Coming Out – Part 2 Parental Self-Care

When he told me he only had crushes on boys and thats why he never dated, I started crying. 

My son told me not to tell his father that he really feels like a girl. Did I let him play with girls too much? 

I asked my daughter why her best friend identifies as lesbian, and she told me she thinks she may be one too. Im sure she is not. 

When teens come out, the world shifts. Some parents respond with denial, wanting to diminish the news. Others feel anger and want to find out who is responsible. Some parents feel sadness, anticipating a loss of shared values, a loss of future. Denial, anger and sadness are all important aspects of grief processing, and for many parents, responding to a child’s coming out is a grief experience. 

Most children talk with their parents only after years of trying to figure out what is really happening inside, and when they finally tell parents, those years are condensed into a moment that – to a parent – may feel like a dropped bomb. 

After listening to hundreds of stories of parents responding to their children’s expressions of attraction and identity, I’ve seen how important it is for parents to take care of their own emotional health afterward.*  

Here are some valuable principles to keep in mind: 

  1. Take a break to figure yourself out. Denial, anger, and grief are expected. However, if your child feels overwhelmed by your denial, anger, and grief, then healthy connecting may be more difficult. Many children “take on” their parents’ reactions and become more isolated. You may want to find another place and time to express and explore your genuine reactions. One mother told her child she loved him and needed some time to figure out her own feelings, and then she spent the afternoon at her sister’s home. Another father immediately called a counselor, reassuring his son that the counseling was intended to help the father provide healthy support for his son.  
  2. Remind yourself, “This is not a crisis.” One mother described feeling completely numb. Because Christmas was only a few days away, she felt both the pressure of the family’s expectation and the heaviness of the news. She found that repeating aloud the words, “This is not a crisis” reminded her that their family would still survive despite the new information.
  3. It’s normal to feel more upset, even though your child may seem happier. While children often feel relief after sharing feelings with parents, your feelings may begin to resemble a roller-coaster. It may seem unfair that your child has just given you the burden to carry. Breathe through these feelings and recognize that this is normal.  
  4. Find safe people to share what you are feeling. Your child may insist that you tell no one. And although it’s important to honor your child’s sense of privacy, it’s OK to let your child know that you need to talk with someone. Perhaps you and your child can agree on a trusted family member, friend, or counselor. 
  5. Limit your contact with others who are uninformed. Sometimes well-meaning friends and family have advice that is not helpful, or that undermines your confidence in yourself and your child. It’s OK to limit your contact with these people for a period of time. Plan what you will say. “We are working hard to support each other right now and I need to focus on that,” may be helpful to repeat.
  6. And finally, when you ask “Why me?” try switching to the question, “Why not me?” and see what strengths you find in yourself. Chances are you are being called to a deeper way of loving your child and yourself. 

SIDEBAR MATERIAL — Find a Parent Support Group in Utah County 

Find a parent support group. Meeting with other parents in similar situations has been a positive emotional turning point for many. Here are a few in Utah Valley: 

  1. PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meets weekly at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in downtown Provo (provopflag@gmail.com) 
  2. Encircle Parents’ Meeting (Third Sunday of each month at Encircle in Provo) https://encircletogether.org/supportgroups 
  3. Northstar Parents’ Meeting (Quarterly meeting at a parent’s home in Lehi) 

https://www.lds.org/blog/navigating-family-differences-with-love-and-trust?lang=eng  

 Next time:  Coming Out Part 3 – What do we do now? 

 

Coming Out – Part 1 When your teen opens up

“I wish I could take it back and do it over!” parents say about the moment their teens told them they were gay, lesbian, transgender, or that the teens were worried about their sexual orientation, attractions, or gender identity. “Nothing prepared me for this!” they say. Other parents remember, “My first thought was that what I was hearing was somehow my fault, that I’d been a bad parent, and I just fell apart.” Even parents who managed to say to their teen, “I still love you, it doesn’t change anything,” still sometimes have regrets and wish they could press the re-start button.

