DASH Diet Challenge - Week 1

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Week 1 of the DASH Diet Challenge is complete and I want to share with you how it went.  Below, I will break down what I ate, results for the week, and what I learned.  If you are considering trying out the DASH Diet for weight loss, to lower your blood pressure, or for heart health, I hope this information will be helpful to you.

For this challenge, I set my daily calorie goal at 1,800 calories, based on the calorie needs chart provided by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the creator of the DASH Diet Plan.  I wrote a previous post on the DASH Diet recommended food groups and serving sizes.

I started off the week tracking my food intake using my Fitbit app.  While this app does a good job of calculating total calories, sorting out percentages of carbs, proteins, and fats, and it is easy to enter the data, I couldn't track the sodium intake.  So, midweek, I switched over to tracking in MyFitnessPal.  The free version was adequate for my needs, but a premium version is available.  This app can track your food diary, and you can also track your water intake and exercise and generate printable reports (which is a great extra if you are keeping a food diary to share with your physician or dietician).  It has the functionality to provide nutrition information on imported recipes and help you with meal planning.  There is also a community forum, and MyFitnessPal syncs with lots of trackers, including the FitBit.

Week 1 Results:

1.  My starting weight was 219.5.  Weight on Friday was 217.8 - down a little over a pound, and that is within my goal plan for the year.

2.  Blood pressure.  I knew my blood pressure has been running high for several years.  I decided should get a reading for a baseline for this challenge.  Before I left my office Friday afternoon, I checked it, and it was a freaking scary 183/94.  I checked it 2 more times on different machines, and the results were similar.  Not good!  And here is where I have to admit that I did not do what I would tell any one of you to do:  I did not immediately take myself off to see the doctor.  I did what a lot of women do.  I waited. 

Luckily, when I went to my local pharmacy and checked my blood pressure the next morning, it was much more in line with what I expected at 144/87.  That reading is still way too high, though.  I will be putting a visit with my physician on my calendar this week for sure!

3.  Exercise.  I only exercised one morning this week.  Since the weather has remained frightfully cold, I did a walk-jog video on YouTube.  Gotta love all the workout video options on the internet.  

4.  The Diet.  Once I put everything I ate this week into the food diary, I categorized each food into the appropriate food group categories.  And here is what I found:

  • I had a really hard time eating the recommended amount of grains, and I did not achieve the recommended amount on any day of the first week.  I'm not used to eating a lot of grains, and even consciously incorporating them into my daily mail plan was hard.  They also have a relatively high calorie count for small portions and aren't very filling.
  • It was fairly easy to get in the right amount of vegetables every day.  My lunch is usually 3 cups of leafy power greens and lettuces, sprinkled with lemon juice, with a serving each of meat, cheese and fruit. 
  • I had to consciously add fruits, just as I had to consciously add grains.  I only got the recommended amount on 1 day.  I went for apples (studies have shown that women who regularly eat apples have lower blood pressure), and low sugar fruits like berries.  I did add bananas to smoothies on a couple of days, for the potassium and sweetening.
  • Dairy was easy.  Just a cup of yogurt or kefir or fat free milk and a cheese stick and this one is taken care of.
  • Lean meat, fish, poultry - This was another easy category.  I focused more on lean meats and fish like tuna and turkey, bison, and lean beef stew meat.
  • Because of my addiction to hummus, I went overboard on the nuts, seeds, legumes category this week.  Enough said.
  • Using just a bit of avocado oil was enough for the fat category - another easy category to meet, but I had to be careful of the portion so that I wouldn't exceed the allowance. 
  • I don't usually eat a lot of sweets anyway, having weaned myself off most sugar over a year ago, but I did have a Halo top ice cream pint that lasted through three days, and one night, I indulged in two cinnamon twists from Dominos.  The nice thing about this diet is that it does allow for those little indulgences once in a while.
  • Speaking of Dominos, yes, my favorite pizza place does have health(ier) options.  When the fam decided that Friday should be pizza night, I chose the plain bone-in chicken wings and the Apple Pecan Chicken Salad with the Lite Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing.  But I should probably find another option for the hot wing sauce - it is way high in sodium.
  • Keeping the sodium levels low was also a challenge.  I admit it, I like the salt shaker.  Tracking it is making me mindful of how much is in what we eat everyday.
  • On only two days did I go over my calorie allowance, and not by much.  Most days were under the allowance, so I consider that a success.
  • Tracking my food intake made me really mindful of the portion sizes on the DASH Diet.  This is an area where I have struggled to get control and it is probably the area that has most contributed to my lack of progress in losing weight.  
  • There were a few things that I ate during the week that I have had to scratch my head about where to fit them in the plan:  the half and half in my morning coffee, a little snack bag of potato chips (are those a vegetable lol?), EAS Advantage Low Carb Shakes (to stave off a hunger attack mid-morning), a Zone Perfect Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar (does that go under "Sweets" or "Nuts"?), and chicken/vegetable broth that I used in soups.  
  • Although I did feel hunger on most days as lunch or dinner approached (hence, a shake or protein bar - and I'm not sure a little bit of hunger is necessarily a bad thing), I did not feel deprived.  There really was no food that was absolutely prohibited, and I could eat a large variety of foods.  
  • Planning meals through the week helped to keep me on track.
  • This whole challenge is not necessarily about following the diet perfectly.  It is about learning to be mindful about what I am eating and improving my eating habits and portion control.  Tracking my calories and portions right now is very helpful to me so that I can see exactly what and how much I'm eating and where I need to make adjustments.  

