Life Lessons from my Lab… GEORGE: Don’t always act your age.

GeorgeDog#2

“How is George this excited every time we arrive at the ranch? He acts like he has never been here before!”

We laughed aloud as we drove up the dirt road to the house. George was bounding out in front of the car. Though he had been here dozens of times, our older dog with white hair around his eyes and snout, was acting like a puppy. His paws kicked up dust as he sprinted toward the house. Suddenly, he cut hard to the left and pursued a jackrabbit for a couple of seconds, then veered back onto the road. His ears flapped in the wind, his tongue hung out of his mouth, and he was grinning from ear to ear. George’s pace did not slow as we pulled into the driveway and started to unpack the car. He continued to run around the front yard, tail wagging, as if to say, “We’re here! We’re here! What are we going to do first?!”

About an hour later, George was splayed out on the porch fast asleep. “He’s like a kid when he’s out here,” we commented as we turned in for the night, “young at heart.”

The phrase, “young at heart,” doesn’t even begin to describe the way George acts when he is in his element at the ranch. Though George is a dog, (Yes. I’m one of THOSE people that talks about her dog like he’s a person) the truth is that we can learn something from his example. A new research study in the November issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry* says that feeling younger than one’s real age could help to preserve memory and cognitive function as people get older. The men and women in this study who felt older than their age scored 25% lower on memory and cognitive tests than those who felt younger.

So, in the midst of the hustle and bustle of life, don’t forget to run, bound, get dirty, pursue a passion, let your tongue hang out, and your ears flap in the wind. Find something, someone, or some place that brings you joy and excitement and makes you grin from ear to ear. Allow yourself to play so hard that at the end of the day you are splayed out on the porch… exhausted and happy. And someday at 95 years old, when your grandchildren ask you how your mind is still so sharp, you’ll be tempted to answer with a smirk, “I just acted like a puppy.”

*Stephan, Yannick et al., Subjective Age and Cognitive Functioning: A 10-Year Prospective Study, The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry , Volume 22 , Issue 11 , 1180 – 1187.

“Doctor Speak”: How to understand what your doctor is saying

“Mrs. Jones, your CBC, BMP and TSH are all negative. Your BMI and LFTs are elevated and I’m worried about NAFLD so you need to diet and exercise more. You’ll need to stop taking the statins and I’ll order a RUQ US.”

Say What?!?!?!

Do you ever feel like your doctor is speaking in some secret code that you don’t understand? You’re not alone. About 90% of American adults have problems in health literacy. Health literacy is the ability to understanding information about your health but it has nothing to do with your intelligence.

Medical terminology is essential in the healthcare world, but it is often heard as gibberish by patients. This may be because often doctors speak to their patients as if they are speaking to another physician. I have to admit, I pride myself in being a good communicator to my patients but there have been plenty of times when I’ve said something and the look on my patient’s face clearly shows that I just rambled out a bunch of acronyms and abbreviations and I need to start over.

Health literacy is actually a bigger problem than most realize. Studies show that patients with low health literacy are more likely to be hospitalized, use medication inappropriately and receive fewer recommended preventative measures. So, before you go to another doctor’s appointment, here are 5 tips to increasing your health literacy.

  1. Ask questions. In fact, write down questions before your appointment. Most people have a lot they want to ask their doctors but by the time you wait an hour in the waiting room and the doctor starts with her own agenda, the questions usually are forgotten. If you write them down, you are more apt to remember and have your questions answered.
  2. Bring a list of all medications. This includes supplements, vitamins and all over the counter meds. It’s important for you and your doctor to know who is prescribing what meds and to watch for any potential interactions.
  3. Don’t pretend. If you don’t understand what your doctor is saying, stop immediately and ask her to use simpler language. Often patients are afraid to admit that they don’t understand medical terminology. It is absolutely ok to ask for clarification.
  4. Use reflective listening. This means restating what the doctor is saying. This will ensure that instructions are clear. Simply say, “Let me see if I understand. You are saying……”
  5. Take another adult with you. This should be a trusted relative or friend in order to have an extra set of ears and maybe to take notes.

