11 Easy Snacks to Help You Sleep Better

Almost everyone loves to grab a snack before they go to sleep. But what you choose to eat could determine whether or not you fall asleep right away.

Before you begin nighttime noshing, ask yourself:

  • What’s your motivation?
  • Are you bored? Stuffing emotions? Munching while watching TV?
  • Or, are you really hungry, and if so, how hungry?

If you’re eating just to eat – or to cure boredom or make you feel better – you might want to think twice before indulging.

But if you’re really running on empty, opt for snacks that won’t add extra pounds or result in a restless night.

Large portions and high fat foods (like French fries) interfere with falling asleep. Spicy foods slow down digestion. Alcohol may make you feel drowsy and have a relaxing effect at first, then cause you to wake up because it interferes with deep sleep and interrupts the sleep cycle. The stimulant powers of caffeine, found in coffee, tea or chocolate, take several hours to wear off. Even decaf has some caffeine. High-sugar foods and overeating can also interfere with your ability to sleep.

Not all bedtime snacks are bad for you. Some can help you take in more nutrients that you still need for the day. Going to bed hungry can actually keep you awake.

If you’re considering a bed time snack, try incorporating foods that help boost your levels of serotonin, the calming and “feel good” hormone. You could consider:

  1. Nuts, including walnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios
  2. Seeds, such as flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds
  3. Lean protein, such as chicken, fish and low-fat cheese

Choose a small snack with protein and carbohydrates – these types of foods either contain or help create an amino acid called tryptophan that can cause sleepiness.

Try these protein and carbohydrate combinations:

  1. Whole-grain cereal with low-fat milk
  2. Peanut butter on whole-grain toast
  3. Low-fat cheese with whole-grain crackers
  4. One ounce of turkey or chicken on a slice of whole grain bread

Other snack options could include:

  1. Bananas and other foods high in potassium, which helps you to stay asleep

Foods high in calcium also contain certain sleep-causing hormones, such as tryptophan and melatonin. So don’t feel bad if you grab a snack that consists of:

  1. A container of low-fat yogurt
  2. A cup of low-fat milk
  3. A slice of low-fat cheese, such as mozzarella.

Good snacking and good night!

For more advice on what to eat at night, go to:
sleep.org
health.clevelandclinic.org
sleepassociation.org
sleepfoundation.org

Sepsis: A deadly condition that happens fast

Something in Jean Hopkins’ gut told her to take her daughter to urgent care.

It was after school, and her 8th grader didn’t feel well enough for cheerleading practice. She had a slight fever, nausea and was tired. Her daughter said she felt like she did when she had a bladder infection.

Hopkins’ husband wondered whether they should wait until morning for the trip to urgent care.

Hopkins’ daughter, Riley

“But something in me told me she needed to go to urgent care now,” said Hopkins, of Rochester.

Her husband took their daughter to urgent care while Hopkins, a youth cheerleading coach, went to practice. By the end of practice, her husband called to say their daughter needed to go to the hospital.

Once in the emergency room, her daughter’s health quickly spiraled downward.

Her daughter threw up green bile that looked like antifreeze. She had dangerously low blood pressure that staff couldn’t control. By 4 a.m. her daughter was in the intensive care unit.

 

“It’s scary how quickly Sepsis can happen”

Hopkins’ daughter had Sepsis, a condition that can come on quickly and lead to death. Sepsis is the body’s extreme response to an infection. If not treated quickly, Sepsis can cause tissue damage, organ failure and death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the Sepsis Alliance, there are 1.7 million cases of sepsis and 270,000 deaths each year in the United States. The sepsis death toll exceeds annual deaths in the U.S. from breast cancer, prostate cancer and AIDS combined.

Hopkins’ daughter did recover. She spent a week in the hospital.

“It’s scary how quickly Sepsis can happen,” Hopkins said. “Just listen to your inner voice.  We were very fortunate that everything happened as it should. I don’t want to think about what could have happened if we didn’t take her right away to urgent care.”

 

Sepsis: Get treatment quickly

It’s critical that patients with Sepsis receive treatment as early as possible, said Gregory Carnevale, M.D., a chief medical officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in upstate New York. Early treatment with antibiotics and large amounts of intravenous fluids improves your chances for survival, he said.

“Act fast and get medical care immediately if you suspect sepsis or have an infection that’s not getting better or is getting worse,” said Carnevale.

Barkley Klaiber of Syracuse said she’s grateful. She acted quickly when she didn’t feel quite right and had some abdominal cramping. Klaiber was 20-weeks pregnant with her second daughter.

Barkley Klaiber with husband Karl and daughters Sutton and Carson.

Normally, Klaiber would have waited a little before seeking treatment. She figured the cramping was related to kidney stones. She’s prone to getting them when pregnant.

But Klaiber had just been in a minor car accident a few days earlier. She thought she should go to the emergency room as a precaution.

