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Final Reminder, Blog Moving: New Look, Same Great Taste!

Thanks again to everyone who has been following my blog over the past year!  In anticipation of the release of my upcoming book, Death of the Diet, I’ve launched my new blog at  All future blog posts will be added there, so be sure to follow my new blog or join the Death of the Diet / JM Wellness newsletter which will have monthly digests of new content and more.

More details are provided on the previous post from a couple days ago.  Any questions, get in touch with me at

Looking forward to staying in touch!

In Health & Happy 2013!


My blog is movin’ on up…Be sure to follow!

Howdy All of My Devoted Blog Readers!

First, I hope you’ve all had a great holiday season and I wish everyone a healthy and happy start to 2013!

The Savor Fitness & Nutrition blog & JM Wellness newsletter have been growing steadily for over a year now during which time I’ve been working on writing my first book, Death of the Diet.  With the anticipated launch in March 2013 (woo hoo!), I’ve redesigned my websites, including my blog; check them out and let me know what you think: and

All future content will be posted to, so be sure to follow that blog for the latest content. I will be setting up a permanent redirect as of January 1st, 2013, thanks!

Also, if you weren’t aware, I also have a super-fantastic newsletter, which is getting an upgrade as well.  Here’s what you can expect as a newsletter member starting in 2013 (you can sign up at either one of my websites on the right sidebar, or contact me):

  • Exclusive discounts on the book, one-on-one coaching with me and services from like-minded health and wellness partners.  One of my goals in 2013 is to partner with other healthcare and wellness practitioners who care about long-term results like myself.
  • Access to future giveaways and contests (hint, hint).
  • One stop reading: Monthly digest of JM wellness content updates, including my writing for other websites (Food Network,, etc.) and new article formats such as Research Roundups (clarifying the latest health and fitness research findings) and Ask Jason (think Dear Abby on a fitness kick). Only newsletter members can ask questions, so if you have a friend with a question, tell them to hop on board.
  • Access to the “Seven Questions You Must Ask to Achieve Long-Term Health & Fitness Results.”  One question per day, for seven days.

Please forward this post to two people who you think can benefit from receiving the Seven Questions this New Years’ season, or any of the other exclusive content mentioned. A healthier life starts now, and never ends.

Looking forward to a rockin’ 2013,

Modifications and Cues for Re-Learning the Squat

Squatting is one of the main exercises and human movements performed on two legs (other exercises, such as walking, lunging and stepping up are performed on one). When performed correctly, squats help build lower body strength and promote trunk stability. My previous post discussed the importance of proper squatting (getting out of chairs, picking things off of the ground, working out in the gym, etc.) while shedding light on the disconnect many of people have with this basic movement pattern. Just as a reminder, squatting is important When you break it down, a lot of things actually need to happen correctly to allow for a proper squat:

  • Proper movement in the ankles and foot so the heels don’t lift off the ground and the heels don’t splay out when you squat
  • Proper engagement and flexibility in the hips so you don’t drive the movement into your knees (driving forward or collapsing in or out) or lower back (flexing or hyper-extending)
  • Proper mobility in the upper torso so you don’t pitch forward or drive the effort into your lower back

And because the body is one big linked chain of movement, an issue with the ankle can eventually drive its way up through the knees to the hip and the lower back…and vice versa.  So it’s not always as easy as saying “you have knee pain when you squat, therefore your hips are tight.” Many strength and conditioning specialists, physiologists and physical therapists are movement detectives, performing comprehensive assessments to determine what limitations are causing the poor movement pattern.  It usually involves going through a range of different motions and tests to confirm the suspicion and then putting an action plan into place to correct the issues over time.

Below is a description of how to squat, a checklist to know where you should be feeling the effort, cues to imagine (or look at in a mirror) to make sure you’re squatting properly and finally, modifications you can do to make re-learning the squat easier. Sometimes just standing and squatting with your own body weight throws your body into the wrong movement pattern so using a modification, even for a couple of sets can “re-program” the mind-body connection to proper squatting technique.

