Friday, April 29, 2011

People don't eat nutrition, they eat food.

I wish I could take credit for that headline, but I can't. Someone else wrote it. It was the title of a recent nursing abstract by Melinda M. Manore, PhD, RD, CSSD. The headline was good, but the article was dull. All about why people should be referred to dietitians. Written for people in the healthcare world. Boring to it's core.

However, the title stuck with me.

Because it is true.

Some people seem to eat healthy all the time. I don't, even though I do try. But I eat things I shouldn't because, well, because I like them. Like cake and mashed potatoes and even a Coke once in awhile. And chocolate, too.

When I was growing up, we all just ate food. We never thought too much about it. I think back now and I see that my mom fed us The Zone diet. Except she didn't call it that; she called it dinner.

A starch, a protein and veggies. Pretty much every night. And we were thin and healthy and everyone enjoyed eating. We even had ice cream and pie and other delicious desserts she would make every week.

What we didn't have were large portions. We also never ate any processed foods.

And that I think is the difference.

We didn't have high fructose corn syrup in all of our food. We never had a list of ingredients that we could not understand on everything. We ate real food. Simple, real food. Like milk and cheese and bread and butter. Meat and potatoes. A salad. And fruit.

Then the 80's hit, and suddenly fat was the demon. Everything became fat-free. Processed and fat-free. And, as we all ate all that fat-free stuff, we all became fatter. And sicker.

I don't know where common sense went. Now sugar is being labeled toxic. It is crazy. Really crazy.

I think we should all just return to eating food. Real food. And start enjoying it again. When you eat what you like, it makes you smile and you feel good. And you need less of it because you feel so satisfied. And happy.

No one is happy eating Lean Cuisine or a protein bar or meat for every meal with no carbs. That is just crazy.

We should start a revolution of common sense. We don't need calories labeled on everything we eat. We know that if something is HUGE, that it has a lot of calories. We know if it is dripping with grease it is probably not good to eat too much of it. We know that if we cannot understand what the ingredients mean, it is probably not going to do our bodies any good. We know that we don't need a drink so large that it has an undertow. We also know we can eat ice cream one day, but not every day.

We have common sense. I know we do. But the "experts" are confusing us. Telling us that this or that is good or bad based on the most recent study. The one that contradicts a study from last week. And the week before.

So we need to stop listening to the experts and follow our own instincts once again.

I think we will all be happier and healthier for it.

It would be nice if the Food and Drug Administration stopped issuing warnings about toxic substances and just gave me the names of the one or two things still safe to eat.
~~~Robert Fuoss

Believe nothing, no matter where you have read it, or who has said it; no matter if I have said it; unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.

Common sense is instinct, and enough of it is genius.
~~~Josh Billings

We are living in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made from real lemons.
~~~Alfred E. Newman

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Know thy car, know thyself.

Someone once said that life is a series of dogs. Probably true. But I think that life is really a series of cars. Not everyone has a dog. But everyone, at one time or another, has owned a car.

Remember your first car? The thrill of it? The picture I added is a reasonable facsimile of my first car, a 1970 Ford Thunderbird. Of course, mine was used, about 7 years old. And pretty beat. But I loved it. So many memories I have from driving that car.

I have had many cars since then. And each, if I really think about it, has a story to tell. As a matter of fact, you could probably chronicle my life with stories from each car.

We think that cars just get us from one place to another. And perhaps that is true. But maybe how they get us from one place to another is not always just about transportation.

My first car was just that, my first car. My ride. In and of itself, it wasn't anything special. But it signified freedom to me. Freedom to go places I wanted to go. It was a heady time. A time of expanding my horizons, even if that just meant driving to the other side of town.

After a while, that car proved to be unreliable. So, I bought a safer car. Nothing fancy; small and compact. I was still in school and needed something reliable. Or at least my dad thought I did.

But after I was done with school and I was working as a full-time nurse, and thought of myself as quite independent, I bought a bright red Honda Prelude. Sporty and fast. I loved that car. It went fast and I drove fast. Sunroof. Stereo blaring. Just pure fun. I was footloose and carefree and so was my ride.

I also started to notice other people's cars. Especially guys I would date. Guys with neat, orderly and pragmatic cars always somehow bored me. Something about pragmatic and orderly just didn't work. Nor did flashy or junky.

Think about the cars of your past. Do they tell a story? Maybe you thought you weren't paying attention or that I am just being silly. But I will bet if you think about it, a story will unfold.

The cars in our lives hold many memories. The car you are driving today with your kids inside will have many stories for them to tell after they are all grown up. Think about that. What memories are you making?

Goodness, I can remember all of my dad's cars. Trips we made in them. How I learned to drive in one of them. Everything. I can remember the smell, how I slept in the backseat on long road trips, how my mom always packed a box of travel things with a big tan thermos full of ice water. Geesh, I haven't thought about about that in years.

I can think about and relive parts of my own life through my cars. The sporty car when I was a free spirit, the Mercedes----that was a more obnoxious time, and now, of course, the ugh.....minivan.

But the minivan, which I have had for several years now, loathing each day I drive it, is all about my daughter and car pools and dogs and road trips. This minivan that I loathe will be a source of many, hopefully happy, memories for my daughter. Really, it will. Amazing, isn't it?

So, look at your car and the cars of your past, not just as vehicles, but as an extension of who you are and who you have been. Cars bring back so many memories when you sit back and think about it; some good, some bad, some scary, some maybe even traumatic. It tells stories about who we have been or tried to be, where we have been, who we are now and who we wish we could become perhaps sometime in the future.

What story does your car tell?

We think of a car as a means to get from one place to another. And that may be true. Nothing more than an object we own out of pure necessity.

But maybe, just maybe, they are more than that.

Something to think about as we drive yet again tomorrow.

A suburban mother's role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car forever after. ~Peter De Vries

The car has become a secular sanctuary for the individual, his shrine to the self, his mobile Walden Pond. ~Edward McDonagh

Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car. ~E.B. White, One Man's Meat, 1943

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Take it slow now and again.

Slow down, you move too fast.
You got to make the morning last.
Just kicking down the cobble stones.
Looking for fun and feelin' groovy.

Do you remember this Simon and Garfunkel song? It is actually called "The 59th Street Bridge Song" (Feelin' Groovy). It was released around 1966. When I was 6. When I took things slow. When an afternoon felt like an eternity.

I was not thinking about this as I went for a walk with my daughter this evening. As we were walking, I thought instead about all the things I wanted to do this week, before I had to work again on Thursday. You know, that perpetual to-do list in our heads.

We had been talking and then I was silent, thinking about all those errands, all those to-dos. My daughter suddenly turned to me and said, "Why aren't you talking anymore?" We had been enjoying a nice walk on a beautiful evening and I was suddenly far away, far ahead of today.

And then that song popped into my head.

We do indeed move too fast. Always trying to stay on top of things. Getting things done. Planning. Thinking about tomorrow or next week or next year. Living in tomorrowland and ignoring what matters today.

"You are right," I told her. And I returned to now and we talked about nothing in particular and we had a lovely walk.

You have to know that these spontaneous times are the ones that our kids remember. I cannot tell you all the adult children I see at the bedside of a dying parent that say to me, "I wish I had spent more time with mom. But she was always so busy."

I don't want my child to be that adult.

And I don't want to be that mom.

So, some may view it as wasting time, just hanging out and doing nothing. I may become known as a slacker. I don't really care. I know that I have a lot to do. And I probably won't get it all done anyway. And my basement may stay a mess and the clothes will pile up and my car may be dirty, and even a bill ot two may be late. But I will try to slow down and think like I did when I was 6 or 8 or even 15.

Like today was the only day that mattered.

Because it really is true.

Life is short, God's way of encouraging a bit of focus.
~Robert Brault

Why always "not yet"? Do flowers in spring say "not yet"?
~Norman Douglas

I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.
