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Thinking Small without Guilt: Setting Your Minimum Goal Standards

Thinking Small without Guilt: Setting Your Minimum Goal Standards

Have you ever – perhaps in January – come up with some grand plan for self-improvement? Perhaps you promised yourself that you’d jog daily. Maybe you resolved to cook every night instead of eating out. You might even have written down goals, drawn up timetables and charts, and pumped up your willpower as much as possible.

And yet, somewhere along the way, you stopped. Going to the gym five times a week just wasn’t working. You ended up impulse shopping. You never managed to get up on time. Whatever it was, you felt like you’d failed.

The problem is, we’re prone to all-or-nothing thinking. We set ourselves high standards, and give up completely when we can’t meet them.

There’s another way. Rather than aiming for some maximum level of perfection, think small instead. Decide on a minimum standard which you’ll have no excuses for not achieving.

I first came across this idea from Shauna Reid, also known as Diet Girl, lamenting her own all-or-nothing thinking, she wrote:

2009 Minimum Standards Agreement!

  • Write down what I eat
  • Exercise for a minimum of 20 minutes
  • 10.30 PM Internet curfew! […]

I know 20 minutes doesn’t sound like much to you hardcore dames out there, but last year I kept going from one extreme to another. I’d do a 16 miler for my Moonwalk training then do nowt for a week. Even if it’s just twenty minutes of Pilates or a quick jaunt around the village, I need to set a minimum.

Why a Minimum Standard Agreement Works
You’re probably still tempted to come up with grand, perfectionist goals. You’re thinking “I won’t get the same results if I just shoot for the minimum”. But is that really true?

How often have you set grand goals only to give up days later?

How often have you undone your hard work – by having an eating or spending binge after a period of too-harsh restriction?

When you set a Minimum Standard, you feel empowered, because you can easily achieve what you’ve promised yourself. Even on a really busy day, you can find time to write three sentences in your journal. Isn’t it better to do those three sentences daily, rather than aim for three pages and give up after a week?

Plus, when things are going well, your Minimum Standards Agreement doesn’t limit you at all. Let’s say you’ve promised yourself that you’ll walk for just 15 minutes each day. On a nice day, when you’ve got some extra time, you might decide to walk for 30 minutes – or even an hour. And the best part is, this will be a bonus achievement – above and beyond the minimum which you said you’d do.

You’ll feel great about hitting your targets, which means you’ll want to keep going. After all, if you manage to do your 15 minute walk for five weeks in a row, you won’t want to skip a day just because it’s raining.

Examples of Minimum Standards Agreements
So what does a minimum standards agreement look like? And which areas of your life should you focus on?

You’ll want to think about whether to make your targets:

  • Daily, weekly or monthly
  • Time-based or outcome-based
  • Focused on one key area, or split across several

I’d suggest that you pick one to three areas of your life where you’re struggling. Perhaps your two priorities are losing weight and saving money. You could set several simple targets like:

  • Have one day each week when I don’t spend anything (makes you more aware of your spending habits, should help you save money)
  • Take a packed lunch to work at least two days a week (good for money-saving and eating a healthier diet)
  • Spend at least 15 minutes exercising each day (walking, cycling, etc)

Start small: you can always up your commitments if you really feel that this is too easy. Of course, the most effective minimum standards agreements will be the ones which you come up with yourself – but if you’re stuck for ideas, you might want to try some of the below ones.

Remember, you can always do more. These are minimums that you’re supposed to be able to do without fail – even on bad days!