The doctor’s office can tend to be an intimidating place. But it’s important to know that YOU are in control of YOUR health and your doctor is there to provide a service for YOU. Do not leave your appointment feeling unsatisfied. It truly could be a matter of life and death.

Keeping Your Young Football Player Healthy through the Fall and Winter Months…

Autumn…oh how we have missed thee! In Texas we only get to enjoy you for such a short time that we will wear our winter boots, sweaters, and jackets on days that Chicago and New York would consider laughable. We will line up at Starbucks for a pumpkin spice latte if the weatherman even whispers we may wake up to weather under 70 degrees. It is in these days that we lay off the water a bit because we don’t need it as much, right? WRONG it is also the days of good ol’ Texas football and our boys need to stay hydrated and healthy even through these months.

Did you know that heat stroke is one of the leading causes of death in athletes, yet it is largely preventable? Many of these strokes happen after the intense heat of summer in Texas as we do not have the luxury of ice cold fall days. We may wake up to 40 degree weather and by the time after-school practice starts we could be back in the 80’s. It is vital that our little athletes keep their bodies hydrated despite a slight change in the weather.

When an athlete exercises, the body temperature is elevated and the body sweats to cool down. Body fluids and valuable minerals (electrolytes) are lost, blood volume drops, and the heart works harder and harder to maintain blood pressure. More fluid is pulled from the tissues to make up the difference creating a dangerous condition. If fluids and electrolytes are not replaced, dehydration, and the risk of heat illness and death increase.

The choice of fluids depends on the activity and intensity. Water is very effective for activity bouts lasting less than one hour. Activities lasting more than one hour with multiple repetitive bouts in the same day require fluids containing carbohydrates, sodium, and potassium, which are standard formulations for commercial sport drinks. Remember that sport drinks are not health beverages, so improper consumption can lead to weight gain. But sports drinks are designed to replace fluids and nutrients lost during extended activity in the heat. Electrolyte replacement may take longer due to metabolic processes. Proper planning, fluid replacement, and education can not only make athletic participation less worrisome for parents but also more enjoyable for the athlete.

Here are a few tips to keep your kids healthy through the fall and winter season.

  1. Insist that they keep up the same water intake. If your young athlete takes water in a cooler to school daily make sure he/she does not change their routine. There is no need for it and this will encourage them to keep up this healthy habit as an adult.
  2. Encourage them to take water breaks often during practice.
  3. Try some new options – today you can get electrolyte infused water as well as coconut water at the grocery store, both are good sources for hydration and can add a little flavor as well.
  4. Go over heat stroke information with your athlete. Make sure they understand when to call for help. If they feel like their body temperature has gone up past 105 degrees or experience any of the below teach them to seek help immediately.
  • Throbbing headache
  • Dizziness and light-headedness
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Muscle weakness or cramps
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, which may be either strong or weak
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Behavioral changes such as confusion, disorientation, or staggering
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness

*Heritage’s original post on the dangers of heat stroke can be found here.

Parenting STINKS – How to maintain your sanity in those first weeks after baby…

As I stood in the middle of my kitchen holding a fussy four-week old, staring at a pile of dirty dishes, pondering when the last time was that I showered, I had a thought: Parenting STINKS. Where was MY new mom glow? Why didn’t my baby look like the perfect, giggly, Gerber ones on TV? Why did I feel like a ghost of my previous self? I was drained, sleep deprived, and seriously questioning God’s decision making skills in allowing me to care for another human being. I was obviously incapable of such a huge responsibility and the fact that I had made no immediate attempt to clean the poop sliding down my shirt was a clear sign that somebody should be driving me to an insane asylum immediately.

I could not, for the life of me, understand how I was not ROCKING this mommy thing! After all, I was the master of the multi-task. Why back in my day (6 weeks ago) I would have had this baby clean and primped, house clean, laundry done, and all while looking like I stepped out of Vogue magazine. Well, at least out of an H&M magazine – who am I kidding? What the heck happened to my life?? It was not one of my finer moments. Most of all, I was NOT enjoying the perfection of that tiny baby in my arms. I was not soaking in her smell. I was not memorizing the innocence in her face. I was not stopping to smell the poop scented roses ya’ll! And it was killing me. The thing is – the “stink” in my parenting had more to do with what was sliding down my shirt and less to do with what I was experiencing once I made a few adjustments. These tips helped me get out of a sleep-deprived fog and perhaps the can also make your new mom experience… well… a little less smelly.

