Messages from the Universe: Pay Close Attention for Yours!

We’ve all heard the expression: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

I hope the audience of this blog immediately countered with, “Eileen, you’re NOT old!”

But, sometimes I sure feel old, especially when I need to learn a new trick that has to do with anything digital!

But I can – and have – and will continue – to learn new tricks. (Pinky swear!)

When I was a child, I was taught to NEVER use the phrase “I HATE…” followed by anything!

“I hate liver; it smells putrid when it’s cooking!”

“I hate my nose, even if it is a family ‘gift!’”

“I hate Susie Q; she’s mean and always picks on me!”

“I hate digital products! I just don’t understand them!”

For years, I hated the Internet, Social Media, anything to do with computers or DIGITAL products (including, but certainly NOT limited to clocks, watches, microwaves, TVs, DVD players, iPods, mobile phones, cameras, and on and on!)

And now, whenever I’m faced with buying or upgrading this or that digital “thing,” I’m ashamed to admit I still resist!  I dig my heals in, rail at the universe, shout at the top of my lungs, “Why me?”

Over and over, when my personal growth relates to new gadgets and gizmos, I create RESISTANCE. I reject the gifts laid at my feet by an expanding, changing and growing Universe. I fight POSSIBILITY!!!

Mostly because I dread the Herculean mental s-t-r-e-t-c-h required to learn new-fangled technology. I hear the voice in my head saying it’s “too hard”, “too complicated” or worse, I tell myself I don’t need this new knowledge because I have “enough” knowledge!

Thankfully, as I was reminded this past week, the Universe is forgiving. And she knows how to motivate me to keep me plugging along!

From time-to-time, she rewards my perseverance and commitment to overcoming a stubborn, limiting belief by dropping something precious right into my lap. No fanfare, no hoopla – just a simple sign or connection. Often, I’m totally unaware I’m even waiting for this sign, until after it happens. And this, though I’ve turned my back time-and-time again to her.

Sunday, October 17 was the 3rd anniversary of my stepson Brendan’s death. He died from a heroin overdose at the age of 26 after battling multiple addictions to drugs, alcohol and gambling since he was in his teens. I try not to focus on my losses or to stoke my melancholy when it strikes, but I’ll admit throughout the day last Sunday my heart was heavy and my mind kept wandering down the long and winding road called Memory Lane. By evening, I decided to post something on Facebook to acknowledge the significance of the day for me, yet I didn’t want to seem morose.

Then, I remembered that my daughter Hayley had chosen to play a song at Brendan’s viewing, one that would be considered a very non-traditional choice: “Keg on My Coffin” by The Pushstars. However, three years ago when she’d played the song on that sad, sad day, I immediately understood her choice and completely concurred with it!

So, Sunday night I logged onto YouTube and found a video of Chris Trapper, the lead singer for The Pushstars, singing “Keg on My Coffin” accompanied by just his guitar.

“Perfect,” I thought, and quickly posted the link on my Facebook wall with my message.

A little while later that evening, I noticed I had a Facebook friend request. Then in total amazement, I looked at the name and for a second I thought I must be imagining things. For there, right in front of me, was a friend request from none other than Chris Trapper himself! He must’ve seen my post, I thought, but HOW?

I quickly accepted his friend request and wrote a private message to Chris. After several back and forth messages to each other, all in quick succession, I had my answer!

Among the thousands of friends Chris Trapper (a complete STRANGER to me) and I have on Facebook, we have just ONE FRIEND in common. And by some fluke, some infinitesimal chance, Chris had been on this mutual friend’s page when my post and link to his video showed up, which then prompted him to reach out to connect with me, a potential fan.

In a split second, our worlds collided. We crossed paths. Our awareness of each other synced up!

Prior to this, I’d been aware of Chris’ existence, but he’d been unaware of mine. Furthermore, he had no idea his music had touched my family and friends on October 17, 2007 when we remembered Brendan to Chris Trapper’s song.

At the end of our Facebook communication, I wished Chris well, and added,

“Let me know the next time you’re going to be playing in the Philly area.”

Then, his message back:

“Hi Eileen…

Just so happens I’m playing Philly this Thur. night…

Chris”

So, guess where I’ll be going on Thursday night?

That’s right…I’ll be attending Chris Trapper’s show at the Tin Angel in Philadelphia…as his guest! Isn’t that cool?

I believe this was no mere coincidence.

I believe this was the Universe, Source, Almighty Being, or God (you choose which works for you) tapping me on my shoulder to say, “Hey, Eileen, listen up. YOU matter to me. YOU matter to others. YOU count for something very important in this world. Without you, the world would be different. Keep up the good work…and here’s a little something for your effort.”

Am I glad I’ve persisted in learning how to use digital tools? Do you think I believe in the power of the Internet? Do you think I’ll keep pushing myself, despite my discomfort, sometimes downright resentment and feelings of inadequacy, to learn new things?

You bet I will!!!

When I’m sitting in the audience on Thursday night listening to Chris perform, I’ll probably shed a tear or two for Brendan’s too short life. (Not probably! I KNOW I will…I’ve always been the “cry baby” of the family!) But the tears will be grateful tears, tears of joy and appreciation – because as short as his life was, as troubled and troubling as he was, I loved him. For everything he took from me, he also gave. And he’s still giving me gifts!

Thanks Universe, for once again reminding me that:

  1. With extra patience and love, even old dogs can learn new tricks.
  2. We all need to know we matter, make a difference, count for something.
  3. The Universe always gives us signs; small though they may be.

Are you listening and watching for yours?

Feeling Attractive: Is it Just a Superficial Issue?

There are days when I just don’t feel or look my best; when something’s missing or lacking and I feel “less than” or not quite “good enough.” When this happens, it’s really hard for me to function optimally. I move through my day, doing my best to accomplish what needs to be accomplished, yet I lack the zip in my step, the shine in my eyes and the lilt in my voice. In other words, just like my hair on a humid summer’s day, I’m flat and lifeless! AND, I KNOW IT!