Health and Fitness ideas

Money ideas

  • Empty the spare change from your pockets or wallet into a jar every evening
  • Have a “no spend” day once a week (or once a month)
  • Ban yourself from online shopping in the evenings (or at particular points when you’re prone to impulse buy)
  • Start saving $5/week towards Christmas right now
  • Write down everything you spend on food/drinks out

Work ideas

  • Spend five minutes each day working on that dreaded report or presentation
  • Tidy your desk once a week (or once a month)
  • Take two minutes to plan your morning when you first get in to work
  • If you have a side business or personal project, spend fifteen minutes working on this each evening
  • Clear three emails from your backlog every day
  • Read one chapter of a relevant book each week (or a few pages each day)

Have you ever used a minimum standards agreement with yourself, in the past? How did it work out? If you’ve never tried it before, what could you put into practice today?

by Ali Hale. Ali writes a blog, Aliventures, about leading a productive and purposeful life.

When a Great Body Belongs to Someone Else

When a Great Body Belongs to Someone Else

It’s easy to fall into the trap of critically comparing yourself to people who have reached their fitness goals. But depending on your outlook, you can get inspired, not frustrated, by someone else’s achievement.

Who hasn’t stared at someone with the fit, healthy body that we’d all like to have? But if you start critically comparing yourself to that ideal, it can have negative consequences on your weight loss and mental health.

Healthy Inspiration: A Role Model, Not an Ideal

“If you can look at somebody else and not be self-critical — look at their body and their achievements as an inspiration, that can be useful,” says Martin Binks, PhD, assistant professor at the Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. “But if it’s a self-critical way of looking at people and thinking, ‘I’ll never look like that,’ that’s when it becomes more difficult.”

In other words, see them as a source of motivation, inspiration, and even advice on living a healthy lifestyle, but not as a physical ideal you have to reach. “You always have to keep in mind that your body is yours, and your shape is determined by your own genetics,” says Binks. “Look at the behavior as opposed to the appearance.”

Healthy Inspiration: The Right Attitude

“When we compare ourselves to somebody else, we are not honoring who we are. We’re not looking at who we are in our life and what we’ve done,” says Anne Wolf, RD, a registered dietitian and researcher at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who has worked with patients dealing with obesity for more than 20 years. “When there’s a comparison, people either think ‘I’m better’ or ‘I’m worse.’ But we’re not better or worse — we are human beings with different gifts and people with different bodies.”

Wolf says that it’s important to recognize that everyone has a completely different body shape, different way of carrying weight, and even a different bone structure that affects the way we look.

Most important, says Wolf, is to focus on what you are doing to improve your body. Losing a percentage of your body weight, exercising regularly, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods — those are the guides to use to determine if you are giving yourself the healthiest body possible.

Healthy Inspiration: Help Reaching Goals

If you approach weight loss with a healthy mindset, you may find that looking to someone who lives a fit, healthy lifestyle or who managed to lose weight successfully will really help you. John from Fairfax, Va., found a healthy comparison within his own family, specifically his older brother.

“In a sense my weight loss was entirely due to comparing myself to other people,” says John, who at age 27 decided to take control of his weight and lost 70 pounds. “I saw myself showing the effects of age faster than the people around me.”

“My brother was a good role model for me,” notes John. “He lost a significant amount of weight, and it helped because I saw how it improved his quality of life and his overall disposition.”

For John, his brother was a motivating factor. “Part of the human condition means you’re always comparing yourself to others, appearance and otherwise,” says John. You can use the comparison to make yourself feel worse or to inspire yourself to be better.

By Diana Rodriguez at Everyday Health

Need help with the emotional side of eating and body image?  I can help!  Contact me at

Being fat is bad for your brain.

Brain Damage

Being fat is bad for your brain.

That, at least, is the gloomy conclusion of several recent studies. For example, one long-term study of more than 6,500 people in northern California found that those who were fat around the middle at age 40 were more likely to succumb to dementia in their 70s. A long-term study in Sweden found that, compared to thinner people, those who were overweight in their 40s experienced a more rapid, and more pronounced, decline in brain function over the next several decades.

