optimists remain more stable in the face of stress

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Is the glass half empty or half full? You decide. But a new study has revealed that your disposition can predict your experience of stress.

For six years, Joelle Jobin, et. al. tracked dispositional optimism and stress in 135 community dwellers over the age of 60. Their study, recently published in Health Psychology, assessed the participants’ self-assessments of their stress alongside their cortisol levels (a stress hormone). The researchers wondered if optimism could be associated with a buffering of the stress–cortisol link.

The participants were asked to place themselves along a continuum as optimists or pessimists based upon their own subjective experience of their daily lives. For three non-consecutive and typical days of the week, participants completed questionnaires and collected saliva (from which cortisol levels were measured). These levels were compared to each participant’s own baseline averages.

The study reports that, “A large body of research has shown that optimism ameliorates the adverse consequences of stressful life experiences on individuals’ well-being and health.” In this study, Jobin and the rest of her team found that, “…pessimists’ absolute stress levels were higher than their optimistic counterparts’…,” and, “… dispositional optimism can moderate the associations between psychological perceptions of stress and increased cortisol secretion in a community sample of older adults.”

What this means is, as Jobin explained to Concordia University, “On days where they experience higher than average stress, that’s when we see that the pessimists’ stress response is much elevated, and they have trouble bringing their cortisol levels back down. Optimists, by contrast, were protected in these circumstances.”

What does this mean for us? Similar to studies on luck, the mind is a powerful thing. The way you view yourself and the way your view the world has great impact upon your sense of well-being. So try to look on the bright side! It has high potential to help you, body + soul!


the proven benefit of writing

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Maybe there is something to this journaling thing!

For nearly the past 15 years, I have encouraged many of my patients to try engaging in some sort of creative expression in order to engage with themselves in a less inhibited way. Some jumped right on board, some were resistant. But almost invariably, those who gave it a wholehearted go eventually felt that it was useful and even cathartic.

I was excited to read about a new study, the first of its kind, that explored the power, and sometimes healing powers, of writing. While pushing generally inexpressive people to write about traumatic events can be counter-therapeutic, writing can be an effective outlet for those who are more expressive. For this group of people, writing can significantly speed up healing time, reduce stress, improve sleep and decrease stress hormones.

If you are a less expressive person, journaling may be something to work towards. But for those of you who are somewhat expressive, if shorter healing times, less stress and better sleep sound good to you, it may be worth trying!


marshmallows, revisited

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The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, has been the object of intrigue for decades. The focus of this series of studies was the exploration of delayed gratification. There have been many recreations, showing young children being presented with one marshmallow and the promise that if they waited and did not eat the marshmallow, the researcher would return with two marshmallows for them to enjoy.

The findings were spectacular! Four decades later, the children from the original experiment demonstrated a strong association between the ability to delay gratification (wait for the extra marshmallows) and their mental health, differences in activity in key areas of the brain, competence and success later in life. Overall, the participants who were able to wait were more successful later in life.

Celeste Kidd worked on a more recent study that highlighted an additional point – trust. The new study manipulated the reliability of the conditions and found that waiting for the promised extra treats was strongly correlated with the degree of trust in the conditions (the trustworthiness of the promise).

Kidd explained (as quoted by Rochester University), “Delaying gratification is only the rational choice if the child believes a second marshmallow is likely to be delivered after a reasonably short delay.”

It turns out that one’s ability to employ self-control is also influenced by external factors. Thus, delayed gratification PLUS a reliable environment offers insight into success later in life.


what is it like to be a male model?

Let me begin by saying that I am not at all opposed to the idea of modeling or to the industry as a whole. I do, however, believe that we can do a better job at creating a safe environment for these men and women and abolish unrealistic expectations that oftentimes push models to engage in destructive and dangerous behaviors in order to meet expectations and, quite frankly, to make a living. Sara Ziff addressed some of these issues in 2011 by founding The Model Alliance, an organization that looks out for the safety and wellbeing of models. My hope is that the industry continues to gain momentum towards empowerment.

Photo by Mathius Brandt

Photo by Mathius Brandt
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

In a recent conversation with my friend, Ryan Murray, he matter-of-factly mentioned something about being asked to stay “bulked up.” It made me wonder what it must be like to be a male model. I recall sparks of concern for male models after an emaciated YSL male model walked the runway this past January. We hear so much about what it is like for women to be in the modeling world but times when I’ve heard about the experiences of male models don’t come to mind as easily.

Ryan agreed to answer some questions about his experience in the world of modeling. Thank you so much, Ry, for sharing your experience!