I hate those days! When they come, and often I know they’ve arrived even before I step out of bed in the morning, I want to pull the covers over my head and stay hidden away from the world until the BLAHS have passed. I think we make excuses to ourselves as we get older by telling ourselves that these days are simply due to aging.

Isn’t it natural, after all, that we’d be more tired at 55 than we were at 25 and 35 years old? Isn’t it expected, that as we age, we’ll not look AS GOOD as we did in our youth? Isn’t it understandable that our bodies will creak and ache more in our 40’s, 50’s and 60’s than when we were strong, energetic 20 and 30 somethings?

To all that I say, “Hogwash!”

I remember the years when my kids were young and my sleep was constantly interrupted by a child crying out from bad dreams at 1:00 am, then another climbing into my bed at 3:00 am. Just recently, I got a good laugh reading a younger mom’s post on Facebook in which she marveled how it’s possible for her 35 lb. daughter to somehow ease her out of a king sized bed at night! Besides young children, in my 30’s I was also working hard to build my career and business, not to mention going out much more often at night! I was ALWAYS tired back then!

As for looking better when we were younger, well, maybe we thought we did, but honestly, I’m not so sure we did! When I look at pictures from my “youth”, though my face was smoother, my hair darker and I was definitely thinner, I know I was not as confident as I am today, and I see the tell-tale signs in every photo.  In each stage of life I’ve had times when I was, in every way, at my physical best, but there were also times when I was far off the mark. Today, even though I may have crow’s feet and thinning hair, I feel so much better in my skin and more at home with myself. And that increased comfort has given me the poise and presence I lacked when I was younger.

Aging may be inevitable, but I don’t believe we must succumb to physically breaking down at the same rate at which we chronologically age. There are many examples of women who are 10, 20, even 30 years ‘younger’ in comparison to their peers, who have taken care of themselves, protected and preserved their physical strength, stamina and beauty. Women like Elaine LaLanne, wife of fitness guru Jack LaLanne, who proudly states she feels like she’s 19 today, despite being in her early 80’s. Or author Mary Higgins Clark who is 82 years old and still writing novels. Then there’s 78 year-old active model Carmen Dell’ Orefice, whom many consider to be more beautiful today than in her youth. And the incomparable Tina Turner, who just last year performed onstage at 69 years-old in her trademark mini-dress with an equally fit and amazing 64 year-old Cher. Certainly I can’t leave out the stunningly beautiful, 64 year-old actress Helen Mirren, who was photographed last summer wearing a bikini on the beach looking fit and very sexy!

By the year 2022, research shows the 50 to 64 year-old population will increase by a whopping 50% and those over 65 will grow by 32%. On the other hand, the combination of the Gen X and Gen Y generations will grow by only 3%. It doesn’t take a math whiz to figure out which group will be the largest for years to come!

So what can we do to embrace aging, to welcome the external changes our bodies naturally undergo? First, we need to accept that no matter how hard we work to slow the aging process, we will age. Although there have been many advancements in science, medicine, nutrition and cosmetics, they haven’t yet discovered the fountain of youth.

Therefore, in this youth obsessed culture, we must stop looking at aging as something negative while coming to terms with the effects of aging on our appearance. I understand mourning the loss of perfect skin, luxurious hair and supple bodies. Yet, can’t beauty be redefined as we age? Can’t we look for – and truly see – our own unique beauty which is apparent at every stage of life?

Being attractive at 40 is not the same thing as being attractive at 70, 80 and 90. For women, so much of our beauty is defined by our sexual attractiveness when we are in our fertile years. What about after that? What about when we are no longer able to bear children, but still can offer excitement, passion, intellectual stimulation, companionship, friendship and sustenance? Are we to put ourselves out to pasture because we are no longer ‘hot’ in the vernacular of youth?

Recently my youngest daughter was home from college and was watching a reality TV show when a portion of it caught my attention. In the episode Kim Kardashian was trying to decide whether or not to have Botox injections to minimize her crow’s feet.  CROW’S FEET! My goodness…the girl is positively gorgeous! And though I wasn’t face-to-face with her, and perhaps she really does have a few faint lines beginning to appear around her eyes, I was totally aghast that she was so concerned about her appearance!

Needless to say she went ahead with the treatment, and much to her dismay had an allergic reaction to the injections, which caused her significant concern, pain and bruising. Believe me; I’m not against anything that will help women to feel better. But, c’mon! We’re sending the wrong message when young women in their prime feel inadequate and worry that their looks will somehow hold them back from attaining their goals.

What do we gain as we age? We gain incredible patience, deep insight, a hunger for more, a joyful levity, tremendous empathy and a sharp determination to share our value in a world that is rapidly changing.

So my best advice to you is this: Take care of yourself!

I know that’s boring, but it’s true! Get regular medical and dental check-ups, eat healthy and nutritional  foods, exercise and remain active, watch your weight, maintain connections with family and friends, stay involved in your community, express yourself creatively, practice laughing, remember to count your blessings and above all, tell yourself everyday how wonderful the world is because you’re in it!

Go Ahead and Spoil Yourself!

The world today passes by at warp speed; our children are born, grow up, move out and have children of their own…and looking back, we always ask ourselves, “Where did the years go so quickly?”

During the hectic years of child-rearing, building our careers, continuing our own education, volunteering for a myriad of worthy causes and juggling what feels like hundreds of balls each week, we can get worn down, become cranky and depressed, feel isolated and confused. There are never enough hours in a day, hands to do all the tasks on the list, energy to keep moving forward through our jam packed lives.

Survival is often the mode we shift into, mindlessly accepting life’s complex patterns, never questioning the reasonableness of going, going, going – just like the Eveready Bunny. We’re proud when we push ourselves and get everything done on our daily To-Do lists, feeling worthwhile and indispensable. But are we?

