A Comprehensive Health Guide

From our team of medical, fitness, nutrition and mental health experts.

A Comprehensive Health Guide

From our team of medical, fitness, nutrition and mental health experts.

medical Health

Exercise

Healthy Eating

Food for Fuel

Mental Health

Medical Health

by Dr. Gary Visser, MD, FAAFP, CAQSM
Metrics to watch:

Medical Health

by Dr. Gary Visser, MD, FAAFP, CAQSM
We’re all placed into a specific demographic, based on age, gender, or race. But you are unique. By being clumped into a group, one that hypothetically could range from 0-10, you may be a 1 or a 9 and what works for a 5, may not work for you. If we all fit into a defined box, then there wouldn’t be multiple diet plans, like the Keto diet, intermittent fasting, or even the Mediterranean diet. Instead, we would all be able to lose weight with one plan. But each of our bodies is unique. So being placed into a demographic is limiting your ability to truly take control of the ideal you.
Your temperature may run around 97F and when it goes up to 99F, for you that could mean something is wrong, even though you don’t fit into the classification of a fever at 100.4F. Or your heart rate may run in the 50’s. So if it goes up to 90 at rest, that could mean a heart problem that would not be flagged by the general demographic normal range of 60-100. If you’re having trouble taking control of your health and getting to the person you know you can be, you may need to stop following what works for the general population and focus on your specific health baseline. 

What is your health baseline?

What is your
health baseline?

It’s the unique and specific physical and health characteristics that make up who you are. It’s your resting heart rate when you’re asleep, it’s your fasting blood sugar, it’s your blood pressure when you’re not stressed out, your core resting temperature, your metabolic rate, how you process the nutrients in the food you eat, your average hours slept each night, your good and bad cholesterol. In reality, it’s your family history that shapes your DNA, caloric intake and your activity level.

There are a lot more health parameters that can be evaluated. But with the introduction of wearable devices, which are helping to motivate and objectively record these health parameters, we can now take control of our health. We can do this not only to prevent significant health problems, like a heart attack or stroke, but to also monitor for acute problems at home that could be treated earlier.

It’s the unique and specific physical and health characteristics that make up who you are. It’s your resting heart rate when you’re asleep, it’s your fasting blood sugar, it’s your blood pressure when you’re not stressed out, your core resting temperature, your metabolic rate, how you process the nutrients in the food you eat, your average hours slept each night, your good and bad cholesterol. In reality, it’s your family history that shapes your DNA, caloric intake and your activity level.

There are a lot more health parameters that can be evaluated. But with the introduction of wearable devices, which are helping to motivate and objectively record these health parameters, we can now take control of our health. We can do this not only to prevent significant health problems, like a heart attack or stroke, but to also monitor for acute problems at home that could be treated earlier.

So how do you start to find your health baseline? Here are some tips.

Start with the Basics

Start with the basics” your vitals.That includes your heart rate, blood pressure and how many breaths you take per minute (called the respiratory rate). With COVID causing respiratory problems, getting your pulse oxygen level has also become important. All of these are easily checked with an at home blood pressure cuff, either one that goes around your arm by your bicep, or one on your wrist. If you use the one that goes on your wrist, make sure to keep your wrist at heart level when using it and take the average of three checks.
It is also best to check your vitals in the morning, before the stress of the day, to get a good baseline for you. A finger pulse oximetry device is also easily used by just placing it on the end of your finger for a few seconds and the oxygen percentage in your blood shows up on the device. Some newer wearables are also able to check this level for you throughout the day or on demand.

Know Your BMI

Your body mass index (BMI) is another important health baseline to know. This is checked by dividing your weight in pounds (lbs) by height in inches (in) squared and multiplying by a conversion factor of 703. (Weight/height2) x 703 = BMI, or you can use an online BMI calculator. It is supposed to tell us if we’re underweight, normal, or overweight/obese. However, it doesn’t differentiate between muscle weight and fat. This is where you would want to add your body fat percentage and lean muscle mass weight to monitor with your BMI.

Get More Sleep

Sleep is one of the most important things we can do besides our diet and activity level. The recommended amount of sleep for an adult is seven or more hours per night*. However, some people only need six hours per night, and some may need 10 hours of sleep to function the next day. Knowing your sleep health baseline is important for your body to rest. It also helps with memory and focus, too.