Exercise Description

Stand up tall with arms at your side and feet about hip width’s apart. Slowly lower yourself by “sitting back” through your hips and lowering your butt towards the ground. The key is to keep the chest tall, the spine in a straight line at a slight forward angle while supporting yourself with your butt muscles. When you get down to a position that feels comfortable, ideally around the point where the upper thighs are parallel with the floor, engage your butt muscles to push you back up to the starting position. When you’ve completed a squat (and you’re standing back up again), notice to see if either of your feet turned out, if so, there may be some chronic tightness or weakness in the hips or ankles. Try using some of the cues below to correct the issue.

A Decent Squat - Front View

A Decent Squat – Front View


A Decent Squat - Side View

A Decent Squat – Side View

Where to Feel It: Glutes/butt muscles, abdominals, possibly in the outer part of the hips, lightly in the quads towards the end of the set, muscles underneath the armpits (if holding a weight)

Where Not to Feel It: Lower back, knees, quickly and significantly in the quads (especially if you don’t feel anything in the glutes), deep in the shoulder (if you are holding any weights)


  • Chest tall, butt down.
  • Sit back into the squat, not forward through the knees. (Tends to happen with people who had back injuries, they lock up the back, and the hips by association, to try and protect the lower back from improper movement.  It improperly drives all of the effort to the knees.)
  • Feel engagement in your butt muscles (glutes) as you descend. They are your brake pedals, making sure you don’t come down too far, too fast.
  • Stay rooted through your feet. You should feel both your heels and big toe are staying firmly planted on the ground.  A cue from Chuck Wolf: “Imagine you are squishing a bug with your big toe.”
  • Keep the hips, knees and ankles in alignment, all about hip-width apart. Don’t let the knees or ankles buckle in or out.
  • Imagine a plane of glass extending up from the tips of your toes, keeping you from leaning too far forward with your head or knees. If you want to make this a real cue, do squats while standing six to twelve inches from a wall, facing it.
  • Keep the spine in a straight line, from the crown of the head through the tailbone. You may lean forward a bit in a squat, but the spine can still stay in a straight line. You don’t want to be looking at the ground at the bottom of your squat; the angle of your upper body should match the angle of your lower leg.
  • Inhale as you lower yourself down and use the beginning of your exhale to initiate your movement back up.
  • Push up through your feet (heels, big toe) and glutes/butt muscles.
  • As you start to initiate your squat movement back up to standing, imagine you are spreading the floor apart with your feet; you are creating a crack in the earth between your feet.


  • Start Small: Many of the issues with poor squat form – bending spines, lifting off the heels, knee pain – sometimes occur when you go deeper into the squat.  See if you can perform the hip hinge (sitting back through your hips) properly first through doing “mini-squats” a quarter or half the way down and coming back up with proper form. Depth comes with time and practice.
  • Use Support: If bodyweight squats feel uncomfortable, lightly hold onto a stable counter, chair or railing for support as you perform the squat.  As you get better, you can use a pole or door frame and slowly walk your hands down with you as you descend into the squat so you have a little support through the entire range of motion.
  • Use the TRX: This is a great piece of equipment to provide support for lower body movements. Hold the handles and stand at a distance that allows you to squat properly while not having your arms get pulled by the TRX as you get down to the bottom of the squat. To make a squat harder with the TRX, just move closer toward the hinge point.  To make it easier, move further away (just not so far away that your arms/upper body get pulled as you squat). You can then use less and less support from the TRX by loosening your grip, then using finger tips, two fingers, one finger, etc. Use other cues listed above to keep your hips, knees, ankles and upper body in proper alignment.
  • To Encourage the Hip Hinge, Create a Counter Balance: For some, raising the arms or extending a light weight away from you helps provide a stabilizing counter-force as you lower yourself down into the squat.
  • To Prevent Knee Buckling, Use a Mini Band: You can place a mini-band around your legs, just above your knees to help engage the hip abductors to stabilize you as you squat.

Squatting: Ideal vs. Reality

From the gyms of America to the streets of India, proper squatting technique is a hallmark of effective powerlifting and functionality. The squat pattern is needed for many day-to-day patterns, such as picking things up off the ground and getting down to and up from a chair. Yet the vast majority of people in America squat improperly, placing excessive strain on the knees and lower back.  Or they don’t squat at all and place even more load on the back (see photo below).  And then they add weight to this poor movement at the gym, accelerating their way to injury. This is why physical therapy offices are filled with people doing mini-squats, quarter-squats and sit-to-stands. We’re trying to teach people to move correctly, all over again (similar to my discussion of pushups).