Turns out Klaiber did have kidney stones, along with a bladder infection. But she had also developed a kidney infection as a result. Barkley went into septic shock after arriving at the hospital.

Barkley did recover after a 9-day stay.

“The car accident was a blessing,” she said. “Otherwise, I don’t think I would have gone to the emergency room as quickly. If I had gone into septic shock and I wasn’t in the hospital? I don’t want to think about what could have happened.”

Her daughter remained strong throughout the ordeal. “We just celebrated her second birthday,” she said.

 

Who gets Sepsis?

Anyone can get sepsis. But those at higher risk include babies and those with chronic conditions or weakened immune systems.

The elderly are also at high risk. Meg Thoin of Buffalo said her 86-year-old mother died of sepsis about a week after breaking her hip. She was in rehabilitation at a nursing home when her mom started suffering from diarrhea and confusion, and then nausea and vomiting.

Her mom was transferred to the hospital. She had kidney failure and had become septic. She died the next day, Thoin said.

“My hope is that others become more aware of what sepsis looks like, especially if you have elderly family members or if you know someone who is in a hospital or nursing facility,” she said.

There are a variety of warning signs associated with sepsis. The most common signs include:

  • Fever, shivering or feeling very cold
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Clammy or pale skin

“I was an educated person,” added Thoin, who is a nurse. “I knew what to look for, and I really wished I pushed harder for her to be tested when I started to notice certain symptoms.”

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is proud to provide educational content regarding topics such as Sepsis. For more information, view our infographic on Sepsis.

 

Why every day is a good time to talk about breast cancer awareness

During the month of October, it’s difficult to ignore the stories, commercials, advertisements, pink T-shirts and other paraphernalia proclaiming Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For Excellus BlueCross BlueShield employee Maria Horton, however, every month and every day is a good time for breast cancer awareness.

Maria has learned that the hard way. She is a breast cancer survivor.

Maria Horton

 

An Otherwise perfectly normal mammogram

Due to a family history of breast cancer, Maria knew she was at high risk of also developing breast cancer. That’s why she started annual mammography screenings when she turned 40. Everything appeared normal for Maria up until three years ago.

It was just a few months after an otherwise perfectly normal mammogram that Maria noticed a change in one of her breasts. Not one to brush it off in ignorance in hopes that it will go away, she followed up with her doctor.

That led Maria to a ductogram and a core needle biopsy. When her doctor scheduled fine needle guided biopsies, the physician didn’t need to tell her she had breast cancer. “I already knew,” she said.

While her husband, three children and work family were aware of what was going on, Maria then had to break the news to her parents, siblings and in-laws. “This was very tough and very emotional,” she said. “I was numb.”

Once she shared the news, however, it was these same people who helped carry Maria through her 10½-hour bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. “Without the support of my loving family and the wonderful, caring people I work with, I don’t know how I would have gotten through all of my difficult days,” she said.

During her eight-week recovery, Maria’s family took care of her and helped with everything. Friends brought cards, food, flowers and her favorite Starbucks coffee.

“The support I had meant the world to me and still does,” she said.

 

Advice from a breast cancer survivor

Maria considers herself lucky in that she did not need follow-up chemotherapy or radiation. She does see her surgical and medical oncologists every three months and takes oral medication.

Her advice to all women is to know their personal risk factors for breast cancer, schedule their mammograms as recommended by their doctors and perform monthly breast self-checks.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all women ages 50 to 74 be screened for breast cancer every two years, but an Excellus BlueCross BlueShield report shows that nearly one in five upstate New York women still does not get a biennial mammogram.

“The evidence is clear that early detection saves lives,” said Nicholas Massa, M.D., medical director, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Given the fact that most health insurers cover preventive breast cancer screenings in full every one to two years for women older than age 40, we would like to see even higher percentages of women being screened for breast cancer.”

 

3 reasons  women skip breast cancer screenings

A recent Excellus BlueCross BlueShield survey of members who hadn’t had a mammogram revealed three top reasons why women opt out of their recommended screening:

 

1. Concerned about pain

Women who haven’t gone through menopause can minimize the pain and discomfort of having their mammogram by scheduling their screening a week after having their period, when breasts are less tender. Avoiding caffeine the week before your mammogram may also help. Take it from Maria, who offered this sage advice, “Yes, having a mammogram is uncomfortable, but it beats the alternative of having breast cancer.”

 

2. Concerned about test results

Mammograms can detect lumps in your breast when they are small, even before you can feel them. Breast cancer found early is easier to treat and results in better clinical outcomes. Generally, you can get your mammogram results within a day or so by calling your doctor’s office. There may be times when you receive a call from your doctor’s office recommending further testing. This does not mean you have cancer, but it is very important that you follow up if asked to do so. For Maria, it’s simple. “Do it!” she said.

