Psychotherapist, Author, Speaker

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Robin D. Stone is a New York City based psychotherapist, coach and consultant who works to help you achieve your most optimal self. 

Posts tagged health
What We Can Learn from Hunger
 

Do you ever eat because you’re bored, stressed, you deserve it, because everybody else is eating, or simply because “it’s time?” 

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What about because you’re hungry?

Few of us eat because we’re hungry because we rarely feel hunger these days. With constant grazing, we’re eating from the time we wake up until the time we lie down.  We’re eating midnight snacks and 6 a.m. bagels. We’re eating while watching TV and while commuting. We’re on everybody else’s schedule but our own body’s.

And often, if we’re eating while in motion or otherwise occupied, we aren’t really mindful of how much we’re eating, or even the quality of what we’re eating. Ever down a bag of chips in the car the and then head straight to the fridge for dinner once you get home? You’re no longer hungry, but it’s “time” to eat.

Some of us, who may have a history of not having enough food to eat, may eat to avoid the emotional triggers that feeling hungry might produce. We may be eating more than we should because we “deserve” it. 

Unless you’re aware of these dynamics, you can’t address them.

Hunger, in fact is a useful sensation, as this registered dietitian explains. It signals to our body that it’s time to eat. When we eat for reasons other than hunger, we’re often taking in more calories than our bodies can use.

But how do you know when you’re really hungry? As she notes, a Hunger Scale can help you get in touch with your body’s needs. Here’s how it works: Your internal scale prompts you to eat when you are “pleasantly hungry” but not starving, and to stop when you are “pleasantly full” but not stuffed.

But before you get on that scale, you might want to spend a few days simply monitoring and noting when you eat, what you eat and why. Note how often you eat because you are truly hungry. And the true reasons you eat when you aren’t. Be honest, and gentle, with yourself.

And when you’re ready, allow yourself the sensation of feeling hungry. So that when you sit down with your appetite (and pretty food on the plate, a fork, a knife, a napkin, no TV, no distractions), you savor your food for all of its goodness – and all of the good it does you.

 
Foods vs. Pills
 

I have a friend who lives on salads, pasta and lots of coffee. A single mom, she strives to be the epitome of health in spite of her hectic city life: full-time job, volunteer work, teenage daughter. She does meatless on Mondays and holds the mayo and she eats a colorful diet. And to cover her bases, at just about every meal, she pops a slew of vitamin pills.

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Research shows, when it comes to taking vitamins, it’s possible she has too much of a good thing.    
Without question, we need all 13 vitamins to help our bodies function properly. For instance, C supports healing and absorbs iron to fight fatigue; D helps process calcium for strong teeth and bones, sharpens the mind and boosts the mood; E elevates energy and helps other antioxidants fight off cancer-causing free-radicals; the Bs help convert food into energy. We get vitamins mostly from the foods we eat, and, when our diets are lacking, from pills, or supplemental vitamins.

And that’s where we can run into trouble. Some of us take double or triple the recommended dietary allowance of some vitamins, thinking, like my friend, that more is better. I’m guilty too: at 250 mg, I take more than three times the RDA of Vitamin C (it’s 60 mg for adults). And if I feel my body even thinking of catching a cold, for a few days I double or triple my daily dose. If 250 keeps me reasonably healthy, I presume, then 500 should do twice the job. But over time, that kind of thinking can misguided and unsafe. Studies show a definitive link between excessive vitamin use and increased risks of illness, including cancer and heart disease.

While the Food and Drug Administration is charged with monitoring dietary supplements, it doesn’t approve products before they go to market. By law, it can’t force manufacturers to tell you how much of a vitamin is too much – the supplement industry defeated those efforts long ago – so manufacturers can sell you double and triple the daily recommended allowance without any proof that those doses are safe. Use this guide by the National Academy of Sciences to determine how much is too much.

Your body absorbs vitamins and minerals from fruits, veggies, grains and dairy much more readily than from a pill. So try to go straight to the source to meet your needs. When you need to supplement, read the labels and unless directed by your health care provider, take just enough to meet the recommended allowance.

Like I tell my girlfriend, be careful out there in the wild, wild west of dietary supplements: pill-popping might not do what you think it’s doing; in fact, overdoing it may cause damage that no pill can undo.

 
13 for 13: Weight-Loss Resolutions You Can Live With
 

If each year around this time you’ve resolved to lose weight … again … only to rebound within a month or a few, try this approach instead:

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1. Resolve NOT to "diet."  Most people think of dieting as something they do temporarily to lose weight quickly. Most who lose weight this way re-gain it once they stop dieting. This "cycling," or yo-yo dieting, can put you at greater risk for heart disease, among other health risks. Think of changing the way you eat not as a temporary fix but as your new approach to taking better care of yourself. So consider these other resolutions:

2. Resolve to eat more real food. Most packaged foods are full of additives and preservatives that you don’t need and that force your body to work overtime to process them. Stick with whole fruits and veggies, meats, grains, nuts and legumes.

