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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Productivity Hacks: Break Up Your Time, Not Your Attention

GettyImages-509630263Welcome to the third installment of the productivity hacks series. Last time, I tackled the subject of the Ivy Lee Method for prioritizing your tasks. Now that we’re on board with what tasks are on the docket, I’ll dive into how to manage your time effectively in order to start putting some checkmarks next to those to-dos.

How Much Time Do You Have for Attentive Work?

Research has suggested that the absolute maximum amount of “time-on-task” attention a person can have on any given day is only about 3–4 hours. And that’s on the high end of the spectrum. Now, this “time-on-task” notion is specifically applied to attentive work. This does not include emails we’ve sent, meetings we sit in on, or reports that we read. It refers to the bandwidth or mental attention directed toward novel or creative tasks (think of things like writing an article, working on a presentation, etc.). What this implies, though, is that you need to be smart about how we divvy up those 3–4 hours of productivity to get the most out of them.

Divide Up Your Time and Create a Sense of Urgency

Introducing the Pomodoro Technique to do just that: break up your time into manageable chunks to maximize attention and focus.

I think we’ve all been here, right? You block off an hour or two to get a project done, but before you know it, you’re checking your email, or falling prey to the endless scroll of Twitter because there’s this illusion that you still have so much time to get the assignment done. Before you know it, that hour has flown by, and all you have to show is a sentence or two on the page. This is exactly where the Pomodoro Technique can help. It instills a sense of urgency that ordinarily doesn’t kick in until much later. You work with the time you have, not against it. So, what are the specifics?

Typically, the Pomodoro Technique divides your time into 25-minute work periods followed by a 5-minute break. You then string together these intervals, usually three or four in a row, before taking a slightly longer break of 15 to 20 minutes. If you have an hour-long office period, you can easily rock out two rounds of pomodoros before having to change gears.

Personal Experience: Put Away Your Phone

Here’s a little extra anecdotal evidence from my own trial and error. I recommend physically putting your phone either completely packed away or on the other side of the room on silent. The temptation to answer that notification or “just take a peek” at Instagram is enough to completely derail any momentum that you have established. So how do you keep track of those 25-minute blocks if you’re not using the timer on your phone? I recommend either an old-school digital alarm, or a repeat timer such as this. Set it, leave it, and get down to business.

Adapt the Method to a Way That Works Best for You

If you find yourself in a groove when the timer goes off, have no fear. I’ve had success extending that pomodoro to 30 or 35 minutes before taking a slightly longer 7- or 8-minute break. At the end of the day, use the method to your advantage. Some people have more success with the 25/5-minute setup, while others thrive with something closer to a 45/15 split. Either way, you’re using the concept of purposeful breaks to ensure that your attention stays high.

For the fourth and final part of this series, I’ll explore the dark side of desperately wanting to be productive: productivity shaming. It’s a not-so-talked-about concept that a few of you high achievers may experience. We’ll talk about how to combat it going forward. Until then!

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: focus productivity time management Productivity Hacks

Gut Check: Digestive Health Boosts Your Immune System

GettyImages-997808980Fall is here and winter is nearly upon us, and that means that cold and flu season have also arrived. Have you noticed that some people just don’t get sick no matter what? Or maybe you have wondered why after being exposed to the same virus, one person gets sick while the other doesn’t.

The answer to that lies in your immune system and how strong it is. When you are exposed to bad bacteria or viruses, it’s up to your immune system to protect you from being infected. If your immune system is strong, your body will fight off the threat of sickness. If you have a weak or compromised immune system, you may end up sick. What you might be surprised to learn is this: The strength of your immune system is highly dependent on the condition of your digestive system.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Let’s Talk Microbes

Microbes live inside your digestive system. They are living organisms that affect your overall health. The protection that some of these organisms provide is beneficial to your immune system. The good bacteria recognize when illness-producing intruders enter your body; the organisms attack the intruders so that you don’t get sick. If you don’t have enough of the good bacteria in your gut, you will be more susceptible to viruses like colds and stomach viruses. You also may be at more risk for autoimmune diseases such as colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Crohn’s disease.