Get Your Labs Done

Labs are another important part of your health baseline. Knowing your fasting blood sugar level and your good and bad cholesterol are helpful to optimize your health. These numbers are a combo of your DNA makeup and lifestyle. Adding a metabolic panel, electrolytes, liver and kidney function, as well as vitamin D can help you chose a diet, lifestyle plan and supplements specific to your body’s individual needs.

Add Wearables to the Mix

With so many available wearable options out there today that range from smart rings to smart bracelets and even popular apps for your smartphone. They all collect your health data, such as your activity level, pulse, sleep, sit/stand and more.
But what do you do with all this info? How can you use this overload of information to take you out of the limiting broad demographic and move you into the unique individual sector? As outlined above, creating your health baseline is the start, next would be narrowing your normal range down and monitoring for data points that go outside of your baseline range.

Exercise

by Parker Condit, Co-Founder Modo Bio, Personal Trainer

Exercise

by Parker Condit, Co-Founder Modo Bio, Personal Trainer
Metrics to watch:

Health, Fitness, Performance & Exercise

Let’s start with a few distinctions between these words as they are commonly used interchangeably and while they are similar and related, there are a few important differences, at least in my mind. Exercise is a means to build the pyramid below.

Health is the base or foundation of this pyramid. The more robust the foundation, the better off you’ll be regardless of your goals. Longevity, sport-specific performance, disease mitigation, looking better naked, improving sleep, lowering distress and having more energy will all be achieved more easily if you focus on exercise for health purposes to build that foundation first.

Fitness is the next level up on the pyramid. Once you’ve built a baseline of health, now you can make a more targeted effort towards your goals. However, starting with fitness and skipping health is like first learning to drive a car on a racetrack. You maybe be able to pick an efficient line, find the apex of corners, and drive comfortably at 150 mph, but you’re going to have a hard time doing the basics like parallel parking, navigating four-way stops and driving the speed limit. At the end of the day, you’re probably going to end up with a lot of speeding tickets and generally be considered a risk to society.

Performance is the top tier. To truly improve, you will have to make calculated trade-offs from Health in order increase performance. A few examples: Cyclists will sacrifice upper body muscle mass in order to increase relative power on the bike. Power lifters will decrease joint range of motion to increase overall strength and joint stiffness. Bodybuilders will sacrifice hydration and a healthy relationship with food in order to achieve body composition goals.
The reality is that most people never need to get to this level. This is for professional athletes, aspiring athletes, and those with an extreme desire for competition. If your goals are to have more energy to keep up with your kids or to start taking better care of yourself, then you’ll never need to touch the performance tier. In fact, it’ll be detrimental to your goals.

So what types of exercise should be done to improve Health?

There are big rocks that should be included in any sort of exercise regime to improve health.

1. Learn and Master The Movements

Exercise is a skill in and of itself. It will take time to acquire and then master the skill for each of the fundamental movement patterns that comprise almost all exercise programs. Not every workout should be the effort equivalent of scaling Everest. Sometimes the focus should be on getting better at the movements instead of doing as many reps at high intensity as possible. The return on investment of learning how to perform movement with a level of mastery cannot be understated. The primary patterns are:
    Breathing
    Hinge (deadlift)
    Squat
    Vertical Push (overhead press)
    Vertical Pull (pull up/seated pulldown)
    Horizontal Push (chest press)
    Horizontal Pull (seated row)
    Rotation (chops/lifts/throws)
    Triple Extension (jumps)
    Core
Charles Poliquin, a man who coached Olympic athletes in 30 different sports, once said, “The basics are the basics for a reason. And you can’t beat the basics.” I couldn’t agree with this more. Spend time learning the basics and it will serve you well for the rest of your life.

2. Play The Long Game: Low Intensity Cardio

Almost everyone knows that they should do some form of cardio. But there’s usually a lot of ambiguity around why exactly its important. A way to judge low intensity (without technology) is to use one of two tests. Can you speak in complete sentences? Can you breathe exclusively through your nose? If you can do either of those two, then you are probably working at the right level of intensity. If you cannot, the intensity is probably too high and you may be missing out on the desired benefits of this type of exercise.
So what are those benefits?
  1. A more efficient heartbeat. One goal of this is to increase the amount of blood your heart pumps out with each beat. For this to happen, there needs to be enough time between heartbeats to allow the heart to expand and fill up with blood. More blood pumped out with each heartbeat makes the ole ticker much more efficient because it won’t need to beat as often to supply the same amount of fuel (oxygen) to your muscles. If you’re always working at higher intensities, this expansion and growth of the heart is never going to occur. This also sets the stage for making your body much more efficient at using fat for energy.