 

3. Concerned about radiation

According to the American Cancer Society, the benefits of the small amount of radiation to which we are exposed during mammography screening outweigh any possible harm from radiation exposure. The peace of mind you’ll receive from having completed your mammogram is immeasurable, added Maria. “This takes a few minutes, and it’s done.”

Breast cancer can affect women of any age or race. Dr. Massa noted that your risk for breast cancer increases with age and if you have a family history. A woman’s risk factors determine when she should begin getting screened.

Learn more about breast cancer risk factors and screenings by talking to your doctor, or by visiting the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force website.

For more on the best ways to protect your health, read this Women’s Health Checklist from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A Daughter’s Story: My Dad’s Life After A Heart Attack

When your 58-year-old dad drops to the floor and dies of a heart attack in a hospital emergency room, you take notice.

The event that triggered this wake-up call for Meghan Dailey of Rochester occurred seven years ago. She talks about it as if it just happened yesterday. It’s that fresh and real in her memory.

The heart attack: the scariest hour and a half of my life

The day started out pretty ordinary as typical workdays go. Meghan was working at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in downtown Rochester. It was mid-October. It was one of those early fall days, when you just start noticing that the weather is getting a little cold.

What interrupted this otherwise unremarkable day was a call from her mom. She said that her father was in the emergency room at Unity Hospital in Greece. He had suffered a heart attack and collapsed right there in the ER. His heart had stopped beating. Doctors were trying to resuscitate him with chest compressions and the jarring shocks of an automated external defibrillator.

Meghan and her two sisters rushed to the hospital in time to witness their father’s revival. He was immediately wheeled in for surgery. The doctors inserted two stents to open up the clogged arteries in his heart.

“It was awful,” recalled Meghan. “Probably the scariest hour and a half of my life.”

He didn’t think he was having a heart attack

They sat in the waiting room with another group that was expecting word on their loved one. Meghan and her family never stopped praying even as they waited anxiously.

A doctor came in to tell the other group that their loved one hadn’t made it. Dailey thought their family’s turn would be next.

“Thankfully, our Dad made it through the surgery,” she said. “He was in the intensive care unit for another week and then was able to go home to recuperate.”

Meghan Dailey with her dad.

What’s not so unusual about this story is that Mike Schuth, Meghan’s dad, didn’t think he was having a heart attack. He thought the five- or six-hour pain he’d had in his shoulder was indigestion. According to his daughter, Mike decided to go to the emergency room only because he thought that’s where his doctor would send him.

Ever since Meghan could remember, she knew that her dad had high blood pressure. “Heart disease runs in the family,” she said. “My grandpa died of a series of heart attacks.”

The chef finds healthier ways to eat

Acknowledging that her father knew he should be careful with his health, Meghan is quick to point out that her father works as a chef.

On the job at Salmon Creek Country Club in Spencerport, he never thought twice about adding a little extra butter, heavy cream and Parmesan cheese to his fettucini dishes, or some additional salt to flavor his house specialty – steak with mashed potatoes.

“His favorite foods used to be linguini with white clam sauce, fish fries and macaroni salads,” said Meghan. Following the heart attack, his talent as a chef helped him find ways to modify the recipes he uses for himself and his family.

He’s learned to make more heart-healthy dishes without unnecessarily sacrificing quality and flavor. Scroll down to see his recipe for a lighter version of Alfredo sauce. Please add your heart-healthy recipes in the comments section below.

After a heart attack: walking, medication and golf

He watches what he eats and favors more fresh vegetables over foods like French fries But Mike also adheres to the medication regimen prescribed by his physicians to control his high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

He also started walking more. During winters spent in Fort Myers, Florida, Mike walks every day and golfs three times a week. Back home in Brockport, Meghan’s dad maintains the same routine.

Mike’s efforts at watching what he eats have paid off in spades. He lost 40 pounds in twelve months.

Being around for his grandchildren

Over the last couple of years, Meghan’s dad has gained added incentives to remain healthy. His three daughters have given him five grandchildren between them.

“There’s no doubt that he wants to make sure he’ll be around for his grandchildren,” said Meghan. “The kids adore him, and he loves being around them.” Her own two children range in age from 15 months to 3 years.

Since their father’s heart attack, the family recognizes the prevalent role that heart disease plays for them and keeps extra vigilant. “My sisters and I try to teach our children that veggies are an integral part of every meal,” said Meghan.

“We also try to maintain an active lifestyle and incorporate activities in everything we do,” she added. That comes in the form encouraging her daughter to pursue gymnastics, or to go outside to get some fresh air and play.

American Heart Association Rochester Heart Walk

One activity that the whole family, including grandpa and grandma, is actively involved in is the American Heart Association’s Rochester Heart Walk.

