Protect Your Heart: Diet, Exercise, and Weight Loss

Congestive Heart Failure. Myocardial Infarction. Hypertension.

These are a bunch of scary words for conditions that can arise when our diets lack balance. But if you’re here, you’ve already taken the first step toward prevention – you’re looking for an answer to the question “What can I do to keep myself healthy?” … So congratulate yourself!


It looks tough and strong, but it really needs your help!

There are a lot of bits of information out there, telling us how to improve our diets. However, current evidence points to a few factors that dietetics and science believe to be true about decreasing risk for certain heart health related conditions. If you have been told by a physician that you have high blood pressure or hypertension, or that you are at risk for developing heart failure (or CHF) or of having a heart attack, you may find this information helpful.


1. Weight Loss

One of the most basic things you can do for yourself to decrease your risk for heart disease is making sure you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. Here is a link to a BMI calculator – you can input your height and weight, and the calculator will tell you your Body Mass Index, or BMI. This number is what clinicians sometimes use as a way of assessing whether your weight is in a healthy range for your height. The goal is to have a BMI greater than 18.5, and less than 24.9. If your BMI is 25 or greater, this is classified as overweight. If your BMI is 30 or greater, this is considered obese. The higher your BMI clocks in above 25, the greater your risk for developing heart disease.


The topic of weight loss is all around us, and everyone wants to know the answer for how to shed pounds. Well, I have the answer RIGHT HERE. It’s not a pill. It’s not a powder you add to your weight loss shake. It’s not a superfood, or a magic berry, or anything some mad scientist crafted in his underground layer. It’s three words: BALANCE. VARIETY. MODERATION.


I know, it’s not that exciting right away. But think of it this way: you get to eat WHATEVER YOU WANT! Just utilize portion control, and try to vary your choices. Now it sounds kind of great, right?

The other thing you can focus on that will help with weight loss, and has been proven to benefit those at risk for heart disease is increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables. Not only are these low-calorie, high-fiber options (a perfect recipe for healthy weight loss), but the minerals in most of the foods in these two food groups have been shown to help reduce blood pressure.

And, of course, get up and MOVE! I know the term “exercise” can sound truly unappealing to many. But remember – as long as you’re moving, your body can’t tell whether you’re at the gym on a treadmill, walking around the mall, or putting away laundry in different areas of the house. The point is, if you get moving, your body will thank you. Remember that ANY type of movement can count as physical activity!

Some of my favorite ways to get moving:

 Headstand Selfie






So, maybe you don’t need to lose weight, but your doctor has told you you’re still at risk. So what else can you do to protect yourself, and make sure you’re around for all the exciting things in the futures of you and your loved ones? Keep reading…

2. Reduce Sodium


Sodium is a tricky bugger. You have probably heard it said before – it is in EVERYTHING. If you pick up any processed food product (basically anything in a package), the chances are high that on the nutrition label, next to “Sodium,” you will see a number of at least 150 mg, but often much more than that. Some prepared meals have over 1000 mg, which delivers almost 100% of what many of us need in a whole day in just one meal. The best way to cut back on sodium, and to promote not only weight loss but overall good health as well, is to stick to a diet made up of mostly whole foods. What I mean by whole foods is this: the next time you’re at the grocery store, walk around the perimeter first. See if you can stock up on only foods like fruits, veggies, lean meats, and whole grains. By avoiding the center aisles, you’ll avoid foods like chips, cookies, candy, frozen treats, and even the sneaky items like crackers and some cereals and bread products. Another scary carrier of major sodium is canned foods. Soups and canned vegetables can have a very large amount of sodium per serving. If canned soups are a big part of your current diet, try keeping it to 1 per day, and maybe choosing a reduced sodium version. In terms of vegetables, fresh or frozen is best, but if you must get canned, rinse them before eating or cooking – it will remove a significant amount of sodium!


Aiming for a colorful diet is a great way to ensure nutritional variety!

Here is a map of a standard grocery store layout. See how all the fresh food is on the perimeter, with most of the processed items in the center aisles?


Another thing you can try is not adding salt to food when cooking at home, and not adding salt to meals after they are prepared, either at home or when eating out. Additionally, eating at home almost always provides you with less sodium, and better overall nutrition than eating out does. If you’re feeling like your food is bland without salt, try some salt alternatives like Mrs. Dash, or experiment with different salt-free seasonings and herbs.

mrs-dashJust a few of your options…

But be careful of salt substitutes like NuSalt that are made up mostly of the nutrient Potassium. Our bodies need this nutrient, but too much of it can cause heart attacks. So check with your doctor before trying it!

url salt-substitute-three-point-one-two-five-ounce-shaker

Some examples of potassium-containing salt subs – remember, ASK YOUR DOC!

