Cholesterol, Cravings and Food Costs: My Experience with Clean Eating

By Susan Robertson

Following my physical in January 2014 to fulfill the Partnership Promise health insurance requirements, I received the report from my doctor that my cholesterol was too high. I also received a hand-written note that simply said, “Watch your sweets and get regular exercise.”

I exercised enough and ate relatively healthy, but the truth was that I didn’t exercise on a regular basis. And following each meal with a dessert was my weakness.

I was determined to lower my cholesterol the natural way and not rely on prescription medication. Through much research, I found that high cholesterol levels are caused by inflammation in the body and not enough movement; and inflammation can be controlled through consuming a diet rich with anti-inflammatory foods (i.e. almonds, leafy greens, fish, pineapple, etc.). You can read about anti-inflammatory foods on Dr. Andrew Weil’s website.

So, I made the decision to start walking every day and switch to a whole foods diet—no processed foods and very little sugar. There went my nightly handful of peanut M&Ms.

I started by shopping on the outside perimeter of the grocery store and buying only whole, organic foods—fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean protein.

As far as beverages, I drink mostly water and black coffee. Fortunately, I never sweetened my coffee, so that was one habit I didn’t have to break.

I don’t deny myself any food. I still occasionally have a piece of cake or some ice cream, but it’s not a regular part of my diet.

Something I always hear from people is, “It’s so expensive to eat healthy.”

I agree, it’s not cheap, but neither are prescriptions, doctor’s appointments and hospital stays! I’m a strong believer in the Benjamin Franklin quote, “An ounce of prevention is worth of pound of cure.”

One way I’ve kept healthy eating affordable is by joining a community supported agriculture (CSA) group. With CSA farms, you pay a set amount for a year, and in return, you pick up a bin of fresh vegetables every week from April through early November.

This has allowed me to enjoy vegetables I had never eaten before, such as kohlrabi, and vegetables I would normally not buy, such as beets and fennel—which by the way are very good sautéed together with some olive oil and garlic!

I’m also a frequent visitor to area farmer’s markets for fresh ingredients, including goat cheese, grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. We’re blessed to live in a state with so many farms. Visit this site to find a farmer’s market in your area.

I started clean eating in an effort to lower my cholesterol naturally, and as an added benefit, I ended up losing 30 pounds!

In my first check-up following my lifestyle changes, my cholesterol also dropped by 30 points. And based on my most recent biometric screening, my overall cholesterol dropped another 15 points— all because of clean eating and exercise.

When I made the decision to eat healthier and get regular exercise, I never called it “a diet” because that sounds so much like a fad. I called it a lifestyle change, and it certainly has been a very positive one!

In case you have a sweet tooth, too, I’ve included one of my favorite recipes. Enjoy!

High-Protein Breakfast Cookies

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup coconut flour
  • ½ cup almond butter
  • 6 pitted dried dates, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
  • ¾ cups shredded coconut
  • ½ cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 medium eggs (or if vegan, 2 tablespoons finely ground flaxseed + 5 tablespoons warm water)
  • ½ tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons dried unsweetened dark cherries
  • 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
  • 3 tablespoons currants

Instructions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. If you’re doing the vegan version, whisk your ground flax and warm water in a bowl. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes until it has thickened.
  3. Combine the coconut flour, almond butter and dates in a food processor. Process until it’s combined and the dates have broken into really small pieces—about a minute.
  4. Add the shredded coconut, applesauce, eggs or flax “eggs,” cinnamon, vanilla, salt and baking soda. Process for 30 seconds or until a wet dough forms.
  5. Add in the remaining ingredients, and pulse once or twice until the fruit is incorporated in the dough but chopped up.
  6. Drop the dough in heaping spoonfuls onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  7. Dip a metal spatula in water, and use the bottom to lightly press down each ball of dough. These cookies will not spread or rise so make sure to make them the shape you want prior to baking.
  8. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until they are golden on top and slightly brown along the edges.

Susan RoberstonSusan Robertson  Contact
UT Institute for Public Service

Susan handles communications for the UT Institute for Public Service. She enjoys spending time outdoors—hiking and documenting the natural beauty of East Tennessee through photography. Susan loves watching all sports, reading, cooking and fulfilling the needs of her demanding miniature dachshund, Wrigley.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Reaching a Goal Requires Setting One

By Gina Stafford

As busy as we all are with work, family, social and personal obligations, there’s often no choice but to skip deliberate physical activity when our schedules get overcrowded. At least, that’s true for me.