  2. Increased fat utilization. Your body has a variety of ways of producing energy. The most well-known are fat and glucose or blood sugar. There are others, but for the scope of this guide let’s focus on those two. The body can use fat for energy and it’s a very efficient process, however it takes a while to turn that fat into usable energy. Blood glucose is the other primary fuel source and while it’s a slightly less efficient, it can provide energy extremely fast. Your body is very clever in that it recognizes the current demands of the body and decides which fuel source to use.

Elevated heart rate and heavy breathing equals high stress. And you need energy fast.
Glucose, you’re up! Lower heart rate, controlled nasal breathing equals lower stress. And you can use a slower source of energy. Fat is the obvious choice. I harp on this because of the boom in high-intensity class studios that have gained popularity over the past decade. Think CrossFit, Orange Theory, F45, Barrys Bootcamp and the like. While there are plenty of benefits to these high-intensity style workouts, building the strong foundation of a more efficient heart and increased fat utilization are not part of that list.

This is a practice of delayed gratification. Spend the time now to build the foundation, and the benefits you gain from higher-intensity workouts will be significantly greater down the line.

Plan For The Future: Resistance Training

It’s an unfortunate fact that after the age of 30 bone density starts declining and after 40 muscle mass starts declining. One of the strongest indicators of longevity is grip strength. That’s a bit of a red herring since that could be interpreted as “I just need to train my grip strength and I’ll live longer.” Grip strength is really a proxy for resistance training or that of an active physical lifestyle. 

If you spend time lifting weights or carrying things around on a regular basis, increased grip strength will be a natural byproduct of that behavior. I already touched on a few reasons why resistance training matters for health. Increasing bone density and maintaining or increasing muscle mass is vital to our overall health. For these two targets, there is nothing better than resistance training. Below is a quick tutorial on how our body responds to resistance training (or any stress for that matter).

– Stress is applied to the body. In this case lifting weights applies stress to our muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones.
– If the stress is great enough, your body says: “Holy crap, that was unpleasant. We need to prepare for that in the future so we’re ready for it next time.”
– Your body then repairs and builds additional muscle tissue and over time increases the density of your bones to be able to handle the stress of lifting weights. This is the adaptation you’re looking for.
– You continue this process. Eventually, the amount of stress you originally applied is no longer enough to elicit the “Holy crap” response from your body and instead, your body stops adapting.
– Now you have to apply a new level of stress to elicit another adaptation. This can be heavier weight, more reps, slower reps, less rest, or a variety of other factors.

I think of resistance training for muscle mass and bone density in the same way I think about investing for retirement. It’s better to start late than never, but ideally you start investing early, so you don’t have to be as aggressive later on in life.

Women: In the 5-7 years following menopause, bone loss can be as high as 20%. Start “investing” early!

Earlier in the low-intensity cardio section, we went over how that form of exercise can help increase how much blood is pumped out with each heartbeat. While that is important for heart health, it’s only half of the equation. Before we were talking about increasing the size of the heart (more expansion, more blood). 

Resistance training helps provide the other major benefit by increasing the thickness of the muscles in the heart so they can contract with more force. When you’re weight training, there is increased blood pressure throughout the body. [Don’t worry that is a transient rise in blood pressure. In the long-run, exercise lowers blood pressure.] However, with more blood pressure, the heart has to contract harder to push blood out of the heart against that elevated blood pressure. 

This makes the muscles of the heart stronger and thicker, just like any muscle in the body adapting to a certain amount of stress applied to it. So the combination of weight training and low intensity cardio is going to go a long way in keeping your heart healthy throughout your lifetime.


There are many additional benefits to resistance training, but the final interesting benefit is what it does for you from a metabolic standpoint. Regularly lifting weights makes your muscle tissue more insulin sensitive, which means you need to pump out less insulin to shuttle the same amount of blood glucose into your muscle tissue for storage. The largest storage banks for blood glucose in your body are muscle tissues. So the more muscle tissue you have, the more glucose you can clear from the blood stream. Lower average levels of glucose are a good overall indicator of health.