Meghan served as co-chair with Marty Cranmer, IT project manager, of the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Rochester teams that participated in the walk. This year, the event was held in April at Frontier Field. Meghan and her family were there, supporting an event that raises money for what she feels is the best cause. With around 60 members on the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield team, the group raised close to $6,000 for the cause.

“I support the American Heart Association because my Dad and I are really close.” she said. “I’m so lucky that he’s still alive, and I feel blessed that he is.”

Heart-Healthy Recipe

Here is Mike Schuth’s recipe for heart-healthy Alfredo sauce.

Light Alfredo Sauce

¼ cup butter
1 clove garlic, minced
2 cups skim milk
1 package low-fat cream cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Black pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Add cream cheese and garlic to butter, whisking until melted.

Add milk, a little at a time, while whisking to smooth out lumps.

Stir in Parmesan cheese and pepper until smooth.

 

The Meaning Behind the Teal Pumpkin: Help for Children with Allergies on Halloween

Some of my favorite memories as a kid are from Halloween. I remember dressing up as a witch to go trick-or-treating with friends while hoarding  all of the peanut butter cups and refusing to listen to my parents when they told me to wear a jacket (Hey Mom and Dad – you were right about needing a jacket. Upstate New York gets pretty cold by the end of October). Thanks to food allergies, not every child is able to create those same memories. One in 13 children has a food allergy and Halloween can be one of the most frustrating and dangerous times of the year for them. But a teal pumpkin is trying to change all that.

The author dressed as witch, ca. 1998. Provided by Christine Leavenworth

The author dressed as witch, ca. 1998. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

The Teal Pumpkin Project

The Teal Pumpkin Project encourages people to provide non-food items for trick-or-treaters so that kids with food allergies can participate without facing risks to their health.  Some of the treats that are handed out include glow sticks, rubber balls, vampire fangs, etc.

Paint a pumpkin teal, put it on your front step the night of Halloween, and kids with allergies will know that your home is safe to visit.

A teal pumpkin indicates a house that is giving out allergy-safe items to children with allergies on Halloween. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

A teal pumpkin indicates a house that is giving out allergy-safe items to children with allergies on Halloween. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

Food Allergy Research & Education (FARE) started this international campaign in 2014 to “create a safer, happier Halloween for all kids.” It began as a local activity by the Food Allergy Community of East Tennessee that has morphed into an international awareness event.

Last year, households from every state in the U.S. and 14 countries participated in the Teal Pumpkin Project.

“One bite of the wrong candy by these kids could cause life-threatening allergic reactions,” said Matthew Bartels, M.D., chief medical officer at Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield.  “We’re thrilled that our communities are rallying around these kids so that they can also indulge in special ‘treats’ and have fun, just like everyone else.”

A parent of children with food allergies is grateful for the Teal Pumpkin Project

Colleen Garofalo of Madison County is a mom to two kids who have food allergies. Her daughter is allergic to peanuts and her son is allergic to shellfish and tree nuts. Garofalo heard about the Teal Pumpkin Project from one of FARE’s email newsletters.

“As a parent, the Teal Pumpkin Project means inclusion,” said Garofalo. “There are so many times during school or birthday parties when my kids have to be careful about what they eat. They might feel left out if they can’t have something the other kids can have. The teal pumpkins allow them to have another option.”

Children with food allergies are now able to participate in Halloween thanks to the Teal Pumpkin Project.

Olivia and Anthony Garofalo are ready for an allergy-free Halloween. Credit: Colleen Garofalo

When Garofalo’s kids go trick-or-treating, they still collect all of the candy. But when they get home, they go through the candy to ensure that it’s safe to eat. She’s spotted a few teal pumpkins in her neighborhood, but hopes to see more as the word gets out about the campaign.

“The smaller candy that is handed out at Halloween doesn’t typically list the ingredients,” she said. “If I’m not familiar with the candy, it either gets thrown away or I have to research it to see if it’s OK for my kids to eat.”

“I’ve called manufacturers before to ask if a product that doesn’t contain peanuts is made on the same line as another product that does,” she added. “Then I have to ask about the cleaning process for the machines as well.”

Join the Teal Pumpkin campaign

Some of the most common allergens for children are nuts, milk, wheat, egg and soy. Many candies contain at least one of those ingredients.

If you would like to take part in the Teal Pumpkin Project and offer a non-candy treat to trick or treaters, you can either buy a teal pumpkin or paint your own.

Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., for example, sells paint specifically for the Teal Pumpkin Project. The paint can be found in the seasonal section, near the pumpkin carving kits, and a portion of the proceeds benefit FARE.

Teal pumpkin paint is available at local grocery stores, including Wegmans in Rochester. Provided by Joy Auch

Teal pumpkin paint is available at local grocery stores. Credit: Christine Leavenworth

“We are so happy to be able to support this initiative,” said Wegmans Nutritionist Trish Kazacos, RDN. “It’s a simple approach that allows children with food allergies to safely enjoy the holiday with their family and friends.”