How not to pick something up from the ground.

How not to pick something up from the ground.
Image: Ambro /

Believe it or not, just about everyone knew how to squat properly at one point in time: childhood. If you want to watch the best squat form (or any other movement), go watch a five year old pick something up from the ground. Somewhere between five and fifteen, it all goes to hell, partly from the fact that we get taller, but the ground doesn’t follow. And we replace general running around and movement with either: sitting all day or training very specific sport movements. So if your body doesn’t continue to use the squat, you lose it. That’s why you see sixty and seventy year-olds from other countries squatting their butts to the ground without any ache in their back or knees: they’ve done it properly since childhood and haven’t stopped.

But all is not lost for those who’ve taken a multi-decade hiatus from squatting. Hidden somewhere deep in the recesses of your brain is that child who knew how to squat. And we can bring him or her back. This topic will be split into two posts.  This first post will review the “ideal” squat form and provide a few qualifying factors to properly set your expectations for finding how much squat you’ve still got. The second part, due out in a couple weeks will review modifications, progressions and cues for getting you to squatting better.

Ideal Squatting Form

A “perfect” squat involves hinging back through the hips and lowering your butt toward the ground while maintaining a relatively upright torso. In technical terms, your upper body angle should match the angle created by your lower leg (between the knee and ankle). You should be looking forward at the bottom of a squat, not staring at the ground. Your spine should also be in a straight line, though for most people the tailbone starts to tuck under once your hips go below the level of your knees. Both feet are set about hip-width apart (or a bit wider) and are relatively pointing forward or slightly turned out (15 to 25 degrees). Feet should not be significantly turned out (no ballet, sorry).  Both feet should turn out the same amount and stay in the same position throughout the entire squat. The hips, knees and ankles should stay in line throughout the entire squat; the knees should not buckle inward or outward. The feet should stay firmly rooted in the ground, ideally balancing the weight of your body between your heels and your big toe. Your heels should not lift off the ground, nor should you place excessive force on the outside or inside edge of your foot.

You should primarily feel the butt muscles working. There should be no strain in the back nor pinching feelings in the front of the hips. Most problems and compensations start to occur as you get into, and return back up from, deeper squats. It’s best to stop going down into a squat when you notice one of these major compensations occur. Aside from a slightly turned out foot on one side, this guy’s squat looks pretty darn good:

This Guy Can Squat

This Guy Can Squat
Photo: imagerymajestic /

Proper form should be achieved before adding any major load to the squat (don’t go power lifting with 100 pounds if your squat with 10 or 20 pounds looks like crap). Here are a couple tips for function-specific squatting:

Picking Something Up: The first battle is getting down to the object on the ground. The second battle is getting back up with it.  Position yourself as close to the object as possible before you squat, ideally practically underneath you (as you squat back, your torso will end up right over it). Get a firm grip, turn on the butt muscles and bring it up. If you can’t get down that far right now, try getting down on one knee and use a lunge pattern to pick it up.

Getting Out of a Chair: You’re already in a “squatting” position, so you need to set your bodyweight at the right position to allow the proper muscles to fire.  Imagine yourself at the bottom of a squat. Your feet are firmly rooted in front of you. Shift your weight forward slightly so you feel your weight go to your butt and heels.  Then engage your butt to bring yourself up.

Qualifying Factors for Squatting

Powerlifters love to bucket squat (butt to floor) and add lots of weight on their back. They’ve probably practiced a bunch, have proper movement patterns and have worked years at the technique. And a fair number of hem have probably gotten injured in the process, too. This does not give us all license to strap 100, 150 or 200 pounds on our back and squat. Ideal squatting involves the two bones that comprise your hip (your acetabulum/pelvis and femur/upper leg bone) moving in perfect, synchronous harmony. But that which is ideal, isn’t always real. Many factors can impact your ability to squat including age, injury history, training history, chronic muscle tightness and even genetics. Because of this, we must take the “ideal” squat form and tailor it to the person to make it as functional and strengthening as possible while minimizing improper strain and injury risk.   My general motto: If it hurts, don’t do it.