3. Balance your diet to reduce high fat items

So we really are passed the low fat diet craze that bummed many people out through the 80s and 90s. But there is some merit in watching the fat you consume! The thing to remember is to keep it balanced. Enjoy whole foods, and try to enjoy healthy fat sources. These can include avocado, olive oil (and olives), wild fish, and nuts. Just remember – fat contributes a lot of calories per gram, so even when eating healthy fats, limit portions so as not to overshoot your calories for the day.

Sources of saturated fats—the ones you should eat in moderation (even more so than the healthy ones)—include butter, vegetable oils (particularly when used to deep fry), and high-fat meats (like rib eye steaks, bacon, etc). A good rule of thumb: if a fat is solid at room temperature, like butter, it’s likely a saturated fat, and in excess, may lead to heart disease.

4. Heart Failure Information

If your doctor has told you that you are at risk for congestive heart failure, or CHF, you may really benefit from observing the recommendations above. Another thing to remember is to monitor your weight, even if you are not trying to lose. This is important because, if you go into heart failure, your body begins to retain fluid. If you are at risk, try to weigh yourself daily. If your weight goes up 1-2 lbs in 1 day, or 5 lbs in 1 week, contact your doctor immediately, as this could indicate heart failure.

 Weight scale

The best thing you can do for your health is to try to implement one healthy habit today. So, what will you do? Eat an extra serving of fruit or veggies? Maybe go for a walk? Or decide on a lower sodium alternative to something high in salt you normally eat?


Yumm, right?!

I would love to hear how you’re implementing these changes to improve your health and quality of life, and to keep you on this Earth a little (or a LOT) longer.

What will you change today?!


Why I Put Down the Wheat Thins

Alright, bloggees. I’m about to get real….

Today’s been a SHITTY day. I’m not even going to get into it. But I have a feeling it has a little something to do with this. Anyway… it’s been rough. And after getting home from my internship, I saw where my night was headed: a half-eaten box of Chili Cheese Wheat Thins and a tub of Greek-style hummus was calling my name. I was going to sit in front of my TV, watch The League (until I decided I wanted to watch something I could cry over), and consume that ENTIRE damn half-box/tub duo. I was in pretty deep. But I stopped. With about 10 crackers left in the bag (and a lot in my belly), I heard a voice: “You deserve better than this. ESPECIALLY on a day like today–when things just don’t feel quite right.” This voice was filled with love. She directed my attention out my big bedroom windows, and reminded me I had a few hours of daylight left (the best few hours, in fact, right before the sunset).

With much hesitation, I put the remainder of my “snack” down (YES, there were only 10 left, but it was time to STOP!), peeling my body off the chair, feeling double my actual weight (because of the depression–not so much the Wheat Thins ;-)). I changed into some comfy walking clothes, and headed out the door with my iPod in hand. I turned on one of my very favorite podcasts–The Mental Illness Happy Hour–and listened to the truthful, honest, and darkly comedic words of Stefanie Wilder-Taylor as Paul Gilmartin interviewed her about her struggles–from depression to an eating disorder to overcoming a drinking problem, all the way through the truth about motherhood and what true love is.

In the spirit of being honest–I do love this podcast, but I haven’t listened to it in quite some time. I think deep inside, even though I KNOW hearing others talk about their struggles always helps me get through my own, I’ve worried what listening will do to me. When I’m capable of it, I like to keep my negative thoughts folded neatly in a corner of my brain, where they can be left alone, and forgotten. But shouldn’t we all know by now–that never works.

To my surprise (not really), I felt comforted and warm while listening. I laughed and I cried, sending myself on a true roller coaster of emotions throughout this particularly long two-hour show (NOT complaining). There were parts of it that made me hurt, and parts that made me realize I was ok enough to be loved. But the thing that helped me most was realizing what Paul has been trying to show his listeners all along–I am NOT alone.

I am NOT alone.

We are NEVER alone.

No matter what you’re thinking, no matter what you feel, no matter what awful, terrible, embarrassing, disgusting or weird urge, desire, or thought you’re too ashamed to talk about–SOMEONE has thought it before, and more people than you ever believed possible WILL relate.