3. Resolve to figure out why you turn to ice cream (or candy bars or potato chips or … ) when you’re feeling challenged or stressed. We all do it. Mindful eating can help you understand how to see food more for nourishment and enjoyment, and less for stress-relief.

4. Resolve to drink more water.  Aim for at least 8 cups a day. Water helps our bodies function, flushing toxins, fueling cells, nourishing tissues. We are made up of 60 percent water, and what we lose through perspiring, breathing and eliminating, we need to replace.

5. Resolve to cleanse your life of toxic relationships. They can lead to stress … which leads to … see No. 3.

6. Resolve to move your body till you work up a sweat for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week. Who says you have to spend hours at the gym? That 30 minutes can be as effective as 60.  

7. Resolve to prepare your own meals one day more a week. Eating in can save you money, give you control of the ingredients, increase family time (enlist the help of others) support the environment and provide other benefits to you, those you love and society at large. After a month, resolve to cook two days more a week, and then more, until you’re eating homemade food at least 4 out of 7 days.

8. Resolve to not eat for 12 hours overnight. Let’s say 7:30 p.m. is your cutoff. That means nothing but water till 7:30 a.m. This mini fast gives your body a chance to process what’s already there and take a break before it’s time to start up again. And it helps you steer clear of calorie-laden late-night snacks. A good helping of protein for dinner will keep you feeling full.

9. Resolve to track your habits. Hold a mirror up so you can see where your trouble spots are. There are several programs available, many of them free. I use My Fitness Pal because it’s quick and easy.  It shows me that I eat way too much sugar. So I’m much more mindful of that.

10. Resolve to track your steps. Use a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps (about 5 miles) per day.

11. Resolve not to go back to what you were doing that got you into whatever size you’re in. The longer you keep the weight off, the easier it gets to do so.

12. Resolve to take the long view. Safe, lasting weight loss doesn’t happen in an instant and it’s not dramatic, but when it’s gone -- and when you stick with your new habits -- it’s gone.

13. Resolve to start now.

Trying to figure out where to start? Contact me at robin@healthjones.com

 
Q: Can fasting help me lose weight?
 

A.  Yes, it can. But, you probably won’t keep the weight off.

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Inevitably a client will bring this question up. And here's what I share: Fasting helps you lose weight if you're eating less and not giving your body enough calories, it uses its own stored fat for fuel.

But unlike the way gradually reducing calories and working out burns stored fat, fasting throws your body into starvation mode - which can slow down your metabolism and make you more ravenous than ever. 

Even so, there’s a place for fasting. So let’s explore how it can work for you.

“Different strokes for different folks”– the same applies for how to fast. Some regimens involve only liquids, while others have you eating just one meal a day, or eating only raw foods.  The latest trend is intermittent fasting - where you restrict your calorie intake but only at certain times.  One method like this is called “5:2 Dieting,” where you eat normally for five days but seriously restrict calories on the other two days. That can help combat binge-eating and upending your metabolism. 

Fasting isn’t something to try carelessly or as trend. Make sure your doc approves, especially if you have health complications. And seriously consider why you want to do it. Some people fast as a part of their spiritual practice. Some fast for a more earthly reason, like fitting into an outfit for high school reunion. A good reason to fast, in my book? As a way to ready your body for a healthier lifestyle.

Aside from weight loss, fasting can be a preventative health tool - a way to detoxify and give your digestive system a break, while allowing you to get in touch with your taste buds and appetite again.

Still, you don’t want to go on a seven-day juice cleanse only to pop open that bag of chips on Day 8.  Make sure you commit to easing into a healthier lifestyle by not only planning for the fast itself but also for what happens afterward. 

Ideally, a health consultant or nutritionist can help you determine whether fasting is even appropriate for you, and if so, how to start – and finish – the best regime for you.

Want to know if fasting might be right for you? Contact me at robin@robinstone.com.

 
How Walking Saved Me from Despair
 
Down in front with my old Zumba crew.   

Down in front with my old Zumba crew.
 

I have never considered myself much of a fitness buff.

Family and friends, on the other hand, would beg to differ. I’ve been called a fanatic, been told that my vacations are “Outward Bound” adventures, and dubbed by my niece “that crazy health lady.”

What I am is a mover. I walk, jog, run and golf. I vibe to P90x and 20 Second Fitness. Back in the day, Tae-Bo was my thing. Before that, Jane Fonda (I’ve still got my three-part step). And way before that, I taught low-impact aerobics at a local Living Well Lady. I don’t like to sweat, but I’ve always I loved how I feel when I move my body.