Once you have your teal pumpkin, place it in front of your house to let trick-or-treaters know that you have non-food items available. FARE also provides free printable signs to explain the meaning behind the teal pumpkin and a list of ideas to give out to trick-or-treaters.

Supporting the Teal Pumpkin Project and handing out non-food treats doesn’t mean that you have to give up the Halloween tradition of giving out candy. You can hand out candy and allergy-safe items and then let the kids choose which one they’d like.

If you’ll be putting out a teal pumpkin this Halloween, be sure to add your address to the crowd-sourced fever map and let your local community know that you are participating.

12 Ways to Reduce Holiday Stress

The first house in my neighborhood ablaze with holiday lights triggered a mini anxiety attack.

Lights glowed in the windows and decked out neatly trimmed bushes. Decorative reindeer nuzzled their noses in the lawn, as if enjoying a grassy snack.

“Oh crap,” I thought. “It’s Christmas time.”

My mind reeled through a list of To Do’s before the big day. The list felt overwhelming.

  • Decorate the house.
  • Decorate the tree. Wait – first get a tree.
  • Presents. Buy, wrap and mail them.
  • Wait – what do my kids even want? Santa list. Must get the older one to write a Santa list.
  • Christmas cards. I must tackle this one. Christmas is in a few weeks.

And the list went on – Christmas cookies, Santa visit, take the family photo for the Christmas cards, etc. Bah, humbug!

STOP! BREATHE!

We can become consumed with Christmas and other holiday tasks. Who even has time to actually enjoy what the season is really about?

To help you (and me!), Ann Griepp, M.D., chief medical officer for behavioral health, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, shares 12 tips to get you through this holiday season.

  1. Got too much to do? One way to handle the stress is to wake up a few minutes earlier than you usually do. Take a few moments for yourself:  light a candle, drink your coffee, reflect on the day and count your blessings before you have to get going.
  2. Decide what can go. Talk to your family. Dr. Griepp had this discussion with her family one year. As a result, they decided to skip the Christmas cards. There’s nothing wrong with skipping the mailed cards and instead sharing holiday messages through email or Facebook.
  3. Keep doing the activities you love. If making Grandma’s peanut brittle is a must, then by all means do it!
  4. Save time. Some people LOVE to decorate. Others view it as a chore. If you fall in the latter category… stop decorating so much! Sometimes less is more.
  5. Give money or gift cards instead of hunting for individual gifts – particularly if you know the recipient likes to pick out their own gifts. That’s another way to skip the stress.
  6. Lead a healthy lifestyle to help reduce stress levels! Eat healthy and stay active. – (Tips for adding more vegetables to your meals). You’re busy, but you should still make time for exercise – even if it’s just a walk around the block. And don’t forget to get enough sleep!
  7. Remember to spend time with your PETS. Pets can feel whenever you are stressed or anxious. Going for a long walk with your pet will do a lot of good for yourself and your companion.
  8. Change the formula. Many of the winter holidays — Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa — have multiple days of celebration. So spread out the activities. Dr. Griepp’s parents used to celebrate the 12 days of Christmas by planning simple gatherings with friends and family. They’d skate or go sledding one day. They’d play cards, eat, or exchange small gifts the next.
  9. Anxious about money? Set a budget and stick to it. If you’re buying gifts for a lot of siblings, cousins and their significant others, consider a “Secret Santa” exchange as a way to reduce the amount of money you spend on presents. Or consider having a “white elephant” exchange—bring a wrapped present of an item you no longer want or need. And if you’re the creative type, make your own gifts. Pinterest.com is a great resource for many of my more crafty friends and family.
  10. Volunteer. What better way to get into the holiday spirit or teach your children the true meaning of this time of year than helping families in need? Volunteering might also boost your mood and reduce stress.
  11. Take a break and watch a favorite holiday movie with your family–Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, Christmas Vacation or A Christmas Story, to name a few.
  12. My personal favorite? Ask for help! Maybe the grandparents could take the kids to see Santa while you shop for presents (or go for that walk)? Don’t feel like you have to tackle all of the tasks yourself. Ask your significant other or the kids to take responsibility for some of these tasks. Realize that you can’t do it all alone and you’ll feel better in the end!

 

Lori’s story: How I lost more than 250 pounds

Lori Dyer had struggled with her weight for as long as she could remember. She was 412 pounds and had tried every diet. However, she always gained the weight back.

She got sick a lot and struggled to walk down stairs. The extra weight contributed to health issues, including high blood pressure, sleep apnea, pre-diabetes, back pain and knee pain.

“I didn’t know how not to be fat,” she said.

It wasn’t until Lori’s children said they “didn’t want to lose her” that Lori went through with a procedure that has so far has helped her lose more than 250 pounds.

