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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Ashley Duncan

Recent Posts by Ashley Duncan:

Winter Weight Loss and Fitness: Pushing Through the Cold

GettyImages-1125853893There is no debate that it’s easier to make healthier choices and lose weight in the spring and summer months. The sun is shining and warm, the days are longer, and you feel motivated to get outdoors and be active. But when the cold, harsh months of winter come around, all motivation goes out the window. Let’s take a look at ways to keep your motivation high and get over those hurdles of temptation.

Temptation Is All Around

The cold months are full of occasions that bring temptations. Hot chocolate, cookies, cakes, holiday parties, and family and friend gatherings are everywhere. If you’re not careful, it can be easy to slip into the mindset that all indulgences are bad. When you label your food choices as “good” and “bad,” every decision becomes a loaded one. Any time you stray from your eating plan, you might feel a bit of guilt or shame. These emotions can trigger the body’s stress response, and when stress is involved it can set you up for more trouble.

Instead of sweating over the “shoulda, coulda, wouldas,” try making food choices that are right for you. Plan ahead, or maybe choose one small indulgence per day to satisfy your sweet tooth and engage in those fun winter activities.

Come Out of Hibernation and Get Motivated to Exercise

The snow is falling and ice is everywhere. The days are still short and daylight is minimal. Winter itself is enough to tank your motivation to exercise. Who wants to go out into the freezing weather to go for a run or to the gym when you can curl up on the couch with a blanket and be perfectly content? There are tons of ways you can stay active from the comfort of your own home.

  • Stay active while watching your favorite show or movie: Every commercial/intermission, get up and knock out a circuit of 10 pushups, 10 squats, and 10 crunches. Maybe even jog in place until the show comes back on.
  • Use apps: We have cut the cord when it comes to cable. We use our Apple TV, which is just like having an iPhone on your TV. Download an exercising app that you can play on your TV and get a quick 15–20-minute workout.

Keeping up with a fitness routine will help with more than weight loss. The benefit of working out is that it gets oxygen to the cells, keeps your body working, and gets you energized.

Staying Hydrated

It is so easy to indulge in all the sweet, alcoholic seasonal drinks such as eggnog. Don’t forget to make sure you are staying hydrated. Fun fact: According to a 2003 study on the metabolic effects of different water temperatures published by The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, when you consume liquids that are colder than your core body temperature, your body has to work to warm it up, and it burns extra calories in the process. So consider drinking ice water instead of hot chocolate!

Drinking water can give your immune system a boost and prevent you from getting sick during peak cold and flu season. Drinking water can also increase your metabolism and help you feel full longer. This in turn could help curb your appetite and enable you to maintain healthy eating habits.

Come Visit Us!

Get bundled up and come and see us. We would love to have you in one of our classes, write a program for you, conduct your assessments, provide training for you, or be here to walk around the track with you. Whatever you need from your staff at NIFS, please ask and let us help set the tone for your 2020!

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

Topics: NIFS winter fitness fitness center motivation weight loss hydration winter

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

Why Mindset Matters: The Power of Positive Thinking

GettyImages-506910700I had a friend call me the other day in a complete panic. She was getting ready to go back to work full time and she felt like she was going to be losing time with her kids by doing so. While listening to her pour her heart out to me about all the second-guessing she was doing, it became clear that everything she was saying was everything I had been thinking. All the thoughts I play over and over in my mind were actually being said out loud.

As the conversation came to an end and we hung up the phone, I sat and began to really evaluate my own thoughts and feelings. The mind is a powerful tool, and if we aren’t careful it can take complete control over our lives.

Your mind’s power lies within your focus. What I mean by that is that if you are faced with major challenges, it’s easy to grab ahold of thoughts telling you that the challenges can’t be overcome. Because it is so easy for our minds to go there, we have a tendency to fall into the trap of mistaking those thoughts for truth.

Turning Your CAN’TS into CANS

If you are someone whose mind goes to reasons why you can’t do something, it’s time to refocus and retrain your mind to find the reasons why you can do something.