As a therapist who has listened to hundreds of family “coming out” stories, I’ve noticed that what happens during these conversations has a strong impact on feelings within the family. This first interaction between parent and teen (and each conversation that follows) either creates stronger bonds or difficult memories that parents and teens have to work through later.

What most parents want is to keep a strong relationship with their teen, to remain a positive influence for good mental, physical and spiritual health. Yet, sometimes, conversations with teens create distance rather than connection.

Why should I think about this?

Chances are you will have a teen in your family, your extended family, your neighborhood, or church community who will eventually come out to you. How you respond to this teen may make the difference in his or her decision to live a healthy life, or even to keep on living. Research suggests that teens who identify as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer/questioning) feel the greatest positive or negative effects from their family’s reaction to them. Negative reactions from family are associated with teens’ increased risk for depression, alcohol use, substance abuse, and other dangerous behaviors including suicide attempts. Your preparing now for a possible family member’s coming out may be one of the most powerful chances you have to be a positive influence in a young person’s life.

What can I say?

Some parents feel authentic simply saying, “Oh, OK, tell me more about it when you feel like it,” and moving on. If you’re reading this, chances are that’s not you. A young person’s coming out may make you feel as if the axis of the world has shifted and you are supposed to set it right somehow. One of the least helpful ways to respond is to assume that the teen has made a choice that rejects your values.

Most teens share their feelings about attractions and identity only after they have wrestled alone with issues for weeks, months, and often years. Most are keenly afraid that their parents will feel that family values have been rejected. Even if you are the wisest person you know, it is unlikely that you will know more about the challenges of what they have been experiencing than they do. It is also unlikely that you will learn what they are experiencing without a lot of listening. The most helpful thing a parent can do may be to set the stage for future conversations.

The statements below encourage further sharing without assuming the teen wants to reject family values. These statements also make it more likely a parent will learn more about what a teen is experiencing:

I’m so glad you’re sharing this with me.

Thank you for telling me this. I’ve been wondering how I could help you.

What you are telling me is important. Most important, however, is that I love you, and this doesn’t change my love for you.

I hope you will keep talking to me about this.

This changes things for me too, and it will give me a lot to think about, but it doesn’t change how I feel about you. I still love and cherish you. We’ll work through this together.

This is hard for me, but I’m willing to do hard things as your parent. I want to be here for you to help you.

 

Next time:  Coming Out Part 2 – What now? Parent self-Care.

By Lisa Tensmeyer Hansen, MS, LMFT

A Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety by Brent Black, LMFTA, MS

?????????????????What is a Healthy Dose of Back-to-School Anxiety?  As a family therapist, I often meet with parents who want to know if their child has anxiety and my quick response is “I hope so!” Today the mere mention of the word anxiety tends to induce stomach knots, racing hearts, and cold sweats. However, a proper dosage of anxiety is a key component for healthy and successful children. On the other hand, excessive anxiety and the absence of anxiety are debilitating. Since the launching of school can also launch levels of anxiety for many students, here are a few points for parents to consider as they look forward to a successful year.

MP900405644Too Much?
The better question about anxiety is “does my child have excessive anxiety?” All healthy individuals experience at least some anxiety, but excessive levels of anxiety can lead to harmful behaviors. In order to diagnose an individual with Generalized Anxiety Disorder they must meet certain criteria which include excessive anxiety or worry more days than not for at least 6 months, difficulty controlling the worry, restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, or muscle tension. These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment in social, educational or other significant areas of functioning. So, a helpful question in determining excessive anxiety is — “has my child been significantly impaired for an extended amount of time in important areas of their life because of the anxiety that they feel?”

The beginning of the school year is a fitting time for parents to consider the possibility that their actions might be creating additional anxiety. One parental trend that often leads children to experience greater anxiety is an excessive family emphasis on achievement. Children who feel like they have to achieve in order to win the approval and respect of their parents are often filled with anxiety. Their motivation for achieving becomes less about personal growth and more about fear of letting parents down.