I've copied my chart and food diaries below to help you with your own meal planning on the DASH Diet.  I've color coded the top chart in green (met the goal) and red (did not meet goal), so I can more easily see where I can improve.  Please note that the charts show exactly what I ate in the first week of the challenge.  Obviously, from the chart below, if you wanted to follow the diet perfectly, some adjustments would need to be made to the meals.  Feel free to use this information as a starting point to create your own meal plan.

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Follow my progress on the 30-Day DASH Diet Challenge!

Learn to Love Your Heart in this series on Midlife Women and Heart Health

DASH Diet Challenge - Food Groups and Serving Sizes

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As I wrote in my DASH Diet Challenge Post, for the next 30 days, I will be following the DASH Diet.  

As with most diets, one must start by figuring out what you can eat.  The NIH National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute includes several charts to help us decide an appropriate calorie intake and servings of various food groups.  Based on the calorie chart, I should take in 1,600 - 1,800 calories a day.

It's the next step that often stumps people.  What exactly does that mean in terms of what I can eat?  According to the chart, I can have:

  • 6 servings of grains per day
  • 3-5 servings of vegetables per day
  • 4-5 servings of fruits per day
  • 2-3 servings of fat free or low-fat dairy products per day
  • 3-6 servings of lean meats, poultry or fish per day
  • 3-4 servings of nuts, seeds, and legumes per week
  • 2-3 servings of healthy fats and oils per day
  • 3-5 servings OR LESS of sweets per week
  • Maximum sodium intake of 2,300 mg per day

Hmm, sounds like a lot of food, right?  But now, I need to know just what a serving is for each type of food.  So, on to the next chart.

Grains.  In the grains category, a serving size is 1 slice of bread, an ounce of dry cereal, a 1/2 cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal.  The slice of bread is easy enough to visualize.  For the other items, I will have to use a measuring cup.  Accurate portion control is going to be important, especially for the grains, as they are high in carbohydrates.  For a visual reference, a 1/2 cup of rice is a lot less than you think - about the size of a half of a fist.

Vegetables.  The vegetables category is my favorite, since I especially like green, leafy vegetables and my lunch is usually a salad made from mixed lettuces and power greens.  A serving size of leafy vegetables is a cup (a good handful), or a half cup of cut up raw or cooked vegetables.  Starchy vegetables like potatoes should be eaten sparingly.

Fruits.  To be honest, I have not been eating a lot of fruit, since many are high in sugar, and I do seem to be very sugar sensitive.  However.  In the fruit category, a serving size would be a medium size fruit (think a medium size apple), or a 1/4 cup of dried fruit (about the size of an egg for visual reference - no scarfing down a whole bag of dried mangos!), or 1/2 cup of fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.  You may notice I haven't mentioned fruit or vegetable juice.  I don't particularly like either one, but if you do, a serving size would be 1/2 a cup.  I'll be going for lower sugar fruits such as berries and Granny Smith apples (delicious sliced and sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon).  