  • Replace negative beliefs with the truth about yourself. Obstacles will disappear and you can step into positivity.
  • We can change our brains and create new pathways, new modes of living, and new experiences.
  • The greatest work we do is on the inside.
  • We too often underestimate the power of community in facing new tasks.
  • Blame never produces fruitful results, especially when you blame yourself.
  • We live with the things that aren’t working until pain or possibility inspires us to overhaul our lives.

Life Is a Roller-coaster

I’m not writing this to tell you that you need to have it all together. It’s totally okay not to; I know I don’t. As a matter of fact, go ask someone who seemingly has it all together and I guarantee you they will either give you a list of what they struggle to manage or they will lie to you.

What I am telling you is that life is a roller-coaster by nature. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose; sometimes it can be picture-perfect, and other times it can be blemished. We must navigate the ups and downs with the mindset that we will fail, we will triumph, we will have down moments, and we will have moments we’re on top of the world. Change begins to happen when you transform your mind from where you are to where you want to be, whether this means changing your fitness or changing in other areas of your life.

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This blog was written by Ashley Duncan, Health/Fitness Instructor. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Back Away from the Sugar: Making Better Nutrition Choices

Screen Shot 2019-04-25 at 5.16.05 PMEaster might be over, but the candy lingers. There is no escaping the colors of the sugary candy that is around every corner. From jelly beans to chocolate bunnies and Cadbury eggs, the temptations are endless and the calories are empty.

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but it is important for you to know what you’re getting yourself into when you reach for that fluffy pink and yellow Peep. Brace yourself…this might hurt.

Sugar Is Harmful to Your Body

Sugars are caloric, sweet-tasting compounds that occur widely in nature, including in fruits, vegetables, honey, and human and dairy milk. We are born with the desire or preference for sweet taste. The presence of lactose in breast milk helps ensure that this primary source of nutrition for infants is palatable and acceptable. Chemically and with respect to food, sugars are monosaccharide or disaccharide carbohydrates, which impact sweet taste. Most foods contain some of each.

Monosaccharide is a single molecular unit that is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. The most common monosaccharides are glucose, fructose, galactose, and mannose.

Disaccharide is sugar containing two monosaccharides that are linked together, and which are broken down in the body into single sugars. The most common disaccharide is sucrose, which is also known as table sugar.

What Happens When You Eat Sugary Candy

When you consume Easter candy, you are getting a large dose of sugar. Whether it’s in the form of high-fructose corn syrup or cane sugar, it slams into your system like a bowling ball, and the effects are disastrous. Within the first 20 minutes or so, your blood-sugar level spikes as the sugar enters your bloodstream. It arrives there in the form of glucose, which is your body’s main source of energy. This sudden rise in blood glucose stimulates your pancreas to start pumping out large amounts of insulin, which is the hormone that helps your cells take in the available glucose. Some of this glucose is used instantly for energy, but the rest is stored as fat by insulin, to be used later.

I know what you’re thinking, “But it’s Easter and it only happens once every year!” No it doesn’t! There are always going to be excuses to eat poorly. Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve also “only happen once a year!”

The holidays alone aren’t the only times that we allow the excuses to take over. Daily your efforts to eat well are sidetracked by busy schedules, which include business diners, birthday parties, evenings out with your friends, fundraising banquets, breakfast meetings, church dinners… the list goes on.

Alternatives for Healthy Eating and Celebrating

At some point, you have to stop making excuses and start making better decisions to put your health first. Here are some healthier alternatives. Don’t forget that you also have the option to meet with our Registered Dietitians on staff to help you get on the right path.

Let’s look at ways to enjoy Easter and not feel like you have to munch on carrots and lettuce the whole day. Alternatives to candy:

  • Dried fruit (eat with protein such as nuts)
  • Very dark chocolate (choose some with very little sugar)
  • Nuts
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole-grain crackers and pretzels
  • Cheeses
  • Popcorn

And start thinking about next Easter with these non-food ideas for kids’ Easter baskets:

  • Play dough
  • Balls
  • Jump ropes
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Crayons
  • Garden starter set
  • Butterfly habitat
  • Beading supplies
  • Swimming toys
  • Card games

The possibilities are honestly endless. It’s just a matter of taking the time to think healthier and smarter next Easter!

