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Holiday Preparation: Mindfulness Call-in Event

pexels-photo-268533I am pleased to share information about a wonderful opportunity to enter the holiday season with tools for managing stress and eating environments over the holidays and beyond.  This call is offered by Narmin Virani, RD who also has training in mindfulness. Narmin has a wonderful way of combining these two areas of expertise with practical tools and guidance.  I hope you can take advantage of her generosity of time and talents.

I will be offering a 45-60 minute phone session starting at 7:30 pm on October 29th and 30th, and November 1st and 2nd  (the 2 days before and after Halloween!), including 15-20 minutes of guided mindfulness meditation and 20-30 minutes discussion after.   I will take you through a body scan, which is a simple mindfulness exercise where you scan your body in your mind’s eye, starting with your feet, moving all the way up to your head, while breathing slowly and deeply, all the while observing your thoughts as they arise, without judging, trying not to get carried away with the thoughts, using your breathing/pulse/heartbeat as an anchor for your awareness, every time your mind wanders.  By the end of the exercise you might find yourself feeling more centered, focused, and calm.   We might even do guided imagery and mindful eating exercises with trigger foods later in the week, following the body scan exercise.

What are the benefits?

Mindfulness has clinically shown to reduce anxiety, blood pressure, and chronic pain. There is evidence that regular practice shrinks the area of the brain associated with fear and anxiety (amygdala) while thickening the area of the brain responsible for rational/ logical thought and impulse control (prefrontal cortex).  Our natural human instinct is to avoid unpleasant thoughts, feelings and sensations, but this just prolongs our suffering as the distractions we seek hurt us more than they help, and the unpleasant thoughts/sensations don’t really go away when we distract, but keep trying to get our attention.  Mindfulness is based on turning towards these unpleasant experiences rather than away from them, with an attitude of curiosity (what are my thoughts/feelings trying to tell me?  Are these changing from moment to moment or do they last forever?), non-judgement (thoughts are not right/wrong, I am not good/bad for thinking this way, all emotions are organic), and self-compassion (it’s okay to feel this, what I am going through is natural, I am only human, I am trying my best).  How does mindfulness reduce anxiety? It increases body awareness. With practice we get better at noticing what  anxiety feels like in the body – heart racing, muscles clenched, holding our breath, etc, instead of getting caught up in our thoughts – “Why am I so anxious? Why can’t I just relax ?” When we feel anxious about feeling anxious or try to “think anxiety away”, it actually just makes it snowball; but when we notice what it feels like in the body, without judging, we instinctively unclench and breathe, which instantly loosens the grip that the anxiety has on us.

I have professional training in mindfulness-medicine from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine at Harvard Medical School, where I worked for 10 years, and am currently pursuing advanced teacher-training at the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical School.

Why is this a good time to do this?

  1. Holidays can be a stressful time, especially for someone who has had bariatric surgery and is trying to eat healthy. From Halloween to Thanksgiving to Christmas, it’s 2 months of temptations. All the impossible-to-follow rules being tossed at you by online forums and well-meaning relatives/health-care professionals – “avoid carbs, stay away from sugar” – make this time especially difficult.
  2. Winter evenings can be depressing as it gets dark sooner.
  3. I have done this with quite a few of my patients who were struggling with stress-eating, and found it very effective
  4. Regular mindfulness practice has personally changed my life and personality for the better over the last 10-15 years, made me less reactive, more responsive, and kinder to myself and others.

 I am hoping that this four-day mindfulness session, followed by practicing on your own, will help you feel more calm, collected, and centered as you navigate the holidays.  You can’t control the food-filled environment at this time of the year, but facing it with anxiety and fear could actually leave you more vulnerable to breaking down and eating distractedly or quickly, while facing it calmly and fearlessly might help you eat mindfully, in a way that leaves you satisfied, not filled with regret.  If people find it helpful I might offer it again around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

How can you participate?