How did you become interested in modeling? How old were you when you began?
My family entered my brother and I into a Modeling runway show when I was about 12 or 13 for Neiman Marcus and we both walked the runway, modeling Neiman’s hot fashion of the 90’s for youngsters!  I guess you could say that is where my interest began.  Then a few years later, in High School, I auditioned in a line of about 1,000 people at a cattle call for a Ralph Lauren runway show sponsored by Bloomingdale’s and Seventeen Magazine.  I was shocked when I was one of the 7 that were chosen from the crowd.  They said they liked my walk and that I had a stand out confidence!  I also had long-ish surfer hair and a pimpley sophmorish face… guess confidence really does shine thru!

under ladder

Photo by Gian Andrea Di Stefano
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

What do you like about your modeling career? Is there anything that you don’t like?
I like the different experiences it brings to my life, when the jobs do come around.  They are few and far between sometimes because the supply of “good looking male models” is WAY above the demand of jobs!
Things I don’t like:  I wish I worked MORE! 🙂

What do you like/hate about the modeling industry?
I like the opportunity it provides and the trends it sets!
I don’t like how the industry is so narrow minded. It is very hard for some to think outside the box and many models get the short end of the stick because we don’t “look” a certain way, weigh a certain amount, stand a certain height… beauty is subjective and when you do not get jobs because of one person’s idea of the “beauty” they are looking for, it can be hard to swallow.

We’ve all heard about the tireless scrutiny and pressures for women in the modeling world. What pressures do you encounter as a male model?
There are definitely pressures as a male model.  Staying in a specific weight class depending on the “type” of modeling jobs you want to get; underwear, sportswear, bathing suit, lifestyle, runway, etc.
Body image is a very HUGE part of the job and I find that I am always comparing myself to other male models and thinking that I must need to look like “that” in order to book more jobs.

Photo by Mathius Brandt

Photo by Mathius Brandt
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)

What pressures do male models encounter to alter their appearance? Bulking up, slimming down, losing body fat, etc.?
ALL OF THE ABOVE!  Before many photo shoots I will not eat, or not drink water in order to “shrink wrap” my skin and muscle per se.
Oftentimes, if a job listing calls for rock hard abs or something of that sort, I know there will be a handful of other male models that will have more or better abs than me so I make sure to work out even harder… then it will all come down to the type of look they want as well. “Ethnically ambiguous” is VERY popular right now!  So there are so many factors but when it all comes down to it, if you don’t look a certain way, whether beauty is a factor or not, you don’t get the job.
I always feel if I can just get bigger biceps or a bigger chest or a harder butt, maybe THEN I will be what they want. It’s a lot of pressure, self-inflicted some of the time I will admit, but pressure nonetheless!

Many female models have shared the experience of having to compromise their principles in order to get jobs. Do you encounter this same pressure as a male model?
Well there is definitely a “sex sells” mentality and it is NOT just with regard to women!  There are times I have been on a casting or even a job and advances are made and the thought goes through your head, “if I say no will I get the job?”  More often than not though this happens when models are trying to update their books and looking for good photographers to shoot them. Many times they will make advances or want you to be a bit more suggestive than you had planned on!  You never quite know, in the beginning, what is acceptable, a true threat, if it will get you hired, or if it’s just the “way of the biz.”

How does not succumbing to these pressures impact your career?
It puts you on the slow track, a more moral track, a more freed conscience sort of track!  Good things come to those who wait, or at least to those who stay true to who they are.  There is such a need to feel wanted, to feel talented, to feel like you have an equal chance, and it is hard not to do “whatever it takes” to obtain those things.

Modeling is one of the most objectifying and sexualized careers out there. Has this ever impacted your self-esteem?
Constantly!  Even today, I woke up feeling puny, untalented, out of the loop, all because I have not been able to muster up the energy to lift weights after all of the spinning I teach.  I sometimes feel like I will never get a job again!  “Bulky muscles” are the key to being attractive and getting noticed, the voices in my head tell me. It is a constant battle I face because my body is my package and I am constantly having to “reinvent” in order to feel relevant, attractive, etc.

What advice would you give to someone who was interested in a modeling career?
Be happy with who you are and remember, confidence and self worth REALLY DO SHINE THRU!
Even though I had a horribly red and pimple ridden face and long hair when I went to stand in a line of 1,000+ people for that Seventeen Magazine/Ralph Lauren runway show, it didn’t matter to me because I believed in myself and KNEW I could do it!  (I should take my own advice!)

