Creatures of Habit

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We humans are creatures of habit.  There are things that we do the same way each and every time we do them because we like the familiar.  We find comfort in these small things.  It’s what our body knows and where our minds first go.  They can be healthy and lift our spirits, improve our lives and longevity.  Or they can be unhealthy and hold us back from the people we are meant to be and create stress and anxiety. 

Following habits can bring peace and happiness, but it can also deter growth and progress.  Life is ongoing and ever-changing.  Sometimes our habits can prevent us from changing as life means for us to change. 

Think of life as a river, constantly running in one direction, weaving around rocks and other obstacles that are in its path.  The flow of the water is peaceful and unchanging.  There is a sense of purpose; the river knows where its going and won’t let anything stand in its path (we are excluding man-made dams from this analogy).  It’s going where it was meant to go.  It is easy to see the power in this river.

Now let’s apply the analogy of the river to life.  We are constantly traveling along the path of life, moving not necessarily to a particular destination, but closer to where we are meant to be.  Do you go with the flow or do you fight the river?  Do your habits help you move in the right direction or are there some that may be keeping you stuck in one of those obstacles along the river?  Or even take you against the current?

It’s easy to get caught up in our every day lives and not even think about our habits and how they may be impacting our path.  Often we don’t even think about them until something comes up that brings them to the forefront (stress, sickness, a fight with a loved one, marriage troubles, problems at work, etc.).  Until we ram into one of those obstacles in the river of our lives.  When this happens we either make a shift, change a habit and move forward, or we stubbornly stay put and have trouble moving on.

But do we need to wait until we hit an obstacle to reflect on our habits and how they are impacting our lives?  Definitely not.  If anything, it is healthy to reflect on our habits regularly and ask if they are helping us to become the people we are meant to be.  Of course it isn’t easy and takes a little effort, but are the good things in life easy?  Not most of the time.

I admit that I struggle with evaluating my habits as well.  I get caught up in the every day details of life and lose the big picture.  Though I don’t like to admit it, this happens for me a lot and when it happens, the result is stress.  I get so stressed out with everything that I need to do to get to a certain place or achieve a certain goal that I exhaust myself, wonder where all my time went, and lose the love I had for my goal or even the journey in general.

One such source of stress these days for me is my To-Do list.  Each week I have a certain things I have always done (vacuum, bills, write a blog post, wash the dog, cook food for my week).  My To-Do list is a habit I have formed over years of being a single gal who lives alone.  It is so habitual now that if I don’t get all of these things done in a weekend I am not happy.  I feel unproductive, like I didn’t accomplish anything.  Note to self, when my To-Do list influences my feelings of happiness or unhappiness, it is time to take a look and evaluate what’s going on… 

The river of my life has definitely gone through some changes over the past year or so since starting this blog.  Beautiful, wonderful changes.  I am no longer a single gal who can spend an entire weekend on personal projects from my To-Do list (I know those weekends sound really exciting…).  I now have a business of my own that has certain demands on my time as well.  Old habits don’t fit into this new model of my life and the stress that has resulted from trying to fit the old habits into the new has been akin to trying to force two puzzle pieces together that clearly don’t match.

So time to make new habits.  Evaluate that To-Do list and be realistic about what I can actually get done in the time that I have.  I can feel my body trying to fight this change and thoughts bubble up in my brain that try to keep me on this habitual path (you will have a dirty apartment if you don’t vacuum, you have to write a blog post weekly or else your business won’t grow and be successful, you have to pay your bills every week, etc.).  These are fears our minds concoct to resist change.  They aren’t real.  The world will not end if I don’t share my musings with you all every week.

Change leads to growth and is necessary to keep us flowing on the river that is our life.  So how about we embrace the change, make new habits and go with the flow instead of exhausting ourselves trying to fight the inevitable?  Life may be just a bit more fun.  Shouldn’t we enjoy the ride anyway?  We only get one of them.

Peace, love and healthy habits,

The Yogi~Foodie

CC image used above courtesy of Noel Pennington on Flickr

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Happiness vs. Contentment

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CC image courtesy of D Sharon Pruitt on Flickr

I recently read an interesting article called “Stop Trying so Hard to be Happy,” which discusses the difference between happiness and contentment and why we should strive for the latter as opposed to the former (read the full article here).  Though the story behind the article was extremely sad and heartbreaking, the author’s points were dead on and pretty much in line with a lot that I write about on this blog.

So what’s the difference between happiness and contentment anyways?  Let’s check with good old Merriam-Webster:

Happy

  • feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc.
  • showing or causing feelings of pleasure and enjoyment
  • pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc.