Also, immediately following resistance training your muscles can actually allow blood glucose into the tissues without insulin at all. For reference, there’s evidence around chronically elevated insulin levels being linked to most of the major disease states in this country (heart disease, diabetes, pre-diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and metabolic syndrome). In short, it’s a good idea to keep insulin levels in check. 

Adding muscle mass through resistance training does that extremely well. Let’s be clear, you don’t need to look like the hulk. So how much is the right amount of muscle mass for each person? It will depend on things like gender, age, % of visceral fat, insulin sensitivity or resistance, glucose levels, and a variety of other factors. Essentially, it is on a person-by-person basis, and you will need an attentive professional or professionals to help narrow down the right level for you.

So I’ve checked all the boxes in the health category, how should I increase my fitness?

Well, unfortunately, I have to provide a very frustrating answer – it depends. It depends on your goals, exercise history, injury history, level of motivation, the type of exercise you enjoy, time availability, and whole host of other variables. There is no one size fits all approach. Even the “big rocks” in the health bucket are quite broad because everyone is different. To apply a singular approach to everyone is one of the reasons there are so many people frustrated with a lack of results in this country.

“This program promised me X and I didn’t get the results I wanted.” Exercise programs marketed towards a broad, sweeping audience are going to end up with a lot of square blocks being forced in round holes. It’s simply not the right fit for you.

Even if it is the right fit, there could be other factors at play preventing you from reaching the goals you set out for yourself. The perfect exercise program (I don’t know that this actually exists) for you could be getting sidetracked by a sedentary lifestyle, poor sleep, an underlying hormonal issue, a suboptimal nutrition plan or poor stress management. Everything is connected within your body so it’s important to consider all the factors involved. We just did an introduction to the tenants of exercise, but exercise should never be approached in isolation when it comes to your overall health.

The reason we explored exercise at such a deep level is because exercise can often be the catalyst for other changes in health. You may want to recover faster or get the most out of the benefits of resistance training, so you make changes to your nutrition. A lack of results from exercise may drive someone to prioritize sleep hygiene or explore the possibility of a hormonal imbalance with their physician. Exercise and mental health are also inextricably linked so adopting a breathing, meditation, or mindfulness practice may be easier after getting the ball rolling through exercise.

The things we went over are the things you can control from an exercise perspective, and it can’t be overstated how important it is to take ownership over the things you can directly control.

Healthy Eating

by Brandi Propas, MHSc, Registered Dietitian
Lifestyle Factors:

Healthy Eating

by Brandi Propas, MHSc, Registered Dietitian

Healthy Eating

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a lifestyle change. Diets don’t work. “Dieting” achieves short-term weight loss but does not address the issues people face as they work towards a healthy weight.

The key to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is a behavioral and a lifestyle change. It’s getting out of the mindset of following a meal plan or a diet for just 6 weeks and then going back to “normal.” It’s all about changing what “normal” is. It’s learning new ways to cope with the underlying issues such as depression, self-esteem, busy lifestyles and even negative childhood associations with food.

Most importantly, it’s a change that happens slowly and over a longer period of time. As the saying goes, the tortoise, not the hare, won the race. Creating a new lifestyle is much more challenging than dieting. But it’s also much rewarding and effective in the long run.

So, how does one start on their lifestyle journey?

The key is to start small. Like you might for a business venture at work, you start with SMART goals. SMART goals are ones that are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.
A goal of “I want to eat healthy” is too broad and doesn’t give you any direction as to where to start and what to achieve, means it also sets you up for failure. A goal of “I want to cut out soda and replace soda with water over the next two weeks” is a goal that is achievable. You may falter along the way and have a couple of sodas one day, but that is part of the process.

The goal is still there and one or two days of faltering does not mean you won’t be able to achieve your goal. It just means you are human and creating new habits takes time. It is also important to establish only a few goals at a time. Establish those new lifestyle changes first, before conquering others. Attempting too many changes at once quickly becomes overwhelming and unrealistic.

How do you choose the goals you want to set?

Start by taking stock of your eating habits – and be honest with yourself. This is often the hardest part of any journey. Many of us like to think we eat healthy and just can’t figure out why we are gaining weight. Yet we forget about that one glass of wine nightly with dinner, the afternoon cookies at the office, or all the fries we eat off of our child’s plate. Many times, it’s making the small changes that combine to make the biggest change.

