Tuesday, March 26, 2013

UK’s “Fast Diet”? Not So Fast

UK's newest diet craze is bringing intermittent
fasting into the mainstream, but it has some

The Fast Diet
 (1), a UK best-selling book that has just been published in the U.S., promises that you can eat whatever you want, but still lose weight, and even live longer as long as you employ “intermittent fasting.” Ah, now you see the connection—Isagenix has been extolling the virtues of intermittent fasting (as “Cleanse Days”) for more than a decade.
There’s something oddly familiar about the premise of Britain’s latest diet craze that is now reaching U.S. shores, wouldn’t you think?
What’s more is that the book outlines a 5:2 approach—unrestricted eating for five days of the week and two non-consecutive days spent fasting, which counts as 500 calories a day for women and 600 calories a day for men. That’s somewhat similar to the Isagenix plan, which encourages adoption of Shake Days for five to six days and one or two Cleanse Days per week.
In their book, Dr. Michael Mosley and Mimi Spencer do a fine job building a case for intermittent fasting as a method for better weight-control, improved health, and even longer life. For example, they review the research produced by nutritionist Krista Varady of University of Illinois at Chicago, who was the principal investigator for UIC’s study evaluating Isagenix products. They also discuss the findings of Dr. Valter Longo and Mark Mattson in rodents that show that calorie restriction and intermittent fasting can potentially protect the brain and increase lifespan.
However, the weight-loss plan has had critics putting up their warning signals and for good reason:
  • Eating whatever you want (and as much as you want) has its consequences. One of the biggest negatives is the endorsement to eat without restraint for five days of the week. The book does propose some healthy eating guidelines, but with the main attraction being Eat anything you want!, there’s likelihood that many people will live by those words. That kind of promotion is bound to be harmful as people are given license to grossly overeat and to eat the wrong types of foods as often as possible—think greasy hamburgers, French fries, and sugary sodas as much as possible! Even two days of intermittent fasting can’t undo a lifetime of making unhealthy choices like these.
  • Another problem is potential muscle loss. When the body is taking in fewer calories, it goes into what’s called a catabolic state (meaning “breakdown”; the opposite is anabolic, which means “build-up”). Catabolism is fine for the breakdown of fat, but if calorie-deficient bouts are not followed up with the right type of muscle-building protein in the right amount, the result can be breakdown of muscle. Studies have found that during weight loss, a diet higher in quality protein preserves muscle mass more than a diet higher in carbohydrate (2). Research has also found that protein from dairy, such as whey, may be the superior protein for increased fat loss and muscle retention during weight loss (3).
  • Then, there’s the issue of complete nutrition. As we’ve mentioned many times in previous articles, most Americans already eat too much, yet do not receive adequate amounts of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) from their foods for optimal health. Mainly, this is because too many people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables or may not know how to properly choose foods for adequate amounts of micronutrients. Even those who think they know what foods to eat in combination for better health haven’t fared well in achieving weight loss and improved health. One study compared weight loss groups consuming either fresh, healthy foods for the majority of their diet or nutrient-rich meal replacement shakes and found that meal replacement shakes resulted in more weight loss, better improvement to health biomarkers, and better adherence based on the convenience of the shakes (4).
How can you take advantage of the benefits of intermittent fasting without the drawbacks of the 5:2 diet approach that include eating too much, losing muscle, and not getting enough vitamins and minerals? Look to Isagenix for the perfect program that takes the guesswork out of intermittent fasting and how to do it right.
What you get with Isagenix is intermittent fasting fully prepped for as Cleanse Days, which are part of a fully guided system that won’t leave you eating everything in sight one day followed by wanting to eat your arm off the next. An Isagenix system means moderate calorie control on Shake Days and appropriate fasting with nutritional support on Cleanse Days.
The Isagenix system, unlike The Fast Diet, is also backed by clinical data showing that it leads to healthy weight loss, fat loss (without the muscle loss, especially if exercise is included), and better cardiovascular health. The end result is curbed food cravings, successful weight loss and maintenance, preservation of muscle mass, and finally, a long-term lifestyle that will get you healthier than ever before.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