Here are a few potential concerns:

CAM impingements – Based on genetic predisposition and certain activities you do when you’re younger, you could have certain bony growths on your acetabulum or femur that makes deep squatting nearly impossible to do properly.  You’ll feel a pinch in the front of your hips when you go down into a deep squat. Chronically poor movement and tightness can also create a pinching feeling too, so it’s important to distinguish whether your discomfort is soft tissue related (muscle, fascia and usually correctable) or more permanent (bone).

Hip anteversion/retroversion – Ideally the hip is set up where your feet are turned out at about a 15 to 25 degree range. But genetics may have your hip aligned where it needs to turn out more or less to have it move properly. This can predispose you to increased risk of injury due to non-ideal alignment, but this is a relatively small percentage of the population. The majority of us are pulled into these undesirable movements due to chronic compensations.

Chronic compensations learned from muscle tightness, injury or improper training – If certain muscles are improperly tighter or shorter than others due to sustained positions (sitting all day, carrying weight on one side of the body, etc.), injury (avoiding bearing weight on one side of the body) or improper training, then these compensations need to be undone before progressing in weight with the squat pattern. Many times, the proper squat pattern not only needs to be reintegrated into training, but also into daily functioning.

To determine your current, best squatting position, get on your hands and knees so your hands are directly under your shoulders and your knees are under your hips. This means your legs are hip-width apart. Unlike the picture below, keep your toes untucked.

Hands and Knees

Hands and Knees

Slowly move your butt back towards your heels by pushing yourself back with your hands.  Maintain a flat, neutral spine and torso as your butt moves back (don’t flex or extend your spine). See how your body feels as you go backwards and stop when you feel your back move improperly or if you feel any discomfort or pain.  Return to the starting position. Repeat the same movement about 3 to 4 more times to loosen up.

– Then move your legs a little closer together and rock back.  Does it feel better or worse?  If it feels better, then you may need to squat with your legs and feet a little closer than hip-width distance apart.

– Then move your legs a little wider than hip-width distance and rock back.  Does it feel better or worse?  If it feels better, then you may need to squat with your legs and feet a little wider than hip-width distance apart.

– If the first distance felt best, then squat with your feet and legs hip-width distance apart.

Now that you know how to start your squat pattern, my next post will discuss making sure you execute it properly from standing, to squatting, to standing again.

Thanksgiving: Food…and Habits for Thought

Avoid Being Stuffed, Like the Bird.

Avoid Being Stuffed, Like the Bird.
From: Microsoft Images

Why does giving thanks have to lead to food comas and indigestion?  While Thanksgiving dates back to a group of European settlers and Native Americans feasting over a plentiful harvest at Plymouth in 1621, most harvesting performed these days involves a bit less manual labor.  Rather, we’re driving over to the local supermarket and filling our carts with turkeys, pumpkin pie and the ingredients for mashed potatoes and stuffing.

Our modern interpretation has evolved into a celebration of family, friends and…lots of food.  Consider the holiday’s common nickname: Turkey Day.  In many ways it seems that the true meaning of Thanksgiving has been lost somewhere between the hors d’oeuvres, the gut-busting dinner buffet and the proliferation of pies for dessert.  This year, let’s give thanks to our health and finish the day feeling light and energetic by following some of the following tips:

Make Nutritious Nudges – If you control the day’s menu, make healthy options available.  Have crudite with appetizers.  Make a big salad with dinner.  Offer fruit as part of dessert.  Or make healthier tweaks to recipes.  Bake instead of fry.  Use less butter in the mashed potatoes.  Use more spices (zero calories).

Here are a few links for more ideas:

Portion Your Plate – When faced with a buffet, it’s amazing how quickly our eyes can become bigger than our stomach.  It takes 15 to 20 minutes to know that you’re full…plenty of time to have seconds and not realize you’re full.  And then you’re stuffed.

So, use smaller dishes and pile them up with fruits and veggies.  Don’t use a plate with appetizers so every time you want something, you have to actually get it.  Use a salad plate with dinner; research shows that we tend to eat less when we have less in front of us.  Then give yourself 15 minutes before getting seconds to give your body a chance to catch up.  If you’re still hungry, get more.  Finally, load up half your plate with veggies or fruit each time you go up, as they will typically be lower in calories and more filling due to their water and fiber content.

Indulge Wisely – It’s important to be sensible on food-focused holidays, which also means allowing ourselves to enjoy the foods that we rarely have otherwise.  For me, that’s sweet potato casserole with marshmallows, mmm.