Intellectually, I know how exercise boosts those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. After an intense workout session, I’ve even felt the “runner’s high” that we’ve read about. 

But it wasn’t until when I needed it most – when I was so down and out that it was hard to get out of bed and get dressed for the day – that I saw how exercise could lift you up from the depths of deep despair.

Cancer was killing my husband. The doctors referred us to hospice. My son was 10 and writing letters to his future self to come back in time and bring the cure. After a stressful day of work and tending to family, I found that nights became my friend. Before I rested, and as I said prayers for comfort, for peace, and for the strength to go on, I started walking on my treadmill. Almost every night I walked. Sometimes at 8 p.m., sometimes I got out of bed at midnight. And then I slept hard. On weekends I walked with girlfriends and at the rise-and-shine hour of 7.

I asked my therapist about medication. I hated feeling so bad. She didn’t dissuade me but she did ask, “What are you doing to take care of yourself?” I told her about all the walking, and confided that I was worried. Was it an addiction? Who walks at midnight? Keep going, my therapist assured me. I’m glad she did.

These days Americans are all too quick to reach for a prescription – after painkillers and cholesterol-lowering meds, antidepressants are the country’s most-prescribed drug. A part of the reason, as in this recent report, is that doctors are so quick to prescribe meds when movement might be enough. When you are feeling low, it’s important to know that you have a choice.

After my husband made his transition, I added meditation and golfing to the mix of what I was doing to take care of myself, and I walked and walked and walked. At some point, an older woman passed me on the neighborhood track, salt-and-pepper dreadlocks bouncing with each step. More encouraged than outdone, I started to trot. And so I became a runner. Growing up with chronic asthma, I had always told myself that vigorous exercise was beyond me. But once I started, and my asthma stayed in check, I saw how challenging exercise bolstered not only my lung capacity and my endurance, but also my spirits.

Walking gave me the motivation to get up and go on. I had a son to parent, a life to lead and dreams to fulfill. Running gave me the confidence to do more than I thought I could. Moving works. You may need more if you are down and depressed, but exercise is a good place to start. Studies show it, and I’ve lived it.

 
Essence Fest Highlights
 
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So they still know how to let the good times roll in New Orleans!

I had an amazing experience there recently, as well as the honor to share the stage with some phenomenal women to discuss smart, simple ways that we can take better care of ourselves.

The panel, "Health Journeys and Transformations," was part of ESSENCE magazine's spectacular ESSENCE Fest, a 4th of July weekend jam-packed with great music, empowering, uplifting dialogues, rich, flavorful food and parties all night long!  

The panel covered a wide range of topics, from how to eat more healthfully to the importance of getting in regular exercise to thriving in spite of health challenges such as diabetes, digestive problems or severe alopecia (hair loss). 

One of the delights of the Fest was meeting the talented and suave actor Blair Underwood and his lovely wife and children. They all look to be the epitome of health!

Here are some of the highlights from my whirlwind weekend:

For video: Panelists included Denise Warren, far right, founder of Body by Denise fitness center in New York City, and Laschaunda Cogburn and Michele Bercy, two of her clients who, combined, have lost hundreds of pounds!

Talking "Health Journeys and Transformations" before more than 3,000 people. Dr. Aletha Maybank, left, myself, interior designer and author Sheila Bridges and moderator Sharon Boone, ESSENCE's health editor. 

Talking "Health Journeys and Transformations" before more than 3,000 people. Dr. Aletha Maybank, left, myself, interior designer and author Sheila Bridges and moderator Sharon Boone, ESSENCE's health editor. 

The one and only fine and friendly Blair Underwood! So great to connect with him and his fam. Catch him in "Ironside" on NBC this fall!

The one and only fine and friendly Blair Underwood! So great to connect with him and his fam. Catch him in "Ironside" on NBC this fall!

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Greeting guests at the book-signing for my book  No Secrets No Lies . During that power hour, I also had the pleasure to get to know the gorgeous and talented interior designer Sheila Bridges, whose searing new memoir,  The Bald Mermaid , explores her experience of losing her hair to alopecia.

Greeting guests at the book-signing for my book No Secrets No Lies. During that power hour, I also had the pleasure to get to know the gorgeous and talented interior designer Sheila Bridges, whose searing new memoir, The Bald Mermaid, explores her experience of losing her hair to alopecia.

My all-access Talent pass.

My all-access Talent pass.

Panel's done-- now time to play!

Panel's done-- now time to play!

Caught Les Nubians schooling folks on their Afropean soul in one of the intimate superlounges.

Caught Les Nubians schooling folks on their Afropean soul in one of the intimate superlounges.

Did I mention the crowds? More than 500k -- a record for ESSENCE in New Orleans! 

Did I mention the crowds? More than 500k -- a record for ESSENCE in New Orleans!