You can dial in at 7:30 pm on Sunday October 29th and Monday 30th , and Wednesday November 1st and Thursday 2nd, using the number 712-451-0901 and access code 222264.  You can join anonymously if you want, you don’t have to tell us your name, just your initials or an alias before we start the discussion, so I can get a head count, to help me decide if it’s worth offering again.   I would recommend doing some gentle stretching exercises for 5-10 minutes before dialing in, because a relaxed body is more conducive to a relaxed mind.  We will start with a brief description of the exercise at 730 pm, do the exercise from 740 to 8 pm, then answer questions pertaining to the exercise itself, or general questions from 8 pm to 8.15-830 pm.  If you join after 740 pm, please press Star 6 to mute yourself, and stay muted until we start the discussion.  You will need a quiet place in your home where you wont be interrupted, a comfortable spot to sit or lie down, comfortable clothes that allow for free breathing, and ear phones or head phones so you can rest your arms.   I assure you that I will be in a room by myself, to protect your privacy.  You can call in, any or all of the four days.  This can be a break for you from your busy day and responsibilities, time devoted to just you, to de-stress. You don’t have to RSVP for this event, I plan on doing this even if no one shows up on the call, because if nothing else, I’ll get a good meditation out of it, and sleep better that night!   Please let me know if you have any questions.  Narmin.Virani@umassmemorial.org

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | October 23, 2017 · 7:04 pm

It’s that time again!

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As much as I do not like being the bearer of unhappy news, its that time again so we need to talk about it! Daylight savings time ends in less than three weeks! This is when those shorter, colder days kick in our inclination to hibernate!

Honesty , the concern is not the lowering of calorie burning.  There is a  bigger problem with the reduced activity that tends to goes with shorter days.  The real challenge is the sharp reduction in great brain chemicals that keep our mood elevated, lowers cravings for comfort foods, and keep us generally feeling good.

We can’t blame those winter blues all on less daylight.   The brain chemicals we get from being physically active are more powerful than those provided by sitting under a sun lamp.

What is your plan for staying active this winter?  What worked last year?  What will work this year?  This post is a reminder to us all to start brainstorming now so we are ready.  Share your list in the comments section so we can inspire each other to stay well physically as well as mentally this winter.

Need some extra motivation?  Consider yourself in spring training!  What do you want to be able to do that first beautiful day of Spring?  Take a walk, garden, bike ride, play golf?  Train for that this winter.  It will keep exercise meaningful and you probably will not regret one moment of exercising in the winter when daylight savings begins again!

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

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by | October 17, 2017 · 6:04 pm

Why it matters, part 2

 

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Last week we clarified the difference between exercise and physical activity and why it matters.   Another important reason why we need to be clear about the difference is because the two are mixed up often in the media.  Here is an example I came across on the internet:

Don’t overthink your exercise: just 2.5 hours per week of any kind could help you live longer

The article is a wonderful write up reviewing a one of largest global studies ever published on the heart health benefits of physical activity.  “The researchers found that 150 minutes spent exercising per week could cut a person’s risk of cardiovascular disease and death. And, most importantly, the Lancet paper demonstrated that all kinds of physical activity were equally good for the heart.”

The great news from this article is that this huge study showed that the “people who reported at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week were much healthier than their sedentary counterparts: They were less likely to have heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular disease, and less likely to die from any cause. Getting only two and a half hours of weekly exercise was associated with a 28 percent reduction in premature death, and a 20 percent reduction in heart disease.”

Wow! That is awesome!  On one hand it is a message to relax a bit, don’t worry if you are not super fit, you are getting a nice protection just by making efforts to be sure you move in some way for 150 minutes a week.

On the other hand though, what about all we do to fit in exercise time?  If we can get that nice protection from vacuuming and yard work, why waste time lifting weights and walking?

Articles like these miss the chance to promote both exercise and physical activity.  We need to talk about two different goals here:

Reducing sedentary time by increasing physical activity in bouts during the day. This offers great health protection because begin still for more than 30 min at a time strains health, even if you are a regular exerciser!   Studies indicate that going to the gym in the morning does not protect from the risks of being sedentary the rest of the day.  Even regular exercisers get added health protection from avoiding prolonged stillness all day long .