~Diane Ackerman

Why must conversions always come so late? Why do people always apologize to corpses?
~David Brin

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Own your life.

If there is one thing I have learned by being a hospice nurse it is this. We need to own our own life while we can.

We think we do own it. But we really don't. Our work owns it. Our debt owns it. Our responsibilities own it. Our family owns it. Our illness may own it. And we cannot always do anything about that, it is true.

But there is always a piece of ourselves that we should own. Just us. Alone.

It is not a selfish thing to do this. It is necessary. Like breathing.

I see so many people who have had their lives taken over by an illness. They wish they could have their life back. They are sick of treatment and doctors and they hate it when I come to their home. We have all taken over their life. And they feel like they have lost all control.

But as sad as that is, I see relatively healthy people walking around in the thick of their lives, who don't own their own lives either. And that is even sadder. They are unhappy. They complain more than they smile. They see everything as a problem to solve or an obstacle to overcome. Even vacations are stressful. Everything is a burden. They don't own even a piece of themselves.

Here is the simple truth. Life ends. It does. And not just with death. Walk into any nursing home and you will see that. So, amidst the responsibilities of everyday life, grant yourself something that belongs to only you, while you can.

Don't let your everyday busy-ness own you or define you. Find something to own and hold on tight to it. And find a bit of time in your hectic day to revel in the wonderfulness of you. Your life. Yourself.

Take a minute today to think about what you can own that is truly just about you. Think about your needs and how you can fulfill them even if it is only inch by inch. Check in with yourself occasionally to see what your needs really are. Sometimes we get so caught up with everyone else's needs, we forget our own.

You are really special. You may not have noticed, but it is true. There will never be another you. You will never have another life.

So, own it while you can.

The ultimate folly is to think that something crucial to your welfare is being taken care of for you. ~Robert Brault

A man sooner or later discovers that he is the master-gardener of his soul, the director of his life. ~James Allen

Jack Palance: "Do you know what the secret of life is? One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don't mean shit."
Billy Crystal: "Yeah, but what's that one thing?"
Jack Palance: "That's what you've got to figure out."
~From the movie City Slickers

The tragedy of life is not so much what men suffer, but rather what they miss.
~Thomas Carlyle

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Be a generous listener.

When was the last time you dropped what you were doing, stopped thinking about what you were thinking, sat down, really looked at someone, and listened. Listened not just with your ears, but your eyes and your heart as well.

Think about that. We all think we are listening all of the time. And certainly we hear things. But are we truly listening? Would people say that you were a good listener if someone asked them?

I was at a patient's home the other day. There was a lovely woman lying on a hospital bed, about 88 years old. She was unresponsive. She was in the living room of a very well worn home. All the furniture had been moved out, except for two chairs that sat next to the bed.

In one old chair sat a man, about the same age. He looked weary. He asked me to sit down on the other chair to tell him news that he certainly did not want to hear.

He talked to me about his wife of 68 years. Talked about places they had lived and had traveled to. Talked about how they raised their 3 kids and about the grandchildren and great grandchildren they now had. I sat and tried hard to listen.

I had 3 other patients to see that afternoon. None close by, miles apart and it was raining. Then I thought about how I had to rush over to my daughter's school to pick her up and after that I had to go to the grocery store. Then I started thinking about dinner.....

Anyway, the man was still talking to me. Then he said something that I don't think I will ever forget. He said, "What I will miss the most when Martha dies is her uncanny ability to be a generous listener."

That caused me to pause. A generous listener. One who gives the time and energy to listen. One who makes one feel that they are really, truly being listened to.

How many times have you had a conversation with someone and they say, "Are you listening to me?" How many times have you looked at your watch or your phone while your daughter was telling you about her day? How many tasks are you trying to finish while talking to someone on the phone? Did you really have a conversation with your husband last night or were you just talking at one another while watching TV.

Let's face it. We are not always generous listeners. We like our conversations short and to the point. Email, texting and Facebook have become the new ways of communicating and staying in touch. Simple short blurbs.

Communication, yes.

Listening, no.

So, think about how you rate as a listener to the people who mean the most to you. Think about how you look as you stand or sit and talk to someone. Are you really engaged? Do you make eye contact? Are you really, honestly caring about what this person has to say?

Check your body language. Do you have one foot tapping or out the door. Are you looking around to see who is coming or going. Are you nervously clutching your Blackberry or iphone. Are you silently thinking about your to do list. Are you really, honestly present?

We listen with our whole selves. And people notice when we are not.

Mr. Smith noticed. He knew that I was thinking about something else. Even though I sat there, leaning forward and looking straight at him, he knew. He just knew.

And it made me sad. And I am sure it made him sad, too.

We will never know the impact we have on others. We try to be giving to those we love or care about, but many times we fall short of the mark. Sometimes we don't know what to give or how to give it.

Time and attention is what most people crave. It is true. Usually nothing more than that.

So be a generous listener. It is a pure and genuine gift. So give it freely and often.

To listen is an effort, and just to hear has no merit. A duck hears also.
~~~Igor Stravinsky

