5 Lessons I’ve Learned From Almost 10 years in Healthcare

Actually more than 10 years if you count my time as a caregiver. I started my time in healthcare as a caregiver for my then-husband. He was injured in Iraq, suffering a gun shot to his spine making him a paraplegic. Several years after our divorce, when I was ready to return to school, I knew healthcare was my calling.

As a Physical Therapist Assistant I spent time in outpatient clinics, in hospitals, in rehab units. I have seen patients in every phase of their lives (well, maybe from teenage years on) and the physical and mental suffering that takes place in those phases. I have watched people learn to cope, grow, and thrive. But I’ve also watched them give-up, internalize, and deconstruct.

I’ve watched my co-workers too. Healthcare is a hard field. It 100% is about giving and asking for nothing in return. It doesn’t matter how bad we as caregivers are hurting, we are there to take care of someone else.

I’ve learned a lot of things along the way. Many valuable lessons, as well as many great motivating experiences. These are only a few. I try to experience a growth with each lesson. One that inspires me to do or be better, but one that my clients and patients can learn from as well.

1. Everyone thinks they are invincible.

Every patient I have had eventually says something to effect of “I never thought I’d end up here.”

It doesn’t matter if it a traumatic car accident that was truly no fault of your own, or because of a life of choices you made, we all will suffer. Experiences happen, and our bodies age. There are some things that are inevitable, if we live long enough anyway.

All we can do is our best to give our bodies a fighting chance. Health is not a natural born right. Health must be earned to be maintained. Even when we suffer an injury, recovery is dependent upon us. Not doctors, not nurses, not the government.

2. Getting healthy has nothing to do with a diet or exercising.

We think that if we could just cut out sugar, or find the perfect meal plan, we’d master this weight and health thing.

Here’s the thing, health isn’t a battle to be fought in one 30-day challenge. It’s a decision to change. A decision that you are worth it. You have to decide that you have a future to look forward to and that you will contribute to the world and other’s futures. Yes your family’s, your friend’s, your co-workers. Once you have made that decision, the other choices start to fall into place. I have watched many people make a drastic change when they realized how valuable they were and made the decision to do whatever it takes.

3. Loving what you do is key, but if it doesn’t love you back, it won’t last (and you are in danger of allowing it to become an abusive relationship).

I have watched way too many people let stress and job responsibility take them over. You don’t have to be employee of the month to make a difference. You also are not the only person responsible for an entire beast of a job.

Healthcare is tough. On the body, on the mind, on the emotions, in everyway. We see people at their worst and are more often than not severely abused in return. Our jobs, (and that includes our bosses, our upper management, our co-workers) should all be a support system. The business has to make money to keep doors open, yes, but what good is the business if the employees are broken? In my frank opinion, if you are not receiving the support you need, it’s time to leave. Find a place that gives you the support you need to continue to love what you do.

4. Everyone has a story, but that doesn’t make your story any less important.

Someone always has it worse. It’s true. But what you are feeling, what you are experiencing, it is real. I don’t care if it is a broken bone, a death in the family, or you are just having a crappy day. Your happiness and your health matters. It is not a contest. If you need help to get through this, take it! If you need a minute to feel your emotions, feel them. Do not brush them aside and power through. You may not realize it, but your body hangs on to that and manifests in other ways.

5. What happens next has nothing to do with where you were, what you’ve done, or where you are at.

There have been definite moments where I didn’t think I was worthy of happiness. That I was even worthy of a decent paying job. Who you were does not define who you can be. If you are ready for more, for better, for health, you can achieve it! The only requirement is your decision (see no. 2).

Well that was intense! These are some pretty serious lessons, but I’ve learned some fun ones too. Maybe I’ll visit those in a future post.

For now, I want to know if you have learned any of these lessons? Or maybe you have another lesson that has really resonated with you? Share in the comments!

5 Ways to Avoid The Holiday Weight Gain

Here we are again. The Holidays. The parties. The shopping. The gatherings. The stress. The food. At least it’s cold out so we can layer on the clothes an hide those extra pounds we gained…until we have to go to a fancy Christmas party, or it’s New Year’s Eve and we wanted to wear a cute dress. Then we feel the dread. The shame for “lack of self-control”. The guilt for losing all “self-discipline”.

