Mindful Eating vs. Emotional Eating: 6 Steps for Success

Mindful Eating vs. Emotional Eating: 6 Steps for Success

What is emotional eating? Emotional eating is generally when we eat as a way to suppress or soothe negative emotions such as stress, anger, fear, boredom, sadness and loneliness. When we work to reduce emotional eating, it is important to be aware of behaviors we can change to allow our food to be more useful to our bodies and to gain emotional control over food.

Here are six pointers that I have found effective in my practice as a clinical psychologist at Bryan Counseling Center.

1. Slow Down so Your Body and Brain can Communicate

Eating more slowly is one of the best ways you can get your mind and body to communicate what is really needed for nutrition. The amount of time it takes your brain to register that your stomach is full is about 20 minutes. This is why we often unconsciously overeat. Eating more slowly allows enough time to receive the signal from your brain that you are full. This in turn helps us eat the right amount of food. Simple ways to slow down might include many of your grandmother’s manners like sitting down to eat, chewing each bite 25 times (or more) and setting down your fork between bites.

2. Know Your Body’s Personal Hunger Signals

Are you responding to an emotional want or responding to your body’s needs? Often we listen first to our minds, but like many mindfulness practices, we might discover more wisdom by tuning into our bodies first. Rather than just eating when we get emotional signals, which may be different for each of us – stress, sadness, frustration, loneliness, boredom – try to listen to your body. Is your stomach growling, your energy low or are you feeling lightheaded? Too often, we eat when our mind tells us to, rather than our bodies. True mindful eating is listening deeply to our body’s signals for hunger. Ask yourself: What are your body’s hunger signals, and what are your emotional hunger triggers?

3. Cultivate a Mindful Kitchen

Do you eat alone and randomly or do you eat with others or at set times? Another way that we eat mindlessly is by wandering around looking through cabinets and eating at random times and places rather than thinking proactively about our meals and snacks. This prevents us from developing healthy environmental cues about what and how much to eat, and wires our brains with new cues for eating that are not always ideal. (For example, do you really want to create a habit of eating every time you get in the car?)

Sure, we all snack from time to time, but eating at consistent times and places can boost both your mind and body’s health, not to mention greatly helping your mood and sleep schedule. Yes, that means sitting down (at a table!), putting food on a plate or bowl, not eating it out of the container and using actual utensils. It also helps to eat with others if that is possible – not only are you sharing and getting some healthy connection, but you will also slow down and enjoy the food and conversation more.

Having a mindful kitchen means organizing and caring for your kitchen space so it encourages healthy eating and nourishing gatherings. Consider what you bring into your kitchen and where you put things away. Are healthy foods handy? What kinds of foods are in sight? When food is around, we eat it.

You don’t have to plan your food down to each bite, and it’s important to be flexible, especially on special occasions, but just be aware of the fact that you might be changing your eating habits at different times of the year or for different occasions. And when you do plan ahead, you are more likely to eat the amount your body needs at that moment rather than undereating and indulging later, or overeating and regretting it later.

4. Understand Your Motivations

Eating foods that are emotionally comforting vs. eating foods that are nutritionally healthy is a tricky balance. Ideally, we can find nourishing foods that are also satisfying and comforting. When we slow down and think about the healthy foods in our mouths we often enjoy them more than the story we want to tell ourselves about healthy food.

As we practice eating healthier and a greater variety of foods, we are less inclined to binge on our comfort foods, and more inclined to actually enjoy healthy foods. Ultimately we can find many foods mentally and physically satisfying as opposed to just a few.

5. Connect More Deeply with Your Food

Outside of hunter-gatherers or sustenance farmers, most of us have become disconnected from our food in recent years. Many of us don’t even consider where a meal comes from beyond the supermarket packaging. This is a loss because eating offers an incredible opportunity to connect us more deeply to the natural world, the elements and to each other.

When you pause to consider all of the people involved in the meal on your plate: from the loved ones (and yourself) who prepared it, to those who stocked the shelves, to those who planted and harvested the raw ingredients, to those who supported them, it is hard to not feel both grateful and interconnected. Be mindful of the water, soil and other elements that were part of its creation as you sit down to eat whatever you are eating. You can reflect on the cultural traditions that brought you this food and the recipes generously shared by friends or brought from a distant place and time to be handed down in the family.

As you consider everything that went into the meal, it becomes effortless to experience and express gratitude to all of the people who gave their time and effort, the elements of the universe that contributed their share, our friends or ancestors who shared recipes, and even the beings who may have given their lives to a part of creating this meal. With just a little more mindfulness like this, we may begin to make wiser choices about sustainability and health in our food, not just for us but for the whole planet.

6. Attend to your Plate

Multitasking and eating is a recipe for not being able to listen deeply to our body’s needs and wants. We’ve all had the experience of going to the movies with our bag full of popcorn, and before the coming attractions are over, we are asking who ate all of our popcorn. When we are distracted, it becomes harder to listen to our body’s signals about food and other needs. With your next meal, try single-tasking and just eating, with no screens or distractions besides enjoying the company you are sharing a meal and conversation with, even if it’s just your own.

While formal mindful eating practices may be what we think of when we look back on a mindfulness course or retreat we attended, the reality is that we do live – and eat – in the real world, which is a busy place. But we can take the insights gained from our formal practice – slowing down, listening to our bodies, doing one thing at a time, making even small rituals, and considering all that went into our meal on a more regular basis – and bring more informal mindfulness to our daily meals.

