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healthy mommy

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Healthy Mommy: Me Time

Woman Lying in a Bathtub Holding a MugI frequently write about the challenges moms face in terms of getting healthy (and staying there).

One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is the challenge of Me Time.

On my personal blog, I shared a little story last week: What I learned about Me Time (and about myself) when my husband and kids went out of town for three days (yes, leaving me blissfully alone in my own house for the first time in ages).

It was an interesting lesson–and not what I expected.

Also, a while ago, on my YMC blog I wrote about the issue of Me Time from the perspective of a WOHM (work-outside-the-home mom). It was a sister post to a fellow YMC blogger’s take on Me Time as a SAHM.

So, how about you? If you’re a mom–how do you carve out Me Time? And how important do you think it is, in terms of overall health?

Stress Relief, STAT

Yesterday I wrote a post called Stress Relief For Moms in 60 Seconds Flat. The rationale: moms typically have stupid amounts of stress. But also: no time. Sure, it would be great to decompress on a regular basis with standing appointments at the spa, daily trips to the yoga studio, etcetera. But who has the time for that? (Not to mention the money.) 

So it’s my mission to bring quick stress relief to moms (and anyone else, for that matter, who’s got stress and a time crunch. Or stress because of a time crunch, even.)

I’ve written about this topic before, but stress management is evergreen. We’re always going to need tricks and strategies. If you’re with me, head on over to Yummy Mummy Club to read about one of the quickest and easiest ways you can defuse all that tension.

The Health Value of Friendships

A recent study showed that people in their 40s with a wide circle of friends have a greater sense of well-being than those without close friendships.

(As a side note, the researchers behind this study are calling these ages “mid-life” which, PS, people: I staunchly refuse to do. Hovering, as I am, close to 40 I will probably never consider myself middle-aged. Never. But I digress…)

They found that the more frequently people met up with their friends, the greater the benefit. Meaning: virtual/facebook “friends” don’t really count, here. But numbers do count: a wider circle of friends translated to better reported well-being in this study.

Now, I gotta say, I’m not hugely surprised at the finding that friendships are beneficial to mental health. However, one interesting outcome of this study was that, for women, it wasn’t as beneficial to have a wide network of family members as it was to have friends. For men, in contrast, it was a good thing to have plenty of close relatives around, in addition to friends.

One theory? In a family network, women traditionally play an obligatory caregiving/nurturing role. Which is, let’s face it, not as restful as it could be. In contrast, friends tend to be more supportive of a woman’s own choices. And won’t depend on her, say, to make them a sandwich.

Reminds me of the issues surrounding women’s choices for comfort food. Comfort food choices for men tend to be meal-ish, like pasta and steak (the sort of stuff some wonderful mother-type figure has lovingly prepared for them) while women reach for snacky things like ice cream and chocolate (stuff they can grab quickly, without having to turn on the oven and, more importantly, wash casserole dishes afterwards).

Which, really, ties in to the whole idea that being a caregiver, a parent, a nurturer is hard. Damn. Work. (Incidentally, read here for my thoughts on how to be a Healthy Mommy).

But back to the health value of friendships. It’s difficult, in our busy lives, to squeeze in time for friends. It usually takes me several attempts, and back-and-forth text messages, for me to book a date with one of my girlfriends. But it is always worth it. And now I have extra validation (and so do you!) that nurturing these friendships is an investment in my mental health.

In middle age.

Should I ever reach that.

The Conversion of a Non-Runner

I was not what you would call “a runner”.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried. At various points in my life (usually after a spell of too much lasagne/baked-brie-with-cranberries/caramel macchiatos…), I tried running. But it was always like banging my head against a brick wall–it only felt good when it stopped.

I would always give up after a few weeks. My knees ached. And…it was just so damn boring.

So I resigned myself to being a non-runner.

I only run if I’m being chased, I would say.

However, I’ve long known that running is a great form of exercise, and most importantly, an efficient way to exercise. And that’s valuable to me. Life is pretty full right now, with working at two different clinics, being a wife and mom of two young boys, blogging/writing/speaking…

And then there’s that aging thing. My metabolism, to my supreme irritation, is not what it was. I like to walk and LOVE yoga, but I began to realize that I needed some more serious cardio exercise–because I want a healthy heart, because I want to feel young & strong for a long time, and because I’d like to keep my shape.