1. TAKE THE HELP: Something about making it through the insanity that is labor and delivery makes us feel superhuman – as we should. You just went through one of the most excruciating experiences that you could ever put your body through. You did it! Your body did not fail you and you brought life into the world. WOW! You can do anything! Yes anything, but that does not mean you have to! It may feel like you can handle everything on your own after that, but the truth is it’s hard and you will only experience your child at this moment this ONE time in your life. You cannot get that time back once it’s gone. So when somebody offers to cook you dinner take that extra time to stare at that perfect little face you delivered. If somebody wants to do your laundry for you –take a nap so that you can enjoy every second with your little one instead of wishing you had some time for a nap. And when some saint offers to stay up with the baby over night so you can get a full nights rest…do a 30-second happy dance and get your tush to bed before they change their mind!

2. GIVE YOURSELF A BREAK: We have so much pressure in today’s society to do it all and do it well. We all have that mom-friend who makes it look so easy. The truth is all of us have different circumstances and I guarantee that just because that mom is not struggling with the same situation you are, she is struggling in another area. Stop comparing yourself to the supermom next door or on TV. Take some time to reflect on the challenges that are set before you and all that you have accomplished already…you already ROCK! So support the women around you who are struggling with their own issues and pat yourself on the back regardless of how many dishes you see or how much laundry there is to clean. You will get to it… but in this moment, enjoy the fruits of your literal labor—that bundle of joy.

3. BE REALISTIC: Having a new baby means you are not likely going to get a full nights rest or make it to most of those invites you keep receiving for showers and weddings and parties. Heck, going to the restroom for a few minutes can take some prayer and an act of God some days. Embrace it! One of my good friends told me words that I won’t forget – it’s just a season. One of the more challenging seasons but still just a season that will pass, and WAY faster than you want it to! You have a choice to focus on the sleep, sex, and “me” time you’re not getting or to try and soak in as much of it as you can before it all passes you by.

4. STOP GOOGLING: Being a new mom means a ton of unanswered questions. Heck sometimes you have a good answer but you want the BEST answer. Of course, we all want the best for our babies. The problem is when you are in a sleep deprived frenzy you check out all your apps, Google, BabyCenter, WebMD and any blog you can get your hands on to get an answer that might temporarily soothe you. You are so caught up trying to make sure you are doing something, anything, to get an answer you don’t stop to hear your own new mom voice. I encourage you to let the internet go, even for a week, and trust your instincts. You have some of those answers all on your own. Nobody knows your baby better than you. Seeking answers from so many different avenues can be more mind boggling than the question or concern at hand. Of course if you think your baby has a medical concern contact your doctor, but also allow your inner supermom to shine and allow yourself some room for mistakes. No mom is perfect but the mere fact that you would go to any length to find the answers for your child guarantees that YOU are perfect for YOUR baby.

5. VENT: Get out of the house for a few hours and get some fresh air! YES, you will think about your baby and it will be hard to walk away but give it a few minutes and you WILL feel better. Find a friend or neighbor and take a walk or get a manicure or even join a mom’s group that will allow you to get some things off of your chest. Talk about it with other mom’s-we totally GET IT. We have been there! Besides, dad and baby need some time to bond. A couple of hours away will do wonders to clear your head. A good chat with another mom will do wonders for your soul! Check out my new mom’s group below where you can meet other new mom’s, a therapist and even an MD. We are here for you too!

New Mommies Group Ad

The Mind-Body Connection

If you suffer from symptoms such as headaches, shortness of breath, chest pain or weight gain, your initial thought is probably not “I should evaluate my emotional health”. But in fact, our emotions have significant effects on our physical body. Psychological studies prove that our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. Therefore, good mental health can improve physical health and poor emotional health can cause a decline in physical health.