Finally, remind yourself each day that food is fuel for your body, not for comfort. By using mindful eating practices, you just may find the food you eat more enjoyable and nutritious.

Stacy Waldron, PhD

Stacy Waldron, PhD

Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Bryan Counseling Center

Dr. Stacy Waldron provides treatment for individuals of all ages across the lifespan and specializes with adolescents and adults. She offers individual and family therapy to help clients with stress , anxiety, mood disorders, life transitions and chronic pain. This includes helping individuals with stress management, assertiveness training, communication and problem solving skills as well as relaxation training.

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How I’m Developing Healthier Eating Habits

How I’m Developing Healthier Eating Habits

I have shared that I loathe cooking and baking of any sort with you all before, however, I do value nutrition. I seek out blogs, conversations and articles about healthy cooking, providing healthy snacks and connecting with food. I recently listened to a sports nutritionist and she made my mind start spinning.

With the school year and fall sports season fast approaching, I want to make sure I have quick nutritious snacks and healthy meal options available for our entire family.

Where I Struggle with Making Healthy Meals

I realize my downfall in providing nutritious meals and snacks occurs in multiple different areas.

  1. First is definitely the busyness of life.
  2. Having picky eaters.
  3. I have no patience or confidence in the kitchen.
  4. I do not create a fully developed grocery list.
  5. Not using the items in our pantry.

How I’m Making Changes to My Family’s Habits

With the above challenges, I am still determined to listen to the advice of the sports nutritionist and make a few changes in our habits.

  1. Create a better developed grocery list. This will help eliminate spontaneous grocery shopping, eating out and also require me to meal plan.
  2. Use the foods in our pantry and the refrigerator, especially the fresh foods.
  3. Encourage and support my family as they continue to decrease their caffeine and sugar intake. This is really eye-opening to me as our daughter is connecting eating habits not only to athletic performance but also to academic performance.
  4. The most difficult change for me will be setting aside time on Sunday to prepare lunches and suppers for the week. I am going to start small and not become overly ambitious.
  5. Revamp my snack storage in my classroom to include healthier choices to fuel energy rather than processed foods.

I wish I had a magic switch. As I sit here and blog, I just want to jump to the end result. I want the healthy eating challenges to be easy. I discuss with my kids and students it is a process to become better at anything. There are many, many times I have tried to make all of the changes above and I absolutely fail. Here is to me recommitting to healthy eating goals. In all reality, this is not just about me, it is about my family and encouraging a healthy lifestyle through healthy eating habits.

Shelly Mowinkel

Shelly Mowinkel

K-12 & Teens

My husband and I have three kids. Our oldest is a freshman in high school, and our youngest is in second grade. Most days, I feel like we are a “tag-team chauffeuring” service, yet I wouldn’t have our life any other way. Not only I am a business/technology teacher at Milford, I am also the district technology integration specialist. I love teaching because I get the opportunity to make those around me better. My hope is that, through my blogging, I am able to inspire, encourage, and share with you my adventures of being a wife, mother, and professional.

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8 Great Reasons to Try Acupuncture

8 Great Reasons to Try Acupuncture

Over my 19 years of practicing complementary medicine, since earning a master’s degree in Oriental Medicine, the most common question I hear from people is:

“Will acupuncture treat my _________?” Fill in the blank.

About 90% of the time the answer is YES! Acupuncture is a 3,500+-year-old body of knowledge that has treated over a quarter of the world’s population as the main form of medicine. It is part of the ancient practice of Traditional Chinese medicine.

I’ve seen many people benefit from acupuncture for a vast array of conditions, too many to list in a short blog. So, I will give you the eight most common reasons people use acupuncture.

8 Most Common Reasons People Use Acupuncture

  1. Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain: The research continues to increase on using acupuncture to treat chronic pain. In many cases, acupuncture can reduce the need for medications. NSAIDs and over-the-counter pain medications such as Tylenol, Advil, Motrin or Excedrin can be hard on your kidneys and liver. Opioids can cause unwanted side effects and dependence. Acupuncture can greatly reduce your need to use these pain medications.
  2. Migraine and Chronic Headaches: Surveys show that 1 in 6 Americans (1 in 5 women) suffer from migraine and chronic headaches. Western medicine relies almost exclusively on medications, either oral or injectable, to tackle this common problem. Chinese medicine has been used to treat headaches for thousands of years. The reason it works so well for headaches is because Chinese medicine or acupuncture is designed to treat the individual, not the symptoms. For example, two people with a migraine may be treated in two different ways depending on the person.
  3. Autoimmune and Chronic Illness: One of the best reasons to try acupuncture is for illnesses that may be chronic and persistent, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Crohn’s disease and other autoimmune illnesses. It’s also very effective for neurological diseases like Multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, etc. Acupuncture has been shown to relieve symptoms, decrease the need for medications and slow the progression of the disease.
  4. Women’s Health: There is a huge body of knowledge in Chinese medicine related to women’s health issues. Many ancient texts are written specifically for this branch of medicine. Acupuncture is wonderful for regulating menstruation, helping menstrual pain, assisting with fertility and ovulation, treating menopausal symptoms, PMS, endometriosis and more.
  5. Anxiety and Stress: It may seem counterintuitive that inserting needles in the body would bring about deep relaxation, but it does! In fact, it is common to fall into a peaceful sleep while the needles are inserted into your body. The scientific reason for this is that acupuncture releases brain chemicals called “endorphins” – the feel-good hormones that we get from meditation, exercise and falling in love. Chinese medicine takes into account that emotions can cause illness just as much as the environment. By balancing the body with acupuncture, the mood becomes level and the mind becomes at ease.
  6. Addiction, Smoking Cessation and Weight Loss: Much like anxiety and stress-related problems, our entire society struggles with addictive behaviors of one kind or another. Acupuncture has a sub-category called auricular acupuncture, which is done by stimulating specific points on the ear. In New York City in 1978, a physician named Michael Smith discovered what is now called the NADA protocol, or sometimes called “battlefield acupuncture”. He used five points on the ear to effectively treat heroin and cocaine addictions. This method is now being used for PTSD, depression, addiction and more.
  7. Boosting Your Immune System: If you are susceptible to illness and seem to catch whatever bug is going around, consider boosting your immune system with ongoing acupuncture. Acupuncture is most effective when it is used to prevent illness. Unfortunately, many people only try acupuncture after everything else has failed. Although acupuncture can help in those instances, it can have a powerful effect on keeping you healthy!
  8. Cancer Care: Acupuncture can be beneficial to people living with cancer in many ways. It reduces nausea related to chemotherapy, aids in post-surgical pain and speeds up the healing process. It jump-starts the immune system, which is much needed after chemotherapy. It has been helpful in neuropathy, which can occur after chemotherapy. It is wonderful to aid to increase energy levels as well as sleep and digestion.