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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 weight loss snacks holidays diabetes sugar blood sugar

Throw Out Your Exercise Excuses with Fitness Spring Cleaning

GettyImages-957942458After the New Year, springtime is another time that motivates us to make a fresh start. When the weather finally starts to warm up and the breeze is blowing, we want to throw open the windows and let the rebirth all around us revitalize our homes and our spirits.

Because it’s only natural to clean out the old during this time of the year, it’s also a great time to come to terms with your excuses for not getting fit and healthy. Excuses pile up just like the clutter that people accumulate in their houses, but it’s time to come clean.

What Is Your Excuse for Not Putting Your Health First?

Maybe it’s one of these?

I don’t have time to exercise.

This is probably the most common excuse that we hear. You are too busy. You have work all day or all night; you have to take the kids to school, pick them up from school, and take them to sporting events; dinner needs to be cooked; who’s going to go to the grocery store; and so on.

Seriously though?

One of those excuses, if not all of them, is something even fitness professionals deal with on a regular basis. However, if you do not exercise, you will almost certainly begin experiencing the illness and disease that come from an inactive lifestyle. When the symptoms start to present themselves, you will have to schedule a doctor’s appointment, drive to the appointment, wait to be seen, schedule possible additional tests at the hospital, and wait for your prescriptions to be filled at the pharmacy. With chronic illness, this scenarios will be played out month after month after month, into a vicious cycle. And that, my friends, can take even more time than exercising.

There’s no doubt we find time in our busy lives to attend to our medical issues. Will you make time for them? Well, of course! It’s easy to make sure to adjust your schedule and your life to accommodate illnesses. So why not just adjust your schedule now to accommodate the prevention of these illnesses through exercise and lifestyle change?

The truth of the matter is that if you do not make time for exercise, you will have to make time for illness. And let’s be honest, exercising takes a lot less time out of your life than sickness. Do the math: there are 24 hours in a day = 8 hours of work and 8 hours of sleep, and there are still 8 hours left. You can do a great deal in 8 hours.

I don’t like to exercise.

Do you like feeling tired? Do you like having no energy? Do you like being overweight or not healthy? Do you like visiting the doctor? Or undergoing medical tests to figure out what is wrong? You will feel tired, be overweight or unhealthy, visit the doctor more often, and undergo medical tests if you continue to let your lifestyle decline by not exercising.

I don’t have any energy to exercise.

The more unfit you are, the less energy you have. When you don’t have much energy, the last thing you can imagine yourself doing is exercising. Until you become more active, you will not have the energy you are longing for. As you begin exercising, you will start to see a difference in your energy levels. Until you start moving, you won’t start feeling better.

It’s just not the right time to start working out, I will start when…

  • I get some better clothes.
  • Summer vacation starts.
  • The kids are back in school.
  • The house is organized.
  • My work schedule calms down.
  • I have more time.
  • Life calms down.
  • The kids get older.
  • The weather changes.
  • Someday… just not today!

The list can go on and on, but in all honestly, it will never be the right time to start a new routine. Start now and make it right!

You just have to start!

Make the Decision to Stop the Excuses

Making the decision to stop hiding behind your excuses is something only you can do. But by making a clean sweep and tossing out those excuses, you are setting yourself up for a better and healthier lifestyle. The fit and healthy people around you choose to give up the excuses and just do it. I’m not saying it’s easy for them, that it’s easy for me as a fitness professional, or that it will be easy for you. But what it does mean is that you will love the feeling of having energy, feeling strong and healthy, going to fewer doctor’s visits, not to mention feeling motivated and empowered to continue to push and get it done.

You Can Do This!