Consistent with this, the brains of obese people often show signs of damage. One study of 60 healthy young adults (in their 20s and 30s) found that the fatter members of the group had significantly lower gray-matter densities in several brain regions, including those involved in the perception of taste and the regulation of eating behavior. A study of 114 middle-aged people (aged between 40 and 66) found that the obese tended to have smaller, more atrophied brains than thinner people; other studies have found similar results.

Brains usually atrophy with age, but being obese appears to accelerate the process. This is bad news: pronounced brain atrophy is a feature of dementia.

Why fatness should affect the brain in this way is not clear, although a host of culprits have been suggested. A paper published this week in the early edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has identified a gene that seems to be involved. FTO, as the gene is known, appears to play a role in both body weight and brain function. This gene comes in different versions; one version — let’s call it “troublesome”— appears to predispose people to obesity. Individuals with two copies of the troublesome version tend to be fatter than those with only one copy of it, who in turn tend to be fatter than those with two copies of the “regular” version. Now, the troublesome form has been linked to atrophy in several regions of the brain, including the frontal lobes, though how and why it has this effect remains unknown.

But genes are not the only guilty parties. Obesity exacerbates problems like sleep apnea, which can result in the brain being starved of oxygen; this can lead to brain damage. Obesity often goes along with high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, all of which are bad for the brain in their own right. Indeed, one study has shown that if, in middle age, you are obese and have high blood pressure, the two problems gang up on you, increasing the chances of your getting dementia in old age more than either one would do on its own.

Fat tissue itself may be a problem. Fat cells secrete hormones like leptin; leptin acts on the brain in a variety of ways, and is thought to play a role in the development of Alzheimer’s. Obesity may thus disrupt the normal production of leptin, with dangerous results. Fat cells also secrete substances that cause inflammation; chronic inflammation of the brain, which is often found in the obese, impairs learning and memory and is also a feature of Alzheimer’s.

Diet may play a role, too. Studies in mice have shown that eating a very-high-fat diet increases brain inflammation and disrupts brain function. And the onset of brain decay may itself play a part. Since the regions of the brain most affected by obesity appear to be those involved in self-control and the regulation of appetite, erosion of these abilities may lead to greater obesity, which may lead to more rapid brain erosion, in a downward spiral.

Whatever the causes, the implications are grave. In the United States today, around one-third of adults are obese. At the same time, dementia is already one of the most costly and devastating health problems of old age. The possibility that obesity today will lead to higher rates of dementia in the future is, therefore, deeply alarming.

The obvious question is: can obesity-associated brain damage be reversed? No one knows the answer, but I am hopeful that it can. Those two old friends, a healthful diet and plenty of exercise, have repeatedly been shown to protect the brain. Foods like oily fishes and blueberries have been shown to stimulate the growth of new neurons, for example. Moreover, one study found that dieting reversed some of the changes to brain structure found among the obese. Which suggests an interesting study. The most effective — and radical — treatment for obesity is bariatric surgery, whereby the stomach is made much smaller or bypassed altogether. Do people who have taken this option show a reversal, or at least a slowing, of brain atrophy?

But whether you are fat or thin, young or old, the best hope you have of guarding your brain is to eat well and exercise. Anyone seen my running shoes?

By Olivia Judson on the influence of science and biology on modern life for The Times

For more information on a healthy eating plan to get you to your perfect weight, tap here or contact me at

Lift Heavier Weights to Lose Weight

Lift Heavier Weights to Lose Weight

The Claim: For Better Muscle Tone, Go Lighter and Repeat


Lifting heavy weights makes you big and bulky — or at least that’s the conventional wisdom. It’s the reason many women (and some men) who want slim and “toned” physiques opt for lighter weights, lifted more times.

But the notion is not supported by science. Producing bulky muscles requires not just heavy weights but heavy calorie consumption as well, typically far above the 2,000 daily calories recommended for many adults.