The key is to choose the indulgences you really enjoy and only have those.  In other words, if you love the home-made pumpkin pie, have a slice (maybe not the entire pie).  If the stuffing is heavenly, enjoy a serving!  Just consider whether it’s also worth having the cheese and crackers with the appetizers, second helpings of mashed potatoes and trying all of the desserts on the table.  If the day loses meaning to you without having a particular food, then have it.  If it doesn’t, then leave it.

Stay Active – We can give our body a great head start toward digesting those Thanksgiving calories by exercising that morning.  Go to the gym or go for a jog.  You can even take it a step further by changing the focus of Thanksgiving from football and food to another activity, such as playing board games, charades, or even touch football outside with the family!  We tend to eat when we have nothing else to do.  Do something else.

Get Back on the Horse – Even with the best laid plans, stuff happens.  One unhealthy decision or day of eating doesn’t ruin our health or fitness…but allowing ourselves to continue those actions for the rest of month or year might.  So rather than feeling guilty or defeated, acknowledge your unintended indulgences (hopefully you enjoyed them), know that they don’t happen every day unless you let them and redouble your focus to healthier eating and staying active as soon as you can.

If you’re hosting, give away all your unwanted, calorie-laden leftovers.  If you’re visiting, don’t take home any leftovers, unless it’s salad.  If the host and visitors are both reading this article, good luck!

Choose the tip that most applies to your situation, make a change, and enjoy a happy, healthy Turkey Day!  I personally give thanks for feedback, so please leave a comment below and let me know what tip(s) worked for you, and which didn’t.

The Wheat Belly Diet: A Relatively Independent Perspective

America: For Amber Waves of Grain?

America: For Amber Waves of Grain?
Photo by: -Marcus- at

First, my best wishes go out to all who have been affected by Hurricane Sandy.  May we all take the results in stride and take solace in the friends and family we have.

With the development of a hyper-connected culture (internet, Twitter, FB, etc.), new ideas can spread like wildfire.  Last week I learned about two of these ideas: Gangam style and the Wheat Belly Diet, both of which landed over the summer.  Amazing how even a couple months lag time really puts someone “behind the eight ball.”  So, of course I started to catch myself up.  Lots of amusing Gangam style parodies and wow, quite the firestorm of information regarding Wheat Belly.

While I will be the first to admit I haven’t read the book, I feel that the sheer strength of response to any remotely negative views on the diet shows there is a staunch, loyal following, similar to that of Atkins in the 1970’s and 1990’s.  Check out these sites for some lively, not necessarily science-based discussions on the topic:

Pro-Wheat Belly Backlash to Healthy Eats Blog Post
Anti-Wheat Belly Backlash from the Celiac/Gluten Sensitive Community

My views on wheat and gluten-free diets were previously discussed hereIf you are at all considering this diet, please read this well-researched review of the statements in Dr. Davis’ book.

From reading the reviews of the book and the advertising behind it, it appears that the current state of wheat (GMO, processed, etc.) is being depicted as the worst thing you can put in your mouth.  Not sure if someone’s done a randomized control trial comparing wheat to cigarettes or alcohol, but maybe one day.  In all seriousness, do you think there should be a wheat-aholics anonymous?

I agree that most foods in their current, GMO, processed forms are a pale shade of what they used to be.  We are indeed living in a different world than the 1970’s.  But we’ve been eating and living with wheat for centuries, dare I say millennia, without ill effects (obesity has really only been an issue in the past few decades, per those CDC graphs).  One thing that has changed in the past few decades is the amount of wheat (particularly heavily processed, GMO wheat) and other processed foods we eat.  Breakfast pastries and “energy bars” did not really exist 40 years ago.  So our bodies have adapted to our new food environment, in less than ideal ways.

So some people choose to get out of this poor food environment cold turkey.  And that’s what Wheat Belly proposes.  Just stop.  Some people can manage to do that and that’s fantastic.  I’ll always support cutting out processed foods and eating more fruits and veggies.  And frankly, if you cut out (or greatly restrict) one huge aspect of your diet, odds are you will lose weight.  But there’s a big issue that comes with restriction: sustainability.