Content

  • pleased and satisfied; not needing more

By just looking at the definitions, happiness seems to be more of a short-term thing.  We feel happy because of a particular situation or event.  It occurs as a result of something happening in our life.  The word happiness itself is derived from the Norse word hap, which means luck or chance.  That seems pretty short-term to me.  Luck certainly doesn’t last forever. 

On the other hand, contentment is just feeling satisfied and not needing anything else.  There doesn’t seem to be a time frame surrounding it.  It isn’t a result of something happening.  Instead, it is a way of being.  Being content with your life and everything within it, including the ups and downs, the happiness and the sorrow.  Seems grander, more overarching as opposed to specific to a time or circumstance.

The author discusses the short-term nature of happiness when he states “that while we may savor happiness episodically, it will invariably be disrupted by unwelcome negative feelings.”  This is the nature of life.  There is always a balance between good and bad.  We will have happy days and we will have sad days.  Striving to be unrelentingly positive and happy 100% of the time is a difficult, if not impossible task.

If happiness in life is an elusive goal then how do we reach a state of contentment?  The author states that this occurs “by participating in a challenging, and at times even distressing process of self-exploration whose purpose is to enhance self understanding and acceptance.”  In other words, finding what makes you tick, what fulfills you and satisfies you deep down to your soul.  As I’ve mentioned before, I call this finding your formula.  Finding your flow or your recipe.  It is a state of complete balance with all things in your life.

How do you know when you’ve gotten to a state of contentment?  When you feel “a deep-seated, abiding acceptance of one’s self and one’s worth together with a sense of self-fulfillment, meaning and purpose.”  When you reach this state, it is harder for negative feelings or other things that inevitably come up in life to knock you off balance.  You are able to bounce back faster because you know deep down who you are and what you are meant to do with your life.  And you accept it and love it.

The author sums it up pretty well when he states that “accepting and respecting oneself, coupled with determining what is personally meaningful, stand a greater chance of accomplishment, even if never completed, than a relentless and ultimately futile pursuit of happiness.  What’s more, contentment has the potential to serve as a robust foundation upon which episodes of joy and pleasure can be experienced and cherished.”

I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty awesome.  And I’m willing to put in the work to get there.  Are you?

Peace, love and contentment,

The Yogi~Foodie

The Hunt for Hidden Sugars

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One of the keys for me in my journey to finding a way of eating that worked best for me, which in turn led to me discovering my ideal weight and developing a healthy body imagine, was cutting out sugar.  Prior to this revelation, I thought I ate pretty well.  I exercised fairly rigorously pretty much daily and counted my calories.  I even tried the Weight Watchers thing.  But there was one thing I really struggled with, sugar.  Baked goods, breads, muffins, doughnuts, ice cream.  You name it, I loved it and had a really hard time saying no to it.  And when I ate it, I just couldn’t stop.  This cycle left me feeling helpless and angry at myself for being weak over and over again.

Then one day a friend recommended I cut out processed foods, quit calorie counting, and use vegetables as the basis for all of my meals.  She also introduced me to Sarah Wilson, a blogger, cookbook author and leader in the sugar-free movement in Australia (check out her I Quit Sugar website here!).  So I decided to quit sugar.  It wasn’t easy, but I stuck to my guns and boy was it worth it.  I was happier, felt healthier than I had in years, was leaner and my yoga practice improved.

For a long time I was hesitant to even touch sugar.  I was scared that I would topple back into the old me and all of my hard work would be for naught.  But a life without a little sugar isn’t too fun and for those who know me, I like to have fun… 🙂 

So I found a balance.  I discovered the amount of sugar that is right for me, that still keeps me feeling great, but also satisfied at the same time.

How did I do it?  I developed an understanding of the hidden sugars in our food supply.  These are the sugars that aren’t obvious.  That you may have no idea you are even eating, but they impact your health and waistline nonetheless.  And they are everywhere….

Sugar is in about 80% of the foods we eat today

And to top it all off, recent studies have shown that it is 8 times more addictive than cocaine.  No wonder we all have a problem putting down the candy bars and ice cream.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that for optimal health, we should consume no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day.  How does that translate to what we see on a food label?  Four grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon.  So if we do the math right, 6 teaspoons a day is equal to 24 grams of sugar.

Remember this magic number -> 24 grams

Recently I went to my favorite local food market and went on a hunt for hidden sugars in foods that would be considered reasonably healthy.  I focused on these main areas:  condiments, juices/drinks, dairy, supplements, snack foods and main meal items.  Here’s the low down on a couple of gems I found in each category.