For people who lift weights to tone up and slim down, experts say, a regimen that includes a combination of challenging weights and fewer repetitions can help significantly. In a 2002 study, for example, scientists looked at what happened when women performed various resistance exercises at different weights and repetitions (85 percent of their maximum ability for 8 reps, versus 45 percent for 15). Subjects lifting more weight fewer times burned more energy and had a greater metabolic boost after exercise.

In another study published last year, scientists followed 122 women for six years. They found that those who were assigned to do resistance exercises three times a week — sets of 8 reps at 70 to 80 percent of their ability — lost the most weight and body fat. A similar two-year study of women who did strength training with challenging weight twice weekly found similar effects on body and “intra-abdominal” fat.


For better tone, try fewer reps and more challenging weights.

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR at the New York Times

Six Foods to Boost Your Libido Plus Four Other Surprising Sex Facts

Six Foods to Boost Your Libido,
Plus Four Other Surprising Sex Facts

Most couples desire a healthy sex life, but to get there numerous aspects of your personal and interpersonal well-being must all come together, and this is not always easy to accomplish. Ideally, couples whose sex life is fulfilling:

  1. Feel good about themselves physically and mentally
  2. Have a strong relationship
  3. Communicate with each other about their sexual needs and preferences

Unfortunately, these factors are not coming together for many couples, because between 40 percent and 50 percent of U.S. women — and 20 percent to 25 percent of U.S. men — have a low sex drive. This is often the result of:

  • Stress, anxiety or depression
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of connection with your partner
  • Unresolved conflicts with your partner
  • History of physical or sexual abuse
  • Physical problems or fatigue
  • Infidelity
  • Menopause, pregnancy or breastfeeding

But did you know boosting your libido may be as simple as adding a few precise foods to your diet?

Healthy Foods to Increase Your Virility

A healthy diet — one full of fruits and veggies, lean proteins and whole grains — is necessary for your body to function properly on every level. But beyond that, the following foods specifically may be great for your libido:

  • Pomegranate juice: New research on animals shows it may reduce the risk of erectile dysfunction.
  • Oatmeal: Eating oats helps to produce a chemical that releases testosterone in your body, which may help increase your sex drive and orgasm strength.
  • Honey: The B vitamins in honey also boost testosterone production, while boron in honey helps your body use estrogen, which is important for arousal.
  • Eggs: Aside from being a symbol of fertility, eggs are high in vitamins B6 and B5, which may help your libido by balancing hormone levels and fighting stress.
  • Bananas: They contain an enzyme called bromelain, which may help increase libido and even reverse impotence in men.
  • Celery: Celery contains androsterone, a hormone released in men’s sweat that’s said to be a turn-on for women.

Four More Sex Facts You Likely Never Knew

While we’re on the topic, let’s clear up some confusion and set the record straight on some common sexual beliefs.

  1. Intimacy wanes as you get older. Not so fast! While it’s true that intimacy does decrease slightly when you reach your 70s and beyond, it does not disappear. In fact, the frequency of seniors’ sex lives is based on the same things as younger people’s — with lack of a partner or health issues among the two most prominent reasons for a slow down.
  2. Men have more sex dreams than women. Not true! Women have just as many sex dreams as men. What varies, however, is WHAT men and women dream about, sexually speaking.
  3. Overweight people have less sex than skinny people. Actually, the opposite is true. A 2008 study in Obstetrics and Gynecology found overweight women have more sexual encounters than average-weight women.
  4. Taking a “virginity pledge” means a teen is more likely to wait until marriage. Not so, according to an analysis by The National Longitudinal Study on Adolescent Health. The analysis found that those who promise to remain virgins until after marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not take a pledge, and they’re also less likely to use condoms or other contraceptives when doing so. (All the more reason to talk to your kids about sex early on.)