Whether walking, hiking or going to the gym, I really enjoy getting to spend some time exercising. Recently, though, that time was consumed by the need to support my husband, Bill, as he underwent knee replacement surgery. We both knew it was a big deal, but I had no idea how much of my days were going to be filled at the hospital, the inpatient rehab facility, traveling to physical therapy and tending to our household completely solo.

For three full weeks, I lived in the world of caregiving. In that world, as anyone who’s spent time there knows, your otherwise normal routine disappears, household chores fall by the wayside, and you eat from a vending machine or a drive-thru. And for me, let’s just say poor food choices and getting no exercise were a bad combination for weight management, and leave it at that.

Bill’s knee replacement surgery was on May 5, 2015. He has had the best experience possible and is recovering quickly, for which I’m very thankful. I’m thankful, too, that I’ve been able to resume a near-normal routine, with some time for periodic exercise.

I’m also looking forward to the time in the future when Bill can join me in some of our favorite active pursuits—a list topped by hiking. In fact, while still a rehab inpatient, Bill set a goal of hiking to the top of Mount LeConte next year, on the first anniversary of his new knee.

Bill on Alum Cave Trail en route to Mount LeConte in 2014
Bill on Alum Cave Trail en route to Mount LeConte in 2014

At an elevation of 6,593 feet, Mount LeConte is the second-highest peak on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, with Clingman’s Dome the highest at 6,644 feet. LeConte is one of the park’s most beautiful, signature hiking destinations, accessible to the public only on foot via challenging trails. In my experience, Clingman’s Dome is more of a driving destination, where people park at the base of a paved, one-mile walkway and make that very steep trip on foot to the impressive observation tower.

Hiking Mount LeConte can be one of those “been there, done that, got the T-shirt” activities, thanks to a small-scale store operating in a lodge atop the mountain. Each year, a new “LeConte Lodge” T-shirt design – complete with the current year’s imprint – is sold only on top of the mountain. Bragging rights and avid hikers are good for T-shirt sales.

Bill 2015, Post-opWhen my husband wore his 2014 shirt to post-op physical therapy, he was the talk of the group. His therapists were impressed that a knee replacement patient had ascended LeConte with what had to have been a very damaged and painful knee just 11 months earlier.

That inspired Bill. Having learned that total knee replacement requires 12 months for full, complete recovery, he decided he would celebrate the one-year mark by ascending LeConte again, via the 10 miles roundtrip Alum Cave Trail. I was pleased his experience was going so well that he was already looking forward to returning to hiking, and a big hiking challenge, at that.

We have a long way to go, and he has a lot of physical therapy ahead to prep for us to take on that challenge, but I’m eager and confident it will happen. I’m also reminded of the importance— to exercising regularly—of setting goals. I don’t know anyone who decided to run a marathon and ran one the same day. I never have and am confident I never will run a marathon, but I have set activity-related goals, and every time I did, they were the catalyst to better fitness.

Setting goals is motivating and helps you stay focused. Goals give you a reason to stick with and track your physical activity. Checking off a goal—whether it’s walking five miles a week or running five miles a day—brings a satisfying sense of accomplishment and can encourage you to set more challenging goals. Among family members, setting goals can encourage participation and friendly competition. Goals can start anywhere—wherever is most realistic—and without them, it can be hard to start at all.

The American Heart Association has some good tips to help you introduce routine exercise into your life in its “Five Steps to Loving Exercise…Or At Least not Hating It.”

If you’re older and it’s been a while since you were active, you also might enjoy the wealth of great information in the National Institute on Aging’s “Exercise and Physical Activity” guide. It’s a comprehensive resource on various types and benefits of exercise – and identifying and setting goals.

In my house, Mount LeConte is on the figurative horizon until May 2015, when I’m counting on seeing its actual horizon.


Bill and GinaGina Stafford  Twitter  Contact
UT System Administration

Gina and her husband, Bill Phelps, are outdoor and hiking enthusiasts who especially enjoy venturing into new territory. They share a love of all things Vols, baseball and travel. Gina is assistant vice president and director of communications for the UT System Administration.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Hit the Trail and Ditch the Stress

By Gina Stafford

As a little girl growing up in the country, I spent summers in the woods. Climbing trees, wading creeks and exploring. When I grew up and moved to the city, I left the woods, but the woods have never left me.

Fortunately, I live only 50 miles from about a half-billion acres of woodlands in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Even though it’s the most-visited national park in the country, it’s still plenty big enough to offer the peace, quiet and beauty that draw me to the woods. I go there to hike, my favorite combination of stress reliever and physical activity.

Hiking is something almost anyone can do, and you don’t have to live near a national park to take advantage of it. Besides the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee has another National Park Service site, the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area, along with 56 state parks. Those, combined with greenway systems in many Tennessee cities, make up almost 1,000 trails and walking routes accessible throughout the state. That’s a lot of opportunity to get out of the house, away from the office and into a happy place.

