February Healthy Living: Sticking to Your Habits, The Keto Diet & Good News About Sleep

 Plus3's monthly health tips are brought to you by Amy Bertram, a Wellness Specialist in North Carolina. Learn more about Amy on LinkedIn and on her blog. 


Struggling To Keep a Habit? 


Who isn’t at some point? I am enthralled with Gretchen Rubin’s research on habits and happiness, and am sharing a few of my favorite insights that she lists on Habit Formation. (1) Making and keeping habits hold different struggles for different people. The secrets lie not in hard-and-fast rules that apply to everyone, but in a variety of solutions for which there is something for each of us. See what would work for your lifestyle:

  1. “You manage what you monitor, so find a way to monitor whatever matters.” For example, jot down what you eat, when you exercise, when you lose your temper and why. You may not even realize some of the things that are sabotaging your good intentions.

  2. “If it’s on the calendar, it happens.” Schedule your exercise, your 5 minutes to close your eyes and meditate or pray, a trip to the health food store. It’s such a bummer to ink something in and then ignore it. So much more satisfying to check it off your list.

  3. Moderate or Abstain: “For some of us, moderation is too tough; it’s easier to give up something altogether. (Works very well for some people, and not at all for others.)” Can you eat two pieces of chocolate, or will that send you over the edge? Some people have triggers from which they cannot rebound easily, while others feel deprived if they completely abstain from something. The latter is me. If I know I can’t have something it makes me want it all the more.

  4. “Do X only when you’re doing Y”. You can only listen to your favorite podcast when you are going for a power-walk. Only watch your favorite show if you do pushups during the commercials. Once you pair something, you begin to associate the behaviors, just like Pavlov’s dogs. Un-pairing can also be helpful, such as deciding to un-pair a glass of wine with dinner, but replacing the wine with something else enjoyable.

  5. Treats: “When we feel depleted and drained, and when we have no time or energy devoted to the things that give us pleasure, we start to feel exhausted, resentful, and angry.” So plan some fun treats that are not unhealthy, such as buying a new book, meeting a friend, going to a movie, or spending an hour on Pinterest.

  6. “Develop a system of external accountability.” Meet a friend to exercise, have your spouse send you an email to encourage you to resist an afternoon chocolate binge, bring someone to the grocery store with you to purchase healthy ingredients for meals. It is amazing how this simple tool of being obligated to someone else can encourage a habit to stick.

  7. Convenience/Inconvenience: “We’re far more likely to do something if it’s convenient, and far less likely to do something if it’s inconvenient, to an astounding degree. For instance, in one cafeteria, when an ice-cream cooler’s lid was left open, thirty percent of diners bought ice cream, but when diners had to open the lid, only fourteen percent bought ice cream, even though the ice cream was visible in both situations. People take less food when using tongs, instead of spoons, as serving utensils.”  Make the good thing the easy thing!

Instead of beating yourself up for failing to create a healthy habit, find a new way to make it easy for yourself. For more ideas and strategies, go to Gretchen’s website: https://gretchenrubin.com/. Or listen to her podcast Happier with Gretchen Rubin. I only listen to it when I am running. Now which strategy was that?


1) https://gretchenrubin.com/2014/07/my-new-book-about-habit-formation-as-distilled-in-21-sentences


Enough about the Keto Diet!
And really, what is it?


If going Paleo wasn’t enough, now we have to go Keto. Or not. I am seeing recipes for the Ketogenic diet everywhere. So I decided to do some digging and see what the fuss is about.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic (keto) diet is a low-carb, high-fat diet. It theoretically lowers blood sugar and insulin levels, shifting the body’s metabolism away from carbs and towards fat.


How does that work?
A ketogenic diet mimics starvation, allowing the body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis. Because most folks live on a high carb diet, our bodies normally run on glucose (or sugar) for energy. We cannot make glucose, and only have about 24 hours’ worth stored in our muscle tissue and liver. Once glucose is no longer available from food sources, we begin to burn stored fat instead, or fat from our diets.

What do you eat on a Keto diet?

Fat. Pretty much. A typical Keto diet is 75% fat, 20% protein, and 5% carbs.