10 Paths to Emotional Sea Level

10 Paths to Emotional Sea Level

Editor’s Note: Andrew Weil, M.D. is a world-renowned leader, best-selling author, and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. This March 2013 you have a special opportunity to hear Dr. Weil in person at the Chopra Center’s signature workshop Journey into Healing: Balance, Heal, and Transform Your Life, where he will be a keynote speaker and guest lecturer. Learn more here>>

In my book Spontaneous Happiness, I write about lifestyle practices that can help people achieve and maintain happy lives. Bear in mind that by “happy,” I am not referring to endless bliss. Despite what many in the media proclaim these days, such a state is neither achievable nor desirable. Instead, these practices are designed to help most people reach and maintain a state of contentment and serenity. From there, a person can still experience appropriate emotional highs and lows, but knows that he or she will soon return to a pleasant state that might be termedemotional sea level.
I’ve summarized information about ten of those practices. These will, I believe, be of particular benefit for those who struggle with mild to moderate depression, but can also potentially benefit nearly anyone who follows them:

1. Exercise

Human bodies are designed for regular physical activity. The sedentary nature of much of modern life probably plays a significant role in the epidemic incidence of depression today. Many studies show that depressed patients who stick to a regimen of aerobic exercise improve as much as those treated with medication. Exercise also appears to prevent depression and improve mood in healthy people. Many exercise forms – aerobic activity, yoga, weights, walking and more – have been shown to benefit mood.
Typical therapeutic exercise programs last for eight to fourteen weeks. You should have three to four sessions per week, of at least twenty minutes each. For treatment of depression and anxiety disorders, activities of moderate intensity, like brisk walking, are more successful than very vigorous activity.
I am a particular fan of integrative exercise – that is, exercise that occurs in the course of doing some productive activity such as gardening, bicycling to work, doing home improvement projects, and so on. Many people find it far easier to stick to activities like this than to lifting weights or running on a treadmill.

2. Follow an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

Normally, inflammation occurs in response to injury and attack by germs. It is marked by local heat, redness, swelling, and pain, and is the body’s way of getting more nourishment and more immune activity to the affected area. But inflammation also has destructive potential. We see this when the immune system mistakenly attacks normal tissues in such autoimmune diseases as type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Excessive inflammation also plays a causative role in heart disease, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, as well as other age-related disorders, including cancer. More recent research indicates that inappropriate inflammation may also underlie depression – so controlling it is key to both physical and mental health.
Perhaps the most powerful way to control inflammation is via diet. My anti-inflammatory diet consists of whole, unprocessed foods that are especially selected to reduce inappropriate inflammation, as well as provide abundant vitamins, minerals, and fiber. It consists of fruits and vegetables, fatty cold-water fish, healthy whole grains, olive oil, and other foods that have been shown to help keep inflammation in check. For details, see the anti-inflammatory food pyramidat my website.

3. Take Fish Oil and Vitamin D

Adequate blood levels of these nutrients has been strongly tied to emotional health. They are so necessary and deficiencies are so common in the developed world that I believe everyone, depressed or not, should take them. Take up to three grams of a quality, molecularly distilled fish oil supplement daily – look for one that provides both EPA and DHA in a ratio of about three or four to one. I also recommend 2,000 IU of vitamin D each day.

4. Take Depression-Specific Herbs

Specifically for those with mild to moderate depression, I suggest trying:
  • St. John’s Wort (hypericum perforatum): This European plant appears to work well for those affected by low mood. Look for tablets or capsules standardized to 0.3 percent hypericin that also list content of hyperforin. The usual dose is 300 milligrams three times a day. You may have to wait two months to get the full benefit of this treatment.
  • SAMe (S-adenosyl methionine): A naturally-occurring molecule found throughout the body, SAMe (pronounced “sammy”) has been extensively studied as an antidepressant and treatment for the pain of osteoarthritis. Look for products that provide the butanedisulfonate form in enteric-coated tablets. The usual dosage is 400 to 1,600 milligrams a day, taken on an empty stomach. Take lower doses (under 800 milligrams) once a day, a half hour before the morning meal; split higher doses, taking the second a half hour before lunch.
  • Rhodiola (rhodiola rosea): A relative of the jade plant native to the high northern latitudes, rhodiola appears to improve mood and memory. Look for 100-milligram tablets or capsules containing extracts standardized to three percent rosavins and one percent salidroside. The dosage is one or two tablets or capsules a day (one in the morning, or one in the morning and another in early afternoon). This can be increased to 200 milligrams up to three times a day if needed.
5. Do Breathing Exercises

