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In fact, most people gain some poundage over the winter months, according to one New England Journal of Medicine study.
"The holidays (or as I affectionately call them, "the holiDAZE") become a perfect trifecta of issues that can result in compromised health and weight gain come January," says dietician Ashley Koff, RD, author of Mom Energy: A Simple Plan to Live Fully Charged and the voice behind Ashley Koff RD Approved. "There's a lot more to do (gifts to buy, cards to write, parties to plan and attend, outfits to put together, etc.)—and actually less time to do it in (the days are getting shorter and darker, signaling to our bodies that we should be going to bed earlier). Plus, during the holiDAZE, family, friends, and colleagues cause emotions to run high (and low), which can be a trigger for looking to food to do something other than provide nutrient support (emotional eating)."
If you think those sugary splurges affect only your waistline, it's time to also think about your noggin. Rich, fatty foods can physically alter your brain, according to one study in the International Journal of Obesity. Researchers from the University of Montreal found that high-fat diets cause chemical reactions in the brain in a similar way to illicit drugs, ultimately leading to physical changes in brain composition, an increase in stress hormones, and depression.
It doesn't have to be that way! Make your holidays a little less stressful—and sinful—this year with Koff's stress- and fat-fighting advice:
Plan Things Out
Are you Type A? You are going to love this. "Planning is probably your best ally during the holidays. Setting aside time for sleep, for exercise, and also planning out what your week will look like food-wise," Koff says. "Not every day can be a holiday and you will do better if you don't pair several days of indulging in a row but rather plan out your routine and have it include some indulgences."
Think Quality, Not Just Quantity
Health is about more than calories, says Koff, a proud Qualitarian. Her recommendation: Focus on eating quality foods. "Pass on the turkey if it's not antibiotic-free; skip the cookies if they are covered in artificial dyes, etc. But to avoid feeling deprived, make sure you have the better quality options available by a) bringing them (what host doesn't want you to contribute to the meal to lessen their workload?!) b) having something at home or at the office that you will look forward to if you make the better choice and skip the poor quality one c) think of non-food rewards (holiday massage!!)."
Party with Produce
"Fruits and vegetables are your body's cleanup crew," says Koff. They rid the body of free radicals that lead to inflammation, stress, and weight gain. So, especially during the holidays, make sure you get your antioxidants. One easy way: Drink water with lemon throughout the day. It'll give you a one-two punch of digestion-aiding nutrients and hydration.
Eat Happy Foods
Turn any frown upside down with foods rich in magnesium. The nutrient helps reduce cortisol levels and the effects of stress, such as sleeplessness, weight gain, and headaches. The best part: Cacao is one of the richest sources of magnesium around. Opt for bars with at least 70 percent cacao. You'll get more nutrients, less sugar—and chocolate. That's a win. Koff advises supplemental magnesium for most.
Budget Your Booze
"Alcohol tends to be involved—more often and more quantity—during the holidays, which impacts the quality of our sleep as well as the ability to make better quality and quantity food choices, and of course the alcohol itself adds calories," Koff says. Plus, according to research in Alcohol & Alcoholism, just three boozy bevvies can slash your body's level of the feel-full hormone leptin by 30 percent, making post-drink cravings pretty darn likely. Luckily, that doesn't mean you have to be a total teetotaler. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that moderate alcohol consumption (the key word being moderate, aka a glass a day in women) can lead to a longer life.
Balance Things Out
"Menopausal women need to really focus on nutrient balance (carbs, protein, fats, and vegetables) so not overdoing or forgetting any one nutrient. A good rule of thumb is about 15 grams of carb max per eating occasion (about every three hours)," says Koff, who also recommends supplementing your diet with hemp. Hemp seeds and oil pack GLA, an essential fatty acid that is vital to hormone balance, especially during menopause.
If you want to fight menopausal weight gain, the holidays are the perfect time to start! Not only will your scale stay on your good side, but you'll also slash stress and be able to enjoy the holidays' finer things: family, friends, and health! Happy holidays, indeed!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
It doesn't matter if your schedule is jam-packed with parties, your holiday cards pack pictures, or you're expecting a visit from a family member. This season, every woman has a reason to look her best.
But if I've learned anything about beauty, it's that how we look is a direct result of how we feel, our health, and how we take care of ourselves. Unfortunately, we are so busy taking care of others that we often forget to invest in our own health and beauty.
So to help out all of my sisters in perimenopause and menopause this season, I've collected my best beautifying secrets for the holidays in one place.