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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: exercise fitness motivation illness wellness spring positive attitude excuses

Better Sleep = Healthier Living

GettyImages-820818020How often is it that you hear someone say, “Man, that was a great night’s sleep!” or “I slept like a baby!”? Not as often as we would like to hear, I would say! Being tired and feeling sluggish seems to be the new normal. According to the National Sleep Foundation, most Americans are sleep-deprived. Not getting enough sleep might be causing a lot more trouble than just that sleepy feeling. In fact, it could be seriously harming your health.

Why Aren’t We Sleeping?

Centuries ago, it was common for people to sleep anywhere from 8 to 9 hours each night. But now only about 25 percent of Americans get 8 or more hours of sleep. There are various reasons why we aren’t sleeping. We live in a society that is constantly on the go, 24/7. From fitness centers being open 24 hours to pharmacies and department stores being open later, around-the-clock convenience is there.

So many activities go on during a 24-hour period. From working long hours, transporting kids to their activities, trying to make time for friends, not to mention enjoying a little bit of entertainment—oh, and can’t forget about making time for our health and fitness goals. Sleep is typically the first thing to disappear from our lives, so it becomes second nature to not get enough of it.

Here’s the thing though: even when we do end up finally getting into bed, it doesn’t exactly mean we go right to sleep. The National Sleep Foundation reports that 60 parent of Americans have sleep problems. You heard it right—more than half of us struggle to sleep, and we are starting to pay for it.

The Dangers of Sleep Deprivation

“The foundations of good health are good diet, good exercise, and good sleep, but two out of the three doesn’t get you there.” —Dr. Anne Calhoun, neurology professor, University of North Carolina (source: CBC)

The three components that are needed to make up a healthy lifestyle are exercise, eating healthy, and sleep. Exercise and nutrition aren’t enough to make up for the danger that sleep deprivation poses to your health, however. Some studies indicate that adults can get as little as 7 hours of sleep a night and that can be sufficient. But shooting more for 8 hours would make a world of difference. And getting less than 7 can cause some serious consequences:

Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

If you get less than 6 hours of sleep each night and have disrupted sleep, you have a 48 percent greater risk of developing or dying from heart disease and a 15 percent greater risk of developing or dying from a stroke. Not to mention, lack of sleep can cause high blood pressure, blocked arteries, stroke, kidney disease, and dementia.

Obesity

Sleep shortage is directly linked to obesity. When you don’t get enough sleep, two very powerful hormones that control hunger are disrupted, resulting in you feeling hungrier and having fewer sensations of fullness.

Not getting enough will also cause you to feel more stressed, which boosts the production of the hormone cortisol in your body. The cortisol hormone causes you to crave high-carbohydrate foods such as chips and brownies, which then turn into the fat around your belly, which is the most dangerous place to store fat.

Another reason sleep is important is that the risk of pre-diabetes goes up. When trying to make it on less than 6 hours of sleep per night, your glucose tolerance becomes impaired.

Immune System Becomes Depleted

Ever wonder how two people can be exposed to the same germs, but only one of them gets sick? The answer: their immune systems. When you have a well-functioning immune system, you are capable of warding off many illnesses. But when something is causing your immune system to not function the right way, like sleep deprivation, you become vulnerable to infections, bacteria, viruses, and even some autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and asthma.

Less sleep = more stress and a compromised immune system

Low Exercise Performance

As if the threat of heart disease, obesity, and immune suppression isn’t enough to deal with, lack of sleep can negatively impact your fitness regimen as well. A recent study in Lipids in Health and Disease came to the conclusion that exercise can help increase insulin sensitivity and sleep quality while decreasing body fat.

***

At the end of the day, lack of sleep does far more harm to your health than you might realize. Although it might take some rearranging of your schedule, putting sleep first means that you don’t have to worry about making time for illness—because, let’s be honest, who has time to get sick?

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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: disease prevention sleep immunity cardiovascular obesity sleep deprivation heart health

Your Keys to Fitness Victory: Set a Deadline and Get Help at NIFS

GettyImages-893206214-1Have you ever told yourself you are going to lose weight and get fit in time for spring, only to be frustrated when warm weather rolls around?

It's easy to hide behind heavy winter clothes, but when the mercury starts climbing, the clothes get lighter and we can't hide anymore. "Why didn't I start working out weeks ago?" we ask ourselves. "If only I had started sooner!"