As a family physician, I would estimate that about two-thirds of my office visits are partly due to stress-related symptoms. What’s more, I have noticed that my patients with physical symptoms caused by stress-related issues almost universally have an extremely difficult time accepting that the root cause of the problem is mentally related.

For example, I have had numerous patients experience chest pain that, despite repeated testing, does not have a physical identifiable cause. Even with multiple visits to the emergency room, EKG’s, lab work and other testing, no cause for the chest pain is found. When I ask them about stress, 99% of the time they are anxious, depressed, or going through an extremely difficult time in their life. Yet generally these patients are reluctant to accept that the stress, worry and anxiety in their life are causing their physical symptoms. It often takes multiple visits, numerous tests and a lot time in discussion on how mental health can cause real physical symptoms. This phenomenon is called somatization – an unconscious process through which psychological distress is converted to physical symptoms.

What we don’t hear very often is that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death: 1) heart disease 2) cancer 3) lung disease 4) strokes 5) accidents and 6) Alzheimer’s. This is partly because the body does not distinguish between physical and psychological stress. Research shows that those who repress their emotions suffer more physically. One specific study shows that cancer patients who chronically avoid expressing their feelings die sooner and in greater numbers than those who freely express their emotions. The ways in which emotions are managed is one of the most relevant but least examined issues in medicine today. Despite all the evidence, unfortunately annual physical exams generally do not include an adequate assessment of emotional and mental health.

But, there is good news! You can take control of both your mental and physical wellbeing. The first step is to recognize the warning signs in order to prevent poor emotional and physical health. Symptoms such as memory problems, diarrhea or constipation, frequent colds, loss of sex drive, inability to concentrate and others could be a warning sign of poor emotional health. Once you recognize these symptoms, spend time reflecting on whether your emotional state could be contributing to these symptoms. Then, seek help from a medical professional, either a counselor or your physician. It is important that you express to your healthcare professional all of your symptoms including your emotional state. With ample insight into your overall health, you will assist your healthcare professional in properly diagnosing and treating you.

Am I Addicted to Social Media?

When standing in the grocery store line turns into a opportunity to check your Facebook messages or waiting in the doctor’s office is the perfect chance to scroll through your Instagram posts…you might need to pause and consider the impact social media is making on your life.

First, let’s make sure we’re all operating on a similar definition of social media. For the purposes of this casual article, we’ll consider social media as interaction among people in which they create, share or exchange information and ideas in virtual communities and networks.

So what social media outlets are you engaged in?  Facebook, Twiiter, Instagram, Vine, SnapChat, MySpace, blogs, Linked In, etc? They are avenues to interaction with other people…or are they?  Many people will unashamedly admit that they spend more time on social media, email, and texts than they actually spend talking to another human being WITH THEIR VOICE (i.e., face to face conversations, phone calls, meetings, dates, etc.)  Now before you think this is turning into an article about how to teach the younger generation how to learn people skills, keep reading.

I’m not suggesting that social media is wrong, immature, or mentally numbing. There are great things that come from social media: job interviews, connections with friends who live in other cities, product marketing…BUT I am proposing that we have to be careful how much, when, and why we take part in social media.

A few months ago, I found myself intrigued with an article in the January 2014 edition of Real Simple magazine all about this topic. They surveyed women to discover how they report feeling when they use social media: 19% reported that they feel “connected”, 19% entertained, 19% informed, 8% bored, 7% inspired, 7% overwhelmed, 6% relaxed, 5% inadequate, 4% jealous and 3% isolate. Wow! The effects of social media are definitely mixed…but did you notice that half of these reported feelings are emotions that people usually don’t want  to feel (bored, overwhelmed, inadequate, jealous, isolated). So why do we do this to ourselves?  What’s the gain?