Kids on School BusNot Enough?
The opposite of anxiety is apathy or carelessness. Children who are apathetic give off a vibe of indifference, laziness, boredom, and unconcern. Faces are unflinching and tones are flat. The default response for many questions is simply “I don’t know.” There is not an official term of diagnosis to describe these characters but they are easily identifiable.

One parental trend that could lead a child toward apathy is a parent who is inconsistent, indifferent, and un-opinionated about their child’s success. I see exceptions to this trend, but I am often unsurprised by a child’s apathy after meeting both parents and understanding that a child is simply following the example of at least one of the parents. In these cases the apple really doesn’t fall that far from the tree.

Achieving the Right Amount of Anxiety
???????????????????????A great question from parents is ‘how do I help my children have the proper amount of anxiety?’ One of the best ways of helping kids reduce to a healthy level of anxiety is by maintaining high expectations while also assuring children both verbally and non-verbally that parental love is not dependent on child outcomes. In other words, parents need to convey that regardless of achievement level their children will always be genuinely loved.
One of the main ways that parents can increase the anxiety level of their apathetic children is to get actively involved. Parents who sincerely check-in and follow-up with their children are likely to see the kind of anxiety that will help motivate their children to succeed.

Although anxiety is often viewed in a negative light, a healthy dosage of anxiety helps children to be successful. Of concern are children who are experiencing excessive anxiety or no anxiety at all. Great parents are those who feel appropriate anxiety about helping their children to be balanced in their anxiety.

brentAbout the Author: Brent is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. During his Master’s Degree at Brigham Young University he worked at Wasatch Mental Health where he gained experience in working with families who have children that struggled with depression, anxiety, autism, trauma, or addictions. Learn more about Brent at st.georgefamilies.com.

Gratitude: More Powerful than Stress by Dr. Lee Johnson

balanceMany of us are overly stressed. We strive to balance our demands at home, work, and other community obligations. With these competing demands it is easy to understand why people don’t want to add anything else to our busy life. However, there is one emotion that has the power to put stress in its place—gratitude.
Stress is a chronic problem and wastes our energy and can actually have a negative impact on our health and our personal relationships (Childre & Martin, 1999). Researchers have discovered that our heart is much more than a pump. Our heart is part of our nervous system and even has it own brain. Additionally, researchers originally thought that our brain controlled our heart but we now know that our heart can influence and even override signals from our brain while regulating our body (Childre & Martin, 1999). In sending signals to our brain and to aid in body regulation our heart produces neurotransmitters and hormones. One of these is hormones is atrial natriuretic factor (ATF) or the “balance hormone”. This hormone regulates many of our bodily functions, blood pressure, and electrolyte balance (Childre & Martin, 1999). Gratitude is one of the keys to having our systems balanced to facilitate being calm and relaxed.
debtGetting away from some of the negative thoughts and feelings in our head such as frustration, anger and stress and focusing on our hearts with positive feelings of affection, appreciation, love, compassion and gratitude keep or heartbeat consistent and coherent and allow us to perform at our best (Childre & Martin, 1999). When I am overly stressed or negative, I have found that gratitude or appreciation is one of the easier positive emotions on which to focus to reduce the stress. An example from my life will illustrate how this works.
Lone Tree in SnowOne night it snowed a lot. I was scheduled to go for an 8 mile run the next morning. I grew up with cold winters and spent many childhood winters playing in the snow and as a teenager many weekends skiing. However, since moving to the south I have come to appreciate the warm winter weather and the luxury of year around training outside. I looked out the window and the negativity started; I hate being cold, I don’t need this workout, I can’t run that far, etc. With encouragement from my wife I got dressed and headed out. I discovered early on that I was correct—it was cold outside and I hated it, my legs felt like cement and I had strong doubts about completing the workout, and I thought I should just stop and go home. As I rounded a corner the wind started to blow snow from the trees into the sunlight. It was absolutely beautiful. My focus shifted from negativity and doubt to appreciation for the scenery, my ability to run, and being grateful to be outside. My ability to perform dramatically improved. My legs lightened up, I did not notice the cold and had a great run. What made the difference? I shifted to positive emotions (different from just positive thoughts) and the subsequent physiological heartbeat changes that accompany those feelings. I have used this moment as a guide and I have had similar experiences when work, family, or other obligations have stressed me.