I hope this blog gives you an understanding of just some of the ways acupuncture can benefit you or those you love to improve your health and how you feel.

You can learn more about acupuncture, including what to expect at an appointment, how it feels, and more.

Vicki Black

Vicki Black

Massage Therapist, Bryan LifePointe Spa & MedSpa

Vicki has been in the people professions since her early 20s. After obtaining a BA in psychology and working in the mental health/social services field, Vicki changed paths and began studying complementary medicine. She obtained her massage therapy license at the Minnesota Center for Shiatsu and Massage in Minneapolis in 1997, and her master’s degree in Oriental Medicine at Southwest Acupuncture College in Boulder, Colorado in 2003. Vicki specializes in combining massage and acupuncture for powerful, result-oriented treatments. She provides thorough, individualized treatments for a variety of health issues and preventative care.

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How to Break a Sugar Habit

How to Break a Sugar Habit

Have you ever wondered why once you eat something sweet, you keep craving more sugar? It’s not a coincidence; sugar addiction is real! If sweets are getting in your way of achieving your health goals, you CAN break the habit!

In today’s society, we eat ‘dessert’ several times a day and don’t even bat an eye. What’s now considered normal, shouldn’t be. Think about it – sugary cereal for breakfast, donuts at the office, chocolate from the candy dish and ice cream after dinner. Has your day ever looked like that?

Treats can have their place in a healthy diet; that’s called balance. But treats need to be truly considered treats, meaning you only have them on rare occasions. It’s no secret that sugar is detrimental to our health in many ways, but it’s hard to say no!

Why is it so Hard to Avoid Sugar?

Humans are hardwired to enjoy sugar. It tastes good, sometimes makes us feel good, and it’s addictive. When we eat sugar, the pleasure centers in our brains release feel-good chemicals. This is the same effect that drugs, like cocaine, have on our brains. The brain likes that feeling, and wants more – which is why we crave more sugar.

How Can You Stop that Vicious Cycle?

  • Try totally eliminating all forms of sugar for two weeks. It will be difficult for the first few days, but once you’ve broken the cycle, the cravings should decrease.
  • Change your environment. If you’re constantly surrounded by sugary treats, how long can you really avoid them? If they’re not easily accessible, you’re less likely to eat them. That may mean throwing away the leftover Halloween candy. But honestly, do you really need it?
  • Limit the artificial sweeteners. Even though a sugar-free cookie might be a lighter alternative, it’s still a treat. Artificial sweeteners, such as Splenda, are many times sweeter than sugar; so sometimes they only perpetuate the craving for sweets.
  • Find other ways to cope with stress. Many times on a stressful day, nothing sounds better than getting lost in a pint of ice cream. Finding other ways to manage stress will serve your emotional health and your waistline. Jot down some ideas of activities you could do instead such as going for a walk, playing with your pet, calling a friend or listening to music.

You CAN do it, and You’ll Feel Better

I encourage you to look for ways to reduce the amount of sugar you eat to improve your health and how you feel. As someone who loves sweets, I know it can seem daunting. If this is the case, have a friend or family member join you for support and encouragement.

Kinzy Krafka

Kinzy Krafka

Bryan Registered Dietitian

Bryan Registered Dietitian

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Growing Old Gracefully

Growing Old Gracefully

The other day my oldest granddaughter complimented me on my flexibility. I told her I try to work on my good health and wellness each and every day. She said I was a good role model and hoped she could grow old gracefully and follow in my footsteps. I told her by the time she was my age, living to 100 would be normal. I don’t know if living to 100 is a good thing or not, but medicine will become more exact and I’m sure she will make it if she puts her mind to it.

I know she complimented me because she’s my grandchild and she is very caring and nurturing. Her comment, “You have great flexibility!” Was probably followed with a comment made under her breath, “For an old lady,” or maybe not. It did make me smile, however, and her comment, “Growing old gracefully” did make me pause. What does growing old gracefully actually mean? I don’t think I’ve ever done anything gracefully and I certainly don’t think growing older is one of them.