This holiday season does not have to be filled with guilt, shame, or even full avoidance of gatherings or eating. Life isn’t about restricting ourselves. It’s about experiencing and enjoying! So here are 5 ways that you can an experience and enjoy all of the holiday gatherings, without feeling guilty or ashamed, and without packing on all of the pounds.

  1. Don’t wait until you are starving: If you are going to a dinner or a gathering where there will be food, eat a light snack before you go. When you are going out to eat and waiting on a table, or waiting for a friend to serve a meal, you are eating on someone else’s schedule. It may have been a while since you’ve last eaten. By the time your food arrives your blood sugar is low and you scarf down as much as you can. Instead, before you leave (or even right before you arrive) eat a light healthy snack to keep yourself from this sabotaging behavior. A small pack of mixed nuts, a bag of salted popcorn, or a piece of fruit will all help curb your appetite and keep your blood sugars from bottoming out until you can actually eat.
  2. Start each meal with a salad: If a salad is not available, eat your vegetables first. Veggies are full of fiber. Fiber makes you feel…full! Plus of course there’s that whole digestive support thing. Not to mention many times we are having cravings because we are not getting the nutrients we need in the sweets and treats, so we crave more. It’s a bad cycle to get into. So give your body what it NEEDS (vitamins, minerals, proteins) and then you can have what you WANT. (And it’s true, you’ll actually want less!)
  3. Slow down: Seriously, enjoy the food you are eating. It’s fine to eat the treat, have the prime rib, indulge in the cheeses. But ENJOY them! Don’t eat them mindlessly and don’t scarf them down. Slow down. Chew your food. Taste the spices, feel the texture. That is the point, isn’t it? We eat these things because they are SO good, so slow down and enjoy it! You will eat less, but enjoy more when you eat this way.
  4. Stay hydrated: Not only will water help you feel more full, it will keep you from feeling hungry. Often, when we feel hungry, we actually are simply thirsty, we just don’t know how to interpret our body’s communications. Before you sit down to a big meal, drink half a glass of water to decrease the amount of food you eat. Before you go raid the fridge because you are feeling hungry, drink a whole glass of water, and then wait 5 minutes. If you are still hungry, then have a snack.
  5. Get moving: Obviously if we increase our calorie intake but don’t increase our activities, our body won’t process the calories. If you are able to avoid all of the snacking in between the couple of holiday dinners, then you will likely be ok. But if you are attending multiple gatherings or indulging in the break room snack buffet, you are going to need to up your game! Cardio is great, but you can actually burn more calories (and get a great cardio workout) by adding in some strength training. If you get the right workout going you can make a big impact in 3-4 30 minute sessions each week. Another good tip is to get moving after the heavy meals. Instead of laying down on the couch to watch a football game (also known as napping), get the kids outside for a game of flag football, or go for a walk around the block. Check out some decorations and breathe the fresh air! You’ll burn some of those calories and get your digestive system booted up to work through the meal you just ate!

No matter how things end up, remember to be easy on yourself. The point of life is to enjoy it. Make memories, smile, laugh, and have fun. Give yourself some grace and do the best that you can. If today didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to and you overindulged a bit, make tomorrow count.

Why Do We Fail?

Why is it that we eat all of the junk food when all we really want is to loose weight? Why do we stop going to the gym after we have fully developed that habit of going every week? Why do we gain the weight back after we have worked so hard to keep it off? Why do we do the things that we know are unhealthy, but spend so much of our thoughts and energy wishing we felt better? Why do we sabotage ourselves?

Sometimes we fail because we don’t know better. Maybe we lose weight because we go on a restrictive diet. We don’t realize that our bodies have a method of self-preservation that has complicated methods and when it thinks it is starving, it starts storing (fat), even when we eat less. Or maybe we are not getting the nutrients we truly need, so our body tells us “more, more, eat more!” Maybe some of this is true and education will help us understand how and what to eat to maintain the body we want.

