Sunday, May 29, 2016

What is the Paleo diet?

There is a  clear connection between what we eat, how we feel and how well our bodies, brains and minds function. Nutritious whole foods including grass fed beef, free range organic poultry, clean fish (without metal contamination), a variety of organic fruits and vegetables devoid of additives and preservatives is the gold standard. Yet, even within these parameters, many diet variations exist. Recently, a fad diet called the Paleo diet has resurfaced and garnered much attention. The diet was originated by a physician named Walter Voegtlin who published the diet in 1972 and was more recently popularized by Loren Cordain Ph.D., a health and exercise scientist who has written several books on the Paleo diet and accompanying cookbooks.

The Paleo diet is based on the presumption that humans will have greater health if we eat foods that were available during the Paleolithic period. The rationale is that humans should eat foods that were available during the time in which we evolved because we are genetically adapted to them physiologically and metabolically.  The Paleolithic era lasted from about 2.6 million years ago until approximately 10,000 years ago and proponents of the diet argue that human physiology and metabolism have changed very little since that time. As such, our bodies are not adapted to properly digest grains and dairy which were added to the human diet as the result of the subsequent agricultural revolution. By eating Paleo foods, supporters posit that we can avoid or reduce the occurrence of diseases that emerged after the agricultural revolution, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension and gout.  There is some variation about what constituted foods available to human during the Paleolithic period. In general, foods that are allowed on the Paleo diet include unprocessed foods: meat, eggs, seafood, non-starch vegetables, fruit nuts, seeds and specific fats. Organic is preferred. Legumes, dairy and grains are not allowed. Many Paleo followers report greater energy and a feeling of well-being, weight loss and symptom reduction.

There are some critics of the Paleo diet. Some scientists argue that humans have continued to evolve since the Paleolithic era enough to digest contemporary foods. Most modern plants and animals are very unlike the ones prominent during the Paleolithic era making it unnecessary to limit the human diet to those food types. Further, it is likely that Paleolithic humans ate wild grains and legumes. Other critics note that the Paleo diet may not provide enough calcium.

In short, there are many good aspects of the Paleo diet including avoidance of processed foods and eating cleaner sources of protein and plant based foods. While some people can tolerate dairy a legumes without gastrointestinal difficulty, others can't.  Still others may have low level sensitivity, hard to detect sensitivity to dairy and grains that puts them at risk for underlying an underlying disease process, including mental and emotional imbalances.  Perhaps the best dietary approach is to test potential diets, under consultation with a health professional if necessary, to determine individual needs and best fit.

Submitted By: Holly O. Houston, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Monday, May 23, 2016

Finding Happiness

Happiness. Everybody wants it, many seek it, few find it. What will make you happy? A better job?  More money? Less arguing with your spouse? The approval of others?  A bigger house? Maybe all of these things would make you happy, but it’s more likely that none of these things will foster true happiness.  Once we reach that next step or achieve the next goal we bask in the glory of it for a while and then it’s onto the next thing. We’ve managed to convince ourselves that we won’t be truly happy until we get that next great thing.

Explorers searched for the Fountain of Youth for years vying for a way to preserve their lives and vitality. Ironically, while they searched for a way to prolong life, they missed living. Happiness is the same way. While we are searching for some way to feel happier, we are missing our opportunity to be happy right now.

Happiness comes from within. We already have what is necessary to be happy right now. We have to learn how to take what we already have and create our happiness from that using gratitude and positivity. Think about what makes you feel good. Is it your family, helping others, having time for yourself, feeling confident? How can your present situation work toward strengthening what makes you feel good? For example, maybe your finances are stretched thin, but this has allowed you to become creative in doing fun activities with your family. You play baseball or basketball together on a neighborhood court or field rather than spending excessive amounts of money on organized sports for your children to spend more time playing without you.

Happiness is about perspective. If you don’t open your eyes, you’ll miss it. Stop searching for something that is already inside of you. 

Kelly Renzi, PsyD
Clinical Psychologist

Friday, May 13, 2016

Finding the Right Motivation

“Reach for your goals!”  “Go for it!”  “You can do it!”  We all know the mantra’s that we tell ourselves over and over again as we work towards a goal- whether it is finishing a paper, a class, graduating, working out, losing weight, buying a car, or getting a new job. The list can be endless.  But what happens once we achieve that longed for goal?  Then what? Often times, people are left with a sense of emptiness, a lack of purpose or direction. They no longer are working towards reaching that carrot they have been chasing. What happens when you have achieved all your goals?  Do you just keep setting new goals? It’s an option. Do you stop trying? Once you graduate, are you done learning? Once you reach your goal weight, are you done eating healthy and exercising? If achieving your goal is your only motivation, what keeps you going once you achieve it? 