Anymore, I try to remember to use a railing while walking up and down steps. I don’t always need the railing, but I know I should use it. Is using the railing growing old with grace?

Practicing Health & Wellness

I try to exercise each and every day, whether it’s walking, playing pickleball or taking a class at the YMCA. During nice weather, I like to ride my bike, but not when it’s cold or the wind is howling. Is exercising growing old gracefully?

I also focus on giving back to the community and others not as fortunate. Volunteering in my church and the Lincoln community brings me great joy.

I decided I need to find a new word for my daily progression in life. I googled the term, growing old gracefully and came upon a website about a new class led by Maria Shriver, which focuses on radically redefining age. Of course, the web class was earlier in the year and it probably cost a jazzilion dollars, but I did see a note about not surrendering your passions or your abilities as you age. I need to remember that and share it with others.

Finding New Hobbies

I told my granddaughter, I need to keep challenging myself and search for activities or people to keep me smiling and happy. She told me to let her know if there was anything she or the other grandkids could do to help. I told her they would be the first I’d contact if I felt that need.

The next day I was shopping at Walgreens for face cream. I was frustrated as each face cream I looked at was labeled, “Anti-aging.” Why? What’s so bad about aging? I need happy face cream, not Debby Downer face cream. I wanted somewhere over the rainbow face cream, not you’re on death’s doorstep face cream. I called my granddaughter and told her about my ah-ha moment and my need for face cream. She calmly told me to take a deep breath and relax. She reminded me why products are labeled and it was all about them trying to sell more and cash in on the big bucks. I thanked her for her wisdom, grabbed a face cream and immediately removed the label when I got home. That’ll show those whippersnappers!!

Nancy Becker

Nancy Becker

Grandkids & Grandparents

I have four grandchildren ages 14-17. In some ways, I’m a very typical grandma, always proud of everything the kids do and wanting to help support them in whatever way I can. In other ways, I’m not very typical. My goal as a blogger is to share my thoughts and experiences that I think are funny and meaningful as I adventure through grandmahood.

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What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep?

What Can I Do to Improve My Sleep?

Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

  • It’s Sunday afternoon and while sitting in my recliner watching television, I end up taking a nap over two hours. Why am I not able to fall asleep at my normal bedtime hour?
  • I had to work late and ended up eating later than normal, then watched TV and browsed on my iPhone. Why am I not able to fall asleep?
  • I had a cup of coffee or a caffeinated product during an evening meeting. Why am I not able to sleep?

It can be very frustrating when you can’t get sleep. And often, the more you worry about not being able to get to sleep the worse it is! Most people don’t realize that simple changes in your daily habits can have a big impact on your sleep.

3 Ways to Improve Your Sleep

Sleep is a vital human function just as important as the oxygen we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Here are some helpful hints on how to improve your sleep:

Keep a Consistent Sleep Schedule and Make Sleep a Priority

    • Find the amount of sleep you need to help you feel refreshed and energized during the day. Sleep needs vary for each person; there is no magic number.
    • Get up at the same time each day.
    • Avoid naps if possible. If you need a nap, limit the nap to less than an hour and no napping after 3 p.m. A nap longer than an hour or after 3 p.m. will alter your sleep-wake schedule and make it more difficult to fall asleep at night.

Develop Healthy Habits

    • Exercising regularly will help you sleep more soundly.
    • Eat regular meals and do not go to bed hungry. If you are hungry before you go to bed, eat something that is easily digestible, such as a piece of toast (carbohydrate).
    • Avoid excessive liquids before bedtime. This will reduce the number of times you wake up to go the bathroom at night.
    • Decrease caffeine products. Caffeinated beverages and foods (such as coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate) can make it difficult to fall asleep. Caffeine will affect your sleep for up to eight hours after consumption.
    • Avoid alcohol, especially before bedtime. Alcohol may help you fall asleep more easily but will wear off, causing you to wake up more.
    • Smoking may disturb sleep. Nicotine is a stimulant that could interfere with falling asleep.

Create the Right Sleep Environment

    • Make your bedroom comfortable and free from light and noise. Room-darkening shades, earplugs, and/or white noise may help.
    • Have a comfortable mattress and pillow.
    • Find a bedroom temperature that works for you. Cooler rooms often promote better sleep.
    • Stop using your electronic devices 30-60 minutes before your bedtime. The screens on the devices emit a blue light that suppresses the production of melatonin. Melatonin is a natural hormone produced to regulate our 24-hour sleep-wake cycle. Think of it this way: lights off=melatonin on, lights on=melatonin off
    • Do not take your problems to bed. Plan time earlier in the day to work on problems or plan your next day activities.

Take Steps for a Good Night’s Sleep – ZZZs, please!

When you get a good night’s sleep, it’s amazing how much better you feel the next day. It also improves your overall health.

In some cases, there are health conditions that can prevent you from getting the sleep you need, even when you adjust your daily habits to improve your sleep. If this is the case for you, it’s important to talk to your doctor to determine what might be impacting your sleep.

Cindy Dahl

Cindy Dahl

Registered Sleep Technologist

Registered Sleep Technologist, Bryan Center for Sleep Medicine

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The Birds and the Bees

The Birds and the Bees

The dreaded question, “where do babies come from?” Cohen starts middle school next year and I think it’s time to have the talk.

Yes, the “TALK” talk.

The talk that no parent looks forward to, but all parents know it’s critical.

Having “The Talk”

There is no perfect or single best time for “the talk.” In fact, I think it should be a series of conversations you have with your child.