So…I decided to try again.

This time, my sister suggested I look into Couch to 5K-type programs. So, I did.

The idea, here, is a program that takes you from a total couch potato to someone who can run a 5K. I checked out a few and then downloaded 5K 101 by Running Mate, from iTunes (for free, I might add). Right off the bat, I liked the philosphy: supaah slow and gradual, they ease you into a running routine. Interval training to start (beginning with only 1 minute of running at a time–I mean, how easy is that?). And then they gradually increase the lengths of the intervals. Also? I don’t have to think about a thing–just listen to my iPod as I run, do whatever my new friend Todd tells me to do (1 minute left of your warmup…2 minutes to go and then you get a break…) and enjoy the scenery as I go. No excessive focus on how tired I’m getting…can I make it to that next lamppost?…that sort of thing.

Now, several weeks into the program, I think I’m starting to consider myself a runner. Bit by bit, my endurance has improved. And the other day–I definitely noticed some muscle tone in my legs that had NOT been there before. And if that isn’t motivating, I don’t know what is.  

I think I even experienced “runner’s high” the other day (which I had previously chalked up to total bogus-ness).

In previous running attempts, my knees often started to twang after a couple of weeks…but not so far, not this time around. I attribute that to the gradual nature of this program.

Squeezing exercise into a busy life is a challenge (especially for moms), that’s for sure. Running is one of the best ways–it’s cheap, quick, and works around your schedule.

So far…looks like this non-runner is becoming a bit of a runner.

However, I want to be clear: under no circumstances will you ever see me in horrid running shorts. Never. Ever. Issue closed.

Healthy Mommy: Neglect The Housework…For Your Health.

Finding the time to achieve a healthy lifestyle is challenging. Big-time. Exercise takes time, preparing healthy meals takes time, getting sufficient sleep takes time. But there are only so many hours in the day, right?

To that end, I’ve got a suggestion that may help: scale back on housework.

On my blog on Yummy Mummy Club I posted an article that explores why it’s more important to go for a run than to scour the bathtub…and why it’s even beneficial to your health (and the health of your kids) to let things get a little grubbier at your house. Best bit: I’ve got research to back it up.

Check it out here.

Healthy Mommy: How To Sleep

In the six and a half years since becoming a mom, I have often suspected that sleep and motherhood are mutually exclusive conditions. But…does it have to be that way? 

Nope. 

In fact, it really shouldn’t be that way. All kinds of studies show the health dangers of insufficient and/or poor quality sleep. (a sampling of the consequences: obesity, heart disease, hypertension, depression…)

So, because I’m on a mission to boost the health of all you mothers out there, I’m here to help!

But…I’m not gonna lie to you: this one is not going to be easy.

Awakening babies, nighttime feedings, fevers, colds, vomiting, nightmares…it all conspires to interfere with a mom’s sleep. These are the things you can’t control. But there are other aspects of sleep that you can control. And this is where we direct a little attention.

To get the sleep you need for health and wellbeing (not to mention good humor and good looks!) you’re going to have to fight for it, ladies. And you’re going to need to get organized.

So how much sleep do I really need, anyway?

Multiple studies have shown that the optimal amount is 7-9 hours for adults. Where you fall, within this range (or even outside this range), is highly individual. If you’re in tune with your body at all, you probably already know how much you need to feel good. Most moms I know get nowhere near the amount they need.

Especially new moms, in baby’s first year. Man, this is a brutal stage of life, as far as sleep goes. But I will get to that. First, some general ideas on getting better sleep.

You need to start by figuring out what, exactly, is interfering with your sleep. Is it simply a baby waking you up? Or is it you–are you your own worst enemy, and delay bedtime because you’re up watching TV or hanging out on facebook (or doggedly working through your to-do list)?

How can I get more sleep?

Your personal sleep solutions will depend on your stage of motherhood, and the particulars of your sleep obstacles. Eliciting the help of a supportive partner is always a good idea. If you’re breastfeeding, start pumping, and get your partner to give a bottle now and then so you can catch up on your sleep debt.