Dairy.  A serving size is 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1-1/2 oz of cheese.  People who are lactose intolerant (I am not) can drink lactose-free milk.  I've found that milk from grass fed cows seems to taste better, even when it's fat free, and I like Kroger's Simple Truth version.  If you are following this diet, or any others that allow dairy, be especially aware that Greek yogurts, although higher in protein, often have a lot of sugar in them. I've been choosing lower sugar yogurts like Siggis since I started eating breakfast every day.  You can also make your own yogurt so that you can control the sugar content.  For a visual reference for the cheese serving size, it would be the size of a 9 volt battery.

Lean Meats, Poultry, Fish.  A serving size is 1 oz of cooked meat, poultry or fish (for visual reference, 3 ounces is the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand).  One egg would also be a serving in this category.  That's way less meat than I am used to eating, so this will require me to manage my portions.

Nuts, Seeds, Legumes.  A serving size is 1/3 cup or 1-1/2 oz of nuts (much smaller portion than we are used to thinking about - I can easily scarf down a bag of pistachios at one go).  For nut butters, a serving size would be 2 tablespoons, and for seeds, the serving size is also 2 tablespoons or 1/2 ounce.  The serving size for cooked peas, lentils, legumes is 1/2 cup (the same as a serving size of rice).  Note that this category is 3-4 servings per week, not per day.

Fats and Oils.  A serving size is 1 tsp of margarine, butter, or oil, or a tablespoon of light mayonnaise or salad dressing.  (This one will be hard - I love my healthy fats!  But for the purposes of this challenge, I will do my best to follow the guidelines).  

Sweets and added sugars.  I'm pretty sure this category was added in so that people don't feel deprived by having to give up their sugar.  You are allowed a few servings a week of jelly or jam (1 tablespoon) or syrup, 1/2 cup sorbet or gelatin dessert, or a piece of hard candy.  

So that's the breakdown of what is allowed and how much.  Now, on to meal planning!

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Learn more about Women and Heart Health in my Love Your Heart series.

The DASH Diet Challenge

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As part of my series of Heart Health Month articles, I will be experimenting with the DASH Diet in the form of a 30-day DASH Diet challenge.

As you may know from reading my previous blog articles, losing 52 pounds is one of my goals for 2018.  As a general rule, I do not promote any particular diet.  It's my opinion that there are many good diet plans out there, focusing on eating healthy and nutrition-dense foods that will promote weight loss and good health if followed.  The hard part is picking one and sticking to it.

However, the DASH Diet, which originated in research conducted by the NIH National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, consistently gets high marks for improving cardiovascular health, especially in lowering blood pressure.  The DASH Diet has been ranked as the best diet for the past eight years by the National Institutes of Health according to US News and World Report.  The study's original author, Dr. Stephen Jurasche, an adjunct assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University, has stated that in people with higher blood pressure, the diet is "comparable to anti-hypertensive medication." Since my blood pressure has run high for the past few years, and since I would prefer not to have to go on medication, this sounds like a great benefit to me.

Free guides and recipes are available from the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.  The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, lean protein, low fats and whole grains, and decreases sugar, sodium, and high fat foods.  No real surprises there.  The diet does provide calorie goals for different age/activity groups, and for my goal of 52 pounds in a year at moderate activity, my suggested daily caloric intake is 2,000 calories.  The plan also suggests increasing physical activity levels (no surprises there either).

Now, I know some readers will immediately exclaim in horror, "But the carbs!"  Yes, I know.  I tend toward the lower carb theories myself.  However, this is an experiment on myself to see what happens if I follow this diet for 30 days.  Up until now, I have not really "followed" any particular diet plan; rather, I have just tried to eat healthy foods while cutting out sugar.  But I have not been good at managing my portions or focusing on specific foods for a specific result.  

After I have 30 days worth of results from following the DASH diet, I can then decide if it is working for me or not, and how or if I would tweak it for me personally.  I already have my baseline of my current state (an important step in the 2018 Success Planner - click the link to download and build your own plan for success in 2018).  Now, I need the next piece, which is to follow the part of my action plan that is "eat a healthy diet", and share and record the results (the accountability piece), and then change or continue as the results dictate.  And maybe what I learn by experimenting on myself will help you too.

So for the next 30 days, I will be following the DASH Diet and posting up my results, both here and in the Yes I Can Health Facebook group.  