Monday, April 4, 2011

Can we flee from disease?

We would like to think that we can.

But it is almost next to impossible as we age. And that is the sad truth.

I see a lot of people of all ages who are sick, very sick. Many ate right, exercised, had parents that lived long lives. They went for annual screenings and were not overweight, never smoked. But they still got a nasty cancer. It happens. It does.

But I also see a lot of healthy people as well. Maybe not healthy in the true sense of the word, that being without disease, but functioning well and feeling good. They may have a problem such as diabetes, high blood pressure, GI issues or chronic pain. But they are able to rise each morning, take their medications and move along their day.

Most do this by symptom management. They take meds. They see their MD regularly. They watch very closely what they eat. They rest when they are tired. They self-monitor. Interestingly, they did not do all of this before they got sick. Sickness gives us a whole new perspective. And sometimes saves our lives.

We all want to be healthy. But biology is against us. And we have to stay very vigilant if we want to be as healthy as we can be.

It seems like every week or so, sometimes even daily, we are hit with a news article about a new superfood or supplement that prevents cancer. Or helps us to age slower. Or one that will keep us "healthy." Everyone is looking for the magic bullet

There are so many ways to get sick. Volumes upon volumes of books written about disease. It is amazing we live at all. But there is a common denominator when we think about disease. And that is stress. Our bodies just don't like it. Everything works overtime; our hearts, our vessels, our hormones. It is like sitting in a car going no where, just constantly revving the motor.

Bad for cars.

And bad for us.

So, if we want a real shot at fleeing from bad disease, or keeping our current disease in check, or allowing treatments to work properly, we have to reduce our stress.

Stress, interestingly, causes many of us to do the unhealthy to bring down our stress levels, thus stressing our stressed bodies even further.

We may smoke, take drugs, drink more, drive unsafely, ruin important relationships. We stop taking good care of ourselves, either exercising too much or too little, eating things that we may enjoy but certainly don't need in excess, or we may get too little sleep staying up late watching mind-numbing TV.

So, why isn't there more talk about stress as a health risk?

Here is why. Because you don't need to purchase anything to reduce your stress. And it seems that if there is no money to be made, then why talk about it at all.

So, I would say that the best way to live a long, healthy life is to look at your own stress level. What is it right now. What are you stressed about? And what can you do to bring it down a notch or two.

The number one thing that everyone can do, and it is free, is to breath. Take deep breaths. Breath in to the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, breath out for the count of 4. Do it repeatedly. Let your shoulder's slump. Think of something pleasant.

It won't make the thing that is stressing you go away. But it can help to allow your body to deal with it in a better way. And that, in effect, keeps us healthier.

So, as ridiculous as it may seem, to stay as healthy as possible, breath. Pay attention to tense areas in your body and stretch. Go for a short walk. Drink some water. Smell something pretty. Listen to music. Look at nature more, even pictures help.

And let go of things that you don't need that are toxic to your lives.

We are all going to age. Our bodies will wear out a bit. Stress makes it wear out faster. Just remember that. And no potion out there is going to stop biology. It simply can't.

You really can't flee from disease. So, instead of trying to arm yourself against disease with the latest new whatever, disarm it instead by reducing your stress. It is free and we all can do it every single day.

So, what are you waiting for?

Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths. ~Etty Hillesum

If people concentrated on the really important things in life, there'd be a shortage of fishing poles. ~Doug Larson

Releasing the pressure, it's good for the teapot and the water. Try it sometime. ~Jeb Dickerson

If your teeth are clenched and your fists are clenched, your lifespan is probably clenched. ~Terri Guillemets