 

So what is the key to applying this information to reducing stress? Shift your focus to the positive emotion of appreciation or gratitude. It may be helpful to focus on the scenery, the enjoyment you get out of your family, or think of someone you love and appreciate. This is more involved than making a list of things you are grateful for, it is focusing on theses things until you feel the appreciation or gratitude. It is important to practice these skills at various times during the day. Build them into your day and make them a part of your routine. While these skills take practice the return on the little investment of time will be worth the rewards.

Reference: Childre, D. & Martin, H. (1999). The heartmath solution. San Francisco: Harper.

 

 

LeeAbout the Author: Dr. Lee Johnson is a faculty member in the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Brigham Young University. He is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, AAMFT approved supervisor, and a USAT Certified Triathlon Coach.

Literacy: Raising Strong Readers by Audrey Cornelius

readLiteracy. How can I raise my child to be a strong reader? I walk into the living room to find my six year old daughter snuggled up with her normally rambunctious four year old brother on the couch. She is reading her latest treasure from the library and her brother is completely absorbed by the story.

I know that the gift of literacy to my children is a gift of freedom and potential for their futures. So, how did we get to this moment? Did I higher personal reading tutors or lock my children in their rooms with a dictionary and an order not to come out until they could spell every word? No, that would be crazy! Instead I followed some easy, research driven guidelines set out by the Association for Library Services to Children and the Public Library Association. These are some easy ways to promote literacy in your home and give your child a gift that will last a lifetime:

Read to your child, even if you don’t think he is listening. I’ve done my fair share of reading to a dancing, train playing audience. You may not think they are getting anything out of it, but they are. One day they’ll sit through a whole book and you’ll be so glad you stuck with it.

read2Talk to your child a lot, and make sure you use big words. A strong vocabulary is linked to good comprehension skills. Small children can learn big words and they love using them. My four year old son loves to tell me how “hilarious” his preschool friends can be.

Sing to your child. This builds rhythm, pattern, and sound recognition. Besides, sometimes it feels good to belt out “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and end with a good tick session.

Give your child lots of opportunities to draw and write. Paper and crayons are cheep toys so let them exercise their fine motor skills and their imaginations.

Play with your child. This gives you and your child a chance to bond and build positive feelings while at the same time letting them experiment with story and narrative skills. After all, a super hero has to discover her powers first before she can defeat the bad guy and then save the day.

By following these easy guidelines you can build a home of literacy and learning, while building some happy family memories in the process.

audreyAbout the Author: Audrey Cornelius graduated from Brigham Young University with a BA in English. In 2013 she received a Master’s degree in Library Science from Texas Woman’s University. She is passionate about children’s literacy issues.

The Role of Spirituality in Health Care by Dr. Victor Sierpina, MD

Lone Tree in SnowSpirituality and religious beliefs may seem like an inappropriate topic to discuss in the health care setting. Perhaps such conversations are best held by a pastoral counselor, clergy, or the hospital chaplain. Patients and their families always have some value system in place, whether based in traditional religious structures, personal spirituality, or some philosophy of life. It is often helpful to elicit these beliefs in order to understand a person’s support system, how and why they make health care choices, and how they might affect palliative care or end-of-life choices.
One model for addressing spiritual belief systems has been developed under the auspices of the John Templeton Foundation and is taught to health professionals through the George Washington Institute of Spirituality in Health. It is called FICA. This is a rather straightforward approach that allows a neutral, non-threatening, and supportive approach to inquiring about the patient’s beliefs. FICA is an acronym for:
Faith and Belief. A question like, “Do you consider yourself spiritual or religious?” can open up rich dialogue on personal values and beliefs.
Importance. A physician or health provider might ask, “What importance do your faith or beliefs have related to your health.”
Community. “Are you part of a spiritual or religious community?” This helps determine the support system.