But I’d place a bet that more of what is holding you back is fear. What if you fail? Worse yet, what if you succeed? What does that mean? Will your spouse resent you for your growth? Will your children whine about the healthy food you make them eat? Will you have less in common with friends and not have anything left to talk with them about?

All of these are valid fears, and even when we don’t realize them consciously, they still often subconsciously cause us to sabotage our efforts. For example, maybe our spouse makes a remark that there is nothing to eat in the house as they search for sugar laden foods. So when you go to the store, you give in when you see the display of cookies in the bakery because you don’t want him to be hungry. Now that they are in the house, you can’t resist them either.

So how do we overcome this? Well, each circumstance is different. But there are ways to discuss your goals with your loved ones so that they can help support your efforts (maybe even join your efforts!) rather than counteract them. But ultimately, you cannot control their actions or words, you can only control your own.

In my experience, in order to be successful, your reason for being successful must be crystal clear. How will you feel when you lose the weight? What sort of energy will you have? What will you do with that energy? What feelings or “symptoms” will you no longer have to deal with and what will you be able to do when those symptoms are no longer holding you back?

I have my clients paint a picture of their future. I’m not just talking an outline, I’m talking a full on 3D fully painted picture. The benefits of the changes MUST out weigh the fear of the possible pitfalls. This is their safety net. This is their fire. This is what excites them and gets them fired up and ready to go. Myself too!

I don’t usually get excited when I am packing my gym bag in the morning. I usually enjoy how I feel when I am there and surpassing a weight I have done before, but that isn’t what gets me there. It’s my goal that gets me there. I think about how I will feel when I summit a mountain. I think about how I felt as I summited the last mountain, and how much easier the next one will be because of the work I am putting in now. I think about the view I will see from the top of the mountain. I think about the quiet of nature and the clean air. I think about the challenges we face as we search for a trail that wasn’t clearly marked. That is what makes me pack my bag and gets me to the gym.

If we don’t have that, if we don’t have a clear vision, we will fail. We will lose our path and we will turn around and go back home. Because home is “safe”, even as it crumbles down around us, it is better than the unknown…or is it?

What is really up with self-care?

I work in health care. Those of us in health care, we are givers. It is ingrained in us to care for others, and in literal terms, it often means someone might die if we put ourselves first.

So where do we draw the line? And why do we let this innate sense of devotion to care for others take us to a place of such poor health in ourselves? We’ve all heard how we should take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others better, yet our response is “I’m too busy,” or “it doesn’t matter what I want or need, my child will always come first.” Often we feel as if it is selfish. Even the coined term “self-care” seems “self”ish.

I could make a list here about why self-care is important, but we’ve heard it before. So let’s just sum that up real quick. If you burn out, how can you have the energy to take care of someone else? Or will you even be good at it? Think about caring for your child, will you be grumpy, impatient, and unfair to your child because you are tired, because you didn’t get enough sleep and ate like crap? How about at work? How efficient can you be and how many mistakes will you make for the same reasons?

I think you get the point. I think we all deep-down recognize the importance of taking care of ourselves. But I want you to take just a moment to explore a little deeper why you MUST start to take care of yourself. Bear with me, we will be quick.

Take a moment to think of where you are right now in life. Think about your connection with your body. Think about what it is telling you. What are you feeling? Is that dull headache lingering, ready to pounce to a full-fledged migraine any moment? Maybe it already has. Is your body heavy with fatigue, all you really want to do is curl up in bed, or maybe on the couch for a long binge of your favorite show, but you have to get a load of laundry done because everyone is out of clean underwear? Are your joints so stiff and sore that climbing even one flight of stairs will set you off for the whole weekend? Or maybe it is your back and the pain will radiate down your legs and feel as if someone is stabbing you in the ass with an ice pick. You get the idea. I want you to have a quick bitch fest. What is your body telling you that you are just OVER?

Now, I want you to think about how your body will feel in 5 years, if you keep going the way you are. Where will you be in 10 years? Will you be able to work the way you do now? Do you feel confident that you will be able to hold your grandchild? That you can even pick up that basket of laundry.?Will you be able to sit in an auditorium for 2 hours to watch your child’s graduation ceremony?