Exercise as practice to make physical activities easier.  What exercise does for daily function is a bit more difficult to measure in studies like these.  It is individual, often only you see the difference.  When you can climb the stairs without stopping or get up off the floor without grunting or do housework for longer without resting, you know you are benefiting from exercise.  Remember, exercise is time set aside to practice making what you want and need to do everyday easier! In this way, exercise helps you be more physically active.

If you are not doing either right now, the great news is you can start right away by just moving every thirty minutes in some way.  Know that you are getting health protection from this simple act.  If you are doing one but not the other, what can you do today to give yourself the best of both physical activity and exercise?
Keep Moving, Be Well,
Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

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by | October 10, 2017 · 4:19 pm

Whats the difference and why does it matter???

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We hear the words physical activity and exercise used interchangeably.  Yet, there is a distinct difference between the two that is a key to getting the benefits and staying motivated for doing both.

Physical activity. Any bodily movement produced by the contraction of skeletal muscle that increases energy expenditure above a basal level.   – Centers for Disease Control

Physical activity is an umbrella term for any movement; activities related to your job, housework, yard work, play, recreation, exercise, etc.  Any level and duration and type counts. As long as you are moving your body in some way it counts as physical activity.

Exercise. A subcategory of physical activity that is planned, structured, repetitive, and purposeful  in the sense that the improvement or maintenance of one or more components of physical fitness is the objective. – Centers for Disease Control

Exercise is when we do a physical activity in a structured way in order to improve stamina, strengthen or mobility (physical fitness).  Exercise is done with the focus on our body, not on another activity.  It is the same process for learning any other new skill, like a new language or a musical instrument. Your brain and body need to be working together with your full focus in order to improve that skill.

Physical activity is for the purpose of doing something else–  cleaning the house or doing your job.

Exercise is when our focus is on the physical activity itself in order to improve it in some way.

So exercise practice –  for the purpose of making physical activities you want and need to do every day easier, less tiring, less straining for your body.  Just like learning any other new skill, it is something you set aside time to practice.  Even a little bit of practice done consistently and with your full focus will make that skill easier.

The great news is, both regular physical activity and exercise improve health, burn calories, and boost longevity.  Both are powerful health habit.

  • Get physical activity every day in small bouts during the day. Every 30 minutes of inactivity get up and move in some way.
  • Spend 2.5 hours a week (30 minutes five days a week) dedicated just to exercise (practice) time.  Split that time between stamina building cardio and strength building strength training.  This will make the physical activities you want and need to do easier.

Create these two powerful health habits and enjoy the MANY benefits of both physical activity AND exercise.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

 

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by | October 2, 2017 · 2:08 pm

Lower the risks, raise the benefits!

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We hear stories of people getting injured or having a heart attack during exercise. You might have even experienced this yourself.    At the same time, we are flooded with all the reasons we “should” exercise.  How do we make sure we are getting the benefits and keeping the risks low.

The risk of having a heart attack or dying as a result of exercise is relatively low.  Only 4% to 17% of heart attacks in men are linked to physical exertion, with much lower rates observed for women.  The risk is greater for people who are unaccustomed to exercise and for those at the lower fitness levels.   Compare that to the fact that regular physical activity cuts the risk of getting heart disease by about 40%.  In fact, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of dying from any cause by 40%.

Does anything jump out at you with that last set of facts?  The risk goes up if your fitness level is low and you get protection as your fitness level goes up.  Regular physical activity offers amazing protection, and irregular physical activity increases risk.

One of the best ways to protect yourself is be consistent with some physical activity because it provides protection from doing nothing.   Notice also the statistics from the Exercise is Medicine Fact Sheet   are for physical activity – which is a broad term that includes regular movement, not necessarily a rigid exercise program.  Bottom line, move and move often and regularly!

The second big factor that has been shown to increase risk is the intensity.  Vigorous exercise tends to increase risk.  Doing a moderate intensity lowers the risk while keeping benefits.  But what does vigorous or moderate mean?  Often you will hear it described as an absolute level; vigorous is jogging 6mph and moderate is walking 3mph.  But in reality, it all depends on your fitness level!   For some 6mph jog will be moderate and for others a 3mph walk will be vigorous.