Um, 5% carbs? Do you know what that entails? Generally, that is 20-ish net carbs (carbs-minus-fiber), which is 1/2 hamburger bun, 1/2 cup of rice, 1 1/2 oz. tortilla chips, a head of cauliflower, 3 zucchinis, OR 3 large carrots. The WHOLE day.


What does 75% fat look like? Meat, fatty fish, eggs, oil, butter, avocados, full-fat dairy (cream, yogurt, milk), nuts, and seeds. And a lot of it. 75% of your diet. Sample day:

  • Breakfast: Bacon, eggs, and tomatoes.

  • Lunch: Chicken salad with olive oil and feta cheese.

  • Dinner: Salmon with asparagus cooked in butter.

What to avoid or minimize on a Keto diet: Sugary foods, grains and starches, fruit, (except small portions of berries), beans or legumes, root vegetables (potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots), low-fat or diet products, some condiments or sauces, unhealthy fat, alcohol, and sugar-free diet foods. (1)

Why would anyone want to be on the Keto diet?
Keto advocates quote the studies that suggest that starving the body of sugar and carbs can reverse inflammation, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, epilepsy, and encourage weight loss.

What are the drawbacks?
Besides being a nutritionists’ nightmare due to the low fruit, vegetable, and grain content, side effects can be troubling:

  • “Keto flu” – includes poor energy and mental function, increased hunger, sleep issues, nausea, digestive discomfort and decreased exercise performance

  • Increased work for kidneys

  • Constipation

  • Decrease in muscle mass

  • “Keto breath”- unfortunate breath odor

  • “Foggy brain”- lack of clear thinking due to minimal glucose for the brain

Don’t confuse ketosis with ketoacidosis. The former is natural, while the latter only occurs in uncontrolled diabetes, and can be life-threatening. (2)


Should you try out the Keto diet? Not without checking with your physician, please. It falls at the bottom of the U.S. News and World Report’s Best Diets (overall) list (3), partially due to the difficulty in maintaining the strict requirements. Research indicates that most any diet will be effective if it is followed. Keep in mind:

“What you do most of the time is more important than what you do sometimes.” - Gretchen Rubin

1) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/ketogenic-diet-101#section8
2) https://www.healthline.com/health-news/is-keto-diet-better-even-with-exercise#3
3) https://www.usnews.com/info/blogs/press-room/articles/2018-01-03/us-news-reveals-best-diets-rankings-for-2018


Finally, Some Good News About Sleep

Are you feeling guilty about all of the sleep that you are missing? The media keeps reminding us that Americans continue to fall short on our sleep needs, which is contributing to the obesity and stress epidemics. But what about those of you who are trying to sleep, but sleep lightly, or wake up in the night ruminating about the crazy details in your life? That just makes me more stressed, and less likely to sleep.

We Actually Under-Estimate Our Sleep
Recently I learned some information that encouraged me: We are probably getting more sleep than we think we are. Dr. Chris Winter, board certified sleep medicine specialist and neurologist (1), says that when patients come into his office for a sleep study, they often claim that they had a terrible night’s sleep and lay awake most of the night with maybe an hour or so of total sleep. But when the technicians review the data from that patient’s night, they find that the patient actually slept closer to 6 or 7 hours. This is very common with his patients, so he knows that we often perceive that we slept much less than we actually did. He also said that there is still a benefit to lying in bed and relaxing. Sometimes I sleep very deeply at the beginning of the night, and much more lightly later (more on that), yet am concerned that the lighter sleep didn’t “count”. But that is not the case, according to Dr. Winter.

Waking Up Too Early?
I was also encouraged to learn that waking up too early and not being able to go back to sleep isn’t as tragic as I often make it out to be. Here’s why: Our deepest sleep occurs early in our sleep process, and continues to grow lighter towards the morning. We have REM cycles every 90 minutes or so, ending with a state of dreaming. Then we begin a new sleep cycle. This is why we often remember the dream we had just before we woke up. So if you wake up at 3:00 a.m. one morning and find yourself frustrated with not being able to return to sleep, take heart because most of your heavy-duty sleeping has already been accomplished!

1) Dr. Chris Winter, MD; Author: The Sleep Solution.



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