For decades research has shown that the more we restrict our eating habits, the less likely we are to stick with any positive eating changes we make.  I just want to make sure you’re able to sustain any changes you make for the long haul.  And by long haul I don’t mean 3, 6 or 12 months.  I mean the rest of your life.  While it’s great to hear that people have changed their lives around over the past couple of months since reading this book, I fear that in three years from now this book will become another “fad” diet.

So what’s the best solution?  Well that depends.  I’m a proponent of the belief that our bodies really do best with a variety of whole-foods including fruits, veggies, healthy fats, lean proteins and whole grains.  Not processed, crappy grains, whole grains.  And honestly, wheat falls under the whole-grain category.  Ideally organic, naturally grown, non-GMO wheat.  In moderate quantities (i.e. not wheat at every meal).   We can die from too much water.  But that doesn’t mean we should stop drinking water.

FNCE 2012 Recap, Part 2: Do Happy People Live Longer? Food, Physical Activity and Happiness

Is She Adding Years to Her Life?

Is She Adding Years to Her Life?
Image: stockimages,

Session Speakers:
Dr. Ed Diener, leading “happiness” researcher & psychology professor, University of Illinois

Elizabeth Somer, Registered Dietitian and author of books focusing on food and mood

My Challenge To You: Do one of the following actions listed at the end of the post to naturally boost your happiness levels.  Then comment and tell me about how it went/how you felt.

As I have worked with more and more clients both as a strength and conditioning specialist and Registered Dietitian, I believe that my reason for being in this field is to enable people to live their best lives possible, through their physical activity and eating habits.  And in many ways, living your best life possible, whether it be moving pain free, having energy all day (even after a long day of work), feeling confident about yourself or enjoying time with others, all results in one key emotion: happiness.  For those who have not watched the movie “Happy”, I recommend it; it provides some great insights into the emotion of happiness, its impact on our body and what really makes us happy.

Interestingly, happiness research is relatively new in the psychology field.  Much of the historical research in the early and mid-part of the 20th century focused on understanding and managing unhappiness: dementia, depression and psychological disorders.  Analyzing what happens when things go wrong.  And as a result many therapies and medications have been developed to manage the problems of unhappiness.  Yet getting people “not unhappy” does not necessarily mean they will be happy.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s, researchers like Dr. Diener decided to take an alternate approach: what makes people happy?  And what are the effects of living a “happy” life?  Now practitioners like Elizabeth Somer and I have begun applying the results of this research to help people like you and me live happier, and healthier lives.

What makes people happy?

The results of Dr. Diener’s 20+ years of research, from observing, discussing and measuring happiness across different people and cultures across the world, has slowly distilled the pursuit of happiness into four primary traits/characteristics:

1. Close social, supportive relationships filled with respect & trust.

2. A realistic, yet positive outlook; seeing the glass as half-full.

3. Feeling able to fulfill personal needs (Maslow’s hierarchy).  Research contends that we’re trying to realize all of the different aspects of our personal needs simultaneously, not in a particular order (from food, clothing, shelter to fulfilling work and personal growth; Maslow 2.0).

4. Ability to have daily pleasures and uplifts; via daily interests, activities and pleasures.

Some additional interesting findings from his research:

The limits of money on happiness: Money can buy happiness…to a point, mainly based on how much it costs to meet basic needs of shelter/food/clothing/entertainment in your country.  For example, there’s a big difference in happiness for those making $7,000 and $70,000 in the U.S.  But there’s a much smaller difference in happiness between those who make $70,000 and larger sums like $500,000 and more.

Despite easily having the highest income of the 36 countries surveyed, the United States ranked 12th in life satisfaction according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (, beat out by countries such as New Zealand, Canada, Austria and Denmark.

Extreme feelings fade: When something amazingly great or devastating happens to us, we can’t imagine how we can ever be sad (if it’s good) or happy (if it’s bad) ever again…in that moment.  But as the saying goes, time heals all wounds, and fades all feelings.  Not all Super Bowl/World Series/Stanley Cup winners are happy the rest of their lives.  And we learn to move on and smile after losing a close friend or loved one.  In fact, many people share positive and happy stories at a funeral.  We have an emotional baseline that we tend to move back toward no matter what happens.