There, parents can spend time with their children, friends can spend time together, but you don’t have to spend any money. Tennessee’s state and national parks are open seven days a week, year-round, and they don’t charge entry fees.

No special equipment or knowledge is required, either, but here are some basic tips for hitting the trail:

Know the distance and degree of difficulty—most park or trail maps have labeled routes according to the challenge presented. Beginner trails are usually suitable for all fitness levels.

Check the forecast—being unprepared for weather conditions makes for a bad experience. Even if the forecast is clear, it’s still a good idea to take along rain gear if you may be out most of the day.

Footwear and gear—sneakers or athletic shoes are OK for flat, smooth surfaces, but more challenging terrain or hikes much longer than a couple miles call for comfortable and waterproof hiking shoes or boots. Apply insect repellent and sunscreen before hitting the trail, and dress in layered clothing suitable for the temperature.

Food and water—plan to have snacks or food and water appropriate to the amount of time and distance you want to cover. A good rule of thumb is to bring enough water so that you can drink 8 ounces (one cup) for every 15 minutes you’re on the trail, and a healthy snack for every 60 to 90 minutes.

Start short—beginners can easily overestimate how far they can go. It’s not only no fun to run out of steam mid-hike, it can be a health or safety risk. Know your limitations and those of anyone joining you. Start with an easy trail and limit the distance, to maybe 2 miles or less.

Don’t go it alone—it’s best not to take chances on having a problem and no one to help. Those new to hiking, especially, should go in pairs or small groups. Take your cell phone—though signal is not always available in state or national parks—and let someone know when you expect to return.

Barred OwlMy husband and I really enjoy hiking and our relatively close proximity to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We go often with friends—hiking 600-800 miles a year—and you never know when you might make a new friend, such as this Barred Owl watching over us once as we passed along a trail below his perch.

For more information on walking and hiking trails in Tennessee, visit:


Gina Stafford and Bill PhelpsGina Stafford  Twitter  Contact
UT System Administration

Gina and her husband, Bill Phelps, are outdoor and hiking enthusiasts who especially enjoy venturing into new territory. They share a love of all things Vols, baseball and travel. Gina is assistant vice president and director of communications for the UT System Administration.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

5 Lessons from a Recovering Barbecue Addict

By Keith Carver

December 2014 was a low point.

I had just gotten my annual physical. My doctor told me that I was 30 pounds overweight. My blood sugar was dangerously high. And my blood pressure had gotten to a level that had captured my physician’s attention.

I was stunned. While I knew that I was overweight, I had recently completed the St. Jude marathon in Memphis and had set my personal best for that race and distance. I was “in shape.” But I knew that I hadn’t felt well in years. My sleeping habits were suffering, and I had noticed more swelling and pain in my joints. Something had to change.

He suggested that I consult a nutritionist to look at my eating. I immediately contacted a local professional to help educate and train me on good food choices and habits.

I’ve learned a great deal in the last four months.

Lesson 1: You can’t out-exercise bad eating habits.
No matter how much you walk or run, poor food choices will derail any good total-wellness plan.

Lesson 2: A well-balanced diet is easy to follow.
It just takes discipline and preparation. Use your Sunday evenings to plan your week of eating. When are you traveling? How often will you be eating at restaurants? When can you bring your lunch to work? Planning ahead so that you can make food choices ahead of time is essential. We are sporadic about eating healthy. Not planning ahead equates to poor decisions.

Lesson 3: Exercising 30 minutes a day is key to good physical (and mental) health.
I used to think that hours in the gym or on the road were needed to lose weight. I’ve now discovered that a mix of healthy eating plus consistent exercise—regardless of the particular routine—keeps me headed in the right direction. Try 30 minutes of walking with your spouse or riding bikes with your kids. Get up 30 minutes earlier in the morning to go for a run before work. Get on an elliptical machine or stationary bike while you watch the news. Whatever it takes—fit exercise into your daily schedule and make it a priority.

Lesson 4: Figure out your nutritional needs.
It varies from person to person, but I currently subscribe to a 40/30/30 plan. That’s 40 percent of my diet being lean proteins, 30 percent being good carbohydrates and 30 percent being heart-healthy fats. I eat three meals a day, plus three snacks in between. This keeps me satiated and full. A doctor or nutritionist can help you figure out a plan just for you.

Lesson 5: Set attainable goals.
Instead of striving to lose 30 pounds, break it into smaller units. You want to lose 5 pounds. Or, you want to fit into those jeans you wore two years ago. Whatever your goal—make it reachable and tangible.