Research Proves a Healthy Sex Life is Good for You

Assuming it is done with a partner you can trust, and no sexually transmitted diseases are involved, the benefits of sexual relations include:

  • Relief from depression and stress
  • Reduce risk of heart disease
  • Pain relief
  • A strong immune system
  • A reduced risk of prostate cancer

6 Smart Snacks to Feed Your Cold and a Vegetarian Chili Recipe

6 Smart Snacks to Feed Your Cold

Cold season is upon us, bringing its runny noses, congested chests, achy bodies, and too-tired feelings with it. Your best defense? Try to prevent yourself from catching a cold by washing your hands frequently, getting enough rest, drinking lots of fluids, and staying active. But when you catch a cold, you need more immediate relief. That’s where these snacks come in. Each of them is packed with cold-fighting vitamins, minerals, and amino acids that may help make your cold less severe. Read on for our six feel-better snack picks:

Vegetarian Chili

A spicy veggie chili made with onions, garlic, kidney beans, and tomato paste not only warms up a cold-afflicted body, it may also have medicinal properties! Onions and garlic have antiviral effects, beans have good-for-the-immune-system B vitamins, and the spices can actually help clear sinuses!

Recommended serving size: 1 cup canned vegetarian chili
Calories: 160

Fresh Clementines

Despite all the controversy surrounding Vitamin C’s effect on colds, recent research shows that while this powerhouse antioxidant can’t prevent them, it can help cut down on the duration and severity of colds. Clementines are a great source of Vitamin C — two fulfill 100 percent of your RDA. What’s more, clementines are easy to pack and eat (no sticky fingers, since their skins peel off effortlessly).

Recommended serving size: 2 clementines
Calories: 138

Half a Roast Beef Sandwich

Another mineral that can help stop a cold: Zinc. It plays a big role in immune system functioning, and has been shown to stop the growth of microorganisms in the body, including some bacteria and viruses (and a virus is what causes colds). Both roast beef and whole-grain bread are great sources of zinc; put them together, and you’ve got a powerful cold-fighting snack.

Recommended serving size: 2 ounces lean roast beef on 1 slice whole wheat bread
Calories: about 210

Chicken Soup

Believe it or not, your grandmother was right: Chicken soup is the perfect snack when you’ve got a cold! Not only is the warm broth comforting and soothing (essential when you’re feeling run down and uncomfortable), research at the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha showed that chicken soup helps control the production and spread of inflammation and congestion-causing neutrophils (white blood cells). A cup of this soup gives you the perfect “dose.”

Recommended serving size: 1 cup
Calories: about 190

Tuna Salad

Packed with glutamine, an amino acid that helps step up your immune system’s efficiency, tuna is a great pick when you’re sick. Research at the University of Oxford showed that athletes who ingested glutamine after workouts were less likely to get an upper respiratory infection than those who didn’t; for regular folk, glutamine could have the same beneficial effects. Mix your tuna with a tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise and serve it on 6 whole-grain crackers for a healthy mini meal.

Recommended serving size: 1 6-ounce can of tuna packed in water with 1 tablespoon low-fat mayonnaise and 6 whole-grain crackers
Calories: 290

Ginger Tea with Gingersnaps

Ginger helps relieve congestion and has a soothing, spicy taste. To make a throat-calming, congestion-busting tea, steep chopped raw ginger in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Make your teatime a little sweeter by adding a teaspoon of honey to the brew and two crunchy gingersnap cookies on the side.

Recommended serving size: 1 cup of tea with 1 teaspoon honey and 2 gingersnaps
Calories: about 85

By the editors of FITNESS magazine

Stovetop Vegetarian Chili

Stovetop Chili is best serve with a chunk of warm corn bread. This
one pot vegetarian chili is easy and delicious. Serve with a chunk of warm
corn bread.