It’s not about avoiding lows, but instead seeking lots of little highs: Some people tend to focus on avoiding negative situations.  While that may help you steer clear of major disasters, being constantly focused on avoidance and risk management does not put you in a frame of mind to promote greater happiness.  In other words, you’re focused on treading water to avoid drowning rather than looking to learn how to swim and progress.  Rather than avoiding the negative, flip the situation on it’s head and start looking for positivity in daily actions and life.  Our brain and how it regulates mood is like a muscle; the more you flex it (think positively), the better it becomes at finding the positive in everything.  You’ll start to, “Always look on the bright side of life.”

The Results of Happiness

The long-term effects of happiness have been studied and measured.  Here’s a recap of some of the most notable results of being happy:

1.    Promotes social success.  People like hanging around happy, positive people.  Who wants to be around Debbie Downer? (intended as a fictitious name, if someone is actually named Debbie Downer, I am not referring to that person).

2.    Promotes workplace success.  Those who take the “I can” approach tend to get things done, work better in teams and create an atmosphere of positivity and success around their colleagues.

3.    Improves citizenship.  Most of us like to help others when we can.  When you’re happy, you tend to feel more empowered to help others, whether it be volunteering your time at a non-profit or even just holding the door for someone and smiling.  This makes them happy because you’re thinking of their well-being, and you get a boost from being helpful.  makes you happier for being helpful.  It’s a win-win.

4.    Improves health and longevity.  Dr. Diener’s research has shown that high subjective (as reported by the participant) amounts of happiness and well-being can promote health independent of our physical activity and eating habits.  In other words, the happier you are, the more likely you are to live longer.  In addition, feelings of happiness and well-being were associated with better eating habits, increased physical activity (a positive cycle), a better immune system, better cardiovascular health and possibly lower risk of some cancers.

Let’s all take a tip from Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t worry, be happy.”  Simple saying, not always easy to do.

Use Food & Fitness to Make Your Life Happier…and Vice Versa

Many people go through life anywhere from mildly to severely unhappy and accept it.  Why?  Maybe we have unrealistic expectations?  Maybe we don’t think we can do better?  Maybe we don’t really know what we want?  Regardless of the cause, being constantly unhappy is useless.

One of the best quotes of FNCE came from Elizabeth Somer in regards to feeling crappy/louse: “What are you willing to tolerate?”  And in response I ask, “What are you going to do about it?”  Nothing changes without action, so I challenge you to do one of the following to boost your serotonin/dopamine levels and get happier:

Focus on little wins – Start a journal and spend three minutes at the end of every day thinking about two health (eating, exercise, movement, etc.) related activities that you did well that day.  Write down at least two accomplishments or successes, no matter how small they may seem. Turn down a free cookie? Great!  Walk up a fight of stairs instead of taking the elevator? Awesome! Little wins add up over time.

Exercise one more time than usual this week – Do any type of activity you prefer; studies show that exercise can promote better feelings of wellness and lower risk of depression (happiness and exercise works both ways).

Eat whole-grain carbs – Our brain runs best on carbs, particularly types that breakdown slowly over time like whole grains (i.e. barley, rye, quinoa, brown rice, oatmeal) and starchy veggies (i.e. sweet potato, baked potato, fresh corn).  These starchier foods can be a significant part of breakfast (i.e. bowl of oatmeal with almonds and berries) and should be 25% of your plate at lunch and dinner.

Get fluid from water and foods – Staying hydrated keeps us alert, focused, less stressed and lowers our chances of headaches.  Which makes a positive outlook easier. While drinking water is always a great idea, remember certain foods are naturally very high in water: fruits and veggies!  Most fruits and veggies are actually over 90% water!  Eating fruits and veggies regularly throughout the day goes a long way in keeping you hydrated.

Sit, pay attention to, savor and appreciate your next dessert or indulgent meal – If you can’t sit and truly enjoy it, reconsider whether it’s worth buying.  We all need some sugar and fat in our diet; the key is having some, but not too much.  Elizabeth Somer likens it to currency: you get a daily sugar/fat allowance, how do you want to spend it?  Spend wisely 

Learn/practice a new food or movement-based skill – The better we become at something, the more confident we feel.  And the more confident we feel about ourselves, the easier it is to be happy.  Cook a new recipe.  Take another dance lesson.  Learn a new exercise at the gym.  Try a new fruit or veggie.

A second batch of non-food/physical activity ways to make yourself happier are on the way, stay tuned!