(Click below to watch a video by Highland Hospital that highlights Lori’s story)

Gastric Bypass

Lori underwent gastric bypass surgery.

With the surgery, the doctor first makes the stomach smaller by stapling off a small pouch, which makes you feel full sooner. Next, the surgeon shortens your small intestine and attaches it to the small stomach pouch. This changes the direction of the food to bypass most of the small intestine so your body absorbs fewer calories.

When doctors look into bariatric surgery, they look at many options, including gastric sleeve surgery.

After gastric bypass surgery, patients need to rest and recover. After the operation, most people move from a liquid diet for a week, to a puree diet, to a soft diet where you can introduce other foods, to a balanced diet set out by a dietitian. These special diets run about two months before you are back to “normal” food.

Bariatric surgery is not a magic pill.

Lori said the surgery changed her life. But after undergoing such an intense procedure, Lori had to dramatically change a lot of things. She has to regularly take vitamins and supplements, eat healthy practically all the time, attend follow-up appointments, exercise and participate in support groups for the remainder of her life.

Lori says, “It is hard,” but her only regret is, “not having the procedure done sooner.”

Lori had at one point accepted where she was. She was 400 pounds and didn’t want to leave her house. Lori said her decision was hard to make.

“When I had thought about surgery in the past, I didn’t want to do it because I always figured I would be missing out on so much,” she said. “But then the light bulb finally went off and I thought ‘what am I missing out on by NOT having the surgery?'”

Lori realized that the answer was life. “When talking it over with my kids, my daughter said, ‘We really want you around as long as possible.’ So yes… absolutely. I was going for it.”

Considering Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery is a major procedure, and should be part of a comprehensive program that includes exercise and nutritional education as well as mental health and well-being, said says LouAnne Giangreco, M.D., a Chief Medical Officer at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

If you are considering bariatric surgery, make sure you understand the side effects like infection, diarrhea, blood clots and even death.

“This type of surgery is only recommended if you’re very obese, your health is suffering and if all other diet and exercise options are not successful,” she said.

“Regularly eating healthy and exercising can have a bigger impact on your health than you think,” she added. “But, make sure you get the social support you need; having friends and family that support you is just as important as going through with the procedure.”

You may be able to look to your employer for support. According to Pat Salzer, a registered dietitian at Excellus BCBS, many workplaces provide health education programs at the work site.

“I am no longer just existing…I am living”

Lori wants people to know that bariatric surgery is not “cheating or the easy way out.” She stresses that “this is one of the hardest things I have ever done.” Lori found Highland Hospital in Rochester, a Blue Distinction Center for Bariatric Surgery. Hospital staff took care of her, educating her about the procedure and providing care before, during and after the surgery. These Blue Distinction centers help patients like Lori get back on their feet usually with fewer complications and hospital readmissions.

Lori has done things she never thought possible and is comfortable trying new things. Lori even went on a dating site last year and “found the piece of me that was missing. I totally would have missed out on him because I would have never put myself out there.”

Lori and Fred Shaughnessy

“Be ready for your life to change dramatically.”

Now, Lori is living her life the way she always wanted to. She is kayaking, mountain climbing, running 5ks and walking out the door, ready to take on her next adventure.  Lori stresses that the procedure “has certainly made, a huge, huge difference. It will affect everything you do, but in a good way.”

Lori with her kids, Mitchell and Rebecca

Lori’s Three Year Journey:

5 Tips for Cutting Soda from Your Diet

You drink over 38 gallons of soda each year.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), that’s how much the average American drinks each year, which is equivalent to eight 12-ounce cans of soda each week. This statistic shocked me, too.

But it also opened my eyes to my own soda-drinking habit. I typically drink at least two Mountain Dews per day and sometimes it’s more than that. After reading this statistic, I did a little more research.

The reality of soda

The CSPI reports that a typical 12-ounce can of soda contains nearly 9 teaspoons of added sugars and a typical 20-ounce bottle contains 15.5 teaspoons of added sugar. While this may not seem like a lot of sugar, it is. To put it into perspective for you, the American Heart Association recommends a maximum daily intake of 6 teaspoons20 of added sugars for women and 9 teaspoons for men. This means that an average 12-ounce can of soda puts you at or above the recommended maximum daily intake of added sugars.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of blew my mind.

I have been drinking Mountain Dew regularly since I was in middle school. It’s probably contributed to cavities, stomach aches, and weight gain. I have tried time and time again to stop drinking it, but soda has a way of holding your affections. Mountain Dew is no exception.

I decided to track down the best ways to get rid of this habit. After doing a lot of research, I have come up with five tips and tricks for cutting soda out of your diet.

1. Start slow

You don’t have to quit cold turkey. Start by drinking less each day. If you usually drink two sodas a day, start by drinking only one.  The next week, try one soda every other day. And so on.