Although there is a large supply of these good microbes living in your gut, they can easily become diminished. If you have recently taken antibiotics, you have not only wiped out the bad bacteria, but also the good bacteria. Antibiotics are not selective in their destruction.

With that being said, antibiotics are not the only way that good bacteria becomes exhausted in your digestive system. For example, the chlorine in your drinking water can destroy them, as can the pesticide residue on the food that you eat.

Once the supply of helpful microbes in your intestines dwindles, bad microbes such as yeast, fungi, and disease-causing bacteria begin to take over. Immune systems become compromised when the bad takes over the good.

Cue the Probiotics

If you think that your good microbes might be minimal, it is not difficult to remedy the problem. The solution is to take probiotics. These are the good microbes that you can consume in your diet. Once they have entered into your body, they settle in your digestive system and get to work protecting you from sickness and destroying the bad bacteria that might reside there.

The option of consuming probiotics in a capsule form is there, but you can also replenish the good microbes by eating yogurt. Check the label to be sure that the yogurt you buy says that it contains active cultures, which is the good bacteria that you need to eat.

It is important to act now and get a jump on this year’s cold and flu season. Improve your gut function and fight off illnesses by getting ahead of the game.

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Weight Loss Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition disease prevention immunity digestion gut health wellness viruses probiotics bacteria

Productivity Hacks: Prioritize Tasks with the Ivy Lee Method

GettyImages-157742734Welcome back, all you NIFty readers! In the first installment of this productivity series, we tackled the idea of being in motion (being busy without being productive) versus taking action (the direct line to achieving a result). Now that you have a better grasp on what taking action entails, we can dive into the concept of how to set yourself up for success for that action the following day.

Story time! In the early 1900s, a guy by the name of Charles M. Schwab was one of the wealthiest people on earth. Working in the steel industry, he was anecdotally known as a “master hustler” and would never miss an opportunity to get a leg up on the competition. So one day he enlisted the help of Mr. Ivy Lee, a prominent productivity consultant of the time. Schwab wanted to pick his brain to see whether there was any way he and his company could boost productivity and daily output. Ivy Lee responded with a 15-minute solution, and he personally shared it with all executives within the company. And it goes something like this.

The Ivy Lee Method

  1. At the end of each day, write down the six most important things you need to accomplish tomorrow.
  2. Prioritize the six in order of importance.
  3. When you arrive at work, focus on the first task. Work until it is complete.
  4. Tackle the rest of the list in the same fashion.
  5. Rinse and repeat each workday.

The beauty of this technique lies in its simplicity. You can easily adapt it to not only any work day, but also any to-do list you have laying around.

Other Benefits of This Productivity Method

Here are a few other benefits of Ivy Lee:

  • Reduces daily decision fatigue due to prioritizing the night before (see this post about decision fatigue).
  • Trades multitasking for single-tasking. This allows your brain to dive into a “deep work” state, leading to greater focus and productivity overall.
  • Builds constraints on our day to our benefit by fostering commitment to one thing. If we commit to nothing, or rely on “going with the flow,” the brain tends to wander and become distracted more easily.
  • Eliminates the “I have so much to do, I don’t even know where to start” phenomenon.
  • Allows you a chance to self-evaluate. Did I work through these in order? Or did I get derailed?

The Ivy Lee Method has been around for more than 100 years, has helped professionals in a wide array of fields boost productivity, and can be applied to your daily life today. So give it a try tonight! Determine those five or six must-do’s, place them in order of importance, and attack the next day methodically!

Be on the lookout for the next post in my productivity series, where I talk about specific time-chunking methods to bolster your focus.

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This blog was written by Lauren Zakrajsek, NIFS Health Fitness Instructor, Personal Trainer, and Internship Coordinator. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: work/life balance workplace wellness productivity prioritization Productivity Hacks

NIFS’s Ramp Up to Weight Loss: Setting Goals for a Healthier Life

Ramp-up-logo-finalNO-SPACERamp Up to Weight Loss is a program designed to do exactly what the name suggests: ramp you up to weight loss. It’s a 14-week program that provides various tools to help you get a head start on achieving your goals. These tools include meeting with a Registered Dietitian, attending coaching sessions to help set and manage goals, and meeting with a trainer twice a week to walk you through workouts. As a weight-loss member, you also have access to the facility and group fitness classes every day. These resources are what makes Ramp Up one of the most popular programs at NIFS.