While it definitely helps us to feel a sense of connection with friends, family, or long-lost school-mates, some might argue this is a false sense of connection.  Why false? Glad you asked.  When you are “connecting” (e.g., tweeting, posting, pinning, and vining), do you ever put the hard stuff out there…you know: the picture of yourself when you roll of out bed, the kids screaming at each other during mid-afternoon meltdowns, an image of your computer screen during another mundane day at work, or the pile of laundry that needs to get done. If you answer “no” to this, then you’re amongst the majority. So here’s the catch: we spend hours looking at or reading about each other’s pleasurable moments: the summer vacation scenes, the posed family pics, the new baby sleeping, or someone’s new house… but we don’t know what’s really  happening in their lives. Maybe the family on vacation had a horrible fight over dinner. Perhaps the new baby sleeping is one born to parents after multiple miscarriages. What if the new house is full of dishes to still get washed or laundry to be done.  You get it yet? To really connect with someone requires us to see the whole picture.  Otherwise, we might be tempted to compare our not-so-pitcture-perfect lives with someone else’s and wonder how we get there.  I’m NOT suggesting that you get off of social media…unless that would be a healthy experiment for you. I AM proposing that we use it wisely: considering our motives, it’s effects, and the reality behind it.  Also, I’m recommending that we see it for what it is: an avenue towards real relationships but not a substitute for them.

So maybe you’re like me and you notice that you have a tendency towards social media addiction. What do we do about it? Digging deeper into the practical implications of the Real Simple January 2014 magazine article, I followed a link to one author’s recommendations. She had several recommendations for people who are looking for ways to reduce the allure of social media in their lives.  A full list of her ideas can be found here  Amongst my favorite, practical ideas were these:

 Sign Off for a Weekend. A two-day respite isn’t enough to cure you of your habit. You’ll still be anxious when you return to the onslaught of electronic messages, says Larry Rosen, Ph.D., the author of iDisorder ($16, amazon.com). But a little time away from the screen reminds you how nice life is sans status updates.

Check With Purpose. Most of us wander onto social media aimlessly—usually when we’re bored. To cut back, set a higher bar for logging on. Ask yourself, Do I have a specific, positive reason for this? If you can’t come up with one (say, wanting to see a relative’s wedding photos), resist the urge and do something that will boost your mood, like calling a friend or diving into an engaging book.

Be a Tough Editor. Before you post a status update or a photo, question your motive: Are you just trying to prove that you’re having a good time? Is this the fourteenth picture of your baby that you’ve posted this week? If the answer is yes, try chatting with a friend or texting the picture to your mom. You could also jot down your thoughts in a notebook, or if you’re somewhere lovely, sketch the spot….Posting a photo has the opposite effect: You stop thinking about your experience and start contemplating other people’s responses to it.

I’ll add one to the list that has been useful for me.

 Choose a time and set a timer. Decide when you’d like to take some time to engage in social media and then set an alarm clock on your phone or computer to limit the endless online wandering.  I’ve found that I’m more intentional about what I am looking at and which social media avenue I’m on when I know that my “time” will be up in five or ten minutes. This way, I still get the pleasure of “catching up” on people’s lives but I’m not wasting hours perusing photos of people I haven’t talked to in years. It also frees us up to be present in real-life social situations. Just last month I found myself actually having a conversation with a woman in the waiting room because I wasn’t staring at my phone. I found it refreshing to sit and talk!

The Anxious Athlete: Practical Techniques to Help Alleviate Your Child’s Fear

Every parent of a child who competes in any sporting event has most likely witnessed some level of pre-game jitters. Sports anxiety isn’t just for the professional athletes, especially considering the emphasis that our culture places on success and competition. That’s right, kids are more than just a little susceptible to pre-game pressure. This nervousness can either be channeled as a driving force of motivation or as a paralyzing numbness they can’t seem to shake. It’s important to remember that at least some degree of nervousness before and during a sporting event is completely normal. But, if the anxiety gets out of hand, there are a few strategies that may be helpful to alleviate the stress. Three of the simplest exercises associated with sports related performance anxiety are visualization, mindfulness, and breathing.

We’ll start with the easiest of the three- breathing. I know this sounds like a suspiciously simple solution, but when you help your player learn how to exhale effectively, you may be surprised at the outcome. Sports psychologists call this “performance exhaling”. Teach your child to experience the relaxation response that accompanies an intentional exhale. This technique can be useful in situations both on and off the field and can be practiced nearly every day. Once your child is able to associate the intentional exhale with relaxation, he or she can apply it during a game as a part of settling into the batter’s box or while approaching the free throw line.