As a result of the combination I allowed for myself–a little exercise, some fresh air, and tuning into a podcast I worried would send me on a downward spiral–I changed the course of my entire night. I did not go back to those tasty little conniving, addicting Wheat Thins. I did not mope myself to tears. Actually, I came home with a smile on my face, my cheeks still pink and flushed from the cold ocean air that was rolling in after sunset. I cleaned my room and put away laundry which had been overwhelming me for weeks (if you don’t get it, ask someone with depression and/or anxiety–I’m 95% sure they can explain it to you). I even cleaned my kitchen, did the dishes, and cooked myself a wholesome dinner out of REAL food.


I feel great. And I know tomorrow might be rough. And I know I HATE my depression, and still have a voice that loves to remind me that IT’S NOT FAIR. But the difference between me now and me 3 hours ago is that I now feel prepared to deal with it FOR NOW. I can tackle tonight. Tomorrow morning I’ll see what I can handle. I’ll get out of bed, and carry on to the best of my ability. And I’ll do the same thing the next day, and the day after that.

Commit to your own recovery–whatever that is for you. If you try, and you bring yourself toward the right path, there’s no way for you to fail. There’s no way you won’t come out 1 step further than you were when you started.


Also, if you haven’t–check out the Mental Illness Happy Hour! Download it off iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts, or go to mentalpod.com. I am not lying when I say it has literally changed my life.


Goodnight! Love yourself.


I know, it’s easy to find excuses not to exercise. Especially when the type of exercise you’re working toward is an activity you don’t particularly care for. That’s why I firmly believe in picking an activity that you LOVE. I heard some great advice once. Paraphrased, it was: choose a work out that you love so much, you would do it EVEN if it wasn’t GOOD FOR YOU! And for me, that work out is YOGA. I can honestly say it is in my top 5 list of ABSOLUTE FAVORITE THINGS (including non-exercise activities) TO DO, and I choose it as my mode of exercise as frequently as possible.


See? 😉

But, being a busy person on a strict budget, I often run into 2 significant hurdles — insufficient funds to maintain membership at a yoga studio and, even if my income permitted, I have a schedule that doesn’t often allow me to get to the classes that are offered. I’m sure many of you run into similar problems.


Well, fear not fellow… busy poor people! There’s an app for that! Well, a website. Yogaglo.com brings the studio to your personal computer screen. They have a seriously vast selection, and are breaking it down for you by teacher, yoga style, level of difficulty, and duration of the class. And when I say vast, I am NOT messin’ around (and neither are the wonderful people at YogaGLO). The site offers nearly 2000 videos at this time, and styles range from Ashtanga to Kundalini to Vinyasa (and then some). They even have Meditation classes available ranging from 5 to 60 minutes. 


There are a number of really useful tools on the site, as well, that will help you commit to your yoga practice, even if you can’t commit to a studio. You are able to set goals for number of classes per week, and it will track how many you’ve completed (I just signed up, and am already 2/3 of the way to my goal for the week!). You can also add items to your “queue” to take the classes later, and have the option to note which time of day you’d like to use that particular video.


I know there is more, and I’m still discovering! The site is also incredibly user-friendly, and offers some great tutorials on how to use different tools. It should be noted that IF YOU ARE NEW TO YOGA, you should take extra caution in your practice. Take it slow, and if something doesn’t feel right to you, don’t push it (this is true at any level of yoga practice). Taking classes in-person with a certified instructor is always great, but if that’s not an option, YogaGlo supports the idea that it’s no excuse to discontinue your practice. And if you are new to yoga, check out the site’s Beginner Center under the Yoga for You tab–lots of great videos to get you started!

OH, BEST OF ALL: Membership cost for YogaGlo is only $18 per month–some studios charge nearly this much for a drop-in class! They currently have a 15 day free trial that you can sign up for. DO IT!

I will miss the personalized adjustments from certified yogis that so often make ALL the difference — but there’s no harm in popping into a studio every so often for a tune up :).


Enjoy this beautiful evening, and check out YogaGlo! And most importantly, do something that nourishes you tonight :). Feed your soul!



Monday’s Quick Tip

Today’s Quick Tip: TAKE THE STAIRS! It’s a great way to squeeze activity into your busy day, and will give you the boost you need to kick those Monday moody blues in the bee-hind.

Going up sound daunting? Try skipping the elevator on the way down. You’ll still work your muscles (especially if you go slowly), and at least you’re moving.

Enjoy this beautiful sunny day! (Sorry, cold-locale readers)

Did YOU do something active today?

Every day…

…It’s becoming more and more apparent. I need a regular yoga practice in my life. Immediately.