Also think about with what is most important to you. If having coffee and cookies every afternoon at work is a routine you enjoy, don’t make that your first priority. Focus instead on the lack of vegetables you eat and start to eat salads at lunch more regularly. Your current lifestyle is also important in helping you choose the goals for your improved lifestyle. If you work shifts, eating dinner before a certain time is not a realistic goal.Planning ahead and bringing dinner with you to work to avoid the high-fat processed canteen food may be a much more realistic goal.

What does Healthy Eating Mean?

Now that we’ve discussed how to go about setting healthy eating goals, what does healthy eating actually mean?

There isn’t a singular definition of healthy eating. But most experts will agree that it means eating a variety of foods and making balanced food choices that help you to achieve and maintain physical, emotional and mental well-being. In striving towards a healthy eating goal, it is also important to remember that there is no singular behavior or eating pattern or practice needed to achieve this. The healthy eating journey is individual to you and your circumstance.

While the healthy eating journey is individual, there are some common themes to focus on that will help everyone on their journey. Here are some that you may want to consider adding to your regiment.

Vegetables and Fruit

Only one in ten Americans meet the recommended fruit and vegetable servings*. That is a shockingly low statistic. Fruits and vegetables provide us with essential vitamins, antioxidants and fiber which help reduce our risk of developing chronic diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes and heart disease, not to mention reducing the risks of contracting of certain types of cancers.

There are easy ways to add fruits and vegetables to your healthy eating plan. Fruits can be added to cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt. They can also be blended into a smoothie for a quick on-the-go snack. Or you can simply enjoy freshly cut slices of ripe fruit. When people think of increasing vegetable consumption, they picture having to eat bowls and bowls of salad. While salads are a great way to add vegetables, there are other creative ways to add veggies.
Veggies can be roasted, stir fried with your favorite spices, added to a stew or chili, blended to make soup, added to a smoothie, or eaten raw with a sauce for dipping. Just adding some cucumber, lettuce and tomato to a sandwich, or veggies to an omelet, helps to increase vegetable intake. Remember, it’s the small changes that add up. Adding fruits and vegetables doesn’t need to cost a lot, either. Finances are often listed as a main reason for a low vegatable and fruit intake. Fruits and veggies do not need to be organic to get the health benefits. What’s more, frozen fruits and vegetables work just as well as fresh ones (and they are a lot cheaper).

When choosing vegetables, try to get a variety. Ideally there should be a minimum of two different types of vegetables – or two different colors of vegetables – on your plate. Vegetables are like a rainbow; they come in all colors. Those colors actually correlate to different nutrient, primarily antioxidants and phytochemicals (the nutrients that have cancer fighting properties). The more colors on your plate, the greater the variety of nutrients you are getting.

As you work towards incorporating fruits and vegetables into your healthy eating pattern, you’ll also want to work towards increasing the portions sizes as well. One of the easiest ways to do this is to use a concept referred to as “The Plate Method.”

Following the “Plate”

The Plate Method is a simple way to ensure that at meals, you’re getting the right combination of food groups and nutrients. Think of your plate as having three sections: one for vegetables, one for starch and one for protein. The biggest section of your plate is vegetables. 

In fact, veggies should take up HALF of your plate. The rest of the plate is shared between starch and protein.Not only does this way of meal planning ensure we get a sufficient amount of vegetables, it also ensures that we don’t get too much starch or carbohydrate (carbohydrate is the main macronutrient found in starchy foods). Carbohydrates are not bad for us – in fact the nutrient provides us with energy. But we tend to eat too much of this nutrient, which prevents us from achieving balanced meals.

Switching to Whole Grains

Reducing Sugar Intake

Another important change on your healthy eating journey is to decrease the amount of added sugars in your diet. When taking stock of our eating habits, we often forget about the liquids we consume yet sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) are one of the main contributing factors of added sugars.
Did you know that 50% of Americans consume an SSB on a daily basis*. Considering that a 355 mL can of soda has eight teaspoons of sugar in it, this is a huge contributing factor to excess sugar intake. An extra-large fountain drink (the kind you get at movie theaters or gas stations) can have up to 21 teaspoons of sugar.
The consumption of SSBs are associated with increased risk of diabetes, obesity and heart disease*. It’s not just soda that contains excess amounts of sugar: juice can have just as much sugar as sodas do. Remember your small steps: if you consume three sodas per day, reducing down to one and replacing the others with water will have significant positive implications on your health. Once that behavior change is established, you can work on eliminating soda completely.

Including Healthy Fats

Many of us have grown up hearing the rhetoric that fats are bad. It is important to distinguish between the types fats, as some fats are actually very healthy for us. There are two types of fats: unsaturated and saturated fat. Unsaturated fats are primarily plant-based fats and are found in foods such as olive oil, nuts and seeds and avocado. Omega-3 fatty acids, found in fatty fish, are also a type of unsaturated fat. 

These are fats are heart healthy fats and should be included daily in you healthy eating plan. Including a small amount of healthy fat with each meal also helps with satiety and therefore portion control. Saturated fats are primarily found in animal foods. It is not necessary to cut out saturated fats. But you should consider replacing some saturated fats with unsaturated fats to reduce your risk of heart disease and to improve your cholesterol levels.

To help reduce saturated fat intake, you should also consider the following:

   Choose baked not fried foods.

   Remove excess skin from meats.

   Limit higher saturated fat foods like bacon, processed meats and cheese.

   Choose lower fat dairy products and limit snacks foods like fries and chips.

Reducing Sodium Intake

The final area to focus on in your journey is sodium. We need sodium. But like many of the other nutrients we have discussed, we tend to get too much. The average American consumes 3400 mg of sodium per day, whereas the recommendation is 2300 mg/day*. Much of our sodium intake comes from packaged and processed foods. By preparing more homemade meals, you can help reduce your intake. Watch foods such as sauces, and seasoning mixes. Instead flavor your foods with fresh or dried herbs and spices.

Putting it All Together

We’ve just gone over a lot of things to consider on your healthy eating journey and you may be feeling overwhelmed. If you are, remember to go back to what we spoke about at the beginning and to start small. Start with one or two SMART goals and focus only on those. Remember, making lifelong, sustainable changes is a journey, not a race. It takes time, patience and self-forgiveness.

Food for Fuel

Gary O Hanlon, Executive Chef:

Food for Fuel

Gary O Hanlon, Executive Chef: Chateau du Coudreceau, Loury France

Cooking should be fun. But for those who don’t find it fun or for those who find it difficult, we at Modo Bio want to give you hints, tips and tricks to make your life easier and to take the fear out of cooking. For almost 30 years, I’ve taught many people how to cook and I continue to learn myself.

As time goes on, we’ll share recipes and helpful ways of preparing, storing, cooking, freezing and serving food, so that you can improve your skills in the kitchen. Meal planning and menu cycles are a great way of saving you daily trips to the store. They also help you avoid eating the same things over and over. Most people who diet, exercise and generally lead a healthy lifestyle see food as fuel and not for pleasure. Especially pro-athletes.

This doesn’t need to be the case.

I’ll talk about ways of speeding up the process while also sharing knowledge you can use to extract as much flavor as possible from whatever it is you are cooking. Make every meal an enjoyable way of adding body fuel with this helpful information.

Mise En Place

Mise en place is a French culinary phrase which means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” This is a common term that most Chefs will be familiar with. This popular French term basically means preparation. You know, all the slicing, dicing and measuring you need to do prior to cooking. Chefs love lists and are meticulous about their preparation.This is a great habit for you to get into in the home setting as well. 

If you’re following a recipe, always read through the entire recipe before doing anything. Not all recipes are written by an organized chef or home economist. Quite often, important details are left out. E.g. preheating an oven is common, and is something that can cost you 45 minutes if it’s not stated in the recipe. Reading through the recipe before you cook really gives you a feel for the dish and it can be of great help.

Time is something that we all need more of. Many people rush from one thing to another, and time is of the essence. Saving time at every opportunity is a good thing. I’ll share with you here some of the tricks I use.

Never cook two days in a row. Basically, always make more food than you need. I always cook enough of whatever it is I’m making to cover three dinners. One for that day, one that I can amend to create a different dish (think turning Bolognese ragu into lasagna) and one batch to freeze for a rainy day.

Always think of the freezer. I tend to cook in bulk when it’s a dish that freezes well. Not all foods freeze well but those that do are massive time savers. Also, freeze in single portions. If you live alone or with just a partner freeze in small batches, so that if you need to defrost food you don’t need to defrost it all at once. Remember, once it’s defrosted, it can’t be frozen again unless it’s raw food, which you cook. For example, you can defrost a piece of raw chicken, cook it and then freeze the cooked dish but you can’t defrost the raw chicken, forget to use it and then place it back in the freezer.