Too many parents wait for the “right” time to come along for the talk, only to find that it never does—and then they don’t have the talk at all.

My parents never sat me down and talked about sex. And I realized that if parents don’t teach their kids about personal health and sex, someone else will.

So, take a deep breath and don’t let that uncertainty hold you back. The truth is that there isn’t one “correct” way to teach your kids about sex and you can chart your own course.

I wanted my kids to learn about their wonderful, incredible, perfectly-made little bodies from the people who love and value them more than anyone else on this planet—me.

We just told Cohen about Santa. I mean, #LetThemBeLittle, right? And now, it’s time for the sex talk.

He’s already had the puberty talk in school, I gave him a heads-up of what was coming and told him to write down any questions he had, and we could discuss. And to my surprise he did. He and his father chatted while playing video games and I was okay with that.

Answering Questions

So here we go. After talking with some friends who’ve already had the “talk”. I gave up on the idea of presenting the subject in one big talk – I didn’t want to overwhelm him with more bewildering and even distasteful information than he could process at once. Instead, I bought ice cream, made sure Collyns, his little sister, was gone for the evening and we began. We had a gentle conversation that I think will continue over several months or perhaps even years. I wanted to keep our explanations as simple and specific to the discussion as we could.

The hardest part, of course, was staying composed. We tried to respond to his initial question without turning red or acting as though some momentous exchange was about to take place; we didn’t want to suggest that sex is linked to feelings of shame. We remained calm and spoke naturally. We didn’t want this important message to make Cohen feel nervous or uncomfortable because we wanted this to be an ongoing conversation. It’s something we can talk about.

When we arrived at the point of giving a technical description of “the Act,” we said something simple like, “Look, I know this sounds gross to you now, but – trust me – it will seem different when you’re older.” We tried to be straightforward and honest, so we could get through it.

Pause, ready? Here we go.

“When a man and a woman decide they want to have a baby, the man’s penis goes inside the woman’s vagina, and sperm comes out of the man’s penis. Sometimes the sperm joins with one of the tiny eggs inside the woman’s body, and that makes the egg begin growing into a baby. This happens in the special place women have called a uterus.”

An Ongoing Conversation

Once we made it through this, Cohen looked both dumbfounded and suspicious, especially since it probably dawned on him that his parents have done this thing at least twice. He suddenly changed the subject, and said, “I got it.” We ended the conversation with letting him know that we are both here to answer any questions and that we loved him. We let him leave. We knew he heard us and needed time to let it all sink in.

So, the “talk” may be over but hopefully, there will be an ongoing conversation. And when he gets a little older and starts noticing girls, the “talk” will continue. But for now, I can breathe again.

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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When Should You Start Screening for Colon Cancer? 50? 45? Never?!

When Should You Start Screening for Colon Cancer? 50? 45? Never?!

When Should You Start Screening for Colon Cancer? 50? 45? Never?!

If you answered 45 – good for you! Most people don’t realize that the recommended age by the American Cancer Society (ACS) to begin these screenings has been lowered from 50 to 45—and sooner if you have an increased risk or family history.

Here are some other questions you may have:

  • Why was the age to start screening changed from 50 to 45? Studies show colorectal cancer among people younger than 50 is on the rise. The ACS determined that screening starting at age 45 could help save more lives.
  • Why is screening important? The earlier cancer is found, the more treatable it is. A significant number of people with colon cancer, especially early in their disease, don’t have symptoms. One screening method, a colonoscopy, not only detects cancer, but can prevent it by removing precancerous growths before they become cancer.
  • How could this benefit me? If found early, colon cancer can be easier to treat. But colon cancer can also be prevented through screening. That means you don’t have to undergo treatment to beat it; you can prevent it from happening and go on living your life.

If you answered never – you’re probably in good company because many people don’t want to think about this or take the time to do it. But I refer you to the above facts and hope you’ll reconsider your answer.

As an oncology (cancer) nurse navigator and mother of two, I understand that life gets busy and our own wellness is easy to put off for a later time—especially during a pandemic! With our lives being different this past year whether it be working from home, children remotely learning at home, dealing with the stress of not seeing family and friends, and of course, our ongoing daily to-do lists, we have all experienced many changes.

The one thing that remains the same is the need to keep ourselves and our families healthy and safe. This can start with regular checkups with our doctors, which should include screening for colorectal cancer if you are 45 or older, and sooner if you have a family history of colon cancer.

Answers to Common Colon Cancer/Colonoscopy Questions & Misperceptions

The following information is provided by David Newton, MD, a gastroenterologist with Gastroenterology Specialties, through a recent podcast. We encourage you to listen to the entire 10-minute podcast to get more detailed information.

How can you screen for colon cancer?
There are two ways to do this:

  • A sensitive test that looks for signs of cancer in a person’s stool (a stool-based test)
  • An exam that looks at the colon and rectum (a visual exam)

What is the benefit of a colonoscopy (a type of visual exam)?
A colonoscopy is the single most important tool we have for the detection of polyps or tumors. During a colonoscopy, a gastroenterologist screens your colon looking for any growths or polyps. If a polyp is found early, it can be removed before it has a chance to become cancerous.

What about the home-based stool kits; how do they work and are they effective at detecting cancer?
These tests can detect if cancer is present. FIT DNA testing is widely available now, and studies show they will catch 93% of cancers, which is a good number. But when looking at it closer, the test missed one in 13 colon cancers, and about 60% of larger precancerous polyps in the right colon, which we know through studies contributes to 20-30% of overall cancers diagnosed in the U.S.