Now I want you to take just one more minute to connect how you are feeling to how you are treating your body. I want you to think about how well you will be able to take care of others when your body is failing you more than it already is.

Aren’t we all waiting for the weekend to do what WE want to do? Aren’t we waiting for retirement so EVERYday is the weekend? How much are we going to enjoy retirement and our family, if we are in pain and feel sick all of the time?

I want you to recognize that if you DO NOT act, things WILL NOT get better. In fact, in all likely hood, they will get worse. Much worse. Is that how you want to spend the next 10 years, getting worse? Because I don’t believe you do. THAT is the importance of self-care. It truly does take more time and energy to be unhealthy than it does to be well.

“Be there for others, but never leave yourself behind.” ~Dodinsky

Conquering the Mountain

I am sitting here in the hotel in Colorado Springs, after just having returned from summiting the mountain. We took it slow, summiting 7,300 feet elevation in 12.6 miles over two days. The first day we reached camp a little after noon. The next day we summited a little after 1, then had to return to camp before nightfall.

The summit was tough. The climb was rocky. As we reached mile 11 I began to doubt myself. The air was thinning. Due to a vicious beast of a bird (ok, maybe he was just a jerk) I lost more than half of my mid-morning snack and was summitting on a pancake and a couple of nuts. (Really, the bird stole my food from my hands).

The closer I got to the summit, the more I doubted my ability to make it. Around 1/2 mile to the top I almost passed out. I saw spots. I sat down and tried not to sob. I had this goal. I had been training for. Working for. Talking all about. And here I was, mere yards from my goal and I might not make it.

My throat tightened as my heart started to break. I realized I had to focus on breathing. I put my fist to my mouth and slowed my breath (as if breathing from a paper sack). I took small sips of water. I shifted my thoughts. If I thought about the summit, I would start to cry. So I stopped. I still had the summit in my heart, but first I had to look at this step in front of me.

So that is what I did. I slowed my breath. Slowed my heart rate. Changed my mental talk. I no longer could look at my end goal. Because while it was SO close, it seemed still impossible. So I looked only at the step in front of me. Literally, I began saying that over and over. Out loud. “Just this step. I can do this. One more step.” Over and over I said that. Until I reached the top. And my husband put up his hand to high-five me.

I dropped my hiking poles and folded into his chest. I may have hyper-ventilated a bit as I sobbed into his chest.

As I sat there considering if I would make it to the top I weighed many thoughts. First, of course, was my health. I knew no matter which way I went I would have to even my breath. I knew if I continued I would have to go slow. I never had considered summiting a race. (Good thing too, because there are these crazy people that seriously run up and down the mountain.)

I thought next about my patients. I remember, as I always do when I tackle a physical obstacle, the patient I had as a student. I helped him take his first steps after a significant stroke. He was over 6′ tall (I’m just 5’3″) and had significant tone in his right leg. Meaning I had to pretzel myself around his leg to keep it from folding up on itself when he stepped on it. It took every bit of energy both of us had for him to take 4 steps. I don’t remember his name. I called him Morgan because he looked like Morgan Freeman. So I thought of Morgan as I sat on that rock. Next, I thought of my health coaching clients. All of the people I will help address their fears, their challenges, and conquer their dreams and goals.

As soon as I regulated my breathing, I knew I needed to try. This literal mountain was a tough goal. It tried to overtake me. But it is far from the toughest goal I have ever had to face. The blisters I have will fade in a few days. The challenge itself lasted only 2 days. I have faced worse. I ask my patients to face worse. And I will ask my clients to face worse. I realized it was not the mountain that tried to overtake me, but rather my own thoughts, my own doubts. And I was never going to let that happen.

Why We Should Eat Chocolate at Every Meal

Nearly everyone I know loves chocolate. And pretty much everyone has heard how dark chocolate has health benefits. If chocolate is so good for you, I figured, let’s figure out how can we add those health benefits to our daily diet? Chocolate sauces on everything?! Heck yeah!

Well, maybe not quite, but close. Before we go all “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” let’s explore what is so healthy about chocolate, and if it really is appropriate to add it to EVERYTHING?