Underlying and continuing motivation is fueled by our own, individually chosen values. Values intrinsically motivate us to engage in activities that push us towards achieving specific goals and continue long-lasting behavior patterns. Goals, on the other hand, tend to be more short-term motivators.  For example, if you have a goal of losing weight to fit into a swimsuit for the summer, you will be motivated to perform the necessary activities to achieve this goal so long as it is relevant. For many, this is until the end of summer or beach season. However, if you have a value of living a fit and healthy lifestyle, your motivation will last much longer than beach season.  Theoretically, this value could serve as proper motivation for a lifetime, so long as the value of being fit and healthy is relevant.

While small goals are helpful for short term motivation, it is more helpful to look at what value underlies that specific goal.  Use the value as a long-term source of motivation to live the life that is meaningful to you.  Engage in the behaviors that consistently produce the outcomes you seek. And, finally, rather than only focusing on the outcome or the goal, focus rather on the journey to reaching that goal. Create the sustaining behavior patterns to ensure that you are always engaging in value-oriented behavior.  Become a life-long learner if obtaining knowledge is a value. Perhaps you won’t indefinitely be enrolled in courses, but you can continue your pursuit of knowledge through reading, seminars, traveling the world, or even just talking to a new person with a different perspective. Be creative. Let your values guide you.  

Karen Rosian, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

How music can help reduce stress and improve daily functioning

In the battle against stress and anxiety, there are a number of great tricks and skills that can be used to help us feel safer and more comfortable.  While many may immediately come to mind (breathing, exercise, a good night’s sleep, etc.), the use of music as a de-stressor is one that we often overlook.  While we may go out of our way to search for things that make us feel better, music is a tool that is very easily accessible and has the power to aid in relaxing both our mind and our body.

A large amount of research has been conducted regarding the effects of music on both the psychological and physiological well-being of all types of people.  The studies show a great number of ways that beautiful tones create a calming environment for those suffering from a wide range of afflictions; from cancer to stress and almost everything between.  The use of classical and other peaceful types of music has been shown to slow the pulse and heart rate of the listener.  In addition, this music has been shown to reduce high blood pressure and decrease the amount of stress hormone produced by the brain.  By causing these physical reactions, peaceful music helps to calm the listener. Classical music has even been shown to increase the production of serotonin which can help fight depression, anxiety, panic, and anger.

Classical music is not the only type of music that affects our health and well-being.  The way that music affects a person is completely individual and based on our own personal experiences.  Some people find solace in the golden oldies their parents listened to growing up while others seek comfort in the silk of smooth jazz.  Some are uplifted by the positive message of pop music while others feel energized by the thunderous beat of rock-n-roll.  Musical styles affect everyone differently, and it is very important to know how music affects you before trying to use it to reduce your stress.

In order to know which styles of music help you reduce stress, start with the ones you like! The musical styles that we find pleasant and pleasing are the ones that have the most positive affect on our emotions and our stress levels. It’s not helpful to force yourself to listen to classical music to relax if you know you hate classical music.  Instead, identify those styles of music that you genuinely enjoy.  Once you have identified them, consider how these different styles make you feel.  Do they relax you or excite you?  Do they increase or decrease your energy level?  By understanding how certain kinds of music affect your body, you can use that music to achieve the emotion you want.

Once you have identified the right type of music, the next step is deciding how best to use it to improve your mood or lower your stress level.  Starting your day with the right song may be much more relaxing and calming than waking up to a droning beep.  Try setting your phone or alarm to play music instead of the standard alarm sound.  You can also take music with you throughout the day to help.  The portability of technology means that you can listen to positive music while exercising, during travel, on a break, doing chores, or even while working (depending on your job, of course).  If you have trouble meditating, music can be used to help you by giving you something to focus on other than your own thoughts.  You can even try singing your favorite songs as a way to reduce your stress level and increase a positive mood- and if you’re singing alone, no talent is required!

However you decide to utilize music to de-stress yourself, the idea is to wrap yourself in the positive feelings created by the songs.  Experience the healing power of music by focusing on the rhythms and melodies of the songs that you choose.  With time, practice, and the right playlist, you can learn to create a soundtrack to your life that helps you combat the day-to-day stressors of a hectic world and create a better, happier you!

Submitted by Bill Knor, LCPC
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor