Donuts to Broccoli

18 08 2011

When my brothers and I were children (lo these many years ago), our mom went into the kitchen every night and cooked dinner for the family. We had beef, pork or chicken, potatoes, two kinds of colorful vegetables and, once a week or so, a homemade dessert.

Occasionally, noodles would take the place of the potatoes, but pasta never graced our table. We were Midwesterners, for crying out loud.

There was one obese kid in our school and we knew just a handful of obese adults. We didn’t know anyone who was undernourished, except as abstract beings brought into play when we didn’t want to eat black-eyed peas: “Don’t you know there are starving kids in (fill in the blank)? Eat your peas!”

It feels ridiculously self-indulgent to talk about obesity when families in Somalia and those escaping that land are starving, but there you are. Today I am thinking and acting locally.

Millions of obese Americans face health risks that could be eliminated or reduced by weight loss. Obesity impairs immune function and causes a host of other ailments. It’s time to step away from the donuts and embrace broccoli.

I used to cook a lot—experimenting in the kitchen was therapeutic. Then I became a parent. Between work and homework, the activities of two kids, and one incredibly annoying picky eater, I gradually found little time and less inclination to do anything in the kitchen besides microwave leftover take-out or “cook” a prepackaged dinner in the oven.

My weight has nearly doubled in the last 15 years and my kids are lethargic slugs.

When we were young, my brothers and I spent hours outside running and playing and were never tired. Long car trips were what exhausted us. Almost the opposite is true today—my kids can sit and text or surf the web or listen to their iPods for hours.

I physically feel the effects of obesity, and the guilt of not providing a healthier daily diet for my kids gnaws at me. Are any of you going through the same thing? Or maybe you were and you’ve found a way out? What did you do?

I bought some melon. And broccoli. And for once we’re going to eat them before they go bad, hiding in the back of the refrigerator.

Obesity is preventable. It’s time I got off my considerable rear end to do something about it for me and for my kids. And like it or not, they’re unplugging and getting off of the couch and out into the world.

If you have any suggestions, I’d love to hear them!

By Trish Parnell

Image courtesy of franςois @

Sssstress? We Don’t Got no Stinkin Stress!

6 06 2011

With twitching eye and slightly trembling fingers, I search online for the signs and symptoms (and treatment) of stress.

What exactly is stress? Most of us use the term, but it sounds like a catchall. There is a definition: Stress is what happens when forces from the outside affect us. When we feel stress, we release neurochemicals and hormones, which allow us to act (fight or flight).  If we don’t act, those hormones and chemicals can cause harm to the body.

Is stress an infectious disease? We don’t write much about topics that aren’t related to our mission, but come on, don’t you think some people are stress versions of Typhoid Mary?  Don’t we all have a friend or co-worker who zaps our stress button, thereby infecting us with stress?

And stress does impact our health. The Mayo Clinic breaks it down for us, explaining that stress can alter our immune system response and suppress the digestive and reproductive systems, as well as make us fat and depressed. There’s actually a long list of how stress can negatively affect us, but I’m too stressed to read it.

Research suggests there’s no magic pill that can prevent us from experiencing stress, but doing whatever relaxes you is the uninspiring prescription for relief.

It’s lame, but it does help.  However, what about getting stressed in the first place? What can we worrywarts do about that? Got any ideas?

What do you do to relieve stress?

Teens and Sleep – Unlikely Partners

19 02 2010

Got teens? Bet they groan and moan in the morning, too exhausted to speak.

When our teenagers don’t get the sleep they need, their drowsiness leads to traffic accidents, poor grades, and stronger, more negative emotions. The same is true for adults, but teens have a particularly hard time getting enough sleep.

How much sleep we get is closely tied to how well the immune system works. Not enough sleep, we’re going to get sick.

Just as sleep affects our immune systems, challenges to our immune systems (such as fighting a virus or bacteria) can negatively affect our sleep.

Although science has long recognized that sleep and the immune system do have a relationship, we haven’t really known why or how it works.  One study found that among mammals (humans are included in this category), the species that sleep the longest have the most white blood cells.

White blood cells help keep infection out and fight infection once it gets in to keep the body healthy.  It’s possible that sleep stimulates the immune system to make the white blood cells that fight infection.

To test the sleep/immune system connection, one researcher gave flu vaccines to a group of college students who had only slept four hours in the previous six nights.  Follow-up testing found that this group of students only produced half of the normal number of antibodies in response to the vaccine.

This doesn’t bode well for the 69% of high school students who don’t get enough sleep each night.  In fact, studies show that only 8% of teenagers get the optimal amount of 9 hours of sleep they need.

What keeps these kids up at night?  Well, social factors such as employment, activities, caffeine consumption, increased amounts of electronic devices in the bedroom, and early school start times are most often to blame.

Teens can turn things around by:

  • Prioritizing the demands on their time so that they get the sleep they need.
  • Establishing a bedtime routine by going to bed and getting up at a regular time. (In order for kids to get enough sleep, they should be going to bed before 10pm, although this may go against natural sleeping rhythms that occur during the teen years.)
  • Not trying to catch up on sleep on the weekends. Specialists think that it doesn’t work. Rather, they suggest teens sleep in a little later on the weekends, but generally keep their bodies in the same sleep-wake pattern they establish during the week.

How much sleep we each need is not an exact science, but there are guidelines and it’s worth it to try to get sufficient sleep.

The bottom line is that all humans need adequate sleep—it boosts our immune systems and keeps us healthy.  It also helps us live longer.  And, we’re not so grouchy.