One of the big differences between these tests and a colonoscopy is that with a colonoscopy, you can not only detect cancer but prevent it by removing precancerous growths.

Many people consider a home test (FIT or FIT DNA test) to avoid a colonoscopy. However, if the home test is positive, the next step is a colonoscopy.

Does insurance cover colon cancer screening?
Colon cancer screening is covered at 100% in Affordable Care Act compliant health plans.

  • If you choose a colonoscopy for screening, it is covered at 100%.
  • If you first choose a FIT or FIT DNA test, that test is covered under your screening benefit. But, if the home test is positive, you will then need a colonoscopy and that colonoscopy would be considered diagnostic and would not be covered 100% by the insurance carrier. This would be subject to both co-pay and deductibles toward the maximum out-of-pocket amount.

Note: At this time insurers are not required to (and some might not) cover the cost of colorectal cancer screening before age 50.

What about the ‘prep’ you have to do for a colonoscopy?
Times have changed! You no longer have to drink a gallon of salty water. There are many small volume prep products on the market. The one we use is only about 25 ounces of a solution that you mix with the clear liquid of your choice. In fact, many of our patients are amazed at how easy it is. So, don’t let misconceptions about what the prep was like in the past affect your future. The preps now are much easier and shouldn’t discourage you from getting a colonoscopy.

You Have the Power to Prevent Colon Cancer

Screening is a way to help find colorectal cancer early or help prevent it altogether. Being an oncology nurse navigator, I have walked alongside many patients during their journeys with colorectal cancer and feel passionate about this topic.

I hope you will go home, talk with your family and add regular screenings to your calendar—so we can stay strong and healthy for ourselves and families.

To learn more, visit the American Cancer Society.

Breanna Nedved, RN

Breanna Nedved, RN

Breanna Nedved, RN, is an oncology nurse navigator at Bryan Medical Center. This is a specially trained nurse who helps patients and their families through each step of cancer treatment.

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Should I Take Aspirin to Prevent a Heart Attack?

Should I Take Aspirin to Prevent a Heart Attack?

There’s been a hot and cold romance with the daily use of aspirin to prevent heart attacks and other conditions for years. On one hand, it’s been shown to reduce the risk of a stroke or heart attack. On the other hand, it’s been shown to increase the risk of bleeding, especially in the brain and gastrointestinal tract. And, of course, all of this leads to confusion. How do you know what’s best for you?

Follow the Research

The answer is, there is no one right answer for everyone. Many factors can play into what’s best for you – your age, current health condition, past health history and more.

Your Age

New research found that the risks of daily aspirin begin to outweigh the benefits starting at age 60. This research released in October 2021 by the United States Preventative Task Force showed the risk of aspirin causing potentially life-threatening bleeding in the brain or gastrointestinal tract increases with age. So this is definitely something for you and your doctor to consider, especially if you have a history of bleeding.

Your Health History

What if you’ve had a heart attack or stroke in the past, or you have heart disease? Does this change what you should do? Yes. If you’ve had a heart attack or stroke, taking low-dose aspirin has been found to be beneficial.

In medicine, randomized controlled trials provide the best information in terms of providing scientific data to guide decision making. Multiple trials have shown two things:

  • Aspirin is not beneficial for primary prevention. Primary prevention means preventing a first-time stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular condition. If you don’t have a heart condition, most people would not benefit from taking aspirin daily.
  • On the other hand, if you’ve had a heart attack, stroke or heart disease, aspirin is used for secondary prevention. This means to prevent a second heart attack, stroke or other condition. Why? Because once you have these conditions, you are at a higher risk for them to occur again.

To Use or Not Use Aspirin

This can be a complex decision. The best way to decide this is to talk to your doctor to assess your risk level. Each person is slightly different. Some people have higher risks of stroke and heart attacks, while others have higher risks of bleeding.

Your doctor can provide information on the risks and benefits for your specific situation to determine if taking aspirin is right for you.

Dr. Zach Singsank

Dr. Zach Singsank

Interventional Cardiologist

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Women Don’t Talk About it but They Should Know About it: Gynecological Cancer

Women Don’t Talk About it but They Should Know About it: Gynecological Cancer

Compared to other cancers gynecologic cancer is relatively rare, but it is still important for women to know about it and take action for prevention and treatment. Some forms of it can be prevented by taking simple steps. Others have no preventative measures and require awareness of symptoms to seek treatment.

As a gynecologic oncology surgeon, I want women to know the facts, be aware of the role they can play, and be able to have access to the best treatment when needed.

Gynecologic Cancers in Nebraska

  1. Endometrial cancer – This is a type of uterine cancer and is cancer of the lining of the uterus. This is the most common gynecological cancer treated in Nebraska.
  2. Ovarian and fallopian tube cancers – These are the most lethal gynecological cancers we treat.
  3. Cervical cancer – This is actually the most common gynecological cancer worldwide, but it’s the third most treated in Nebraska.
  4. Vulvar cancer – This is a rare skin cancer.
  5. Vaginal cancer – This cancer is also rare.

What You Should Know about these Gynecologic Cancers

Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer

Prevention: There is no specific prevention for this type of cancer. However, it is seen more frequently in women who are obese and have diabetes or other medical conditions that go along with obesity. This is likely due to prolonged estrogen stimulation from fatty tissue.