Condiments

  • Marzetti’s sweet italian salad dressing – 7 grams of sugar in 2 tbsp
  • Annie’s organic balsamic vinaigrette dressing – 2 grams of sugar in 2 tbsp
  • Prego heart smart traditional tomato sauce – 10 grams of sugar in 1/2 cup (This product was American Heart Association certified according to the label…)
  • Agave – 16 grams of sugar in 1 tbsp

Juices/Drinks

  • Organic low sodium tomato juice – 8 grams per 8 oz serving
  • Mega green juice – 25 grams per 8 oz serving (Just because it’s green it must be healthy right?  Not so much…)
  • Organic apple juice – 30 grams of sugar in 1 cup (Definitely not kid friendly.)
  • Naked Juice Kale Blazer – 18 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving (This one is my favorite, especially since the front of the package says 100% juice and no sugar added.  Sorry friends, this puppy has got lots of it, mainly in the form of fruit juice concentrate.)

Dairy

  • Chobani raspberry greek yogurt – 16 grams of sugar per container

Supplements

  • Prenatal gummy vitamins – 3 grams of sugar for 2 vitamins (Sugar for pregnant mommies?  I have no words.)
  • Women’s One a Day multivitamin – 3 grams of sugar for 2 gummy vitamins
  • Soy protein powder – 8 grams of sugar for 1 scoop

Snacks

  • Clif Bar – 22 grams of sugar for 1 bar
  • Gluten free bagel chips – 3 grams of sugar for 7 chips
  • Organic canned peaches – 11 grams of sugar for 1/2 cup

Main Meals

  • Martins 100% whole wheat potato bread (a fav from my childhood) – 3 grams of sugar per slice
  • Quaker Oats Lower Sugar flavored instant oatmeal – 4-6 grams per packet (Sorry guys, not low sugar.)
  • Healthy Choice All Natural tomato basil soup – 11 grams of sugar per cup

Pretty astounding if I do say so myself.  Below I’ve drawn up a hypothetical day’s worth of meals that seems pretty healthy on the outside, but is packed with some of the hidden sugars I’ve discussed above.

A Day of Healthy(?) Meals

Breakfast:  2 slices of 100% whole wheat toast with butter, 1 container of Chobani flavored yogurt (approximately 22 grams of sugar)

Lunch:  1 spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette dressing and gluten free chips (approx. 5 grams of sugar)

Afternoon snack:  Clif bar (approx. 22 grams of sugar)

Dinner:  whole wheat spaghetti with tomato sauce, steamed green beans (approx. 10 grams of sugar)

Dessert:  canned peaches (approx. 11 grams of sugar)

Seems like a pretty healthy day of eating right?  Total calories may even be under the daily recommended limit.  But the total grams of sugar consumed?  70 grams or 17.5 teaspoons.  That is 11.5 grams over the daily amount recommended by the WHO.  May not seem like that much but if you eat like this every day?  It adds up over time.

What does excess sugar intake lead to?  As discussed in some of my previous Sugar Series posts (see herehere and here), it can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s, and cancer.  I recently found a great article about a man who consumed 40 teaspoons of sugar a day to see what it would do to him.  Check it out what happened to him and what he learned here.

The goal of this post is to not overwhelm you with the dangers of sugar in our food supply and how we are all doomed.  It is simply to inform you so that you can make the best decisions about what to put in your body that works for you. Be a conscious consumer.  Know what you are buying and eating.  Know what you are feeding your kids.

Some things I have started doing that have helped me on this journey?

  1. I make my own salad dressing (and ask restaurants to put it on the side)
  2. I have plain yogurt and add fresh fruit or frozen fruit
  3. I make my own granola (see the recipe here!)
  4. I stick to the perimeter of the grocery store (which is where all the natural, unprocessed food is) and rarely go down the aisles
  5. If I want to use a condiment, it will be mustard
  6. I use olive oil and sliced tomatoes on pasta instead of tomato sauce
  7. I make my own juices and smoothies (see the recipe for my Banana, Almond Butter and Maca Smoothie here!)
  8. My afternoon snacks do not come in a sealed package (try hummus and carrots, apple and peanut butter or rice cakes and avocado)
  9. During the winter I make my own soups and stews
  10. I get my vitamins from eating every color of the rainbow (in vegetable form, not Fruit Loops form!)

Peace, love and conscious eating,

The Yogi~Foodie