balanceAddress in care. “How would you like me, as your healthcare provider, to address these issues?” They may not want to go any further at this time, but at least we now have permission to enter into this level of conversation.
In my experience, patients are eager and open to discuss spiritual beliefs with their doctor, yet most physicians feel uncomfortable initiating such discussions. By normalizing this kind of conversation and including it in the routine intake history with a patient, it becomes a matter of record and, with practice, easier to discuss. This requires more than dutifully recording the patient’s religious affiliation in the medical record. It also helps to avoid making the patient feel like they are at death’s door, as their doctor is suddenly talking about their belief system or religion.
Of course, healthcare professionals must be cautious not to proselytize their own religious beliefs on patients and to be diligently mindful of any conscious or even unconscious bias about someone of a different faith or spiritual belief than their own. We are there to explore the patient’s support system, to understand how they process the mysteries of life, and how they make decisions. If a patient and provider share the same religious outlook, patients often feel reassured by discussion, prayer in the office, sharing scriptures of relevance, and the like. Be attentive for “faith flags,” like religious symbols, certain verbal expressions, religious jewelry, T-shirt mottos, reading materials, even tattoos, as these might give a clue to a patient’s spiritual orientation and thus occasion a deeper discussion.

In his landmark book, Victor Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist and death camp survivor, observed that even under the horrific conditions of the concentration camp, those who held onto some kind of personal goal, hope, or meaning for their life frequently survived. Often, those right next to them without such a spiritual construct were the first to die. Without hope, without meaning, without spirit, the body shuts down.
Our goals as health providers are to value our patients as human beings, mind, body, and spirit; to relieve both physical and metaphysical suffering; and to offer love, support, and caring on as many levels as the patient is ready to accept. Spirituality belongs in the clinical setting for these reasons.

Sierpina_Victor_5x7About the Author: Dr. Victor Sierpina is currently the director of the Medical Student Education Program at UTMB, Galveston. He is a WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, and also a Professor in Family Medicine. He is a University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor. His clinical interests have long included holistic practices, wellness, lifestyle medicine, mind-body therapies, acupuncture, integrative oncology, nutrition, and non-pharmacological approaches to pain.

Forgiveness: Spiritual & Medical Implications by Christina Puchalski

This is an interesting article taken from The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.

“Forgiveness: Spiritual and Medical Implications”  by Christina Puchalski, MD.

(http://info.med.yale.edu/intmed/hummed/yjhm/spirit/forgiveness/cpuchalski.htm)

 

MP900385327“On a societal level, we face social injustice, urban crime, terrorist acts and war. These realities of society can also lead to resentment, territorialism and hatred. While many of these aspects of our society are wrong and perhaps even warrant a justifiable anger and hatred until we can forgive even the most horrendous of these acts, how can we as a society, or as a civilization, live together in peace? Thus, forgiveness is the basic building block of a tolerant society.
There have been many studies looking at the role of forgiveness in health. Unforgiving persons have increased anxiety symptoms, increased paranoia, increased narcissism, increased frequency of psycho-somatic complications, increased incidence of heart disease and less resistance to physical illness. Others have found that people who are unable to forgive themselves or others also have an increased incidence of depression and callousness toward others. The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others.
MP900440326There have been numerous studies looking at forgiveness interventions. The interventions involved counseling and exercises which were used to help people move from anger and resentment towards forgiveness. In one study, incest survivors who experienced the forgiveness intervention had at the end of the intervention increased abilities to forgive others, increased hopefulness and decreased levels of anxiety and depression. In another study, college students were randomized to a group that received a forgiveness education program and another group who studied human relations. The group that received the forgiveness education program showed higher levels of hope and an increased willingness to forgive others. This greater self-forgiveness was associated with increased self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and a more positive view of their patient.
In many of these studies, it was shown that people who are able to forgive are more likely to have better interpersonal functioning and therefore social support. In terms of social support, there is a large body of literature that demonstrated the value of social support. Social support has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks, promote faster recovery and increased survival rates from several types of cancer. Therefore, forgiveness, since it improved interpersonal functioning, might mediate these better health outcomes through the ability of people to have increased social support.
MP900289480Thus, act of forgiving from a research end seems to indicate that forgiveness can improve personal, interpersonal, and societal well-being.”