The Goal: To Teach You How to Reach Your Weight-Loss Goals

weight-loss-1The ultimate goal by the end of the 14 weeks is to make sure you feel confident in your own abilities to continue the journey that you are on. Whether you are struggling with nutrition, knowing what to do in the gym, sleep, or stress management, this program provides resources to teach you how to handle these situations in ways that will aid you in achieving goals. We start by setting one long-term goal, then break it down into short-term goals to act as stepping stones to get there. After all of the goals are finalized, we look at what action steps can be taken to achieve them. Setting realistic goals is essential for staying on track, and reaching them builds confidence in your abilities.

Weight loss is not always an easy thing to achieve. It can be a very slow process full of trial and error, ups and downs, and frustrations. There’s not a magic solution that will work for everyone. But, by tackling weight loss from multiple angles—including fitness, nutrition, and behavior—we can figure out what works best based on the individual.

After the Program: Long-Term Membership

So, 14 weeks have passed and you’ve successfully attended all your sessions, received nutritional guidance, and mastered goal setting. However, you’re not quite ready to be on your own yet. After Ramp Up, you can opt to become a long-term weight loss member. This program never expires, and you get one session a week with a trainer, assessments every three months, and coaching sessions. You still have access to the facility and all of the group classes. It’s an extra step to help you transition into continuing the journey on your own.

As trainers, we want not only to teach you how to work out safely and effectively, but to help you build the confidence and knowledge to be able to do it on your own. Being able to independently work out and make healthy choices is essential for long-term weight loss and maintenance. By taking advantage of all of the resurces over the course of the program, you can discover what helps you live a healthier life.

Find out more about Ramp Up to Weight Loss. Contact us today!

This blog was written by Hannah Peters, BS, CPT, Health Fitness Instructor. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition goal setting weight loss NIFS programs dietitian

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 2)

GettyImages-165661895In part 1 of this blog, I showed you how to interpret the nutrition information on the front of your favorite packaged foods. Now let’s get into the back of the package!

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

This doesn’t necessarily tell you how much to eat, but all of the values on the label apply to this chosen serving size. You might be surprised to see that many items you thought were individually packaged really are telling you that two cookies are 160 calories. Let’s say you eat the entire package (it happens!). You can take the “servings per container” and multiply that by all of the listed values. If two cookies are the serving, but you actually ate the entire bag, just take your 10 servings and multiply it by 160 calories to calculate that 20 cookies would be 1,600 calories.

Calories

For anyone trying to lose weight, it helps to cut back on calorie content, especially calories from packaged foods because they are often empty calories: the food gives your body a lot of calories but provides very little nutrition.

% Daily Values

Unless you are sticking to a strict 2,000-calorie diet, these numbers might not be very helpful for you, so don’t look into these values too much. For instance, 5% DV of fat provides 5% of the total fat you want to eat on a 2,000-calorie diet. In some areas you may need more or less than the 2,000 calorie % Daily Value. Low is 5% or less—aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. High is 20% or more—aim high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Total Fat

Total fat sums up all of the following values. Type of fat is extremely important. Often, items that are “reduced fat” end up increasing your sodium and added sugar to make up for what fat would have brought to the table—taste and body. So don’t shy away from fat completely. Just be mindful that fat packs a punch in terms of calories, so you want to practice everything in moderation.

Saturated Fat

The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat to less than 5–6% of your total caloric intake. This means that if you eat about 2,000 calories per day, you will want to keep saturated fat at 13g or less per day. In general, about 3g of saturated fat per serving is a good goal to aim for, but make sure to try and stick to no more than 13g per day. The majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, butter, cream, and other dairy products.

Trans Fat

The goal is 0g of trans fat. Keep an eye out in the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. A trans fat ban is going into effect; however, the grace period means you may still have to watch for this harmful type of man-made fat. If a small enough amount exists, the serving size can be altered, and manufacturers may list trans fat as 0g even if there is a tiny amount of trans fat in the product.

Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fat

The “healthy fats!” These fats may not always be listed. There isn’t a big reason to limit them other than they can add a large amount of calories fairly quickly and contribute to weight gain. However, these healthy fats don’t raise cholesterol like the saturated and trans fats do. These fats are found in nuts, nut butters, olive oil, fish, and vegetable oils. We won’t put a limit on these healthy fats because, in general, the more the better because they help increase your good cholesterol (especially if you are replacing an unhealthy fat with a healthy fat—think olive oil for cooking instead of butter).

Cholesterol

The body is capable of making its very own cholesterol from dietary fat intake, so current nutrition recommendations do not emphasize limiting dietary cholesterol; rather, they talk about limiting saturated and trans fat (dietary cholesterol is seen as impacting body cholesterol levels less so than dietary fat does). However, because the science is always changing, try to keep cholesterol to no more than about 200–300 mg/day because any dietary cholesterol is ingested and taken in as simply cholesterol.

Sodium

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends sticking to 1,500mg or less.

Total Carbohydrates

The sum of your starches, fiber, and sugar (added and natural) [see below]. Carbohydrates have somewhat of a bad reputation, but you ideally want most of your diet to stem from carbohydrates. So don’t shy away from these just because you might see a number you think is too high. Carbs provide your body with most of its energy needs, give your brain all of its energy supply, decrease chronic disease risk (fiber!), are key for digestive health (more fiber, yes!), and help with weight control (complex carbs!).

Dietary Fiber

Most experts agree that the average American should aim for a minimum of 25–30g of fiber per day. On average most of us come in at around 12g/day. See if you can get your 1–2 slices of bread to come in as close to 5g or more of fiber if possible!

Sugars

We aren’t sure if these are natural sugars (natural fruit sugars we don’t worry about!) or added (cane sugar), but we can sometimes deduce from the ingredients list whether most of the sugars are added or natural. If you see high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar/juice, honey, or maple syrup (there are many different names for added sugar!) near the top of the list, the sugar value is likely all added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men keep daily added sugar intake to less than 36g (9 teaspoons) and that women aim for less than 25g (6 teaspoons) daily. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines are more lenient and recommend 48g or less daily for adults and 30–35g or less for children.

Added Sugars (optional)

Again, somewhere between 25-48g of added sugar daily or less is recommended (see above).

Protein

In general, the recommendation (dietary reference intake) is to consume about 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight daily. Anywhere from 10–30g of protein per meal is a good number to aim for. If you weigh 150 pounds, this means that you will want about 54g of protein daily (about 18g at each meal).

Vitamin D

600 IU or 15 mcg for most adults is recommended (aim for a higher %DV).

Calcium

1,000mg/day for most adults; women age 50+ 1,200mg/day.

Iron

Adult males and women over age 50 need 8mg per day. Women age 19–50 need 18mg. Pregnancy increases this need to 27mg daily.

Potassium

Aim for about 4,700mg of potassium per day (Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

Ingredients List

Pick items that have fewer ingredients—this usually means that they are less processed. Or bonus if the first three ingredients are whole foods. Ingredients are listed from highest weight to lowest weight. When it comes to crackers or bread, look for “WHOLE wheat” as opposed to “enriched flour” to pick breads that contain the entire grain. Whole grain, whole wheat, whole [other grain], brown rice, oats/oatmeal, or wheatberry means the grain is WHOLE. Wheat, semolina, durum wheat, and multigrain mean you might be missing some parts of the grain. Enriched flour, wheat flour, bran, and wheat germ mean there are no whole grains.

***

It’s no wonder that we are so confused by labels—there is a lot of information to try and remember and process! The best way to avoid being misled is to avoid most processed foods. With most whole foods (apples, potatoes, oats, etc.), we can be certain that we are not getting too much or too little of any one nutrient. But even dietitians enjoy the convenience (and taste) of packaged foods every now and then, and we hope that the tips in this article help clear up some confusion for you.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories fiber whole foods carbs sodium sugar fat carbohydrates food labels