Conscious breath control is a useful tool for achieving a relaxed, clear state of mind. One of my favorite breathing exercises is the 4-7-8 (or Relaxing) Breath. Although you can do the exercise in any position, sit with your back straight while learning the exercise. Place the tip of your tongue against the ridge of tissue just behind your upper front teeth and keep it there through the entire exercise. You will be exhaling through your mouth around your tongue; try pursing your lips slightly if this seems awkward. Then:
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a mental count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • This is one breath. Inhale again and repeat the cycle three more times for a total of four breaths.
Note that you always inhale quietly through your nose and exhale audibly through your mouth. The tip of your tongue stays in position the whole time. Exhalation takes twice as long as inhalation. The absolute time you spend on each phase is not important; the ratio of 4:7:8 is important. If you have trouble holding your breath, speed up the exercise but keep to the ratio of 4:7:8 for the three phases. With practice you can slow it all down and get used to inhaling and exhaling more and more deeply. This exercise is a natural tranquilizer for the nervous system.

6. Try Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

This relatively new form of psychotherapy helps patients overcome habitual negative views of the world and themselves, and has been shown to be among the most effective psychological interventions for anxiety and depression. A full course of treatment is fourteen to sixteen sessions, with occasional booster sessions during the following year to maintain improvement. CBT can be done individually or in groups, and people can also get started with self-help books and online programs.

7. Laugh

Smiling and, especially, laughing, are potent mood boosters. One way to quickly, intentionally inspire laughter is via laughter yoga. Begun by Dr. Madan Kataria, a physician from Mumbai, India, the first “social laughter club” convened in March of 1995 with a handful of people. Now, according to the official Laughter Yoga website, there are more than 6,000 clubs in sixty countries.

The method used in laughter yoga clubs is straightforward. After brief physical exercises and breathing exercises under the direction of a trained leader, people simulate laughter with vigorous “ha-ha’s” and “ho-ho’s.”  In the group setting, this “fake” laughter quickly becomes real and contagious and may continue for a half hour or more. And the joy lingers; regular participation in laughter yoga clubs has been shown to improve long-term emotional and physical health in a variety of ways, including a significant lowering of the stress hormone cortisol.

8. Limit Media Exposure

Today, many of us are choking on “data smog,” a dense cloud of trivial, irrelevant, or otherwise low-value information made possible by the internet’s power to disseminate vast amounts of media virtually free. The result is fractured attention spans and attenuated human relationships. Monitor the time you spend with digital media (television, the web, email, text messaging, and so on) in a given week, and cut that amount at least 25 percent in the following week. Use the time you free up for outings in nature, exercise, or face-to-face communication with friends. If you like the result, keep restricting virtual life “surfing” and expanding real-life, connected, human experiences.

9. Forgive

Forgiveness is almost universally held by philosophers and saints to be a key to happiness – and modern research confirms that those who can quickly and easily forgive when appropriate enjoy better emotional health. Conversely, resentment is the fuel that feeds depressive rumination, and can quickly spiral into a self-reinforcing low mood. Fortunately, the ability to forgive can be cultivated. The Stanford Forgiveness Project (see learningtoforgive.com) offers books, audio and video courses, and online programs that can help.

10. Practice Gratitude

Author G.K. Chesterton wrote, “You say grace before meals. All right. But I say grace before the concert and the opera, and grace before the play and pantomime, and grace before I open a book, and grace before sketching, painting, swimming, fencing, boxing, walking, playing, dancing and grace before I dip the pen in the ink.” I suspect Chesterton didn’t do this automatically. He knew that, like forgiveness, gratitude can and should be cultivated through diligent practice.

One powerful method is keeping a gratitude journal. Spending a specific time each day or week recording things for which one is grateful has been shown boost subjective happiness levels in as little as three weeks. A less formal practice – and one that I follow – is to devote a few moments of my morning meditation session to feel and silently give thank for all of the good things in my life. As a result of doing this for several years, I find myself often making mental notes throughout the day of blessings such as rain here in my desert home, flowers that are opening in my garden, or a glorious sunset.