This next technique involves visualization. Have you even been lining up a putt while thinking “don’t hit it left, you hit it left last time, don’t hit it left”? Chances are good that you ended up hitting it left. Think about it- the only information your brain was getting was left, left, left. Teach your child to 180o those thoughts and visualize what they DO want to do, instead of what they don’t want to do. When the night before the big game comes, encourage them to focus on and actively visualize not just hitting line drives, but the specifics of what goes into hitting that line drive: where the ball hits the bat, head down, elbow in, and “squishing” the bug with their back toe. Encouraging your child to visualize the positives, or what they would like to happen, also offers them that mental training that no amount of time in the cages can accomplish.

The third technique for reducing your child’s pre-game anxiety is mindfulness. I realize this concept sounds a bit “new age-y” or possibly too advanced for a younger child. I assure you- helping your child develop mindfulness in age-appropriate ways is an excellent strategy for regulating any emotion, including pre-game jitters. For most of the older kids, the act of being mindful involves not just intentional breathing and visualization, but being actively aware of these experiences. Encourage your child to pick a moment before a sporting event. This can be breakfast the morning of a big game, loading up on the bus before heading to the stadium, or crossing the white line while running out onto the field. This is the moment that all the tension, all the anxieties, all the fears get put on the back burner and focus is turned onto the task at hand. The act of narrowing down the field of focus can result in your child reaching a peak-performance state, or what pros call “the zone”.

Helping to ease your child’s sports related anxiety can be achieved in a lot of ways. Sometimes, a child may only need a reassuring smile to feel better before the big game, and the best way to get to know the needs of your child is by creating and maintaining open communication. Whether you’re raising a 6 year old athlete or a 16 year old athlete, helping to reduce the pre-game jitters using these techniques will instill in them personal coping skills that will last a lifetime.

10 Stress Busters for Finals Week

Finals are just around the corner! But there’s no need panic. In fact, when studying for finals, panicking is totally counterproductive. So if you feel your blood pressure start to rise, try some of these strategies to stay calm under pressure.

1. Breathe!!! – When you hold your breath, you increase the neurotransmitter adrenaline. Adrenaline is great for regulating your metabolism, making roller coasters exciting, and helping you run quickly if you are ever chased by a tiger. But, adrenaline is the enemy when you are anxious, it can induce panic!  Try breathing in for 7 seconds, holding your breath for four seconds, breathe out for eight seconds.  Then repeat four more times.

2. Start studying early – The earlier one starts studying, the better. There is nothing worse than cramming the night before the test and realizing that you are out of time and you can’t find your study guide. Insufficient study time is one of the biggest underlying problems for students who suffer from test anxiety. When you start studying early and hit a roadblock, you will have time to ask for clarification or tutoring.

3. Find a furry animal – Playing or snuggling with a dog or cat has been so effective in reducing stress that many universities around the world have started having a “puppy room” during finals week.  It’s a room full of puppies!  How can that not be relaxing???

4. Go for a walk or a run – Whether you are a marathon runner or a strolling through the park kind of a person, get outside and go.  It’s great to step away from the books intermittently and moving around will increase the blood flow to your brain.

5. Drink plenty of water – Many people overload on caffeine during finals week.  Caffeine has been linked to increased anxiety and panic attacks.  Drink plenty of water!

6. Make time for your passions – Take a 15-30 minute break to do something you are passionate about.   Taking time for music, dancing, friends, and sports can rejuvenate your soul.

7. Get plenty of sleep – People think that it is wise to pull all-nighters when studying for finals.  It’s real simple: you don’t sleep, you can’t think.

8. Take a social media break – Anxiety is contagious.  If you are reading all about your friend’s anxiety about finals, you will start to feel it too.