Regret-proof Your Spring: Set a Deadline

The best way to protect yourself from a regret-filled spring is to set a deadline and start NOW. Deadlines are powerful motivators. Without a deadline, you really have no set-point toward which to work. You have nothing pushing you.

We need to be pushed!

Deadlines create a sense of urgency. They help you position yourself to succeed, because that final date is always staring back at you. It forces you to prioritize and strategize. Otherwise, you will let things slide...you will keep putting off the workout and insisting that tomorrow you will start eating better.

Without a deadline, tomorrow never comes!

It’s Time to Shake Things Up

If you keep doing what you have always done, you will get the results you have always gotten. It’s time to do something different. Ask yourself this question: If I keep doing what I am doing right now, will I achieve what I want to achieve? If you answered no, it’s time for a change.

Get out your calendar and decide when you want to see your first wave of results. Be realistic; make sure you give yourself time to really dig in and see changes. But challenge yourself, too—make it a little tough so you can take full advantage of the power of urgency.

Prevent Deadline Creep: Get Competitive!

But a deadline might not be enough. Why? Because you might be tempted to move it. Deadlines are not supposed to be moving targets! The best way to prevent deadline creep is to get competitive.

Entering a competition or contest is a sure way to give you the edge you need to keep yourself on track and finish strong. There is something very motivating about competing with others. Just knowing that your effort and results are going to be measured alongside others really will give you an extra boost in motivation.

Sometimes a little peer pressure is useful! And you will find that those with whom you are in competition will also be your biggest cheerleaders: they know exactly what you are going through and will be there to encourage you to keep moving.

Here’s How to Get Started

At NIFS, we offer various activities that allow you to get out of your comfort zone, receive the support and education you need to help you on your journey, and more importantly, have the time of your life with goal-oriented individuals who will encourage and push you to become the best version of yourself.

  • Ramp Up to Weight Loss Program: This 14-week program gives you all the tools you need to reach those weight-loss goals. Not only will you be able to work with a trainer one-on-one twice a week, but you also have the option to join small-group workouts with other members. The training sessions and the small-group sessions are a great way to help keep you motivated. Commit for 14 weeks and see a brand new you at the end!
  • Small Group Training: What better way to get the competitive juices going, and have the biggest cheerleaders on your side, all while getting in a great workout with highly skilled training and support?
  • High Intensity Training (HIT): By redefining your boundaries you will discover new ways to get the most out of your workouts. HIT is designed to rev up your metabolism, burn more fat, build strength, and take your fitness to the next level!

Don’t wait until next week, next month, or even next year. Start now—you won’t regret it!

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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: NIFS weight loss high intensity fitness goals small group training

How to Maintain Healthy Eating During the Holidays

GettyImages-613788476The holidays technically started on Thanksgiving, and now the season is officially in full swing. For many of my clients, the holiday season means a variety of different things. There are office parties, celebrations with friends, and even traveling to visit family. The festivities of the holidays can be a lot of fun, but they can also be stressful, especially if you are trying to stick with a healthy eating plan and fitness regimen.

It would be easy to sit here and say that the holidays really are just three days out of the year—Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day—and only those three days are the days you can eat whatever you want. Right? But truth be told, it’s not so much what happens on those three days as it is what happens in between that matters most.

To help keep you on track with weight loss or weight management, I’ve created a holiday survival guide. Try these out—good health and good cheer will follow.

Office Parties

Keep the alcohol in check. Besides the added calories, you don’t want to become this year’s office party joke. Slow down when drinking by having a glass of water in between cocktails. As hard as it might be, leaving the eggnog behind and sticking with wine, beer, or drinks that are not made with juice or added sugar, is a sure-fire way to cut calories. If it becomes too hard to cut back, maybe the best idea is not even starting in the first place. Whatever your choice may be, remember to enjoy the festivities and the company of co-workers.