Follow these holiday beauty tips and—trust me—turning heads will follow:
The holidays might as well be renamed the "season of stress," and as if the anxiety, frustrations, and headaches weren't bad enough, stress causes an uptick in blemishes, according to a Stanford University School of Medicine study. So for both your mood and skin's sake, scale back a bit. Set boundaries and be willing to say no from time to time. After all, you should love the holidays, not pull your hair out over them! Put your own happiness at the top of your wish list and all of the overstressed women at your holiday parties will be wondering what your beauty secret is! Get more tips for fighting menopause stress!
The holidays might feel like the one time of the year it's OK to splurge, but not if you want your skin to look its best. Case in point: A 2012 Johannes Gutenberg University study found that when drinking wine, about 25 percent of people experience mild signs of alcohol intolerance, including flushed skin. Even worse, women are almost twice as likely as men to suffer from wine allergies, according to researchers. (Learn how wine can also worsen your hot flashes.) Wine's not the only culprit, though. So are those sugar cookies everyone is passing around. According to a 2007 study from Australian researchers, people who load up on refined carbohydrates have more inflammation and more blemishes than those who nosh on a diet that's high in protein and vegetables.
Scrub Your Skin
During perimenopause, your oil glands kick into overdrive, but once you hit menopause, they screech to a halt from a lack of estrogen. Add winter weather to the mix and no wonder your skin is dry, peeling, and itchy. While moisturizing your skin each and every day is vital to your glow outlasting your holiday schedule, that lotion won't have the chance to do much if your face and body are covered with dead skin. Exfoliant creams can help. What's more, exfoliating the top, dead layers of skin sends a signal to your skin's deeper layers to become more active and produce more wrinkle-fighting collagen, according to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Brandith Irwin, author of The Surgery-Free Makeover. The result: A softer, brighter, younger-looking complexion.
See Your Beauty
If you look in the mirror and don't like what you see, take a second look. As women, we have ridiculous and unrealistic expectations about what is beautiful. My favorite TED series ever includes a thought-provoking presentation from model Cameron Russell (who has walked runways for brands including Victoria's Secret and Chanel) on how our society defines beauty—and how that definition is constructed more in Photoshop than in reality, leading even Cameron to insecurity. She finds herself in a state of constant anxiety over how people will judge her body, just as most of us probably are. No wonder why 53 percent of American girls are unhappy with their bodies, according to the University of Washington. Hit fast-forward and 96 percent of women don't think they are beautiful, according to Dove's beauty campaign, Real Beauty Sketches. But as Dove's social experiment showed us, we actually judge ourselves more harshly than anyone else does. So take a second look and pay attention to the beauty everyone else sees in you.
Shed Your Inhibitions.
Whether it's by trying out a new, adventurous 'do or ditching the little black dress for a red "look at me!" number, letting loose is one of the quickest ways to take our beauty to the next level. As the fabulously beautiful and fashionable Miuccia Prada once said, "Women always try to tame themselves as they get older, but the ones that look best are often a bit wilder. Thinking about age all the time is the biggest prison women can make for themselves." Stop being a wallflower because you think it's "age appropriate." Show the world just how beautiful you really are!
Make Over Your Makeup
This year, I was traipsing through Bloomingdale's when I sat myself down in a makeup chair. I had been using the same makeup for what seemed like a zillion years and decided it was time for a new look. Apparently I was right! That night I went to a party and received so many compliments on my makeup that I went back to Bloomies first thing in the morning to switch to Clarins for good. Why is Clarins so great, you ask? Well, the makeup is gentle, plant-based, and incredibly formulated. In fact, 80 researchers work in Clarins labs, conducting a minimum of 100 studies to release a single product, according to Clarins. If a department store near you doesn't offer Clarins products, consider an online consultation to determine the best products for your skin type.
Health and happiness are without a doubt the most beautiful qualities around. Every woman deserves to be comfortable in her own skin, full of self-confidence and the strength to live life on her terms. So, to celebrate the amazing beauty of women everywhere, this holiday season I am offering a Clarins gift basket to one lucky reader. Enter to win at EllenDolgen.com!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Sure, when I entered perimenopause, I never thought I'd say that. Like many women, when I entered perimenopause, I was irritable, sweaty, sleepless, and felt like a permanent fog had taken over my brain. I had no idea what was happening—let alone how to get the help I needed to make it stop!