I don’t believe in indispensability. We can all be replaced. If we simply walk out the door in utter desperation, like Meryl Streep’s Joanna in Kramer vs. Kramer, who rambles nearly incoherently at her husband, “It’s not you, it’s not you. It’s me, it’s my fault. You just married the wrong person, that’s all. I can’t hack it, I can’t hack it!” we’ve reached a point where we no longer care what happens – to us, to those we love, to anyone. If we become seriously ill or worse die, the people who love us may be left stunned, overwhelmed, bereft… but life goes on.

So, why do we wait to take care of ourselves? Why do we push ourselves beyond reasonable limits…sometimes to the breaking point? In a game of sports, when a player needs to catch their breath, they call a time out. In a marathon, it’s not unusual to see a runner S-L-O-W down in order to catch their breath. But life is not a game or a marathon.

Time and time again, when I talk with women, I hear the same excuse, “I don’t have time.” My answer is, and I know you’ve heard it before, “Make the time.” You have to put YOU on your schedule! Even Oprah Winfrey admitted, when her weight began to creep up and up, that she had forgotten to put herself on her own schedule. She’d lost sight of her priorities. She slipped back into old, familiar patterns that did not serve her before, nor would they ever serve her.

Go get a calendar and a marker – make it a BRIGHT, FUN color – maybe even pick your favorite color! From now on this is YOUR COLOR to write on this calendar with! Now pick one hour this week and set it aside for you. Write your name on the calendar in BIG, BOLD letters, draw a box around your name, add some doodles. (You DO remember how to doodle, don’t you?) Write the hour that you plan to claim as yours. Honor this hour!

This is one hour when you can do anything you want. Lock the bathroom door, put on some music, light a few candles and soak in a hot tub. Don’t forget the bath salts or body oil. Pack your lunch, go to the park, pick a bench and then…just sit. Do nothing, clear your mind, breathe deeply. Or stretch your time to 90 minutes and go see a movie in the middle of the morning when the kids are at school. See something ridiculously funny or heart wrenchingly sad. (Belly laughs and hard cries release tension – they’re good for us!)

Once you claim one hour a week to SPOIL YOURSELF, then, go for two, three. It gets easier! Like potato chips, you’ll find yourself hard-pressed to stop at one! And remember, there are no limits when it comes to “taking care of ME.” If you work so hard that you need an hour each day…just do it!

Also begin to do small, nice, fun things for yourself; buy a bunch of marked down flowers at the grocery store and put them in your favorite vase on your desk at work or by your bed at night. Visit a pet store and pet the puppies or hold the kittens. Dab your favorite essential oil on a tissue and tuck it in your desk drawer at work. Buy bubbles, sit on your porch and blow while remembering a favorite summer as a kid. This, too, gets easier and less laden with guilt as we find that we are happier and healthier with each act of small, hedonistic pleasure! I promise that your family and even some friends will notice the change in you, too.

I’m Not Getting Older, I’m Getting Better!

I am a Baby Boomer, born smack dab in the middle of the 1950s, and I just turned 55 years old on August 19. “Yippee!” Yes, you heard me right! I exclaimed, “Yippee!”

Back when I was about to turn 25, a quarter of a century sounded old to me, like some dire pronouncement of being “TOO OLD” for fun anymore! Unlike “24” which still sounded like I could move back in with my parents at any moment. But “25”, well, that meant I had both feet firmly planted in the adult world and there’d be no turning back, like it or not! But I liked it! I was young, thought I was sophisticated working in Manhattan and felt quite invincible.

Then 35 drew close. Getting older was getting better! I was holding my breath each month, hoping that the test strip would turn blue. Much to our delight it did, just in time to be the perfect 35th birthday present! I think I exclaimed “Yippee!” back then, too. Except it was an excited scream and sounded more like, “Ohhhhh myyyyy Goddddd, Jimmmmm!!!!!”

I barely noticed turning 45. I’d been a widow for a little over two years by then. The idea of celebrating anything, let alone my birthday, still took quite a bit of effort. For the kid’s sake, I put on my Happy Face, ate the cake they baked and opened their lovingly designed cards. My ooohing and aaahing could have won an Oscar. But inside I was still raw and shaky. No, 45 was not a banner year.

But this birthday? 55? This is one birthday for which I’m truly happy and grateful because I have much to celebrate! Both daughters are in college and doing beautifully in their lives, a new career that I love and finally some spare time to pursue a few hobbies I put on the back burner during previous years.

Visibly, I certainly show signs of my age – crepey skin around my eyes, liver spots here and there, thickening fingers from osteoarthritis and a thicker, post-menopausal middle. Oh, and let’s not forget invisibly – succumbing to reading glasses, annoying hot flashes and straining to hear conversations in noisy crowds. Yet, these are minor inconveniences I gladly bear, because otherwise I’m faring pretty well in the aging department.

Whenever I’m told about ailments, illnesses, surgeries and treatments suffered by women in my age group, especially those whom I know and love, I count my blessings. In addition to filling me with abundant gratitude for my wellness, their stories, and others I’ve read, instill in me the determination and discipline TO DO – and NOT TO DO things that won’t serve my goal.

My goal is to reach a ripe old age, say 90 or more, and not need medications or surgery and to still be living on my own without assistance!

Oh, I know…that’s a lot to expect! But I’m gladly willing to pay the price to get there.

I follow a vegan diet about 90% of the time. I still have fish or chicken occasionally, treat myself to dribs and drabs of cheese on salad or pasta every now and then, love a dollop of Greek yogurt on fresh fruit, and don’t go crazy if there’s egg or milk listed low in a product’s ingredient list. In other words, I’ve chosen to follow a mostly vegan diet for my health, not because I MUST.