Photo by Charles Victor

Photo by Charles Victor
(courtesy of Ryan Murray)


roll your body!

Whatever the time, whatever the weather, your body needs some love! I posted about foam rolling this past winter but it’s so amazing, I felt it deserved another moment in the spotlight!

One thing that I love to do all year round, but particularly in the wintertime, is foam rolling. Unless you’ve gone out of your way to foster a delicious relationship with this item, you’ve probably avoided it at all costs. Many describe the experience as excruciatingly painful. I was one of those people but stuck with it. Now I love that hurts-so-good feeling and have moved on to the rumble roller (which I can’t say enough about).

Here’s the rundown:
Myofascial release: fascia is a complex web of soft connective tissue located just below your skin. Muscle and fascia make up the myofascial system. This system can become tight for a variety of reasons and what you’re left with is pain, tightness and a restricted range of motion.

Foam roller: a very dense foam cylinder that can be used to massage the body, particularly on areas of tightness and on trigger points.

Put them both together: using a foam roller to roll out your fascia is just like getting a massage. What happens is this: imagine a sponge. Now imagine ringing it out so much that it becomes completely flat. When you add water, the sponge becomes thick and spongey again. That’s what foam rolling does. It compresses the fascia and rehydrates this connective tissue.

There are lots of ways to use a foam roller (disclaimer: if you have injuries or any concerns about engaging in this practice, you should consult with the appropriate professionals before doing anything). But if you’re ready and willing to give it a go, you can find a plethora of exercises on the internet. Also, Sue Hitzmann created the MELT Method® that can help guide you.

Consider it. And if not with foam rolling, find a way to open your body and joints. You can even take this moment, right now, to allow your shoulder blades to melt down your back, breathe deeply into your lungs, fill them with oxygen from the bottom, up and breathe out in one slow and controlled breath. Let go. Now repeat.


the struggle for control

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Control. People struggle to get control, to keep control, and conversely, people also struggle to let it go. But here’s the thing, It’s all been an illusion. You never really had it to begin with! That’s the good and the bad news. The bad news because there have been times when we’ve all wished we had more control. As for the good news, consider this: What if you actually did have absolute control over everything in your life? Imagine the responsibility and pressure it would bring. It would be too much for anyone to handle.

The reality is that we have very little control over most things. Yep, it’s true. What you can control is how you move through what life throws at you. So what now? For starters, you can stop trying so hard! Let go and reclaim some of the energy that was hemorrhaging into your struggle for control. Redirect it towards being in the present moment and doing the best you can with what you have in front of you.

It may be scary to consider this shift in thinking but if you give it a try, I’m confident that in time you will experience a sense of relief and empowerment.


teaching nutrition in school

by guest blogger Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE, of Mom Dishes It Out!

Like so many things affecting their children, parents tend to disagree on whether sex, sexual orientation or religion should be taught in school. Well, this mom (and an RD) often wonders if nutrition should be taught in school.

Teachers are not experts in nutrition nor are they educated about pediatric or adult nutrition as part of their college curriculums. Yet, many classroom teachers are giving lessons on “calories, good and bad foods, and even having students log their foods to see why they are so fat.” And I’m not making this stuff up. My client’s mother recently told me exactly what her daughter’s teacher had said to the class. If you’ve been reading my blogs regularly, you’ll easily imagine that at this point my nails are, at least figuratively, scratching the chalkboard!

Stop! Hold on just a minute! Do we even realize that these kinds of discussions and activities help create little food police and body dysmorphia? Moms, dads, teachers and kids: Do you know how many calories you burn in 24 hours? In 168 hours? Do teachers know how many calories kids are burning…especially since every kid hits puberty at a slightly different age? We typically do not know these answers; nor should we be obsessing with them. Also, do we really know if the calories on a package are correct? News flash: They are not being regulated and/or checked for accuracy! So why are we relying so heavily on these external measures? Be cautious and recognize that this black and white/all or none mindset is an unhealthy one. Instead, think about using an internal regulation system and try eating nutrient dense foods the majority of the time.

Most importantly, please know that foods are not “good” or “bad.” How can food be a moral issue? When you teach your children or your students that a particular food is “bad,” think about how they’ll feel if they eat the food. That’s right. They’ll not only feel bad and guilty; they’ll also probably start to hide these foods. Instead, try to make all foods neutral. For example, teach children that milk is milk. It’s a dairy product that is high in calcium and protein and comes from cows. Broccoli is a food that grows up from the ground and helps our bodies fight getting sick. Because foods vary in nutrient density, our bodies and kids’ growing bodies need certain foods more often to meet specific demands. You can describe each food’s nutrient density or just call them “everyday” foods or “sometimes” foods as described in my book, The Mommy Manual’s Healthy Habits.