But when I finally visited a perimenopause and menopause specialist, I learned that what I was experiencing wasn't just normal. It was fixable! With my doctor's expertise, I embarked on a journey toward hormone happiness, and (guess what?!?) I achieved it! Now, without the threat of hot flashes and mood swings, I can appreciate this era of my life—that's right, menopause—for all of the blessings it has brought me.
So, why do you ask, am I thankful for menopause? Let me count the reasons:
1. I Feel Younger Than Ever
I am stronger, healthier, and more empowered today at 60 than I was when I was 40! For me—and for the women in the sisterhood who have mastered the fine art of hormone happiness—gone is the archetypal image of the old, cranky menopausal woman. In fact, most of my menopausal friends (and some are even grandmas!) are among the most vibrant, life-filled women I know! They are biking, surfing, and hiking with their grandkids. How awesome is that? Learn how to live younger than ever!
2. The Sex Is Amazing
By now in life, we actually know—and know how to use—our bodies! We are comfortable in our skin and can enjoy our sex lives for the intimate experiences they are. We can even ask for what we want...and get it! Reclaim your sexual empowerment during menopause!
3. I Empower My Daughter
It's our job to teach our daughters to own their experiences and to value their bodies and health! So I couldn't have been prouder when my daughter walked into her doctor's office and demanded to have the proper blood panels taken for fertility testing. She stood up for her health and her happiness. Talk to your daughter about hormones!
4. Freedom Is Mine
I used to dread the day my children would move from home and my husband and I would be left as empty nesters. But then I learned it meant we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted! Our schedules—and wardrobes, for that matter—revolved around no one but us! Have your kids flown the coup? It's time to get naked! Enjoy the benefits of being an empty nester!
5. My Mom Has Become My Friend
Of course I've always loved my mom. But it was through menopause that I gained the wisdom and experience to reflect back on my childhood and my mother's role within it. Only then did I learn to appreciate her for the incredible woman she is. Now she is one of my greatest friends and blessings. Here's the best thing I learned from my mom!
6. I'm First
To be the woman I want to be, both for the people I love and for myself, I have to put myself at the top of my to-do list. I take care of myself with the same commitment with which I care for my friends and family! Learn how to make healthy aging a priority.
7. I'm Closer to My Husband
My husband walked alongside me during my menopause journey and, because of it, we have grown to understand each other more completely. The result: We are more in love than ever! We have been married for 37 years and still date each other! Learn how to talk to your partner about perimenopause and menopause.
8. I'm Confident
My menopausal journey has given me the most attractive quality around: confidence. I love myself as I am and finally recognize all that I have achieved as a wife, mother, and woman. I'm pretty darn amazing (as are all of you!), and I finally know it so that I can squash down self-criticism for the lies it tells me! Learn the real way to look great in your swimsuit!
9. My Vagina Is Happy
I'm not about to stay hush-hush about my vagina. It's a beautiful part of me and as such I've learned to treat it right, doing everything from taking out the 'ole hand mirror and learning its ways to starring in the Vagina Monologues. Has menopause not been kind to your vagina? Save your vagina with these tips!
10. I've Found My Purpose
Perhaps my biggest joy, which I owe totally to menopause, is the ability to help educate and prepare women (as well as the people who love them!) for perimenopause and menopause. The only thing better than achieving hormone happiness is helping other women achieve it, too!
If menopause is still on your "hate" list, this is the season to find hormone happiness and start loving menopause for all of the joys it brings! By this time next year, there's no end to all of the reasons you will be thankful for menopause!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
It's that time of year again: time for us to select our health insurance policy for the following year. But this year, thanks to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), things are a little (OK, make that a lot) different.
Currently in the United States, nearly one in five women ages 18 to 64 are uninsured, according to the Office on Women's Health. Meanwhile, those who are insured consistently pay higher health insurance premiums than men, according to the National Women's Law Center -- and often without the coverage they need. What's more, women are twice as likely as men to be insured through a spouse's plan, meaning they risk losing coverage if their spouses lose their job, they get divorced, or their husbands die.
“It’s apparent that something has been seriously amiss with women’s healthcare in America,” says Vista Health Solutions editor Michael Cahill, “The Affordable Care Act has the potential to reshape the landscape of women’s healthcare starting in 2014.”