I make it a practice to READ ingredient labels, and avoid buying the majority of pre-packaged items, especially those with words I can’t pronounce! I drink very little alcohol (an occasional glass of red wine), drink plenty of water, green and herbal teas, both hot and iced. I walk for an hour in the morning 5 times a week and do 45 minutes of strength training or yoga on alternate evenings. I make sure I get an adequate amount of sleep most nights and take high-quality, nutritional supplements every day, all year long.

Sound like a lot to do and keep track of? If I had tried to do it all at once, I would have failed. In fact, I did fail many, many times over the years because I tried to change everything and do everything all at once. Most people won’t be successful that way. It’s taken me years to become comfortable and more consistent with my commitment to my health and wellness. I’m still a work in progress, and I don’t tell myself “never” or “always” because I know I’ll feel like a failure if I break those hard and fast rules.

After watching my father die from bladder cancer, month-after-torturous-month, it got a lot easier for me to stick with my personally chosen Health and Wellness Plan. It’s not rocket science. It is good, old-fashioned, common-sense eating and living. And though I certainly don’t want to become a burden to my daughters or loved ones, or have them witness me in a grueling and gut-wrenching spiral downward from cancer, diabetes, stroke or a combination of those diseases, my true motivation is “Life”!

I want to be able to swim in the ocean, climb a flight of stairs, play with my dogs, dig in my garden, clean my own house (okay – maybe I’ll give that one up!), tie my own shoes, carry my own suitcase, play with my future grandchildren and keep up with them as they grow! Not to mention completing the 40+ items on my bucket list! I’m very grateful for my healthy body and mind – and I’m willing to take steps to insure that, like a fine wine, I get better as I get older!

I’m truly looking forward to 65, 75, 85 and yes, if I can make it to 95 with my health and mental faculties intact, even 95. Heck, why limit myself to 95? I’d be ecstatic to celebrate 105! I’ll go for as long as the Good Lord gives me…I just want to be well and be happy!

Change is Inevitable, Change is Necessary, and Change is GOOD!

In coaching midlife women, I’m learning so much about the power of change. Whether change happens to us, or is chosen by us, change can be the starting point of miracles happening in our lives.

Terry Neil wrote, “Change is a door that can only be opened from the inside.”

Many years ago, in the throes of some very significant life changes, I first read those words. Prior to reading this I hadn’t given change much thought. Change was something that “just happened” and when it did, it was up to me to do my best to adapt to it, much like we do to the changing seasons and weather. After all, what other choice do we have?

Change in our external world is constant and usually the changes that get our attention or cause trouble are the “bad” ones: our loved one is diagnosed with cancer, we lose our job, our marriage fails, our child rebels, our dog runs away. When we think of change as something outside of our control, something determined by external factors, then we see our own thoughts and actions as having little, if any, effect.

Often, people respond to unexpected change much the same way they respond to a crisis or a catastrophe. First, they try to flee (an inborn survival instinct tells us to “run away”) and if they can’t escape physically, then the very least they can do is distance themselves emotionally and mentally. They go into what’s commonly called “survival mode,” which is just another way to escape. They pretend, deny, avoid, and resist change by becoming passive and withdrawn, and eventually fully cut off from reality. They refuse to accept responsibility for events in their lives; embracing victim-hood and giving up all pretenses at active living.

In the Fourth Edition of Random House Webster’s Dictionary, there are multiple definitions for the word “change.” However, the two which intrigue me most are: “to make different” and “to become different.” Being my father’s daughter, I’m enthralled with words and their meaning, so I immediately looked up the words ‘make’ and ‘become.’

Under ‘make’ there was: “to create by shaping, to cause to exist or to happen, to force or compel, to cause someone or something to be as specified.” This sounded like the change with which I was very familiar. An external force causing or forcing something to happen…like it or not!

But under ‘become’ there was: “to come, change or grow to be.” Wow, isn’t that a whole new way of looking at change! Sounds much more like a choice, an opportunity, something desirable! As an avid gardener, I think that giving anything the chance to “grow to be”, is akin to “life”!

Through years of many, many changes, both good and bad, I’ve come to view change – both changes that happen to me and the ones I orchestrate – as all positive for my life. Even the most difficult changes I’ve experienced have created some incredibly positive results. Years ago, after my husband died, I began to think of downsizing. I envisioned a smaller home with fewer headaches, responsibilities and less expense to maintain. My daughters, however, saw themselves being ousted from the only home they’d ever known, and were not at all happy.

Eventually, despite the hard work necessary to make that change happen – all the packing, selling off of many personal belongings, the actual physical move, and all the work needed to turn this house into a comfortable home, the three of us received benefits we could not have foreseen. All the work before, during and after the move brought us closer together. And in the years since moving here we’ve continued to be closer – possibly because the living space requires us being closer – but I like to think that it’s because we created a bond during the gargantuan effort it took to close a 3-story, 5 bedroom house and move to these smaller quarters. Once we stopped focusing on what we were losing and what we didn’t like about moving, we were able to focus on the potential benefits and new opportunities.

That’s when I learned another very important lesson I try never to forget. Changes come to let us know it is time to grow. Once we frame change as opportunity, as possibility, as a GIFT…then the paradigm shifts. No longer is change something happening to us…we’re no longer an innocent victim of change…we’re now the master of our own ship. We control the rudder. We can trim the sails and slow our journey, or let them fully out to carry us rapidly forward.

Roseanne Cash said, “The key to change is to let go of fear.” By letting go of our fear we actually take control. We master the powerless feelings and make a conscious decision about how to face change head-on! Choosing to open the door to change from the INSIDE, rather than standing behind that door in fear, dreading what lies on the other side. By welcoming this new visitor at our door, we create a completely different experience for ourselves.

I felt empowered by the move to this house. It was not what I WOULD have chosen, had I been given the choice to have my husband live instead of die. But many things are beyond our control. I found that my true power lies in focusing on how to make change that happens TO ME, work FOR ME. Sure it takes hard work, and I often feel inadequate to the challenges that lie before me. But perfection is a myth. And life is nothing more than a series of new days dawning, new mountains to climb, new lessons to learn and new changes to embrace. Go ahead…open the door…and greet your next change with a hearty “Hello!”