And why are some adults teaching kids to identify how “fat” they are? Our children are already being bullied by their peers…and now they’re learning to tell themselves how bad they are! I say this because our society (not me personally) continually states (overtly or covertly) that “fat” is “bad”! Why don’t we teach children how healthy they are or how special they are?

Even First Lady Michelle Obama is singing this new tune. She has been quoted saying she does not discuss weight with her daughters, nor does she weigh them.

So, why not use something like what the children’s nutrition tracker calls “An Apple A Day”; it motivates our youngsters to eat their veggies and be active. My boys love this tool and have actually turned eating and being healthy into a friendly competition.

Meanwhile, it’s not just one misguided teacher who shares this “good” and “bad” food misinformation. Even one of my son’s teachers labels certain foods as “treats.” I have told my son I will no longer acknowledge this word as it indicates something special. For example, ice cream is a snack choice, not a special reward. The point here is that nutrition is a sensitive issue…especially in my world where I am privy to the teary-eyed triggers that influence the development of eating disorders. And yes, binge eating is an eating disorder. Most adults don’t have their own nutrition needs in order, so it’s particularly scary to me as a mom (and as an RD who cares about her clients) that nutrition education is being taught without regard to both biology and psychology.

I know…quit my yapping and do something! Right? Well I did…and I continue to do! First, I’ve educated my sons’ school on appropriate food language and they’ve made this information part of their Health and Wellness Curriculum. I recently planted strawberries with the students and talk food and nutrition with them on a regular basis. Second, and on a much greater scale, I’ve finally finished my 8-week plan for creating healthy habits for children. The complete program is available to download. Moms, dads and teachers alike can use this book for lesson plans and nutrition education on subjects such as what carbohydrates are or what qualifies as an “everyday” food. In short, teachers can teach about nutrition but should consider using a positive approach and promoting things kids can do rather than what they shouldn’t be doing. For instance, my sons’ school just made pancakes with blueberries and did a “dairy study”. The result: My picky boys came home eating blueberries and having tried goat’s milk. Now that’s what I call a beautiful educational experience!

So what do you think? Is nutrition education appropriate for school?

What positive programs are your schools implementing?

Would you like to share your nutrition education success?


stop worrying, it’s not going to help you!

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If you think that you might have something to worry about, don’t.

Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D. recently blogged about a surprising finding in The Huffington Post. He created the Legacy Project in order to find out what elderly people knew that younger generations didn’t. He and his team asked 1,200 men and women over the age of 70, “What are the most important lessons you have learned over the course of your life?” Answers consistently addressed time spent on worrying.

Pillemer shares some of the sentiments in his blog:
I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying.”
Don’t believe that worrying will solve or help anything. It won’t. So stop it.”

I recently heard someone say that, “worrying is like praying for what you don’t want.”

Truth be told, this seems universally easier said than done. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that one of Pillemer’s recurrent answers to his Legacy Project question reflects the tremendous amount of time and energy people feel they’ve wasted on worry over the course of their life.

So what can we learn? When we feel our wheels turning (and turning and turning and turning…) and the worry begins, we can use this as a reminder that worry doesn’t actually solve anything. It won’t get you to an unknown answer more quickly and it won’t help you prepare for what is ahead. Don’t waste your time dwelling and when you feel your marble rolling in that direction, stop it! Make an active, conscious choice to reframe your thoughts and focus more on what you do have control over. And if you don’t have much control in the situation at hand, then acknowledge that you are in a difficult place and try to sit with it. But don’t worry! It won’t help you!


raising kids after having an eating disorder

Raising Kids After Having an Eating Disorder
How to help children develop a healthy relationship to food
by Jodi Rubin, ACSW, LCSW, CEDS

(reprinted with permission from Seleni Institute, a nonprofit organization based in New York City that provides care, information and research support central to women’s reproductive and maternal mental health and well-being.)

Many women (and men) who have struggled with an eating disorder worry their children may be more prone to developing the condition. Research shows that heredity does play a role in anorexia nervosa and that genetic factors may influence the likelihood of developing other eating disorders. But there is no single cause, and elements from psychology to family environment and society at large are all factors.