9. Study with friends – Choose a (not completely anxious) friend and study together.  You can divide the work, quiz one another, and help each other when the work is confusing or difficult.  Also, one of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

10. Get your parents to chill out! (Tell your parents to read this part.) “Are you studying?” “Why aren’t you studying?” “Do you care that finals are just around the corner?” “You don’t have time for that, start studying!” CHILL OUT PARENTS!!! Anxiety is contagious! Students are hearing about finals from every teacher, all of their friends, their friends’ parents, and all of your neighbors, etc. Your child is fully aware that finals are approaching and EVERYONE is anxious about them! In a calm manner, ask your child what you can do to help them. Offer to bring them healthy snacks, quiz them, take a walk with them, and help them get organized. Finally, find something absolutely ridicules to laugh about. Laughter is a wonderfully fun stress reducer!

Beyond the Usual Brown Bag Lunch

It seems like every time the TV transitions to a commercial, we are stuck watching the latest ad for where to find the best back to school deals on school supplies, trendy clothes, or sports physicals.  If we manage to escape the ads about these deals, there is no doubt we will be bombarded with the newest kid-friendly snack boasting its “kid-tasted, mother approved” status or newly added flavors.  So, as we prepare to head back to school in just a few short weeks… or maybe days for some of you… how do we prioritize and navigate this complicated question: What should I feed my children for lunch this year?

For some kids, a lunch provided by the school is not an option or is not acceptable.  So, many parents and caregivers worry about what to make or pack children for lunch. To prevent last minute panic or a return to the “same old thing,” I recommend having a repertoire of eight to ten lunches that work for your child. This can prevent boredom, promote variety, make shopping easier, and reduce the stress sometimes associated with packing a healthful lunch.

These tips can help make filling your child’s lunch box less stressful:

  • On a Saturday or Sunday when you have some minutes to spare, make several containers or baggies of items to include in your child’s lunches for the week (for example: baby cut carrots, grapes, dry cereal, dried fruit).
  • Organize your storage container drawer and have a staging area set up with everything you need in one place, including: at least two lunch boxes or brown bags per child, plastic baggies, storage containers in all sizes, spoons and forks, napkins, straws, thermos or water bottle, and a marker.
  • Buy 8-fl-oz bottles of water or fill several water bottles, and keep the refrigerator stocked for the week. In the summer months, you may choose to freeze these so the ice is melted into cold water by lunchtime.
  • Know what to pack
    • It’s OK if your child likes to have a conventional lunch that includes a sandwich, fruit, vegetables, snack item, and a drink.
    • If your kid prefers to “pick” and does better with yogurt or cheese, for example, make sure you balance the meal so that it contains protein, fruit and/or vegetables, some carbohydrate, and fat.
  • Involve your child in packing the lunch, as much as possible. Older children can often prepare and pack their own lunch with adult supervision.
  • If you are planning to pack dinner leftovers for lunch, pack the storage container as you are cleaning up for dinner. This saves time!

Here are a few fun menu ideas:

  • Unconventional sandwiches: hummus and whole-wheat pita bread; falafel; low fat cheese wedges and whole grain crackers; sunflower butter or almond butter on gluten-free toast; whole grain wrap filled with vegetables and cheese or nitrate-free deli meats.
  • Conventional alternatives to sandwiches: dinner leftovers (meat/chicken/fish/pork with sweet potatoes or a healthy side such as quinoa or tabouleh, vegetables); leftover pizza on whole grain crust with spinach and other bite-size veggies; soup or stew.
  • Unconventional alternatives to sandwiches: whole grain and low sugar cereal from home in storage container (just add milk); scrambled eggs or hardboiled eggs; Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola; homemade quiche; bean based chili with chicken; ¼ to ½ cup of nuts (if allowed at your child’s school); homemade protein smoothies (frozen the night before to defrost by lunch time); bean salad.
  • Fruits: apple, pear, banana, grapes, berries, oranges, grapefruit sections, cherries, pineapple chunks, melon, pomegranate, guava, papaya, tangerines, clementine, fruit salad.
  • Vegetables to eat raw, steamed, or with dip such as hummus or guacamole: cucumber slices, celery, carrots, green beans, snow peas, blanched broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower, grape tomatoes, beets, corn, salad.
  • Snacks: 100% all fruit leather, ¼ cup sunflower seeds, baked sweet potato chips, multigrain crackers, homemade granola bar, whole grain graham crackers, unsweetened applesauce, multigrain chips or tortilla, unsweetened dried fruit, nuts (if allowed at your child’s school), plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp local honey, banana chips, dried peas.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for the upcoming days of your students’ eating needs. If you would like more individual coaching on this topic or your child has specific needs such as food allergies or food sensitivities, please call us at 713-365-9015 to set up an individual nutrition consultation with Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Professional Counselor, Danielle Mitchell.