Here’s another idea: go “on-call”. This is an idea I culled from my days as a medical resident. The idea is to have a rotating call schedule with your partner. It means you’ll have one crappy night–guaranteed–but then….one great night of solid, uninterrupted sleep. Also guaranteed. And this, my friends, is worth the crappy night. The mental peace of mind, knowing you can count on at least one solid night of sleep, every other night, is so amazing. If this isn’t a feasible plan for you, you could fashion your own variation of the “on-call” theme…do a part-call thing, where you split the night in half.

Okay, but what if you’re a breastfeeding mom, and your babe is not yet taking a bottle (or you just don’t want to go there, yet)? I’m afraid it’s got to be a grab sleep when you can approach. I don’t know any mother in this situation who manages to get a sufficient amount of sleep. Basically, you’ve got to beg, borrow and steal it: get someone to watch the baby while you power nap, for example. Grandmas are great, here.

So while we’re on that topic: what about napping? Well, advice on this is conflicting. Conventional wisdom tells us to avoid naps, so we don’t interfere with nighttime sleep. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine advises to “avoid taking naps if you can.” But recent research is turning things around, suggesting that napping might be okay, after all. Some studies have even connected regular naps with a longer life. Personally, I’ve never been a great napper–I always feel groggy and grumpy when I wake up. But many people feel differently.

If you’re a mom and napping is not a reality for you, and you’re not clocking a lot of hours at night, the very least you can do is make sure it’s good quality sleep you’re getting.

Sleep well

First, you don’t want to waste a lot of time trying to get to sleep. Read this for tips on achieving a good night’s sleep. 

Also, I’ve been reading studies lately on the effect of light in a bedroom. Looks like even tiny amounts of light can have adverse effects. So get blackout curtains or blinds, and remove any gadgets (computers, DVD players, phones…) that blink or emit little lights. Cover everything else up, if you can.

Okay, this post is getting long in the tooth…but I have more thoughts. I’m just going to have to do a future post. Watch this space!

Interested in other Healthy Mommy posts?

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My Gestational Diabetes

My first pregnancy was picture-perfect. Right up until the emergency C-section, that is. (But that’s another story…)

My second pregnancy, five years later, was not so perfect.

About halfway through I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Surprise!

This came entirely out of left field for me, with no risk factors and no family history. And suddenly it was: doctor becomes patient.

Of course, I had a family physician’s knowledge of gestational diabetes. Which was decent, enough, from a medical point of view. But not nearly detailed enough for a living-it-day-to-day point of view. I suddenly found myself on a very steep learning curve, learning about gestational diabetes from the inside.

And it was fascinating.

I was referred to the diabetes education center and a dietitian who specialized in gestational diabetes. I picked her brain something fierce, in my quest for more info.

I made rapid changes to my diet. (And this is the thing about gestational diabetes, you have to figure it out and make the changes fast. You’ve only got a few weeks to get it right. But the motivation is great: it’s for your unborn baby!) And I gotta say, I have never felt so healthy and energetic. I was eating a lot of food: frequent meals and snacks. I never felt hungry. I felt way less bloated than I had been feeling earlier in my pregnancy. And, get this: although I was pregnant, I started losing a little weight! Which is not exactly what I wanted to do, in pregnancy, but it made me think about the effect this diet was having on my metabolism.

The most interesting thing was monitoring my blood sugar. I got immediate feedback about how healthy my food choices were, every time I had a meal.

So here were the things I did:

I ate smaller meals, and included snacks between meals and at bedtime. This is how you keep a nice even blood sugar level throughout the day. I did everything I could to not skip meals or snacks, because I found that if I was really late for a meal, after I eventually ate my blood sugar went crazy high.

I tried to include protein with most meals and snacks.

I became a Glycemic Index guru, and swapped all my high-GI carbs for low-GI carbs.

I avoided excess sugar. I cut out juice and pop and other forms of liquid sugar.

I (somewhat reluctantly) used Splenda in my coffee.

I ate lots of fiber-rich foods and lots of veggies.

I kept a detailed food diary (including my blood sugar recordings).

And…wait for it…

I cheated sometimes! Which is okay!! Cheating is normal, human, and helps stave off feelings of resentment and deprivation. As long as you don’t beat yourself up, and you get right back on that horse (and as long as you don’t cheat too often)…I say no problemo.

Healthy Mommy: How To Exercise When You Barely Have Time To Brush Your Teeth.