2. Set yourself up for success

If you don’t want to drink a lot of soda, then don’t buy a lot of soda. It doesn’t help if you keep putting it in your refrigerator. Take away the temptation and only buy the amount you are planning to drink. Another tip was if you only like to drink cold soda, then only put one in the fridge for the next day.

3. Find alternatives

It helps to fill the space that you’d be drinking soda by drinking something else. Drink water. If water is too boring for you, try flavoring it with fruit. Swap in coffee or tea if you’d like some caffeine. Flavored seltzer water may also be a good option if you like something with fizz. For many people, beverages can account for almost 20 percent of total calorie intake,  so it’s important that you find healthier alternatives. Plus, if you don’t find something else to drink, it will be that much harder to resist the call of the vending machine in the break room.

4. Exercise

If you drink soda for the caffeine, then try working out or simply getting some exercise to gain more energy along with some other great benefits. It’s much healthier for your body and has zero added sugars! Here are some great tips to help you replace your soda habit with an exercise habit.

5. Track your calories

If you’re a numbers person, it might be a good idea to sit down and track how many calories you’re drinking every day. Calories can be found right on the Nutrition Facts label. If you pay attention to the amount of calories you’re drinking, then you’ll see how quickly they add up. You could also track how much exercise you need to work off all the calories you’re drinking. The numbers may just motivate you to work harder on quitting. The MyFitnessPal app can be a useful tool to help with tracking calories.

After trying out all of these tips, the most helpful to me was finding alternatives. While I’d normally drink a soda with dinner, I’ve started drinking a glass of milk. When I’m thirsty at work, I drink water. Have any of these tips been helpful for you?

Still thirsty? Check out Is Diet Soda Healthier than Regular Soda?

Myth-Busters: Common Misconceptions About Food Labels

Jamie Moore is the Director of Sourcing and Sustainability at Parkhurst Dining. Moore is passionate about teaching people about common misconceptions about the labels we find on our food. He shares his guidance and tips on what to know about food labels.

Fact vs. Fiction

Food labels are designed to help us better understand our food purchases. However, according to Moore, a government agency does not regulate all of the claims on a food label. Without regulation or strict standards, some of these labels can, therefore, be misleading, he said. Most consumers don’t know the true meaning behind many of these labels and may purchase food thinking that the label means more than it does. Here are five common food labels that may be misleading you.

1. Cage-Free

It is generally thought that “cage-free” eggs come from a hen who lived outside of a cage.  However, according to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, seeing a “cage-free” label on eggs does not guarantee that hens were raised outdoors or even in large open spaces. In reality, most “cage-free” egg-laying hens were raised in hen houses where each hen has a space of about 8 inches by 8 inches.

Similarly, when “cage-free” is on a meat label, it may be thought that these animals are not raised in cages, but that doesn’t mean the animals don’t live in close quarters. For example, many “cage-free” chickens are raised in large, open structures called “grow-out houses”. These houses typically hold tens of thousands of chickens, and each chicken is given less than a square foot of space (about 10.5 inches by 11 inches per chicken).

Variation exists in what “cage-free” means because the “cage-free” claim is only verified sometimes. For example, while this label on eggs is supposed to be regulated by Food and Drug Administration (FDA),  the farms are not always inspected to verify the type of “cage-free” environment that the hens have access to.

2. Pasture-raised

When you see the label “pasture-raised,” you may picture animals who spend all day living in an open field, grazing on grass. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, however, a “pasture-raised” label on meat, poultry, dairy or egg products only means that the animals were raised for at least some portion of their lives on a pasture or with some access to a pasture. For example, “pasture-raised” dairy cows are given some access to a pasture, but primarily housed indoors and raised on a diet of hay, corn, and soy, not grass.

When it comes to dairy and eggs, there is no common standard for what “pasture-raised” means. This means that producers can decide the size, quality and access standards to the pasture. When it comes to meat and poultry, producers are required to explain what “pasture-raised’ means for their products. However, the USDA allows the producers to make their own definition of what it means. Producers do not necessarily have to stick to the same standard.

3. Free-Range

Much like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” hens and chickens are generally thought to have free access to the outdoors. However,  Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices explains that there are no standard requirements for the size or condition of the outdoor area that these animals have “free-range” in. Therefore, products can be labeled “free-range” as long as birds are given some kind of access to the outdoor area. Producers don’t have to report how accessible the area is to the birds or how often they are given access.

On beef products, the “free-range” label means that the animals were given free access to the outdoors for at least 120 days each year.  Again, there are no requirements for the size of the outdoor space or the quality of its condition. Like “pasture-raised”, “free-range” also doesn’t mean that the animals only at the grass on a range.

These products are only verified sometimes by the FDA and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

4. Locally-Grown

“Locally-grown” is a label that is not legally regulated. That means there is not a standard definition for what “locally-grown” means.