Getting Together with Friends

Whether it’s out to dinner or meeting at a friend’s house, good choices will keep you on track. Being mindful when ordering will set you up for success. Veggies instead of French fries? Yes, please! Fish over a hamburger? Absolutely! Water rather than soft drinks? Keep it coming! Bread? Desserts? Alcohol? Choose the one you can’t do without during this holiday season and enjoy only that one.

Traveling Out of Town

Visiting family out of town can always be tricky, but it doesn’t have to completely throw you off your game. Here are a couple of ways to help keep you on track and ensure you don’t set yourself up for failure.

  • Go grocery shopping. You’ve reached your destination and realize that there isn’t any produce to be found in the house anywhere. The solution? Go shopping! Try to lighten the load of relatives who are preparing for a big family holiday get-together and offer to go grocery shopping. You will lessen the load and set yourself up for success.
  • Come prepared. If your travel plans consist of driving, come prepared with your own food. Making on-the-go snacks will not only allow you to stay on track, but it will also help you avoid stopping at the drive-through or wanting to spend extra money on food when you already have some. Pack those snacks!
  • Offer to cook. Along with helping to grocery shop, why not guarantee not only you, but the whole family gets a healthy meal by cooking? Prepare it just the way you would at home and it’s sure to be a hit. Here are some holiday recipes that include superfoods.

There are plenty of other tricks and tips you can use to help you survive the holidays in a healthy way, including workouts that work when you’re on the road. At the end of the day, don’t beat yourself up if you gave in to an extra cookie, or ate a little bit more than you had planned. Learn from it, move past it, and start fresh. And most important: ENJOY EVERYTHING ABOUT THE HOLIDAYS!

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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: weight loss healthy eating holidays weight management Thanksgiving traveling new year's christmas meals dining out

Thanksgiving Success Strategy: Eat Sensibly and Keep Moving

GettyImages-1036967134Not long from now, families all over America will be sitting down to a meal that looks back to that first Thanksgiving, in which the Pilgrims celebrated the harvest after a harsh winter. The year was 1621, and Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving, which the colonists celebrated as a traditional English harvest feast.

George Washington declared Thanksgiving a holiday in 1789, and in 1941 Congress passed a resolution which decreed that the holiday should fall on the fourth Thursday of November.

Feasting together is as old as the human race. It is a way of celebrating and enjoying time with family and friends. But if we are not careful, we can overdo the festivities and end up setting ourselves back over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Just How Big Is Your Meal?

It’s hard to believe, but the average Thanksgiving meal contains 3,000 calories and 229 grams of fat. And most of us don’t limit ourselves to one indulgent meal. It’s typical to snack and celebrate all day long.

The trouble comes when we have to deal with those extra calories that we have packed into our bodies. “A 160-lb. person would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours, or walk 30 miles to burn off a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving Day meal,” said Dr. Cedric Bryant, ACE chief exercise physiologist, in this article. Many people start by snacking throughout the day, and that combined with the meal can lead to a total caloric intake of 4,500.”

Nutrition and Fitness Tips for Turkey Day

The good news is that you don’t have to forgo your favorite holiday foods. There is room for a little indulgence at a holiday feast! The secret is to have a plan as we head into the holiday season. By staying on top of both your calorie intake and your physical activity, you can enjoy your favorite foods in moderation and emerge on the other side just as fit as you are now.

  • Plan your meals. If you know that you are going to be having some heavy, celebratory meals in the upcoming days, limit your intake at other meals to help keep your diet balanced out. Don’t skip meals, but make them lighter and be sure to include plenty of healthy, lower-calorie foods. For instance, if you are going to have a big lunch, eat a smaller breakfast and dinner.
  • Look at the big picture. Keep up with how you eat during the several days surrounding Thanksgiving. It’s not a good idea to indulge at every opportunity that presents itself. If you splurge heavily one day, take it easy the next.
  • Keep moving. The last thing you need this time of year is a slowed-down metabolism. Staying active is a great way to give your body a fighting chance to negotiate the extra calories you will be consuming. To get the biggest bang for your exercise buck, do regular strength training moves. Even after your strength training session has ended, your metabolism and calorie burn remains high.