Serving Size  : 6    
   1      Tbs      olive oil
   1                    medium onion, chopped
   2      Tbs      chili powder
   1      tsp       ground cumin
   1      tsp       ground coriander
   2                    garlic cloves, crushed with garlic press
   1                    jalapeno chile, seeded and minced
   1                   can (28 ounces) whole tomatoes
  1/2  lb         green beans, trimmed and each cut crosswise in half
   3                   medium sweet potatoes (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
   1      tsp      sugar
   1      tsp      salt
   2      cups  water
   2                  cans (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
                        sour cream (optional)

Web Page: daily planet
                   – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

If you’re a regular reader – I want your involvement, your feedback, and your questions! So why not make this the day to leave a comment before you go – if you’re reading from RSS or email you’ll have to enter the blog to do this.

You can do that by clicking on the title of this piece. ‘Post a comment’ is at the article end, right under the ’share this’ and ‘related posts’ options.
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Top 10 Ways to Cut Back on Sugar

Top 10 Ways to Cut Back on Sugar

Ever tried to cut back- or even eliminate- sugar? It’s not so easy.

Nature gave us a sweet tooth for a reason- and it wasn’t just to frustrate our diet efforts!

We humans – unlike other animals- don’t make our own vitamin C. Vitamin C is most abundant in fruits. So nature gave us taste buds that would make these relatively sweet tasting foods desirable.

Unfortunately the whole system has become deregulated since just about everything you buy now has sugar in it, and there’s a huge disconnect between the purpose of our original wiring- to make sure we got enough vitamin C- and the way that wiring is used today (to make sure we get enough Krispy Kreme donuts!)

Giving up- or cutting back- on sugar is no picnic. But the rewards are tremendous. Eliminating (or even reducing) sugar can benefit your health in more ways than you can imagine.

Here’s a list of my Top Ten Ways to Start Reducing Sugar:

  1. Don’t add it to foods. This is the easiest and most basic way to immediately reduce the amount of sugar you’re eating. Biggest targets: cereal, coffee and tea.
  2. Don’t be fooled by “healthy sugar” disguises. Brown sugar, turbinado sugar, raw sugar … it’s all pretty much the same thing as far as your body is concerned.
  3. Make a real effort to reduce or eliminate processed carbohydrates. Most processed carbs — breads, bagels, most pastas and snacks — are loaded with flour and other ingredients that convert to sugar in the body almost as fast as pure glucose. That sugar gets stored as triglycerides, which is a fancy way of saying fat.
  4. Watch out for “fat-free” snacks. One of the biggest myths is that if a food is fat-free it doesn’t make you fat. Fat-free doesn’t mean calorie-free, and most fat-free snacks are loaded with sugar.
  5. Shop for color. The more your grocery basket looks like a cornucopia of color, the better. It usually means you’re getting more fresh vegetables and low-glycemic fruits such as berries and cherries.
  6. Become a food detective. This tip is from the wonderful author and nutritionist Anne Louise Gittleman, who adds, “To reduce sugar, you have to know where it is first.” Start reading labels.
  7. Beware of artificial sweeteners. Unfortunately, they can increase cravings for sugar and carbohydrates. They can also deplete the body’s stores of chromium, a nutrient crucial for blood-sugar metabolism.
  8. Do the math. Look at the label where it says “total sugars” and divide the number of grams by four. That’s the number of teaspoons of sugar you are ingesting. This exercise alone should scare the pants off you.
  9. Limit fruit. (Notice I didn’t say “eliminate.”) Fruit has sugar, but it also has fiber and good nutrients. Just don’t overdo it. For weight-loss purposes, keep it to two servings a day and try to make most of them low-glycemic (grapefruit, apples, berries)
  10. Eliminate fruit juice. It’s a pure sugar hit with none of the fiber and less of the nutrients that are found in the fruit itself.

 By Dr. Jonny Bowden

If you’re a regular reader – I want your involvement, your feedback, and your questions! So why not make this the day to leave a comment before you go – if you’re reading from RSS or email you’ll have to enter the blog to do this. You can do that by clicking on the title of this piece. ‘Post a comment’ is at the article end, right under the ’share this’ and ‘related posts’ options.

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