Understanding Self Harm By Jamie Porter

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailI’m often asked WHY cutters cut. For those that do not cut, they have difficulties seeing how something that appears to be so painful can cause a relief? It’s beyond their mind’s capacity to understand why someone would do this to themselves. The hardest part about trying to answer what appears to be a simple question is that there is not a simple answer. I’d like to take a moment to share with you what I have experienced as a clinician, what I have read from books, collected from research, and have heard from the mouths of my clients. Secondly, I’d like to share some basic tools or coping skills to gather and use as a lay person, a parent, a friend or a therapist. My greatest goal is that you build an ability to be open-minded to help those that are hurting.
Cutting is a form of communication. At the basics of cutting, self-harmers live in a world where they are either afraid to speak their true emotions, will be criticized if they do, or lack the ability to articulate their emotions. Our job as clinicians is to help bridge the gap. We must help our clients find a healthier coping skill, build verbal communication, and help mend emotional turmoil.

1.  First, we must assess the cutters. Most cutters cut to avoid suicide. This is a very important concept we must teach the parents’ of cutters. However, there is a small number that actually have suicidal ideation while cutting, and an even smaller number (4%) that have actually died from self-harm. If this is the case, it is important that we refer our clients to the nearest hospital and make sure that their families are aware that they must be under greater supervision than one-hour a week therapy sessions.

 

2.  We start to help our clients to build a vocabulary list of emotions felt before, during and after conflict-cutting.

 

3.  We help them go over coping skills that can be traded for cutting. We need to help our clients heal the internal and external pain. We must be compassionate for each client will have a different reason for cutting. ‘I want to feel alive’, ‘ I want to stop the bad feelings’, I want to feel numb’, ‘It makes me feel numb’, ‘It’s my way to avoid people, punishment, consequences’, ‘It’s my way of control’, ‘I’m bored’, ‘It’s my way to punish myself’, and/or ‘I want to be paid attention to’. If we can understand their pain, we can help our clients communicate that to those around them.
For parents, some basic tools include opening lines of communication, listening to your child, not judging, not giving ultimatums/threats/punishment, help aid their cuts and provide medical assistance if needed, and help them find professional help to process their pain/emotions. Most importantly, for a parent to remind their child that they deserve to be happy and that you are trying to be there for them, not against them, could be most beneficial.
Sick Young Woman Lying in BedFor the therapist/clinician, starting off with an impulse-control log, can help your client start to document how often, where, when, with what tool, and emotions attached to the behavior. You can also help start to identify some healthy coping skills including writing, drawing, music, physical activity, art, meditation, etc. One of the greatest tasks as a clinician is to help the client vocalize their emotions to their parent and to get a response that will not only verbally and emotionally be a safe response, but physically. Most of our clients lack a relationship of verbal comfort or even physical comfort (hugs). It can be a long process for clients that are fearful to open up. We must instill safeness again and remind our clients that their current level of coping is not healthy for themselves or their families.
Cutting is a topic that some clinicians stay far away from and that parents are highly fearful of. I want to remind both clinicians and parents that suicide is not the ultimate goal for cutters. I want to demystify the behavior and build a sense of clarity and compassion for those who are fighting the battle and those that watch the fighting battle. For ‘self injury is a sign of distress not madness’. – Corey Anderson

 

Resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Mental Health of America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults: www.crpsib.com/researces.asp
S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self-Abuse Finally Ends):  www.selfinjury.com
Self-Harm: Recovery, Advice and Support: www.thesite.org/healthandwellbeing/mentalhealth/selfharm
Self-Injurious Behavior Webcast:  www.albany.edu/sph/coned/t2b2injurious.hmt
KidsHealth: www.kidshealth.org
Christianity Today: www.christianitytoday.com/cl.2004/005/29.18.html
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: www.aacap.org
Book:
Strong, Marilee (1998). A Bright Red Scream. New York, New York: Viking Press.
Conterio, K. and W. Lader, Ph.D. (1998). Bodily Harm. The breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers. New York, New
York: Hyperion.
Magazine:
The Prevention Researcher. Parental Guidelines for Preventing and Constructively Managing Inevitable Self-Injuring Slips, 19, February 2010

 

Jamie Cropped2About the Author:  Jamie Porter has a Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from UHCL. She has worked in non-profit settings working with women, adolescents, children, families, couples, and equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently the Sugar Land Center for Couples & Families office manager, and  an AAMFT approved supervisor.

Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right by Erica Hansen, MS, RD

VegetablesWhy do you eat what you eat? Are you eating right? If you are like most Americans, according to research, taste trumps all other deciding factors. Surprised? Probably not.

We live in a time and place where food is abundant and you have a lot of food choices to make, as many as 200 per day according to researcher Dr. Brian Wansink. Can you think of a place where you can’t find food? It’s in movie theaters, malls, airports, your workplace, gas stations, and even available at sporting events. Each year about 50,000 new food products are introduced to your grocery store shelves. With so many foods to choose from many Americans have the luxury of choosing to eat the very best tasting things.

Unfortunately, some of the foods that are packed with essential nutrients have been given a bad rap in the tasty foods lineup. According to national surveys, less than 25% of Americans eat the amount of vegetables we should (about 2-3 cups per day). When I meet with patients the number one reason they cite for avoiding vegetables is, you guessed it, taste.

Vegetables are running up against some tasty competition. The foods you find on supermarket shelves are literally made to win; loaded with added fat and sugar they are created to taste great. Why? Because you buy things that taste good and we are hard-wired to enjoy the taste of fat and sugar, both high in life-sustaining energy. From a marketing and business perspective it makes sense for a food manufacturing company to add taste–unfortunately, even at the cost of compromising nutritional quality.

Vegetables are naturally low in fat and simple sugars, but you shouldn’t give up on great tasting vegetables just yet. When aiming to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables each meal, consider these three suggestions to add flavor and flair:

1. Vary your veggies
Don’t get stuck eating the same vegetables night after night. While corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes are great, they aren’t the only veggies out there.

Consider writing out a list of all the vegetables you like eating by going through all of the colors of the rainbow. What are all of the red vegetables you like? Orange? Green? Sometimes having a tangible list of possible choices will help you realize how many you actually do like and give you ideas to add to your grocery list.

During your next trip to the grocery store, pick-up a new vegetable or one you haven’t tried for a while. I don’t recommend filling your cart with new options, it can be too overwhelming. Start small and add to your list of vegetable ideas.

tradition 32. Mix up your methods
Though a healthy choice, steaming or boiling your vegetables can at times lead to a bland product. Try roasting, broiling, grilling, or stir-frying in a little oil. Many vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, and red potatoes) are fabulous when tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmesan cheese and then roasted or broiled on high heat. Ratatouille is prepared in a similar way.

Salads are often a go-to vegetable, and for great reason, but don’t get stuck in a salad rut. Try taco salads, an Asian salad with mandarin oranges and toasted sesame dressing, throw in fruits and nuts for something sweet, or try a hearty chef salad.

Cooking vegetables in broth instead of water or oil, seasoning them with fresh herbs and spices, soaking them in rice vinegars (delicious on cucumbers!), and dipping or topping them in salsa, hummus, or nut butters are also great, tasty, nutritious choices.