Here are three groundbreaking ways the Affordable Care Act will change your healthcare in the coming year:
You Won't Pay More Because You're a Woman
For years, you have been paying higher premiums for one simple reason: You're a woman. In most states, insurers have traditionally been allowed to consider gender when setting policy rates. In 2009, 95 percent of the best-selling plans in state capitals practiced gender rating, according to one report, Still Nowhere to Turn: Insurance Companies Treat Women Like a Pre-Existing Condition. As a result, women are often charged more than men for the exact same coverage. For example, the report found that, in 2009, a 25-year-old woman could be charged up to 84 percent more than a 25-year-old man for the exact same individual policy (that means no maternity coverage). Fortunately, gender rating on individual policies as well on small group plans (50-100 employees) is banned under the ACA, according to Cahill. "While this is not a complete stop to this practice, it is certainly a start," he says.
You'll Receive a Wider Range of Coverage
"The ACA's essential health benefits serve to bring all health insurance plans up to a new standard of coverage. The idea is this: There are ten different categories of medical benefits that every new health plan has to cover in some capacity," Cahill says. These include outpatient care, emergency-room visits, inpatient care, pre- and post-natal care, mental health treatment, prescription drugs, recovery services, lab tests, pediatric services, and preventative services. "While specific healthcare benefits may vary by state and even within the same state, one category that does have some specific services mandated is preventative care," he says. For women this includes annual well-woman visits, routine mammograms, cervical cancer screenings, contraceptive methods, breastfeeding equipment, and more. It seems logical to include all of these areas, right? But before the ACA was enacted into law, insurance companies were able to exclude any and all of these from coverage. In fact, according to one 2009 report, that year, only 13 percent of health plans available to 30-year-old women provided maternity coverage. Check out HRSA.gov for a full list of women's preventative services.
Your Past Won't Prohibit Future Care
Who hasn't been sick or injured in the past? Come on, that's why we get health insurance, right? While insurers have traditionally been able to refuse to cover any costs associated with care for a pre-existing condition permanently or over a period of time, that ends with the ACA, Cahill says. For women this means that past cases of breast cancer, uterine fibroids, cesarean sections, domestic abuse, as well as current pregnancies won't stand between you and getting the continuing care you need. That's right, until now, health insurance companies could refuse to sell healthcare insurance to pregnant women, and in a recent CNN article, one woman shared how an insurance company said that, due to her previous cesarean section, the company would not cover her unless she was first sterilized. It's astonishing these sorts of practices were allowed for so long.
“All of these things coalesce into a notably better healthcare situation for women,” Cahill says. “Many women won’t have to worry about being charged a higher premium than a man, and every woman can benefit from the services provided by the essential health benefits.” So, ladies, when you are filling out your healthcare forms this year, focus on your health needs and the new opportunities to have them covered. This year women nationwide are able to secure the healthcare, equality, and happiness they deserve!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Photo Courtesy of I stock photo
One minute, all you have on your mind is making sure the sisterhood doesn't have vaginal atrophy. The next, you're worried about leg atrophy... WTF?!?
While I never considered walking into a restaurant to be a challenge, Friday evening—November 1st, it proved to be my downfall. I slipped and fell flat on my right knee.
Like most women do all of the time, I try to be "fine" and shrug it off. As way too many people for my comfort came rushing to help me hobble back to my seat, my mind immediately jetted to my closet. For sure I was going to have to rework my shoe selection for the black tie event that I was attending the following night. No big deal, I am a total shoe fanatic so I have plenty of heel heights to choose from. I was, "fine." It wasn't until we were ready to leave and I needed to stand up on my leg that I realized another F-word was spilling off my tongue!
As the pain increased, the height of my Saturday night heels decreased. Still, I was sure that I was "fine." After all, I'm a health nut and happen to know that on the infamous bell curve, my bone density is above normal—and at various sites is 110 to 120 percent greater that of the average woman my age. My vitamin D count is above 30 (also above normal). I do resistance exercises and take bioidentical hormone replacement therapy to help ward off osteoporosis. So I must be "fine!"
By the time the ER doc entered my room, the enormous choir singing, "I am fine," in my head became deafening, so it was hard to hear her words: "You fractured your knee cap and so your leg needs to be completely straight for the next three weeks to prevent your knee cap from moving and to avoid surgery. Total healing takes six weeks."