Getting healthy as a mom is a major challenge. There are a lot of reasons for this. Primarily, there’s the time issue. Also, we tend to do the martyr/nurturer thing of taking care of everyone first. But here’s the deal: you are no good to anyone if you are not healthy. I liken it to the airplane emergency instructions: you’ve got to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping anyone else. You will be a terrible caregiver if you are unconscious due to oxygen deprivation.

Also, and from a more selfish point of view, I want you to consider your empty-nester years. Yes, the day will come that you will have some freedom again (I swear). Don’t you want to be healthy and energetic so you can do all the stuff that got pushed to the back burner while you were in the throes of Halloween costumes and school photo days and birthday cupcakes?

I’ve written about this issue in the past. In a previous installment of Healthy Mommy I tackled the topics of nutrition and supplements.

Today, let’s talk exercise.

This is a crazy challenge. I know. But it is do-able. Here are some ideas and strategies.

1. Accept walking as your primary form of exercise for the early years. It’s pretty easy to strap a kid into a stroller and get your workout in, every day. But don’t just go for any old walk: work it. Power walk. Or, better: do intervals. Pepper your walk with high-intensity bursts of up to 3 minutes, and you’ll burn more calories than you would with a steady pace. Other ways you can boost your walking? Steer your stroller towards a nice hilly route.

2. Go to a gym that has child-minding. Many recreation centres have this too. I saw a patient recently who goes to the gym daily (daily!) with her 6 month-old, drops the babe in child-minding and gets a solid 90 minutes of exercise and me-time. Awesome. If you can do this, you get the dual benefit of mental break from the utter relentlessness of parenting, plus physical benefit of toning that bod.

3. Exercise while your children are around, if you’ve got no other options. Invest in home gym equipment, or even just a couple of exercise DVDs. Let the baby roam around on the carpet while you get your workout in.

4. When your kids get a bit older, do stuff together. If they’re skiing–you ski! If they’re learning to skate–you learn to skate! And so on.

5. Turn on some music and dance at home with your kids. Seriously, in a 10 minute home dance-party you can boost your heart rate nicely. I know you’re thinking 10 minutes is a totally insufficient workout, but here’s why it’s not.

6. At the park/playground, instead of standing around chatting/drinking coffee/staring into space and thinking of how much you’d rather be at the spa…run around, climb the equipment, chase your kid. Call it a playground workout.

7. Take up running. For time invested, this is probably your most efficient workout. Many time-strapped moms turn to this strategy. Husbands and partners tend to get on board and watch the kids if they know you’re “going for a run”. (Why is this, by the way?) I have a friend, a stay-at-home mom, who became a regular runner shortly after becoming a mom. When I asked her about it, she said it came down to this: spend even more time with the kids, or take up running. She took up running. 

8. My current fave: online yoga classes. See what I’m talking about here.

If you’re still not convinced, and your main argument is that you don’t have enough time, this is what you need to do: go to the library or bookstore and get the book 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. Here’s my summary of this awesome, time-management bible.

Good luck. You can do it!

Healthy Reading This Week

Pour yourself a mug of tea, sit & relax and check out some of the interesting things I’ve been reading this week:

Salt, Not So Bad For You After All? Great food for thought, highlighting the recent research that shakes up the conventional thinking that salt is a no-no for us all. (from Huffington Post Health/AOL Healthy Living)

Mistakes Made in the Bedroom: Why You Wake Up Exhausted A nice, succinct article on how to get better sleep. Must admit, I’m not convinced about the first tip, though. (from FitSugar)

The Secret to Walking Off Belly Fat Some really easy ways to get the most out of your walking regimen–and no, it does not include carrying little hand-weights a la 1986. (from Shine)

Being Optimistic May Reduce Risk of Stroke Fabulous new research throwing even more light on the happiness movement. (from WebMD)

Doctor On ‘TODAY’ Show Slams Mommyrexia As Part Of Perfectionist Culture Imposed On Mothers A discussion prompted by Dr. Nancy Snyderman’s thoughts on a disturbing trend. (from Mommyish)

The Body Positive: How Author Dayna Macy Got Out Of A Size 18 And Into A Healthy Relationship With Food More on the complicated (and fascinating) topic of body image, weight loss, and emotional health. (from Blisstree)

 

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Healthy Mommy: How to Get Healthy So You Can Live Long Enough to Enjoy your Freedom When You Finally Frigging Get It

Here’s the thing. It’s not all about the kids. Moms deserve to take care of mom, too.