Always have a wet paper towel. Use this or damp dishcloth under your chopping board. It’s extremely dangerous to have a chopping board that moves when in use.

When seasoning, simply season what you see. Do this minus 10% of what you think you need. In other words, always leave room for more seasoning. When I talk about seasoning,I don’t just mean salt and pepper. Seasoning can come from salt, pepper, herbs, spices, citric acid, sugar, vinegar and other elements. Try not to over complicate things. If you’re on a low sodium diet, using herbs and spices will help give you added depth of flavor to a dish, and there is no doubt that eating wholesome, home-cooked food is a lot more likely to happen when you enjoy the flavor.

Always take notes. Keep tabs on what you add to dishes and what you cook. In moments where your imagination can let you down, it’s always a great help to take a look over some notes from some previous successes.

Taste. Taste. And Taste again

Invest in one or two good knives. Remember, buy cheap and buy twice. Blunt knives are a greater danger than very sharp ones.

Buy a heavy based cast iron pot. This is a fantastic addition to any kitchen. It’s perfect for one pot wonders, and they create an excellent balance of heat which allows for slow cooking.

What to Buy & When

To begin with, think dry goods. Good quality fine sea salt (it’s worth noting that you can use less salt if the quality is there) and ground white pepper. Also, make sure to stock up on whole black pepper in a mill. Always buy spices whole when possible, and dry pan roast what you need prior to using them. This way, they’ll be as fresh as they come.

Dried beans, chick peas, barley, couscous, lentils, split peas, rice, cornmeal are all good to have to hand, too, and they have a good shelf life.

When buying fresh seafood, avoid Mondays. Day boats rarely go out on weekends. This means that Monday’s fish is quite often Friday’s fish. Tuesday through Saturday is best with Tuesday and Friday being the most ideal days to buy seafood.

For meat and poultry, simply buy with good dates and from reputable sources.

Always have what you plan on eating for the week written down and ingredient lists done so as not to over buy.

Use these helpful tips I’ve offered you here, and you can create delicious and wholesome dishes that are also good for you. Not only that, you’ll be fine-tuning your cooking skills and learning valuable tricks of the trade. In no time, you’ll be cooking gourmet meals for you and your family.

Mental Health

By Beth Freese, MS, LPC

Mental Health

By Beth Freese, MS, LPC
Metrics to watch:
Mental health refers to one’s psychological, emotional and social functioning. Mental health includes our wellbeing across categories such as cognitions (thoughts), emotions (feelings) and behaviors (actions). It includes our ability to cope with stressors in our daily lives and supports ability to adapt to life’s pleasures or challenges. Mental health is important because our mental health impacts everything we do – from how we interact with others to the decisions we make, all the way to how our minds and bodies feel.

Research shows that the mind and body are connected – and treating it as such is incredibly useful across one’s health journey. Often times, people are overly focused on their physical health without any awareness to the connection between the mind and body. It is important for readers to understand that if we are going to be looking at maintaining good physical health, then we must look at our mental health. In order to establish a good mental health baseline, it is first necessary to understand the importance of mental health.

Mental health helps you:

   Cope with daily stress
   Process thoughts and feelings
   Interact with others, build or sustain relationships
   Decrease illness; physiological or psychological
   Work productivity
   Establishing a strong sense of self
Now that we have defined the importance of mental health, let’s look at what it means to establish a mental health baseline. In order to get a good picture of your mental health baseline we’ll take a look at your functioning within specific categories.

Ask yourself questions related to the following:

   Thoughts (helpful or harmful)
   Emotions (helpful or harmful)
   Behaviors (helpful or harmful)
   Relationships (self, others, world around you)
   Work (productivity, input and output)
   Stress (management, adaptability, resilience)
   Emotion Management (resiliency, coping)
   Physical Health (exercise, nutrition, physiology)

Mental Health Maintenance

Now that we’ve reviewed categories that are helpful in establishing a mental health baseline, let’s take a look at what mental health maintenance means. Mental health maintenance refers to one’s ability to maintain their psychological, emotional and social wellbeing. As discussed, mental health effects the ways in which one copes with stress, connects with others, and makes decisions. Maintaining a healthy baseline, or working to enhance one’s already established baseline, might be considered useful and helpful for anyone that is on a health journey.