For example, when you hear about “locally-grown” produce, you may think the produce is grown right down the road. In reality, the produce could be grown 40, 60, or even 100 miles away. Producers can define what is “locally-grown” based on their own mission and circumstances. When you see that something is “locally-grown”, ask about what is “local” to that producer or grocer to learn more about where it came from.

5. Natural

The USDA defines this label as a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. According to Consumer Reports’ Greener Choices, this label is not verified. This means that there are no consistent standards to ensure that the label means what it implies to consumers. “Natural” is a label that companies can define for themselves and the definitions vary. Government agencies do not regulate the use of the “natural” food label, they can only provide guidance.

Organic food, on the other hand, is held to very rigorous standards. To learn more about the difference between “organic” and “natural” food labels, check out our article, What’s the Difference Between “Organic” and “Natural”?

Learn Before You Trust the Label

Moore emphasizes that many food labels can be confusing when there is a lack of regulation or standards for what a label means. That’s why it is important to learn more about the meaning behind a food label. By doing a little research or talking to experts like Moore, you too can be a more informed consumer at the grocery store.

If you’re interested in buying a product that truly has verified claims for things like having access to a pasture or being grass-fed,  Consumer Reports suggests looking for additional labels on the product. Some food labels are strictly regulated and provide meaningful standards for things like free access to the outdoors. These labels include:

 

What You Need to Know About Appendicitis

Do you know what it feels like to have appendicitis? I didn’t either.

I was attending my first year of college, living alone in a studio apartment in the big city and taking a full load of classes while working two part-time jobs to pay rent and support my cat. While I was lying on the couch watching Netflix one night, a dull pain started in my stomach. I figured it was just stress or maybe menstrual cramps. As a woman, I’m used to stomach pains because they hit me every month for at least three days. A little stomach pain is nothing.

But the pain gradually got worse, which was a little different than the norm. It made it painful to move or breathe. I grimaced as the pain escalated. I thought about going to the emergency department, but I instantly doubted myself.

What if I get there and find out that it’s just gas? That would be so embarrassing, was just one of the many doubts going through my mind.

I was a nineteen-year-old who had grown up in a no-nonsense family that believed if you’re not dying then you’re probably fine. I had never been to the emergency department and I didn’t think I was qualified to make this decision. So I spoke to three different mothers (mine, my grandma, and my best friend’s) and finally decided to go.

Once I arrived, I went through four hours of waiting in the emergency department, four different tests and a lot of medications before they diagnosed me with appendicitis.

I almost didn’t go to the Emergency Department

As a female who gets menstrual cramps once a month and has had stomach aches pretty regularly my whole life, I just assumed it was normal stomach pain that would go away. I was used to stomach pain and doubted that it could actually be something like appendicitis.

That’s why it’s so important to know the difference between everyday stomach pains that don’t require a hospital visit and something like appendicitis, which can be very dangerous.

What even is appendicitis?

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), appendicitis is inflammation of your appendix. Untreated appendicitis can rupture, which can cause you to become very ill with a fever, nausea, severe tenderness in your abdomen, and vomiting.

Appendicitis can have more than one cause, and in many cases, the cause is not clear. Some possible causes are:

  • Blockage of the opening inside the appendix
  • Enlarged tissue in the wall of your appendix caused by an infection in the gastrointestinal tract or elsewhere in your body
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, stool, parasites, or growths that can clog your appendiceal lumen
  • Trauma to your abdomen

So, how do you know when the pain in your stomach is appendicitis?

There are some classic signs and symptoms of appendicitis, but it is important to know that people can present very differently with this condition. When your appendix is inflamed, it can cause a pain in your abdomen that starts near your belly button and moves lower and to the right side. The pain can come on suddenly and can gradually get worse over several hours. Something that the doctor will do is push into the right lower side of your abdomen. This will cause a pain in the area.

If you’re still unsure, there are other symptoms of appendicitis that can follow the pain. Those symptoms can include:

  • Pain that worsens if you cough, walk or make other jarring movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A loss of appetite
  • A low-grade fever that may worsen as the illness progresses
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Abdominal bloating

There are other medical conditions that can also lead to similar symptoms. Since appendicitis can be difficult to diagnose, call your medical provider to discuss any unusual abdominal pain that you are experiencing. Your medical provider can help you to determine the next best steps in diagnosing the source of your pain.

Get treatment, even when you’re unsure

Appendicitis is a medical condition that requires timely care. A doctor can help treat appendicitis and reduce symptoms and the chance of complications. It’s better to be safe and find out it’s just gas, than to have your appendix rupture and end up in a lot more pain than before. If you have appendicitis, it is vital that you are treated. If I had listened to my doubts that it was just cramps or gas, I would have ended up very ill and spending a lot more time in the hospital.

Know the difference between your usual stomach pains and a pain that feels unusual. Trust your instincts and seek the guidance of a medical provider in getting the care that you need.