Whenever I’m on a mommy blog or website and I see something posted about health, it invariably seems to be about kids’ health. Now don’t get me wrong. Of course I want my kids (and everyone else’s) to be healthy. Kids need help with eating nutritious food, and moms need to know how to treat a fever, and all that. But…what about moms? We need to be healthy too.

And the truth? We’re not.

Well, not as healthy as we could or should be. See there was this study recently showing that moms are not taking care of themselves. Mothers reading this newsflash will react with a resounding “ya think?”. Even still, the cold truth is pretty painful. We’re not getting as much exercise as women our same age who don’t have children. We’re taking in more calories, gobbling more saturated fat and sugar. And we have higher BMIs (plainspeak: we’re fatter).

Not good, people.

However. It wasn’t this research that motivated me to start thinking hard about “mommy health”. The thing that really made this come home for me, personally, was reflection on another harsh truth: I love my kids…but they are stealing a lot of prime years from me. And when my head comes up from underwater again, when I finally get some freedom, when I finally get to hang out with my husband again on a regular basis…I want to be healthy and strong and look great. I want to be able to travel and do all the fun stuff that, okay, yes, I’m trying to squeeze in now in a “family” sort of way, but really will be so much more fun once my kids have flown the nest.

As long as I don’t have a stroke before I get there.

As long as I don’t have advanced osteoarthritis of my knees that makes a stroll along the Seine less than pleasurable. As long as I don’t have class 4 heart failure that makes flying to Capetown for a wine tour & safari impossible.

So that’s my motivation. (By the way, what’s yours?)

Of course the catch, here, is this: moms have no freaking time. I know. It’s ridiculous. I have survived a lot of stressful/time-pressured situations in my life (residency springs to mind), but it simply does not compare to the relentless time starvation of motherhood. 

So. Is there a way for moms to get healthy? Are there things we can do given the time constraints? 

You bet, sister.

Let’s begin with:

Eating Habits.

Step number one: stop eating discarded sandwich crusts. Stop wolfing down the leftover mac and cheese from your kid’s bowl, leave the abandoned mini-ravioli alone.

Of course the most sensible advice for nutrition is to only give your kids healthy food, then you’ll be eating healthy stuff too. Sounds logical, right? Well, what if you’ve got a super-picky eater? What if at your house, if you don’t serve hot dogs and chicken nuggets your kid won’t get any protein (for that month, anyway, until his tastes flip-flop again)? What if your kid completely refuses anything that even resembles a vegetable? If your children won’t eat whole grains, does that mean you don’t get to either?

Naturally, you do your best to help your kids develop healthy habits. But that project might have to be a whole separate venture. Struggling to get your kids to eat salad should be independent of allowing yourself a healthy life. I’m not saying you give up on your kids. You just have to take care of yourself…

So you need to clean up your diet. Big topic (way more coming soon). But for now, one of the quickest & easiest ways is to add “superfoods”. Think: salmon, walnuts, tomatoes, spinach, olive oil, soy, avocados, broccoli. Check this article for more info. Sneaking superfoods into your diet is one of the easiest ways to improve your nutrition. Make a list, stick it on your fridge, throw these foods into your shopping cart when you’re at the store, and then slide them onto your plate at every opportunity. Even if it goes like this: grilled cheese sandwich, or….grilled cheese sandwich with slices of avocado on the side. Every little helps.

Next topic:

Supplements.

Granted, this may feel like a shortcut. And although I generally advocate healthy eating first (and not using supplements to fool yourself into thinking you’ve got a healthy lifestyle), if there is one life phase when you need to take a shortcut, this would be it. So what supplements should you take when you’re a mom with young kids? You may be in your twenties, thirties, or forties…but these are the supplements you should consider:

  • A multivitamin (continuing your prenatal vitamin will work just fine).
  • Vitamin D
  • Omega 3

There may be other supplements you may need, depending on your risk factors etcetera, but let’s keep this simple and manageable for now.

Mommy health is a BIG topic for me–I’ll be writing more in the near future. Coming soon, in Healthy Mommy Part 2: Exercise and Stress Management.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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