3. Be sneaky
It is easy to get stuck thinking in terms of vegetables as side dishes only, but vegetables can be incorporated into what you’re already eating:

• Add sautéed or fresh vegetables to your pizza
• Cucumbers, peppers, and sprouts add great crunch to sandwiches and wraps
• Carrots and onions in your rice make for a nice pilaf
• Include beans in your soups, stews, salads, and casseroles
• Zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, or artichokes are tasty in pasta
• Spinach or kale in a fruity shake is nearly undetectable
• Creamy butternut squash in homemade mac n’ cheese makes for sweet, nutty, and extra creamy comfort food

I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering as I wrap up these lists; no small accomplishment for veggies with less than tasty reputation.

Remember, all forms count–fresh, frozen, dried, juiced, and canned vegetables. Start small, but start today to make vegetables a regular part of your plate!

Health & Wellness by Dr. Spencer Scoville, DO

Vegetables‘Health and Wellness’

What can we do to improve our health & wellness? I think this is a great question for the New Year or any time of the year. We spend the majority of our time focused on work, family, church and community responsibilities. We get our kids to school and all their activities. We race to the Doctor when we are sick. We try to lose weight when our pant size increases or exercise a little when we see our muscles sag. Many of us don’t spend a lot of time thinking about our health or wellness until we are in deeply in need of it.

I think it is useful for each of us to spend a little time defining what health and wellness is to ourselves. Benjamin Franklin in his early autobiography tracked qualities that he felt needed improvement. If we do not define what we want in our health, I see it difficult for us to achieve the health goals we desire.

I define health or life as movement. Think of the things you enjoy doing. Even if it is going to the movies, it is much easier to enjoy them if you are able to move yourself to get there. I love to run. I have a goal of being that 90 year old guy out running. I am almost 40 and already have quite a bit of gray hair—so I am already “that old guy” when I am running. I want to do everything I can to maintain my health or ability to move and do the things I love as I age.

I talk to people every day about health. Many of these people are sick and we focus on the specific health concern they have that day. It may be a sinus infection or a back ache or a well visit. With all of these visits, I have an overriding desire. It is to help them improve their health. The 2 things at the top of my list to talk about are quitting smoking and getting moving. If you don’t smoke, I can think of few things that will improve your health over the years as much as getting moving.

Athlete Running Through Finish LineGetting moving, statistically decreases our risk of death. It may be painful when we start to be more active, but movement generally helps us. Exercise helps us control our weight which is directly linked to all-cause mortality in multiple studies. In one study midlife running speed predicted cardiovascular health 30-40 years later. “Heart disease risk increases markedly for every minute longer it takes you to run a mile.” We will be healthier if we exercise consistently.

I often feel an improvement in my mood when I exercise. When I exercise, I am accomplishing something I understand to be good for me. So that thought, makes me feel better. I will often feel an elevation in my mood as I exert myself. I feel a little silly as I am pushing to finish a run and have a hard time suppressing a huge smile.
These studies and personal experience tell us that activity is good for us. I am not talking about drastic life changes that require spending hours at the gym. I am talking about thirty minutes of daily movement. This can be as simple as a daily brisk walk.

I recently read “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg. He reports that most of what we do during the day requires no specific decision because it is a habit. I find that if we don’t have to decide in the moment then we can be more successful. Some people want to work-out for 1-2 hours twice a week. This is good, but I like the commitment to daily exercise and the routine that it creates more. If it is not a routine, it is too easy to stop
Many times unforeseen things can interfere with our goals, but having strived for to attain what we truly want with our health will provide benefit. Wellness is a combination of our physical and mental state that allows us to comfortably do the things we enjoy doing. One individual may love to run and they define success by their ability to keep running fast. Another may define it by their ability to play with their grandkids or go for a walk to the park. Let’s define what we want from our health and strive to get moving.

logoAbout the Author: Dr. Scoville is a Family Physician in Utah at the US Synthetic Clinic. He enjoys the outdoors, running, and cylcing.