictus,” the poet William Ernest Henley declared that each of us has an “unconquerable soul.” The poem ends with the line “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

Believe those words and let the healing begin.

Wellderly

Let’s All Aim to Be “Wellderly”

Let’s All Aim to Be “Wellderly”

Wellderly

What thoughts and feelings do the word “elderly” conjure for you? Perhaps you immediately envision a frail man or woman in his or her 80s or 90s living with chronic disease and cognitive impairment. How many of you have a negative connotation of the term? What does it really mean to be elderly?

Turning to the experts, the World Health Organization declares that many developed nations regard anyone with the chronological age of 65 years as elderly; the United Nations generally uses a base of 60 years in referring to the world’s older population. Elder age has, historically, been a moving target. As far back as 1875, British lawmakers crafted a definition of old age as “any age after 50,” which was quickly amended to 60 to 65 to accommodate emerging pension plan requirements. Dictionary sources describe elderly as “aged, old, advanced in years, past one’s prime, showing of age.”

Any self-respecting Baby Boomer reading this would be horrified—60 is elderly? Heck, no. Not me! Here’s the good news. You may actually be quite correct after all. There is a big difference between the number of years you live, or life span, and the number of years you live in optimal health, or health span. Researchers are in the process of studying men and women who are at least 85 years of age who have lived long lives devoid of chronic disease, with the exception of arthritis, which is ubiquitous in people 70 years and older. These people have a very long health span.

Eric Topol, MD, a Scripps Health geneticist, refers to these extraordinary people as the “wellderly.” The Wellderly Study began in 2008 as a collaboration between Scripps Health and Scripps Research Institute. To date, Topol and his team have collected more than 1,400 genetic samples from a wellderly population sample drawn from the San Diego area, but soon expanding to a national base. This participant data is now available to other scientists as a DNA dataset called the Scripps Wellderly Genome Resource, and it houses invaluable information for comparing the wellderly to their peers with disease.

The long-term goal of the Wellderly Study is to discover the protective mechanisms these gold-medal winners of aging seem to possess to counteract their innate genetic vulnerabilities to a wide spectrum of diseases. While they somehow deflect these conditions, others their age suffer from them. So, instead of studying people with disease, these researchers are focusing on what actually keeps certain individuals so healthy for such a long time. In doing so, they hope to uncover solutions that nature has provided to protect against disease.

Initial findings from an analysis of the wellderly group’s genes has revealed a higher-than-normal presence of genetic variants that seem to offer protection from long-term cognitive impairment and from chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. What’s really fascinating about the study is that there is no one silver bullet. Instead, scientists have discovered many weaker signals from gene sites that should normally increase the vulnerability to disease, hinting at the presence of that elusive biological protective machinery.

While we’re waiting on more great science to be published, there’s plenty you can do right now to optimize your own healthy aging process. So, let’s first reframe the aging process and start to thrive.

  1. Aim to be wellderly. I’m bagging the term elderly and taking the liberty of redefining this whole aging process vernacular. There appear to be at least three subgroups of wellderly.
    • The Super Wellderly: The Super Wellderly includes people who are 80+ and are devoid of chronic disease except arthritis.
    • The Wellderly: A Wellderly person is anyone 80+ years old who is living life to the fullest as best he or she can despite the presence of chronic health conditions. Wellderly is a much more positive, hopeful, and empowering term than elderly. Start practicing saying this now: “Yes, I’m 80 and quite wellderly, thank you!” or “I plan on being one of the wellderly one day.” How does that sound?
    • The Thrive Well: If you’re under the age of 80 and are enjoying good health, then you’re a member of the Thrive Well. Or you’d better be aiming at that as your goal! Using terms like “old” and “aged” in reference to someone who is 60 doesn’t fit anymore. The Baby Boomers have changed all of that, insisting that 60 is the new 50—and acting like it, as well. With better health care, more attention to mental and physical fitness, and greater dissemination of new science-based ways to age optimally, no wonder a growing number of older men and women are well and thriving. Yes, many have aches and pains and have survived tough disease challenges. But, relative to their unique circumstances, they can still be well and thrive. That’s the goal at any age.
  2. Focus on achieving a long health span. The goal is not to live long—that’s the life span, which is the number of years you live—rather, it’d to focus on living the longest and most joyful health span possible. Health span years are ones characterized by independent, vibrant, joyful, satisfying, and vital living, either devoid of impairment or with minimal impairment as a result of disease or disability. It’s all relative. The key is to live life to the fullest as you define it.
  3. Practice a healthy lifestyle. You know the drill by now. Mental, spiritual, and physical fitness are of paramount importance if you’re going to live long and well. Wherever you are on your journey, from beginner to master, the key is to keep up your daily practice of nourishing mind and body, continuously creating new challenges and seeking new adventures. That’s the essence of thriving, not just surviving.
  4. Get real. No one—not even the Super Wellderly—escapes aches and pains, sagging body parts, creaky joints, fading vision, and diminished energy. The good news is that if you’re taking optimal care of yourself, you’ll more likely experience less of this age-related mind-body impact. Ditch the “antiaging” hype and embrace the realistic, rewarding goal of augmenting and supporting an optimal aging process.

Finally, express gratitude every time you wake up and realize that you’re still here to thrive and continue this awesome adventure of life.