Warning signs: Post-menopausal bleeding is the most common warning sign. If you experience any bleeding, even minor spotting or a discharge after menopause, this needs to be evaluated to rule out uterine cancer. When following up on this symptom, about 75% of the time uterine cancer can be diagnosed at an early stage.

Ovarian Cancer

Prevention: If you carry the BRCA (BReast CAncer gene) one and two or BRCA genes, you should talk to your doctor about risk-reducing surgery because for certain groups of patients this may be something to seriously consider. It is clear that removing the ovaries and fallopian tubes reduces the risk of ovarian cancer significantly.

Warning signs: Unfortunately, there are no early warning signs. Ovarian cancer grows silently and spreads extensively before it causes much in the way of symptoms. And when symptoms occur, they are very common such as constipation, bloating and pelvic pressure. It’s normal for these symptoms on their own to come and go. But if you experience these symptoms and they persist, and continue to progress – for example, first you have constipation, and then you also have bloating and then you have nausea or vomiting, that is a reason to see your doctor.

Cervical Cancer

Prevention: There is actually a vaccine that is very effective against the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. This is an amazing step forward. A recent report shows cervical cancer is declining and this is likely due to the vaccination.

Screenings/Early Detection: A Pap smear or test is a very effective screening test for cervical cancer. While this test doesn’t diagnose cancer, it alerts your doctor to take a closer look. It’s also important to know that the vast majority of women who have an abnormal Pap smear do not have nor do they ever get cervical cancer. Even after the age where Pap smears are recommended, women should continue to have yearly exams with their doctor so that symptoms they may or may not be aware of can be evaluated.

Warning signs: Abnormal bleeding at any time (before or after menopause).

What Can You Do

The 3 most important things women can do are:

  • Get your regular Pap screenings for cervical cancer; continue yearly exams after Pap tests are no longer recommended.
  • Be aware of warning signs and if you experience them, talk to your doctor – don’t put it off.
  • Know your family history.

You know your body and are the best one to be aware, take steps where you can and seek medical advice for early detection.

Dr. Peter Morris

Dr. Peter Morris

Gynecologic Oncology Surgeon

Dr. Peter Morris is a gynecologic oncology surgeon with Cancer Partners of Nebraska. He is specifically trained in the surgical and medical treatment of gynecologic cancers, which include the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovary, vagina and vulvar area.

This is a very narrow field of specialty with extensive training. After medical school, there is a four-year residency in general obstetrics and gynecology followed by a three-year fellowship in gynecologic oncology.

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Listening to Your Body – Living with Endometriosis

Listening to Your Body – Living with Endometriosis

Imagine being a senior in high school excited for your senior prom then hearing the words, “You might not be able to have kids.” That was me. Obviously, as an 18-year-old I wasn’t thinking about my future children right then but as previously mentioned, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, all I wanted to do was be a mom. So here I was in high school and hit with the thought that my dream may never come true.

Getting Diagnosed

Throughout my senior year, I would have this sporadic pain in my stomach. It was so debilitating I had to stay home from school. It would come and go, and I didn’t think it wasn’t associated with my cycle. I saw multiple doctors, but no one could diagnose my pain. Luckily, my mom believed me and fought for her child. We eventually saw a gynecologist in hopes she could figure it out. After several tests with no results, the gynecologist didn’t think the pain had anything to do with my ovaries or lady parts and the ultrasound didn’t show anything. I was sent home with the response “come back next time you have this pain.” But since the pain would come and go and I had no indication of when it was coming it took several more months for anything to be diagnosed.

People say it all the time — “listen to your body.” Some people feel really in tune with their bodies, others feel like they’re completely disconnected. Sometimes the phrase feels like it’s lost its meaning altogether. Especially when doctors keep telling you nothing is wrong.

The next time I had the pain we went back to the gynecologist, still with no conclusive reason. The doctor scheduled me for a laparoscopy. Through this procedure, she eventually diagnosed me with endometriosis. My first reaction was, “I’m not crazy – there’s really something wrong here!” My next response was to learn as much as I possibly could about the disease and its treatment.

Endometriosis is a chronic and painful disease that occurs when the endometrium (tissue that originates from the lining of your uterus) starts growing outside of your uterus, where it doesn’t belong. The endometrial tissue that grows outside of your uterus is called a lesion or an implant. These lesions are fueled by a sex hormone called estrogen. When estrogen levels rise, these lesions (patches of endometrial tissue) can grow. Later in the menstrual cycle, they may break down and shed. This can cause pain throughout the month.

Through this procedure, the doctor saw that the lesions were so severe they had to open me up through a bigger incision and remove my left ovary and fallopian tube. The lesions were encapsulating both and they couldn’t be saved. Not only that, but the doctor also didn’t want the lesions to come back so they prescribed a hormone treatment that put my body into menopause for a year.

Here I was, spring semester of my senior year going through menopause. On the plus side, I wouldn’t have a period for the next year. However, with menopause came hot flashes, mood swings and other symptoms. Try explaining that to your friends. The doctors also said conceiving a child may be difficult, but we’ll have to wait and see.

After a year of menopause, I was put on birth control to regulate and somewhat control my periods. I didn’t have any problems. I was in college and felt like my normal self again. Fast forward several years, the good news, my periods are back to normal, and I didn’t have any problems conceiving. We are blessed with 2 beautiful children.

Managing My Endometriosis

But here I sit at the age of 35 with this sporadic, debilitating pain in my lower abdomen again. After seeing the gynecologist and doing an ultrasound, once again there was nothing suggesting why there is pain. So, the doctor gave me my options: 1) exploratory surgery 2) hysterectomy 3) deal with the pain every so often.