If you are ready to be inspired, supported, motivated and encouraged to create a life to love, and to receive a FREE, 45 minute Coaching Consultation, I invite you to contact me at (856) 854-7393 or eileen@midlifeandmenopausecoach.com. I will get back to you promptly, usually within 24 hours.

A Spoonful of Sugar

We all know that Mary Poppins disguised the unpleasant taste of medicine in a spoonful of sugar to get her two young charges to take theirs without a fuss. In today’s highly sugar-dependent societies that tip might not be such a wise one to follow. The sad and scary truth is, Americans today are consuming far, far more sugar than is reasonable for good health.

The USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) guidelines state that the average American, who consumes about 2,000 calories per day and eats a diet containing all the recommended servings of fruits, dairy products, and other foods, can eat up to 10 teaspoons (approximately 40 grams) of added sugars, and still be considered to be eating heathfully.

Does that sound like a lot of sugar to you? It does to me. Imagine sitting down to a bowl of 10 teaspoons of table sugar and being ordered to eat it, spoonful, by spoonful. You’re thinking, “yuck!” right? Well, guess what? According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, (CSPI) the average American eats nearly double that amount of sugar in their diet. The “average” American consumes 20 teaspoons of sugar every day!

“Awful!” you say. It is awful. Now, what if I told you those numbers were based on figures from 1999? That’s correct; those figures are more than 10 years old! Today, the average American consumes between 3 and 5 pounds of added sugar a week. Do the math…that’s somewhere between 166 and 260 pounds of sugar per year per person – approximately the size of a normal adult. 160 pounds of sugar is also the equivalent to 50 teaspoons of sugar per day!

Sound impossible that Americans can be consuming that much sugar every day? Okay, then consider this: just one 12 ounce can of regular soda contains 39 grams of added sugar. And it’s not at all unusual for people to drink one, two, three or more cans of soda per day, on top of the rest of the food they eat. And remember from the USDA Figures mentioned above, that 10 teaspoons of sugar is approximately 40 grams.

In September 2009, the AHA (American Heart Association) released new recommendations on limitations for added sugar daily intake. The new recommendations state that women should consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar daily and men are restricted to 37 grams.

What exactly is “added sugar” and why is it so important to limit our intake in order to protect our health? Added sugar is defined as any sugars put into foods during processing or manufacturing, rather than sugars which naturally occur in food. For example, sugar (fructose) occurs naturally in all fruit however, sugar (usually high fructose corn syrup and white processed sugar) is added to most cereals, especially those marketed to children.

And added sugar is listed under so many different names, that you have to be somewhat of a scientist and sleuth combined to identify it on the nutritional labels. Certainly we are familiar with names like granulated sugar, confectioner’s sugar, maple syrup, molasses, brown sugar and honey. But what about corn sweetener, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, dextrose (corn sugar), fructose, sucrose (table sugar), glucose, galactose, invert sugar, turbinado sugar, lactose, fruit juice concentrates, maltose and malt syrup?

Foods that contain the highest amount of added sugar are soft drinks (non-diet), fruit drinks, ades and punch, ice cream, sweetened yogurt, sweetened milk, baked goods – both packaged and freshly baked, and of course, candy! Not surprised at these? Well, what about the foods we forget – or don’t think of – as having added sugar. There are tons of them: bread, mayonnaise, peanut butter, ketchup, spaghetti sauce are just of few common ones. In fact, most of the packaged, processed or manufactured products on the shelves in our grocery stores today have added sugar in one form or another. Start reading labels and you’ll be amazed at what you find…and perhaps sickened, too. Because all this sugar IS making us sick…and it’s time to take charge of our health!

Sugar and its Impact on the Human Body

One of the major culprits behind the increase in health problems troubling Americans today is sugar. Certainly, there’s ample scientific evidence that sugar contributes to, or may even be the main cause of, diabetes, cancer and heart disease. But sugar also adds to the risk of obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, hypertension, irritable bowel, gallstones, tooth decay, gum disease, premature wrinkling, chronic fatigue, mood swings and depression…just to name a few!

Refined or “added” sugar, which I wrote about last week, has virtually no nutritional value. It’s devoid of minerals, vitamins, fats, fiber, proteins or enzymes…added sugar is just empty calories. When we consume these refined carbohydrates, our bodies must still metabolize or process them, just like it does other foods we eat. Because there’s no nutritional value to sugar, in order to burn it off or metabolize it, our bodies must tap into our reservoirs of vitamins, minerals and enzymes.

When we consume more sugar than our bodies have reserves to handle, an over-acid condition results from the build-up of these residues and our blood becomes toxic, thick and sticky. In addition, wastes accumulate in our brain and nervous system and cells begin to die rapidly, leaving our immune system compromised and ripe for bacteria to take hold. Over time, if this imbalance is not corrected, chronic disease will ensue, leaving our entire bodies challenged, possibly permanently.

Think of the human body like you think of your car. Would you put jet fuel into the gas tank of your car and expect it to run properly and last? Of course not! Cars are not made to run on the super-high octane fuel that jets require. Very quickly, your car’s engine would burn up running on jet fuel. Our bodies work the same way. When we eat sugar-laden foods, our bodies ZOOM into overdrive. Unlike the slow and steady rise in our blood sugar when our body’s digestive system metabolizes low-glycemic foods like an apple, for instance, sugar (the fuel) enters our systems instantaneously. This stimulates the pancreas to secrete insulin to drop blood-sugar levels. These rapid fluctuations of blood-sugar levels are not healthy because of the stress they place on the body. Chronic stress leads to inflammation. Inflammation leads to disease. Disease often causes premature death.