The good news is that because you have personally gone through this struggle, you are more likely to notice the early signs and symptoms that others might overlook. In fact, if you’re recovered, you’re also more likely to have a healthy relationship with your body and a more balanced relationship with food. This will help buffer your child from external messages and cultivate healthy self-esteem.

We know that kids – especially girls – face great pressure from an early age to watch what they eat, no matter what their family history with eating disorders.

  • More than 40 percent of girls in first through third grade want to be thinner.
  • More than half of 9- to 10-year-old girls feel better about themselves when they are dieting.
  • An estimated 11 percent of high school students have been diagnosed with an eating disorder.
  • Almost one-third of teenage boys engage in unhealthy and dangerous behaviors to control their weight and the size of their body. This includes skipping meals, refusing to eat, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

What parents can do

Be a role model.
Send your children healthy messages about food and bodies. Children pay attention to everything you do. If you are critical of yourself and your body, they will believe that is appropriate. But if you are loving and accepting of yourself and your body, they will learn that this is appropriate. Avoid judging or talking negatively about your body (or anyone else’s). Mention the things you like about yourself and your body. Work toward creating an atmosphere of acceptance.

Ditch food rules.
Avoid diets and try not to categorize foods as “good” or “bad.” Don’t teach children to compensate for having dessert by saying you will just have a salad so you can order dessert, for example. Instead, focus on balance and moderation when eating all kinds of foods – including treats.

Raise critical thinkers.
The average American is exposed to more than 3,000 advertising messages every day. Talk to your child about what she sees. Look at advertisements together and ask her what she thinks the advertisers’ message is. Ask your child how these messages make her feel and if she agrees with them. Explain that most photographs are airbrushed, and it’s ok to enjoy these photos as long as she realizes they aren’t accurate representations of real people.

Be a buffer.
Provide alternatives to the negative messages that your child will inevitably receive out in the world. Help her focus on other ways to feel good about herself, such as taking pride in being a caring person and a good friend. Praising your child for who she is as a person reinforces these values and helps to build a strong internal sense of self – one that won’t be measured by the size and shape of her body.

Common signs and symptoms of eating disorders include:

  • Extreme shifts in weight
  • Using bathroom frequently after meals (to purge)
  • No longer menstruating
  • Distorted body image
  • Significant body dissatisfaction
  • Obsession with food, weight, and body image
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Preoccupation with food and exercise
  • Loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyable
  • Increased isolation
  • Mood swings
  • Depression, anger, or anxiety
  • Low tolerance for frustration
  • All-or-nothing thinking (believing nothing is good enough unless it’s perfect)

If you are concerned about your child’s relationship to food or her body:

Trust your instincts. You know your child. If you think something feels “off,” you’re probably right. She may not have crossed the line into disordered eating, but you are more acutely aware of the early signs because you’ve been there.

Talk to your child. Open the conversation by sharing what you notice and what concerns you. Approaching this issue sensitively, compassionately, and without judgment shows your child that you can be there for her in a safe way.

Get support. Reach out to a professional for support and guidance. The National Eating Disorder Association and the Eating Disorder Referral and Information Center are two trusted resources that can help you find support in your area.

Finally, if you feel you need to address some of these issues for yourself, or if you find yourself becoming overly concerned with what your child eats or how her body looks, it might be useful for you to consult with a professional as well.


how do you define beauty?

089 La Paz Butterfly 15

Merriam-Webster defines beauty as “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit.”

Pythagoras and Euclid attribute beauty to the geometric concept of the Golden Ratio (a+b is to a as a is to b). Science has even backed up the idea that this physical symmetry seems to be more attractive. But what does that mean, anyway?

So what really defines beauty? The good news is that it’s totally up to you! YOU define beauty. YOU decide!

How do YOU define beauty?
Do you define beauty by physical attributes that you have very little control over?
the size of your jeans?
the color of your hair?
the number on your scale?
your age?
your height?

Or do you define beauty by inherent characteristics?
how you carry yourself?
your morals?
your values?
your personal ethos?
your confidence?
your energy?
your character?

Consider what you find beautiful in and about others and what makes you feel beautiful. Are these things that you notice and value every day? How much do you focus on physical attributes? How much do you focus on inherent characteristics? What would it be like to focus more on who you are as a person (your innate awesomeness) rather than focusing upon your external appearance? How would that shift your relationship with yourself? How would it change the ways in which you interact with others and move through the world? Perhaps it’s worth experimenting with. Spend a day or spend a week making this conscious shift. What do you notice? How do you feel about yourself?

In the meantime, I want to know… how do YOU define beauty?