Of all of the practices listed in this article, I believe learning to feel and express gratitude may be the most important in achieving and maintaining a happy life.
For a comprehensive examination of ways to achieve emotional well-being, see my bookSpontaneous Happiness and its companion website, SpontaneousHappiness.com.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

woman breathing

It's among the most important physical functions our bodies perform. We do it about 20,000 times a day. And still, somehow, most of us get it wrong. "If I had to limit my advice on healthier living to just one tip, it would be to learn to breathe correctly," says Andrew Weil, MD, a well-known pioneer in the field of integrative medicine.

Chinese and yogic traditions have long extolled the importance of chi or prana—the life forces associated with breath—and science is finally catching up. "Medicine is just recognizing the importance of energy to health," says Richard P. Brown, MD, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. "And our most critical source of energy is oxygen."

It turns out that getting more oxygen—by simply changing the way we breathe—can facilitate healing from a startling number of serious conditions, including chronic pain, atrial fibrillation, asthma, digestive issues, depression, and a wide range of stress-related illnesses. The secret is to return to a more natural pattern of respiration: Newborns come into the world breathing deeply, but as we age, stress can alter that pattern, and many of us start to breathe more shallowly. By adulthood, on average, we're taking 15 to 20 breaths per minute—three to four times faster than is optimal.

That's where the trouble can start. "Rapid, shallow breathing sends a message to our adrenal glands that we're in fight-or-flight mode, and they begin pumping out stress hormones like cortisol," explains Brenda Stockdale, director of mind-body medicine at the RC Cancer Centers in Atlanta. And when the body is stressed, it's weakened. Our immune cells normally function like "little Pac-Men," Stockdale explains, "patrolling for and destroying bacteria and diseased cells before they can multiply. But when cortisol levels are elevated, those immune cells slow down drastically, allowing pathogens and diseased cells to slip by."

Fortunately, there are simple methods to reverse our faulty inhale-exhale habits. To get started, try these three exercises:

Diaphragmatic Breathing

What it is: Breathing that involves expanding the belly, which gives the lungs room to take in more oxygen.
How it can help: Improves circulation; eases stress-related and anxiety disorders; speeds recovery from chemotherapy.
How to start:
1. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand just below your rib cage and the other on your upper chest.
2. Breathe in slowly through your nose so that your stomach pushes against your lower hand.
3. As you exhale through pursed lips, tighten your abs and let them fall inward. (Throughout inhalation and exhalation, the hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.) Do this exercise three times a day for five to ten minutes, then gradually increase that amount. With enough practice, you should begin to breathe this way automatically.

Alternate-Nostril Breathing

What it is: A yogic technique designed to promote relaxation.
How it can help: Reduces blood pressure; may have an anti-obesity effect; boosts cognitive function on spatial tasks.
How to start:
1. With your right thumb, close your right nostril and inhale slowly through your left nostril.
2. Now close your left nostril with your pinky and ring fingers, release your thumb, and exhale slowly through your right nostril.
3. Keep the right nostril open, inhale, then close it; open the left nostril, and exhale slowly through the left. That's one round. Start with three rounds, and add a round each week until you are up to five. Then practice whenever you're feeling stressed out.

The Bellows Breath

What it is: An exercise aimed at increasing alertness.
How it can help: Provides a boost in energy comparable to the high you feel after a workout.
How to start:
1. With your mouth closed, inhale and exhale quickly and evenly through your nose. Aim for three in-out cycles per second, but stop after 15 seconds on your first attempt.
2. Keep practicing, increasing your time by five seconds, until you reach a minute. When you feel your energy dipping, try this technique for 60 seconds

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Clear Clutter and Enhance Your Environment

Clear Clutter and Enhance Your Environment

Perhaps the greatest gift of meditation is the way in which it cleanses the windows of perception, allowing us to experience our natural state of simple and open awareness. When we’re awake to our essential self, we feel happy, light, and at peace. In contrast, unhappiness is a state of complication and imbalance in our body, mind, and environment. Complications take many forms, including a non-nurturing lifestyle, toxic relationships, hidden emotional debts, resistance, indecision, addictions, and negative conditioned beliefs. When our life is overly complicated, we’re weighed down by superfluous things at every level.
We can begin to let go of the complications that cause unnecessary suffering by cultivating inner and outer simplicity. In this process, tiny steps yield big results, in part because simplicity is nature’s default position. Suffering and the complications that fuel it are unnatural; it wastes energy to maintain complexity.