Okay, I’m getting a bit ahead of myself. Let’s get back to insulin. When insulin levels rise in an effort to get blood sugar back in balance, there’s a lot more going on in the body. A rise in insulin causes a drop in levels of growth hormone, which in turn suppresses the immune system, which in turn increases risk for disease. Insulin also triggers the body to store fat, which, over time causes weight gain. Triglycerides (fatty substances created by the liver when fructose is metabolized) and bad cholesterol (LDL) levels climb, adding to the risk of heart disease.

And that thick, sticky blood I mentioned earlier? Think of that traveling through your veins, trudging along to deliver oxygen to your cells. Like water carrying debris through a pipe, if the pipe is also narrowed by gunk built up over time, it doesn’t take much to completely stop the flow of the water! However, a clog in a major artery or vein can be fatal.

Consuming too much sugar also causes an increase in tryptophan, an essential amino acid, followed by an increase in serotonin and then melatonin, which promote sleep. Thus, causing a feeling of physical fatigue, drowsiness or clouded mental faculties.

By now, you can see the human body is a single, complex and extremely integrated machine. Though it is also an amazingly durable, forgiving and resilient one, it is not invincible. If we don’t want to dramatically shorten our lives or cause significant hardship to ourselves and loved ones from the consequences of chronic illness, it’s imperative we change our eating habits and reduce our sugar intake.

Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Safe or Will We Be Sorry?

Despite the fact that artificial sweeteners have been around for well over a century, there’s still a great deal of controversy that continues to swirl around whether they are safe for consumption. In looking at even a smidgen of the massive body of research that’s been done on these food additives, what’s most noticeable to me is the distinct divergence in recommendations based upon which organization has sponsored and completed the study.

Nearly all independent studies recommend reducing, limiting or completely restricting the use of artificial sweeteners in the foods we eat, both as an additive in processed foods and as a substitute for table sugar (sucrose) in foods and beverages like cereal or coffee or tea. However, when a study was done or sponsored by an organization with a financial interest in the results, not surprisingly, no negative results or problems were found or identified.

Hmmm…I think me smells a rat! Maybe that’s just because rats are almost always used in these studies. As Marion Nestle, author of What to Eat writes, “Without question, safety studies of anything consumed in tiny amounts is difficult to do. Consider what scientists would have to do to determine the effects of artificial sweeteners on human health.”

After which she describes the hoops researchers would have to jump through to test products on human subjects, “These kinds of studies are too complicated, too expensive, and too difficult to interpret or even attempt. Instead, scientists speed up the process by giving large amounts of artificial sweeteners to experimental animals. Such studies are always subject to the criticism that people are not rats and that nobody ever consumes as much sweetener as the animals do.”

However, is it logical for us to wait for the cumulative effects of artificial sweeteners to be positively connected to the worldwide increase in diabetes and obesity before we stop consuming them?  How willing are you to be a guinea pig for the corporations making billions of dollars while potentially risking billions of lives? Would you be as willing to eat foods containing these additives if they were not sold under brand names such as NutraSweet, Equal, Sweet ‘n Low or Splenda? Somehow aspartyl-phenylalanine methyl ester (the brand name is Equal) just doesn’t roll off the tongue as easily!

Though ‘science’ continues to challenge the many dramatic stories blaming artificial sweeteners for serious diseases like multiple sclerosis and lupus, as well as common everyday ailments like headaches, memory loss and acne, there’s just no way to unequivocally rule out all dangers, for all people, from these substances. And that’s just it…artificial sweeteners are, well, artificial, not natural. In other words, they’re chemicals!

Sure, for years I consumed them. I was just another blind consumer; young, healthy, fearless and uneducated about the long term effects of nutrition on my body. Nutrition is defined in the 4th edition of Webster’s as “the study of dietary requirements for proper health and development.” But as I aged, and especially once I hit my midlife years, my body began to show serious signs that I wasn’t doing the best job in feeding it for proper health and development.  In fact, I was doing a pretty poor job and I paid the price. The good news is that the human body is quite forgiving and has super-regenerative powers built right in. It readily responds to improved nutrition with often dramatic results in the way we feel and how we look.

A brief history of artificial sweeteners shows us that they’ve been around a long time. Discovered in 1879, saccharin, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar, was used to compensate for the severe sugar shortages during WWI & WWII.

The next to be discovered was the artificial sweetener cyclamate. According to Wikipedia, a University of Illinois graduate student discovered it inadvertently in 1937, yet it wasn’t until 1950 that a New Drug Application was made to the FDA by Abbott Laboratories to use cyclamate to mask the bitter taste of certain antibiotics. Compared to its super sweet relative saccharin, cyclamate is just 30-50 times sweeter than sugar. Eventually, cyclamate was marketed to diabetics as a substitute sweetener for table sugar. The use of it in soft drinks began in the 1960s, but by 1969 cyclamate was banned by the FDA because studies implicated it as a cause of cancer in rats.

Today, although cyclamate is approved as a sweetener in 55 countries, it’s still banned here in the United States. As a note for those who travel, you may be interested to know that sweeteners produced by Sweet ‘N Low and Sugar Twin for Canada still contain cyclamate. And it’s not always easy to identify what food products contain cyclamates! In Taipei, Taiwan, a city health survey in 2010 found nearly 30% of tested dried fruit products failed a health standards test, most having excessive amounts of cyclamate, some at levels 20 times higher than the legal limit!

By 1977, saccharin was the only artificial sweetener on the US market. Then once again, laboratory studies suggested it also caused cancer in rats, so the FDA stepped in to ban the substance.  The ensuing uproar is a story well worth reading!  Suffice it to say, that it literally took 100,000 letters written by devoted saccharin users, a massive media campaign by the Calorie Control Council (the trade association for the diet soft drink industry) and over $2 million dollars in public relations and lobbying efforts to ultimately cause Congress to pass the Saccharin Study and Labeling Act of 1977.