Right now, I am dealing with the pain. The doctors and I agreed that a hysterectomy was probably in my future but wanted to wait until I was closer to 40. So, I started to keep a pain journal. I’ve found this to be very important both in managing my own illness – I was able to see, for instance, a link between my caffeine and alcohol consumption and pain – and in helping doctors to see patterns that can guide treatment. People, doctors and friends alike also take you more seriously when you’re able to demonstrate exactly what you’re experiencing and when you felt it. I made a chart based on a 28-day cycle and kept track of things I ate or drank that might be potential triggers, when I had discomfort, and what seemed to make me feel better.

I sought out the support of other women with endometriosis. No one can really understand until they’ve been through it themselves. In the meantime, I keep looking after myself! A diagnosis of endometriosis may feel like the end of the world, especially at first, but I continue to find that it’s not!

Mallory Connelly

Mallory Connelly

Babies & Toddlers

In addition to the time I devote to being a mom, I also work full-time outside the home, which means my day is hardly ever as simple as nine to five. With an all-too-established schedule, as soon as I walk through the door, my day doesn’t end, but rather just begins. It’s a balancing act, especially with two children, but being a mom is one full-time job that I never want to quit!

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How to Survive the Holidays with Diabetes

How to Survive the Holidays with Diabetes

It’s that time of year when the leaves are falling, days are getting shorter and finally it’s jacket weather. For those living with diabetes this can be a tough stretch ahead…the dreaded Holidays.

Does this sound familiar? It’s much tougher to get that evening walk in after work when it is dark by 6 p.m. School and family activities are in full swing and there’s not a minute to spare for stress relief, let alone meal planning. Your workplace office starts piling up with not so healthy snacks. You get a call from the in-laws telling you they are going to park their RV in front of your house for the month of December. Wait…wasn’t that a movie from the 90s?

What You Already Know

You probably expect this article to focus on food and exercise. You are right, as both are necessary to control blood sugars, but just for a moment. Food choices are extremely important. I rely on our diabetes educators to teach patients the finer points of diet and carbohydrate counting, whereas I like to keep things as simple as possible.

Advice I Often Give to Patients Includes:

  • “Try to avoid the unhealthy carbs.”
  • “Drink more water.”
  • “Try eating your veggies and protein on your plate before you eat your mashed potatoes.”
  • “Move more.”
  • “Be less efficient.” As in park farther from the entrance, take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • “Try walking for 5-10 minutes after each major meal to lower your post meal blood sugars.”

These can all be helpful, but frustratingly managing your blood sugars is more complex than this.

What May Surprise You

When I sit and talk with patients our conversations often drift towards personal stressors and how these affect blood sugars. The holidays can be overwhelming for everyone. For those living with diabetes, it’s extra challenging. Checking blood sugars and taking medications on time is often easier said than done. I’ve heard many patients describe having diabetes as another full-time job they don’t get paid for.

So How Does “Stress” Raise Blood Sugars?

What exactly does that mean? I often use a grizzly bear analogy, however, you can fill in the blank with your dreaded reptile/insect/animal. A person encounters a bear in the woods and a “fight or flight” mechanism is triggered. A series of neurological and chemical changes occur in our bodies. Our body wants to make sure that our muscles, brain, and heart all have the fuel (glucose) they need to run away.

  • Cortisol and adrenaline are released from adrenal glands into the bloodstream – raising blood sugars
  • Glucagon is released from the pancreas, freeing stored glucose from the liver – also raising blood sugars

Fortunately, most of us won’t run into bears this holiday season, but on a smaller scale, daily stressors (whether emotional or physical) can cause dramatic swings in blood sugar for those living with diabetes. This is very apparent to those who use continuous glucose monitors (CGM). One can often find dramatic differences in glucose readings on workdays versus non-workdays and days with family conflict versus those without. It’s very eye-opening.

Tips to Get Through this Stressful Time of Year

So what are a few tips to get through this stressful time of year?

  • Have a game plan – anticipate stressors, and pick your battles
  • Be prepared – don’t leave home without medications, spare testing supplies, etc.
  • Don’t beat yourself up – if you have some bad numbers it’s not a math test result, just a number. Keep testing!
  • You are not alone – you shouldn’t feel like you are on an island. Diabetes affects the whole family. Enlist their help in your preparation. Educate family members on your signs and symptoms of both low and high blood sugars
  • Go easy on the alcohol – it can mask symptoms of lows and highs, not to mention leading to poor food choices. Alcohol is known to worsen other health conditions common to diabetes such as high blood pressure, high triglycerides, depression, anxiety, and poor sleep quality.

Take It One Day at a Time

Knowing what can affect your blood sugar levels and focusing on this – even with little steps and small changes – can make a big difference in how you feel. Try to work in ways to get exercise, make good food choices and keep your stress at bay. Serenity now! Wait, wasn’t that another 90s show.

Happy Holidays!

Aaron Ward, MD, Internal Medicine

Aaron Ward, MD, Internal Medicine

Dr. Aaron Ward is an internal medicine doctor. He has a special interest in diabetes prevention and management. For those living with diabetes, he is dedicated to working with patients and using emerging diabetes technologies to improve health.

“I get so excited when my patients have breakthroughs with new technologies, or are able to prevent or cut back on medication use through lifestyle changes or new therapies.”

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