Now, as I lay awake each morning, staring at my leg immobilizer and the crutches, awaiting my handsome male nurse (my husband, David) to awaken so I can get out of bed, here are my thoughts:
I have five more weeks (but who's counting?) left of recovery. I have been struggling with a way in which I can make this journey more constructive. Here's what I have come up with:
Today is Veterans Day, and I realize that all losses in life are relative. As I reflect on the temporary and partial loss of use of my right leg, my inconvenience pales in comparison to the horrible permanent loss of limbs suffered by so many American combat veterans. Sometimes we learn life lessons through disappointments, tragedy, and, yes, even inconvenience. So every day and until I am back on my stilettos, I am making a personal donation to the Veterans Village of San Diego, an amazing non-profit that helps veterans build the lives they deserve after deployment.
Over these next five weeks, I am going to allow myself to be inspired by the bravery of these wounded warriors as opposed to focusing on my temporary and relatively insignificant situation. I feel better already!
Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence is OUT!
Sometimes, in menopause, hormones aren’t the problem at all. Sometimes, the real issue is the role we play in our own lives and families—and for increasingly more perimenopausal and menopausal women, that role is sandwiched between two slices of responsibility.
More than 65 million Americans are family caregivers, according to the nation's leading non-profit for caregivers, Caregiver Action Network, which is celebrating National Family Caregivers Month in November. What's more, many of these caregivers are members of the aptly named "Sandwich Generation," a group marked by its responsibility to somehow care for both its children and parents. Get this: Currently about one in seven middle-aged adults provide financial support and four-in-ten provide emotional support to both their children and aging parents, according to the Pew Research Center. Seriously!?! As if being a mother wasn't difficult enough?
Years ago, widowed, single mother Katie Hafner found herself in that very situation, living with both her teenage daughter and elderly mother. Surprise, surprise! Drama ensued. But the pedestrian squabbles over who got what drawer were trumped by the fact that, prior to her mother moving in, the two women barely knew each other. They hadn’t lived together since Katie was 10 years old and had been taken away because of her mother’s alcoholism.
Katie had anticipated living together again as an opportunity to grow closer to her mother, but she came to learn it also was an opportunity to face the anger and resentment toward her mother she had unknowingly carried with her since childhood. Spoiler alert: the little “experiment,” as Katie calls it, crashed and burned.
Writing became her therapy. Now, her memoir and an Oprah book of the week, Mother Daughter Me, casts a humorous, emotional, and, ultimately, uplifting look at how women can care for their mothers, daughters, and, most importantly, themselves.
So, whatever your caregiving role, take a lesson from Katie's experience. Here, her top three tips for taking care of yourself--even if you're living between two buns:
No parent is perfect. Many women feel their parents "missed the mark" in one way or another. The key is finding a way to forgive those faults, not just for your parents' sake, but for your own sanity as well. "Writing Mother Daughter Me was very helpful in coming to terms with my mother's shortcomings as a parent. It was only in the writing of the book that I took the time and energy to understand who my mother really is, and the kind of parent she was, as well as the effect that alcohol had on her ability to parent us," Katie says. "I believe she loved her children, but once alcohol entered the mix, we didn't stand much of a chance--and neither did she! I feel very strongly that parents do the best they can, given what they have to work with."
2. Set Boundaries
"I spent a lifetime not knowing where those boundaries were because I was so busy nurturing an unrealistic picture of the life I thought I might have with her--and thought I should have had with her," Katie says. But after her "experiment in multi-generational living" failed, she found that, with boundaries, she and her mother were able to become closer than ever. "I learned to hold back, and hold onto myself, rather than confide in my mother endlessly (bad idea). We found that we could have great conversations without having to touch on topics that were too painful. But first, my resentment about my childhood needed to melt away, and I'm happy to say it has," she says.
3. Be Proactive
The goal of caregiving is to head off problems before they arise--and that goes both for your loved ones and for yourself. "Make sure there is a good system in place, and with good communication," Katie says. Sit down as a family to talk about everyone's priorities, come up with a plan, and cross the T's and dot the I's on medical and legal paperwork to ease stress later on. "Also, don't wait too long to make sure your parents have downsized, and started the step toward a retirement community. I have so many friends who say their parents waited too long. My own mother was very smart in that she moved out of her large house before she was too frail to control the move herself." Get more practical tips for reducing the emotional and financial burden of caring for aging parents.
This National Family Caretakers Month, let’s join together and support all of the caretakers in our lives. Maybe it’s a friend who has opened her home to her father. Maybe it’s a sister who is coping will an ill child. Maybe it’s you. As women, we are the rocks of our families. But before we can really take care of anyone else, we have to take care of ourselves.
Remember: Reaching out is IN! Suffering in silence in OUT!