This act kept saccharin, packaged in those little pink packets as Sweet ‘N Low, on the market, but required a warning label on all foods containing saccharin. Then in 1996, the FDA agreed to eliminate that requirement, citing their support of the Clinton-Gore Administration’s “Reinventing Government” initiative whose mission was to create a government that “works better, costs less, and gets results Americans care about.”  I guess the 100,000 letters written 20 years earlier really mattered!

In 1965, aspartame was discovered, not surprisingly, in a laboratory by a chemist. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is said to lack the bitter aftertaste of other artificial sweeteners. I, however, can still detect products which have aspartame in them, as the taste it imparts is still artificial and unpleasant.

Known commercially as NutraSweet and for table use, in the little blue packets, we know it as Equal. Just like its counterparts, aspartame has sparked its share of controversy, yet today it’s used in more than 6000 food products. One confirmed danger from aspartame is to people with Phenylketonuria. People with this problem know they have it, but all products containing aspartame must bear the warning: “Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine.”

Next we have sucralose, the newest addition to the artificial sweetener list. Discovered in England in 1976 and first marketed in Canada in 1991, it was approved by the FDA in 1998. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar and because of its intensity, the marketed product Splenda is made by mixing a small portion of the chemical with fluffy, non-digestible filler.

Because of its name, you might be fooled by the advertising slogan which states: “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” But don’t be fooled! The sugar in sucralose is in fact chlorinated; hence our bodies are unable to metabolize it. With no absorption there can be no calories and we pass it out mostly intact. In use for a little over a decade, Splenda far outsells its competition and has fans who swear by it, especially due to the fact that the filler allows for measuring, making it possible to bake with it. One more noteworthy fact: Whole Foods Markets refuses to carry products containing sucralose, as it is not in keeping with their company philosophy.

I tend to agree with Whole Foods Markets. If something is created in a laboratory, cannot be metabolized by the human body, leaves an unpleasant, artificial aftertaste, has been on and off the FDA’s list of banned products, or requires more than minimal processing to make it…I don’t want it in my body! I crave sweets from time-to-time, though far less now than I did before changing my eating habits.

When I do crave a sweet treat, I reach for a healthy option like fresh fruit. Even dried fruit without sugar added (watch the ingredients list – even dried fruits like raisins, cranberries and prunes often have added sugars!) is preferable to the over-processed, sugary, high calorie ‘junk’ foods that cram the grocery aisles in supermarkets today. Just as we can adapt our taste buds to enjoy lower sodium foods, we will be healthier – and happier – by doing away with so many sweet treats – regardless of real sugar or artificial sweeteners.

So that’s the skinny on artificial sweeteners…I’m going to grab some grapes!

Top 10 Tips to Reduce Sugar in Our Diets

Tip One – Don’t Add Sugar

The easiest way to reduce sugar we consume is also the simplest – just don’t ADD sugar to things you eat. Instead of sprinkling a teaspoon of sugar on that bowl of plain corn flakes or cheerios you eat in the morning, add a handful of blueberries or slices of banana. Not only does fruit add sweetness, it’s also rich in valuable antioxidants.

Tip Two – Eat Unsweetened Foods

Speaking of cereal, it’s one of the worst packaged foods for added sugar! Especially children’s cereals, which are absolutely loaded with added sugar! Compare a single serving of good, old-fashioned cheerios (you know, the ones we give babies for one of their first, solid food treats?) which contains just one gram of sugar, to cereals marketed to children as healthy. Many of these cereals have 14, or more, grams of sugar per serving! Before buying any cereal, check the nutritional label to see how much sugar a single serving delivers!

Tip Three – Read Nutritional Labels

I’ve already warned about reading the nutritional labels on cereal boxes, but it’s important to read all labels before buying packaged foods. Sugar is hidden everywhere – in foods and products you’d never suspect of having added sugar! According to the AHA (American Heart Association) between the years of 1970 and 2005, the amount of sugar added to food products has increased by a whopping 19%! There’s added sugar in reduced calorie salad dressings, ketchup, bake beans, barbecue sauce and even dried cranberries and cough syrup!

Tip Four – Train Your Palate

Don’t try to cut all added sugar from your diet overnight. Gradually reduce the amount of sugar over time and you won’t even miss the sweetness. Start by adding less sugar to your coffee or tea – go slowly from 1 tablespoon, to 2 teaspoons, to 1 teaspoon, for example. When baking, reduce the amount of sugar the recipe calls for by 1/4 – I’ll bet you won’t even miss it! And DON’T switch to using artificial sweeteners instead! Not only are these equally bad for us, but your taste buds will still crave sweet! Stick with it, and over time, you’ll start to notice how much better foods taste.

Tip Five – Discover New Taste Sensations

As you begin to reduce sugar, ADD flavor enhancers that are healthy alternatives to sugar. Spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom add interesting twists to everyday foods and drinks like oatmeal, yogurt, coffee or milk. A splash of lemon juice or balsamic vinegar can give zing to dishes, replacing “sweet” with the equally palate pleasing “tart.” And pure vanilla extract or unsweetened apple sauce add flavor to baked goods where you’ve reduced sugar.

Tip Six – Become a Sugar Sleuth

Sugar comes in MANY different forms. In Part One of this series, we reviewed a long list of “sugars” to avoid. Look on food labels for words ending in “ose”: fructose, sucrose, dextrose, glucose are a few of the more commonly used words for sugar. Look at where these words fall in the ingredients listing on the food labels…the higher in the listing, the higher the amount of the ingredient in the product. Often, sugar is 2nd or 3rd in the ingredient list…stay away from these products. Look at the Nutrition Facts Label under “sugar” to see how many grams of sugar are in one serving.

Tip Seven – Avoid “Natural” Sugars, Too

There are many less “refined” sugars like honey, maple syrup and agave nectar. Although these may be healthier alternatives, when you’re just beginning to reduce sugar in your diet, avoid these, too. Give yourself time to get accustomed to little, or no, added sugars in your daily diet. Once your taste buds have adjusted, you can add minimal amounts of these better sugar choices for treats and special occasions.