What Is Chocolate

When you get to the basics of it, chocolate (cocoa) is ground cacao beans (they grow on a tree), mixed with sugar, and usually cream and often other additives. Before the beans are ground, they are pulled from their pods and, with the pulp still attached, sit for a bit to ferment. They are then quickly dried to prevent molding. Next, they are roasted, the shells cracked and removed (along with any other plant debris), and what remains is the cacao nib. It is this that is ground and mixed to make the chocolate we know and love. BUT this is where the chocolate flavor we recognize comes from, and where all of the health benefits reside. The rest of the stuff has its debates on health benefit or detriment (sugar and dairy and all of that).

Nutritional Stats and Benefits

Per one ounce of cacao nibs (brand dependent)

  • Calories:175
  • Protein: 3 g
  • Fat: 15 g
  • Fiber 5 g
  • Sugar 1 g
  • Iron 6% of Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Magnesium 16% of RDI
  • Phosphorus 9% of RDI
  • Zinc 6% of RDI
  • Copper 25% of RDI

Ok, what? What’s all that stuff mean? Here are some of the basics:

  • Nibs are low in sugar (good! We have too much sugar in our diet! But I digress, that is another post!).
  • Nibs are high in fiber and healthy fats, which means they promote fullness and satiety (we are fuller feeling in our bellies, and feel happier and satisfied with our intake). High fiber diets also have a correlation to decreased colorectal cancers. Bonus!
  • They are high in many minerals. Actually, very high in magnesium, which is often lacking in today’s western diets. These minerals support healthy bone growth, as well as a healthy production of red blood cells. 
  • Nibs are also a great source of flavonoids. Flavonoids are a heart-healthy antioxidant that relaxes blood vessels and lowers blood pressure.

(Time out, what is an antioxidant? So there are these things in our environment called free radicals. Without getting complicated on how they are made or what they are exactly, know that we are ALL exposed to them in our daily lives. What they do is cause SIGNIFICANT damage to our cells and tissues. This damage is called oxidative stress. This oxidative stress has been linked to many chronic conditions such as heart disease, cancers, mental decline, and diabetes. Antioxidants are vitamins and minerals that our bodies use to counteract that stress

  • They are anti-inflammatory. The flavonoids combat the inflammation caused by free radicals, but the nibs also reduce the inflammatory proteins in our systems as well (NF-kB if you are really curious which one.
  • Increased antioxidants+decreased inflammation=boosted immune system. (What?! Chocolate boosts our immune system?! Well, not quite. Cacao Nibs boost our immune system. Some of that can be counteracted by the heavy creams, sugars, and other additives in processed chocolates.)

So how do we get these delicious benefits, without counteracting them? Easy peasy! Start adding in cacao nibs to your regular diet! They make an awesome and easy addition to regular foods, savory or sweet!

Sprinkle whole nibs into shakes, yogurts, frozen treats, baked goods, oatmeals, cereals, homemade energy balls, trail mixes, or just eat a handful! Grind it up and add to any of the above, or mix with coffee, warmed nut milk, a homemade barbeque sauce or mole, mix in a steak rub. 

         Keep it easy by sprinkling them on everyday foods that might taste good with a bit of chocolaty flavor, or bust out your inner chef and get creative! I have seen recipes for them in marmalades, dressings, even pizzas, salads, and calamari! Seriously, just do a quick google search and the recipes are endless!

I want to know what your favorite recipes are that you’ve tried, or that you can not wait to try! Share how you use cacao in the comments. Stay tuned as I am feeling inspired and might expand my cooking horizons soon!

(P.S. Wanting to know where you can get these glorious nibs? A quick Amazon search will find you plenty, however, I have found organic raw cacao nibs at my local grocer in the bulk bins. Do a bit of searching on your phone when you are at the store next time and you’ll be sure to find a price that matches your budget. )

*Some of the info here came from this study. This government site has a ton of great studies of all kinds! It’s one of my favorite places to search for the validity of claims in articles just like mine! 

*I am not a doctor nor a Registered Dietician. Always check with your physician before making any dietary changes.