I’ve lost 19 pounds since the holidays. My blood sugar is down, and I’m sleeping better. Best of all, I feel so much better.

I still have miles to go, but I’ll get there…one decision at a time.


The Carver FamilyKeith Carver  Blog  Contact
UT System Administration

Keith is husband to an amazing woman and dad to three active children. He enjoys getting outdoors with his wife, Hollianne, fishing, watching his children play sports all over East Tennessee and reading biographies of historical figures. He currently serves as the executive assistant to UT President Joe DiPietro.

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Coached by the Best

By Erica Jenkins

If you’re looking for a way to fit exercise into your day without going to the gym, try these coach-approved exercises.

Step-Up + Backward Lunge

By Leslie Gillies, Assistant Head Coach of the UT Martin Women’s Soccer Team

  1. Step with right foot onto box, pressing the right heel down while pushing off with the left leg and bringing it next to your right foot.
    Leslie standing upright with right foot planted on step
  2. Pause then step your left leg down in a slow, controlled manner 6-12 inches from the box. Let your right foot follow once the left has safely made contact with the ground.
    Leslie stands upright on step
  3. Step the foot back, landing on the ball of the foot. As this occurs, bend both knees and drop your hips straight down.
    Leslie standing upright with right foot planted on step
  4. When your front thigh is parallel with the floor, extend your knees and hips to stand back up to the start position. The leg you step up with is the same leg you step back with on the backward lunge.
    Leslie lunges in squat position with left foot forward and her right knee bend downward

Variations:

Novice: Novice individuals should use a box that is significantly lower (i.e. ankle or shin height)

Active: Individuals who are very active in strength training may select a box that is no higher than knee height and add dumbbells held at one’s side.

No box: If no box is available, using the bottom step of a stair would also work.

High Plank w/ Variations

By Chris Gillies, UT Martin Strength and Conditioning Coach

Performing the high plank and its different variations can offer excellent options for those who are looking to improve their fitness level. A high plank is simply the “up” position of a push-up and can be performed on time (i.e. 30 seconds) or by number of repetitions (i.e. 10 touches per side).

Proper Positioning

Chris Gillies with both hands on floor balancing on toes

    • Hand Position – Hands are placed under one’s shoulders while being shoulder width apart. Fingers point forward and elbows are fully extended.
    • Foot Position – Feet should be no wider than hip width with weight pressed forward on the tip toes.
    • Flat Back – One’s head should be in front of their hands, forcing the chest to be located between the hands. Force the abdominals and lower back to tighten by squeezing the buttocks together while drawing in the belly button to the spine.

Variations:

      1. Add an alternating toe tap
        Chris Gillies plants both hands on floor stretching right leg
      2. Alternate moving the knees to the chest
        Chris Gillies in crouching position with one knee forward
      3. Incorporate an alternating shoulder tap (touch the right shoulder with the left hand, return to the high plank, followed by touching the left shoulder with the right hand, repeat)
        Chris Gillies positioning one hand on his chest, one hand on floor

Common mistakes include the hips rising up due to the weight shifting back and the head no longer in front of the hands, and the hips sinking to the ground because of not drawing in the belly button and tightening the buttocks. As one begins to tire, these mistakes can become more evident.

Benefits of the Exercise: Many times individuals feel they must go the gym and use weights and machines to get a proper workout. This could not be further from the truth. One’s own body weight can provide great challenges.

What the Exercise Targets: Holding this position challenges the chest, shoulders, abdominals, and back.


Erica Jenkins HeadshotErica Jenkins  Contact
UT System Administration

Erica joined the UT System Office of Communications and Marketing in 2011 and currently serves as public relations associate, specializing in measurement and analytics and managing communication planning for government relations and advocacy initiatives. When she’s not involved in community and campus organizations, Erica enjoys deep sea fishing with her family and working on music. 

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Why I Play Paddleball

By Scott Gordy

Why I Play Paddleball:
Because I have a blast doing it! We’ve got a group of 10 to 12 people who play at lunch two or three times a week. If the weather’s nice, we play outside, and if not, we use the campus rec center.

My Motivation:
Physical activity helps me clear my mind, refocus and boost my metabolism. Going out there puts a fresh perspective on things and sometimes even helps me solve problems—a change of scenery can be good for that.

My Wellness Goal:
I try to keep my weight in check and focus on cardiovascular health.


Scott Gordy  Contact
UT Institute for Public Service
IT Manager

Disclaimer
Posts represent the views, expertise and recommendations of their authors and do not necessarily reflect an endorsement by the University of Tennessee. Furthermore, the content of the blog is for informational purposes only. The content of the blog is not, and is not intended to be used as, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.