It’s not a perfect world, nor are its occupants perfect either! Every new day offers the opportunity to beat a bad habit—and vastly improve the way you feel.
Three kinds of cravings can be hard on health—and also impact weight. Since this can make our efforts to change even tougher, it’s important to use a variety of techniques ranging from acupressure and acupuncture to meditation and visualization for support.
Hooked on Caffeine?
The risks and benefits of caffeine are mixed, but its impact on bone health (lowering bone-building nutrients) and blood sugar balance (causing you to crash and burn) makes it worth cutting back.
Research also suggests that women of reproductive age limit caffeine, which is found in everything from chocolate (try carob instead) to medications. The only legal psychoactive drug available to minors, caffeine makes kids vulnerable to depression if they drink too many sodas.
“Just 15 ounces of your favorite coffee contains enough caffeine to raise your epinephrine [which pumps out stress hormones] level by more than 200 percent,” increasing heart rate, raising blood pressure, and stimulating “fight or flight” stress reactions, says nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS. Instead consider Teeccino, a tasty caffeine-free herbal brew that provides a natural energy boost. You’ll sleep better—and since insomnia increases the risks for overweight and obesity, that’s another good reason to consider limiting caffeine.
According to the American Cancer Society, 20 percent of American adults continue to smoke—even knowing that it causes numerous cancers, heart disease, and other serious conditions including epilepsy. Even though tobacco use causes many deaths (1 in 5) and its devastating effects are long known, nicotine addiction can be as hard to overcome as cocaine or heroin. But that’s not to say you can’t do it! The following organizations can help:
American Lung Association, www.lungusa.org
National Cancer Association, www.smokefree.gov
Nicotine Anonymous, www.nicotine-anonymous.org
“The more heavily a person smokes, the more visceral fat she or he has,” says Dr. Gittleman. “About 30 minutes after a smoker puts out a cigarette, cortisol levels shoot up and remain high for at least another 30 minutes.” Drink relaxing herbal teas, exercise more (many people tend to put on weight when they quit smoking), and support your body nutritionally.
B vitamins are critical to cellular enzyme systems damaged by smoking and help ease the jitters that cessation may cause. Antioxidants (vitamins A, C with bioflavonoids, E, CoQ10, and zinc) all protect damaged cells and lung tissue. Extracts of the maitake mushroom can stall cancer and help protect against metastasis in the lungs. Drink fresh beet and/or carrot juice, and consider juice- and food-based detox plans that help rid the body of all the toxins in cigarette smoke.
Sugar Highs—and Lows
If your bathroom scale has recently registered gains, you probably realize already how much damage gooey desserts and sugary treats can do to a healthy diet. Low in nutrients and high in empty calories and fats (rarely those your body needs most), most holiday baked goods—along with many processed foods, juices, and soft drinks—contribute to aging, blood sugar imbalances, cardiovascular disease, learning problems, obesity, tooth decay, Type 2 diabetes, and yeast infections.
Sugar also stimulates your appetite: It works a little like feeding stray cats—if you don’t want cravings, you can’t feed them! Cut out sugar and artificial sweeteners to flatten your belly, suggests Dr. Gittleman. “You will be motivated by instant, measurable results.”
You don’t need to go on a crash diet to lose those added pounds. Instead add more fiber—from winter vegetables like hard-skinned squash and sweet potatoes, as well as beans and legumes—to keep you feeling full while boosting your nutritional intake. Add fiber gradually and increase your intake of water to prevent digestive distress.
To balance blood sugar and fight Type 2 diabetes, you need at least 25 grams of fiber daily. One easy way to boost fiber intake is to mix one teaspoon of psyllium to a glass of water with a splash of cranberry or pomegranate juice a half hour before breakfast or retiring for the night. “Psyllium is a naturally occurring bulking agent with no side effects—unless you have a rare allergy to the plant,” says nutritionist Nan Kathryn Fuchs, PhD. “Because it contains no artificial sweeteners, sugar, or potentially harmful chemicals, it’s safer than other over-the-counter bulking agents.”
It’s difficult to lose weight (even holiday pounds) without exercising, so make regular workouts part of your New Year’s resolutions. If you need extra help shedding weight, add the sweet herb stevia to your tea. Stevia is 250 times sweeter than sugar—and calorie free, so it won’t spike blood sugar or cause dental decay.
Relieve cravings with chromium and L-glutamine, which help stabilize blood sugar (and may also contribute to healthy weight loss). The Ayurvedic herb gymnema (known as “the sugar destroyer” because it inhibits your enjoyment of sweets) balances blood sugar levels, while supporting weight loss.
Everyone should have an annual baseline testing, especially if you haven’t had any blood tests for a while. In addition to a complete blood count measuring blood glucose and lipid (fat) levels, also ask for the liver enzyme tests, GGTP (to assess gallbladder and bile enzymes) and SGOT (to check for chemical poisoning).
The liver is a vital organ of detoxification. Protecting it is especially important for anyone who finds it hard to fight cravings or who may have overindulged in alcohol or been exposed to toxins like those found in cigarettes and second-hand smoke. You may also want to support liver function with supplements including alpha lipoic acid, dandelion, milk thistle extract, and Oregon grape root.