Strength Exercises You Can Do Anywhere

Here are some simple strengthening exercises you can do no matter where you are—whether in your office at work or at the in-laws’ house.

  1. Push-ups. If you aren’t used to doing push-ups, start with your hands on a raised surface such as a desk. As you gain strength, you can gradually move to doing them fully on the floor.
  2. Lunges. For extra credit, hold dumbbells or other heavy objects in your hands while lunging.
  3. Squats. To do a proper squat, start with your feet shoulder width apart. Begin to lower your body as if you were going to sit in a chair. Try to reach a level where your quads are parallel, and then stand back up.
  4. Step-ups. Find the nearest step, and with alternating legs step onto the step with one leg and then step back down. Again, holding heavy objects in each hand will increase the effect.

There is no need to pack on the pounds this Thanksgiving. Figure out your strategy now, and then when the festivities start, just work the plan!

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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: healthy eating calories holidays exercises Thanksgiving strength workout

Relax and Lose Weight: How Relaxation Helps with Weight Loss

GettyImages-954596030Getting healthy and losing weight go hand in hand. If your goal is to get healthy and lose weight, I need you to RELAX! No, really! Relaxing is good for you, and managing stress effectively doesn’t only help with weight loss; it makes us healthier overall. So sit back, relax, and read on for more tips.

How Cortisol Plays a Role

Cortisol is a hormone that your body releases when it is stressed. If you only have small amounts of cortisol, there is no problem. But when stress is constant, as it can be in many of our lives, the amount of cortisol in your bloodstream rises and stays elevated. This all leads to weight gain. Relaxation can help prevent overproduction of cortisol.

When cortisol is released, those cravings for potato chips, candy bars, pastries, and so on are what provide a quick energy boost. As if those choices aren’t bad enough, cortisol goes on to store those extra calories as fat, mainly around your abdominal area. There is also the interference with hormones that control your appetite. You will start to find that you are hungry more often and have a hard time staying satiated.

And if that doesn’t make you want to stop stressing, cortisol can also cause decreased muscle mass because it lowers testosterone levels. The lower your muscle mass, the less fat you will burn when working out.

Ways to Relax

Here are five tips for relaxing.

  1. Meditate. This is an excellent method for cleansing your mind of all the negative and stressful thoughts. Refresh and think positively. Whenever you feel heavy or burdened, or even when you feel tired of doing work, take a deep breath and allow your body to relax. Really focus on your breathing by using a 5 count: Breath in for a count of 5. Hold your breath for a count of 5. Release that breath for a 5 count. Try this a few times a day.
  2. Avoid distractions. To fully relax your lifestyle and live a stress-free life, limit all distractions, such as television, cell phones, or laptops.
  3. Become more active. Exercise alone can be the best stress reliever. Try grabbing a friend for a walk/jog outside in the fresh air. Take a new group fitness class like the various types of yoga classes NIFS offers. Join a small group where you can laugh, work, and have fun with goal-oriented individuals, or have a Health Fitness Instructor design a program dedicated to your needs. The possibilities are endless.
  4. Eat healthy. Like regular exercise, eating a healthy, balanced diet can make a significant contribution to a less-stressful lifestyle. By making healthy eating choices, you can make yourself both physically and emotionally stronger. Eat vegetables, drink plenty of water, and control your portions. Not sure about where to start with your nutrition? Meet with one of our Registered Dietitians to get you going on the right path. If you want the whole package of eating healthy and exercising, check out our Ramp Up to Weight Loss program.
  5. Get enough sleep. The average adult requires between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. Not only can lack of sleep lead to increased stress, but chronic sleep deprivation can impair your judgment, reasoning ability, appearance, and performance at work. Start by establishing a daily sleep schedule. Do something relaxing before bed and turn off electronic devices.

It would be wonderful if we could constantly live in a vacation state, but for most of us that’s not quite possible. By utilizing just a couple of these resources, you help not only your body get to a better state, but your mind as well, which in turn allows for weight loss to occur.

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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: stress weight loss group fitness healthy eating NIFS programs sleep relaxation small group training