Exercise at the level that is a moderate to comfortable challenge for your breathing – above what you would feel when you are resting but not so uncomfortable that you can’t wait to stop.   Avoid vigorous intensity where your breathing is heavy or uncomfortable.

The risks also go up with a sudden burst of intense (vigorous) exercise followed by a sudden stop in activity.  When you do feel like your breathing is uncomfortable (like when climbing stairs or a hill), keep moving slowly until breathing level comes back down to moderate to light before stopping completely.

Finally, if you have concerns with your heart, diabetes or high blood pressure and are not exercising regularly, discuss your plans to start with your doctor. Your best bet is to start with a light intensity activity that you can do on a very regular basis.  As you improve your fitness level, your risks will reduce and the benefits go up.

If you have symptoms such as pain anywhere above your waist that comes on with exertion and goes away with rest, or have more shortness of breath with usual activities, tell your doctor.  If you have pain in joints with activity, adjust what you are doing so it does not cause pain.  (either by doing that activity for less time or lower intensity or do something different until your body is stronger).  Pushing through pain only requires your body to “speak” louder to get your attention to let you know something is not right.

The bottom line is listen to and be kind to your body!  When you move it regularly at the just right challenge level, you can relax about the risks and enjoy the benefits of exercise.

Keep Moving, Be Well,

Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

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by | September 20, 2017 · 6:48 pm

Letting Go of the Should’s

positive-2470506_1920Have you ever been part of a group or organization where it drained your energy?!    Every task or meeting felt like a something you had to do or should do?  How likely were you to procrastinate doing those tasks?

Now think about something you are involved in that gives you lots of energy; something you are passionate about, something really important to you.  How likely are you to go above and beyond, making sure you fit in those tasks, even when you are busy?

When exercise feels like a  “should” we miss out on the kind of motivation that gives energy.  Eventually, we will start to make excuses and life will get in the way.

Take out a piece of paper and brainstorm all the should’s connected to losing weight and exercise (you may need a whole notebook!).  I should….. eat more veggies, get my heart rate up, push myself harder, stretch more, be able to walk without pain…..

It does not matter if they are helpful goals or not, just write down what feels like a should, that make you sigh or roll your eyes when you think about them.

Now brainstorm what comes to mind when you ask yourself “what do I really want more of?  Energy? Stamina? Strength? Confidence?  Comfort?  Why do I want more of that?  to be able to travel, play with my kids, socialize again….  the things that make you feel really excited about getting to your healthy weight.  The things at the heart of your reasons for wanting to lose weight and to exercise.

When motivation is low,

there is a disconnect between

what we are doing and

why we are doing it. 

Listen to your words, they are great clues.  If you hear yourself saying,  I should ____ or I have to  ______ or I need to make myself _____,  it is time to get to the heart of why you are doing it in the first place.

Keep Moving, Be Well

Janet

Please share these posts with anyone you know interested in losing weight with or without weight loss surgery.  Click here to learn more about the UMass Memorial Weight Center

These weekly blogs are general guidelines. These guidelines apply to patients who are cleared by a physician for the type of exercise described. Please contact your physician with any concerns or questions. Always report any symptoms associated with exercise, such as pain, irregular heartbeats, and dizziness or fainting, to your physician.

Leave a comment

by | September 12, 2017 · 6:08 pm

Post Bariatric Surgery Support Group Sept 14th

Hello all!

The September Post-Bariatric Surgery Support Group will be held on September 14th from 5-6 pm at the Hiatt Auditorium (second Thursday of the month).  I will be taking a break, and Dr Perugini will be facilitating this group.  He is actually going to make and bring a healthy snack for everyone to taste!  Our program must be the only one in the nation where the surgeon prepares and brings food to support groups!  Thank you Dr Perugini, you’re awesome!!

Please RSVP by September 8, email Narmin at Narmin.Virani@umassmemorial.org

Directions:  If you go past the Weight Center, past the cafeteria, take a left at the end of the hall, you will see the Hiatt auditorium to the right.

Warmly,

Narmin

 

“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change” – Carl Rogers

 

Narmin Virani, RD, LDN

Clinical Dieititan, Weight Center
UMass Memorial Medical Center
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655

774-443-3886

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by | September 5, 2017 · 7:49 pm