Finding balance across mental health maintenance can be challenging, especially as life gets busy. But there are simple skills and tools you can apply to your daily living that will help maintain your desired level of functioning.

Activities that help maintain healthy psychological wellbeing:

Activities that help maintain healthy psychological wellbeing:

   Mindfulness
   Meditation
   Breathwork
   Yoga, Tai Chi, Gentle Stretching or Movement
   Journaling
   Positive affirmations, positive self-talk
   Reading
   Healthy, clean eating
   Engaging with loved ones
    Boundaries (internal and external)
    Setting goals

While these are just a few activities that you can engage in that will help maintain your previously defined mental health baseline, there are many more. It is important to balance and maintain your mental health because this determines your ability to function and cope with all of life’s daily stressors, as well as set the tone for your ability to meet your goals. Similarly, our mental health directly impacts our physical and physiological health and well-being, so if we focus on one, then we must focus on the other.

Mental Health Balance and Accomplishing Goals

Mental Health Balance and Accomplishing Goals

Now that you have developed an understanding of your mental health baseline, as well as the importance of mental health maintenance, the best way to achieve mental health balance would be by setting measurable and achievable goals.

Before you can enhance your mental health and wellbeing or maintain your current gains, you must first establish some goals that help you do so. There are 5 factors that come into play when setting goals (S.M.A.R.T).
    Specific (simple, sensible)
    Measurable (meaningful, motivating)
    Achievable (attainable)
    Realistic (reasonable)
    Time bound (time-based, time-sensitive)
It is helpful to set goals with these factors in mind, otherwise we risk setting general, nonspecific goals, which are harder to accomplish and can actually worsen one’s mental health due to the repercussions that come from not meeting one’s goals, such as self-sabotage or a self-fulfilling prophecy. We want to start by introducing simple change into the system, so it can adapt to the changes we give it. Often times people set goals that are too big, too broad, or too different, e.g.: “I’m not eating dessert anymore.”
Instead of: “I’m not eating dessert anymore.”
Try: “I’m going to have fruit for dessert for 5 days.”

Instead of: “I’m going to run 5 miles every day.”
Try: “I’m going to walk 15-30 minutes every morning or evening for 7 days.”

Instead of: “I’m not going on social media anymore.”
Try: “I will give myself 1 hour of social media, per day, for the next 10 days.”

Factors that influence one’s ability to accomplish goals may include:

    Mindset (helpful verse harmful thinking patterns)

    Emotions (helpful verse harmful emotional experience)

     Language (Self-talk, inner dialogue, i.e., I can’t vs I don’t) 

     Motivating factors (internal (for you) vs external (for others))

What does this mean? For example, say you have a goal of weight loss, but you’re struggling to lose weight. A simple change you could make is to start drinking water every morning upon waking. This is one simple change that you can introduce into your daily functioning that won’t overwhelm your system, and messages to yourself that you are working towards change and increase physical health.

Often times, we get in our own way of accomplishing goals. We set the goal too far out of reach and are left dumbfounded when we don’t meet it. One skill that is likely more helpful than any other skill is mindfulness.

Incorporating the practice of mindfulness into one’s health journey is the difference between skimping on the final three minutes of your walk or completing your walk in its entirety. The act of mindfulness allows us to gain awareness and pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, and actions which are the primary drivers and decision makers of if we accomplish our goal(s) or not.

Setting goals, specifically for mental health, can feel overwhelming. But it doesn’t have to. If you focus on creating SMART goals, you give yourself the opportunity to meet your goals, all while enhancing your mental health and moving up your mental health baseline.

Growth equals goals. If you’re not setting goals, you’re not growing. Start small and you will reap the benefits of what happens when you focus on your mental health.

Focusing on your mental health, and what it means to have a mental health baseline and maintain it. This allows you to experience outcomes that may otherwise not come to fruition or may not be as desirable. Positive outcomes of working on your mental health include increased boundaries with yourself and others, improved communication skills, healthy interpersonal and intrapersonal relationships, healthy sleep patterns, health nutritional habits, and increased ability to focus on other areas of growth such as your physical or physiological needs.

A healthy mental health baseline allows you to focus on these areas with ease verses working on these areas all while breaking down barriers or working through old habits. No matter what your desired goals in health are, you are the primary target. Develop your regimen with you in mind and you will experience much more rewarding results.

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