Tip Eight – Ban Soda and Fruit Juices

Soda is simply a no-no! And don’t be fooled by diet soda – studies have shown that drinking diet soda actually increases our craving for sweet treats. Besides, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda are positively bad for us. And fruit juice is just loaded with sugar…if you really must drink fruit juice, water-it-down. Again, if you gradually reduce the amount of juice and increase the amount of water or seltzer, your palate will still be pleased!

Tip Nine – Increase Fiber Intake

Instead of consuming white flour, rice, or pasta which simply convert to sugar in our bodies, choose to eat whole grains like oat, brown rice, quinoa, maize, and rye as they also provide your body with fiber. Fiber is critical to our body’s digestive process. Soluble fiber is found in foods like dried beans, oats and flaxseed; in fruits like oranges, apples and berries; in vegetables like carrots, brussels sprouts and cabbage. Soluble fiber binds with fatty acids in your stomach and prolongs digestion time. This helps to regulate blood sugar.

Tip Ten – Distract Yourself

Changing habits takes persistence, commitment and time. But sometimes, no matter how badly we want to improve ourselves, we find it hard to stay on track. Focusing too hard on something we want can actually be counter-productive. Sometimes, we just need to get our mind OFF what it is we are trying to accomplish. When you’re craving something sweet, consider what might be triggering the urge.

Hunger may have nothing to do with it – we may be bored, stressed, worried or upset. When this happens, intentionally distract yourself – go for a walk, call a friend, go run an errand – break the routines that create moments of temptation.

Sugar addiction is not an easy habit to break, but it’s one that’s very important to conquer in order to have a long, healthy life. Make a decision to begin changing your eating habits today, then start incorporating these Top 10 Tips, one or two at a time. Good eating!

I Will Admit that I am Embarrassed by My Roots!

My heritage is Irish, and like many of my ancestors and current kin, I have pale skin and brown hair. On some of my female relatives, this combination is quite eye-catching and head turning.

You’ve seen them before: the alabaster-skin-raven-haired beauties of the romance novels!

And certain actresses like Anne Hathaway, who has perfect, pale skin and rosy lips.

I have a niece whose skin is milky white, spotless in fact. Her hair, a rich chestnut brown, is so thick that I just want take a tug to feel its heft in my hand when she has it in a ponytail.

I’m jealous, of course! I’m also confessing here.

I’m often embarrassed by my roots. Relax! I’m not referring to my genealogical roots. Sure, those have certainly caused me plenty of uncomfortable moments, too! The roots to which I am referring are at the end of each of the hairs on my head. Sadly, with each passing year, besides getting thinner and thinner, it is also going gray.

The root of the real problem is just that: My Hair Roots.

I’m 54, soon to be 55 years old and, like most women my age, MUST dye my hair regularly, or else! The skunk makes an appearance and it really stinks!

Every 4 weeks – and I’d really like to go every 3 weeks – I see my hair dresser, Lee Ann Hopkins. Lee Ann has a trendy, friendly and charmingly unpretentious salon called Just Hair in Haddon Township, NJ where you’ll get top-notch cuts, color and hair treatments for men and women, suited to each client’s personal needs, not flash-in-the-pan trends.

In fact, the ONLY saving grace my roots offer me is that I get to spend a couple of hours at Just Hair once a month! I really look forward to seeing Lee Ann and her staff who are at my beck and call, ready to serve tea, coffee and even snacks, while they pamper and prettify their very sociable clientele.

But, no matter how warm and fuzzy my monthly mission at Lee Ann’s may be, I still hate the reason I must go there…my roots!

In a June 4, 2010 post by Kim Pfeiffer for Stylist.com entitled Visible Roots: Dark Hair Still a Trend, and Growing, Pfeiffer wrote that according to Stacey Cox, TV personality and owner of Pampered People in Los Angeles, roots are in!

Huh? What?

That is, unless you have dark or brunette hair! “If you are brunette, exposed roots are, simply put, gray!” Cox warns.

Well, even I knew that! The roots to which Cox referred are dark roots growing into blonde hair!. C’mon, blondes have always been able to pull things off that we brunettes couldn’t – and wouldn’t – ever dare do with our dos. So, Jessica Simpson, the Olsen twins and Sarah Jessica Parker can parade around with dark root outgrowth and a fashion trend is born…and accepted as beautiful.

But I dare even the most famous and beloved brazen brunette (Angelina or Demi, perhaps?) to boldy go untouched because they’d instantly be splashed across the front pages of every tabloid and branded an aged crone!

So, what’s an aged crone to do about her roots? Shaving is not an option! Yes, men can get away with it, and perhaps young, very impulsive girls making a statement about life will not catch a sideways glance. But me? You.? As I said, shaving is not an option. It might even cause our loved ones to worry about our health, and we don’t want that!

Scarves and hats? Sure, in a pinch, they’re an acceptable and fashionable way to temporarily hide the telltale signs of an overdue dye job. But, unless you want to be like Bella Abzug or be constantly scrambling for the perfect head gear to coordinate with your outfit when your roots begin to show, I think this is just a so-so solution.

Some women decide to accept nature’s way and go completely gray. We know the ones who can pull it off, too. They sport a nice even salt and pepper blend that looks eye-catching and even youthful, despite being half gray. Then some women go completely silver gray or white and look sleek, sophisticated and quite elegant,

According to Wikipedia, two genes appear to be responsible for the process of graying, Bcl2 and Bcl-w. The change in hair color occurs when melanin ceases to be produced in the hair root and new hairs grow in without pigment.

My pigment-less roots are a pain! But for now, I guess I will continue to make my monthly visit to Lee Ann for my touch-ups. Eventually, I know I will become weary enough of this ritual, and despite enjoying my time at Just Hair, I will opt to let Mother Nature have her way and go completely gray. Maybe in 5 years at 60, or when I retire? Or when I turn 70, or…

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