Exercise: Let Go of Complexity

Here is a practice that will help you let go of whatever is no longer serving you and return to your inherent state of wholeness, happiness, and wellbeing.
First ask yourself, Is there anything in my life that is causing me to feel a sense of unease, discomfort, or pain? You can choose a persistent issue that has bothered you for years or it may be something that has recently come up for you.

Here are some of the most common complications:

Clutter and disorder: Chaos is complicated, order is simple. Consider your physical environment. Is your house a mess? Is your desk buried under stacks of paper? Are you letting other people leave clutter and messes in the space you share? Have you hoarded so much junk that your environment is like an archaeological record of your past? Just as with the physical body, when we accumulate too much stuff in our environment, the flow of energy and information becomes blocked, creating stress and disharmony in our lives.

Stress: While the pressures of life are inevitable, if at the end of the day you are unable to completely let go and return to a calm, centered inner state, you are overstressed. Consider all the things that are creating tension and dis-ease in your life. Are you going to bed too late and not getting enough sleep?  Are you ignoring signs of overwork or exhaustion?  Is your body stressed by being overweight or sedentary? Make a list of the choices and lifestyle patterns that are creating unwanted stress in your life. Then start to brainstorm ideas to either eliminate the source of the stress or to change the impact it is having on your emotional state.

Inertia:  When you feel stuck, you are most likely giving in to old habits and conditioning.  Rather than stepping into the unknown, you may be holding onto the past, repeating inertia’s motto: “That’s just how things are.” If you feel caught in a cycle of anxiety, depression, fear, or insecurity, it’s important to become aware that doing nothing is actually a way you’ve trained yourself to keep things the same. Notice if you’re dwelling on your problems. Do you reject helpful advice without even considering it?  Do you find yourself repeatedly complaining about a situation without taking any actions to change it?  Become aware of any aspects of your life in which inertia has taken hold, and consider what shifts you are willing to make.

Toxic Relationships: Are you in relationships with people who don’t have your best interests and wellbeing at heart? Make a list of these relationships and consider what you can do to protect yourself from their toxic influence. Sometimes setting better boundaries and practicing the tools of conscious communication can be transformative. In some cases, ending a relationship may be necessary. At the same time, focus on nurturing your healthy relationships so that they are even more loving and fulfilling.

Negativity: Health and wellbeing are the natural state of the body and mind. By dwelling on negativity, we prevent ourselves from living in the simple state of wellbeing.  Do you often gossip about others or relish their setbacks? Do you tend to choose friends who like to criticize and complain? Do you feel compelled to watch every disaster or catastrophe unfolding on the evening news? Remember, whatever we put our attention on expands in our experience, so consider where you are focusing your time and energy.

Non-nurturing Habits:  Do your daily routine, diet, and overall lifestyle support your health and wellbeing? When we don’t nourish ourselves with fresh, healthy food; restful sleep, regular exercise, a daily spiritual practice such as meditation or journaling, and other mind-body healing habits, we will inevitably feel tired, out of balance, irritable,  and sometimes even depressed. What aspects of your lifestyle would you like to transform to bring you greater health and happiness?

For the next few weeks, sit by yourself for at least five minutes each day with the intention to clear away complications. In the time you set aside for this clearing, determine what area you need to focus on the most and work on that. It may be one of the complications mentioned above or a different area that is preventing you from experiencing a state of peaceful simplicity.

Take the Smallest Possible Step

Start by coming up with the smallest possible action you could take – and then take it. Then choose the next smallest action, and do that. The action can truly be as small as opening your closet to find your gym shoes. Then the next day you can commit to putting on your shoes, and the day after that you can decide to walk to your mailbox. Although such small acts can seem trivial, over time they help you build momentum and experience transformation.

As you focus on simplifying your life, make sure that your approach is loving and accepting. Know that you are now doing all that you can do right now, and that is all anyone can do. When you stay in the moment, you have all the time in the world and whatever needs to be done will be completed in the exact right time.