*Some ideas from this article are adapted from material included at http://www.nutrition411.com. For other helpful nutrition resources, visit the Toddler and Kid Center tab on their website.

Do I have Food Sensitivities?

You are feeling sick…again!  It is the second time this week that you’ve developed a migraine and you can’t get rid of that intestinal discomfort. Maybe you haven’t been able to fight off that runny nose or cough for the last month.  Perhaps you’ve battled the aches and pains of arthritis for years now or you can’t seem to determine why your 8-year-old has another patch of psoriasis on his skin.  You’re exhausted and tired of going to doctor after doctor to discover why all of this is happening.  You’ve done skin prick allergy testing, tried medications, used all of the new lotions, and eliminated gluten or dairy to see if it would fix it…but nothing is helping!

Does this feel familiar?  If this is similar to your story, perhaps there is more to it than food allergies or medications.  Why is it that the routine allergy tests did not provide any positive allergy results, yet you notice that you or your child are still “reacting” to certain foods such as wheat or dairy?

There is a difference between food allergies and food sensitivities. Food allergies show an IgE reaction which cause acute (usually severe, short-term) reactions that typically result in swelling, choking, or other terrifying symptoms. Food allergies do not always show the source of the problem. The most common food allergies include tree-nuts, eggs, soy, dairy, and wheat. However, traditional food allergy tests do NOT identify what we call delayed or hidden (Type II, III, or IV) hypersensitivities.  This means that someone can test negative to many foods as allergies. However, he/she might have a food or chemical sensitivity: the body’s immune system has an inappropriate response that might cause a delayed reaction.

In the case of a sensitivity, the body recognizes the food or chemical substance as a foreign intruder and will attempt to fight it off. This fight can damage white blood cells which then produce potentially damaging and reactive materials in the bloodstream. If enough of this damage occurs over time, the body’s weaker organs or systems produce symptoms that are rooted in these delayed hypersensitivities.   The following are some examples of potential delayed hypersensitivities:  migraines, multiple sclerosis, ringing in the ears or earaches due to autoimmune meniere’s syndrome, rhinitis, recurrent cold and flu symptoms, asthma due to hypersensitivity (not primary diagnosis), irritable or inflammatory bowel symptoms, eczema, psoriasis, arthritis, fibromyalgia, etc.

There are many approaches to discovering hypersensitivities. As the Registered Dietitian at Heritage Behavioral Health Consultants, I utilize the LRA (Lymphocyte Response Assay) by ELISA/ACT®. The LRA is a procedure that identifies signs of immunologic overload and delayed reactions.  The LRA is a simple blood draw (provided off-site) and the procedure is relatively simple.  It entails a 12-hour fast followed by a one ounce blood draw.  Depending on which panel is chosen, the laboratory measures reactions to as many as 400 items from the following: foods, additives/preservatives, environment chemicals, toxic minerals, molds, danders, hairs, and feathers, medications, therapeutic herbs, and food colorings.

After an initial consultation with a dietitian and a subsequent off-site blood draw, the client meets with the dietitian again to plan how to accurately avoid the substances using an elimination and rotation diet. The strong reactions are avoided for 6 months while the moderate reactions are avoided for 3 months.  After 6 months, a monitored reintroduction of the previously reactive foods can be planned. This type of nutrition planning can be complex and limit social interactions, so it’s not for everyone. However, it is a great tool for people who are weary of looking for an answer to their health conditions  and are ready to make some more complex changes.

For more information on how to pursue LRA testing or to schedule an initial nutrition consultation with a dietitian, please contact us at 713-365-9015 or email heritage@heritagebehavioral.com.