I would love to have you follow along, since I will be updating this blog post throughout the month. 

And you can learn more about Women and Heart Health in my Love Your Heart series.

The Guilt Gremlin

Photo by boram kim on Unsplash

Photo by boram kim on Unsplash

With two employees out, it was another night of working late.  The other staff members, working short handed and getting on each others' nerves, were snipping at each other, and two of them were in tears, and as their supervisor, I had to listen to their complaints and try to end the fighting.  I had a pile of reports still to complete before I could go home.  My daughter had a band concert, and I (once again) would have to miss it.  My husband was complaining he never got to spend time with me.  We were getting to see each other a few minutes every day in between work and sleep.  Our relationship had been suffering for months.  Weekends were spent trying to catch up, or de-stressing just enough to get back to the rat race on Monday. 

Eating healthy?  Cooking at home?  Exercise?  Right.  Not a chance.  And the thought of taking time to exercise created a stressful sense of guilt.  How could I possibly even consider it when my job was already stealing so much time from my family?  My hours were so limited?  The stress and frustration were building to unsustainable levels, my weight was growing along with my frustration, I was tired, angry, sad, and most of all, feeling guilty all the time, because I couldn't give any aspect of my life the time and attention each deserved.

We as modern women struggle with a lot of guilt. 

The tension between work, family and social life seems to be tailored to create guilt whenever any piece of the triad falls out of balance.

Feeling guilty for not being able to give everything we have to our work, family, and friends, we can easily feel like we are spinning out of control.  Breathless.  Out of oxygen.  

You've no doubt heard the airplane analogy that when the cabin loses pressure, you should put your own oxygen mask on first before helping those around you.  But as women, our first instinct is to take care of those around us first.  To give until we have nothing left.  To deplete the oil in our lamps, and therefore extinguishing our own light, giving oil and light to others.

Until we find ourselves stressed out, burnt out, done.

It's an impossible situation.  And it's a situation that cannot be allowed to continue if we are to be healthy and able to continue to care for those we love. 

Put on your own oxygen mask first

Put on your own oxygen mask first

We have to put our own oxygen mask on first.

As I've entered my fifties, I still have a busy, stressful job that requires long hours and long commutes.  I still have teenage daughters and a husband who need my time and attention.  I still have a home that needs cleaning.

I also have a life that needs living.  My job, my family, my home, my friends - I won't be able to take care of any of them if I fall apart.  So if I am going to feel guilty about anything, it shouldn't be that I'm not giving enough to any of those pieces of my life.  I'm giving them all I've got.

If guilt is to be useful at all, it should be to let us know that there is something in our lives that we need to change. 

And in my life, my guilt really meant that I need to change my priorities.  I need to put my oxygen mask on first.

I need to take care of myself. Taking care of myself is not a luxury.  It's a necessity.

That means a thoughtful re-assessment of how I'm spending my time and what is important for my health.  A re-assessment first of my morning routine.  How can I change my morning routine so that I include exercise, a nutritious meal, mapping out the priorities for the day, and a brief meditation to set a positive focus.  That's my me time.  That's my oxygen mask time.  

Because when I can take care of myself, I can take care of those I love.  And I can stop feeling guilty.



Women and Heart Disease - Signs of a Heart Attack

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As you learned in Part 2 of this Women and Heart Disease series, a heart attack occurs when an artery supplying the heart muscle is blocked by plaque or a clot.  The muscle supplied by the artery begins to die from lack of oxygen.  If blood flow is not quickly restored, significant damage to the heart muscle, and even death, can occur.  A heart attack is a medical emergency.

We've all watched a television show where a guy, usually in his midlife or older, suddenly clutches his chest, cries out in pain, and collapses to the floor.  TV shows and movies usually portray the most common signs and symptoms of a heart attack, so that's what we are familiar with, and that's what we look for ourselves.  If we saw someone clutching her chest, crying out, and fainting, we would immediately assume "heart attack."  And in fact, in both men and women, chest pain is the most common symptom of a heart attack.

But, in women, and especially women in midlife, the signs and symptoms of a heart attack may be different.  A woman may not even experience chest pain.  Rather, she might have one or more of a group of vague, subtle symptoms that she might not associate with heart attack at all.  These symptoms include:

Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort.  A woman may begin to experience shortness of breath several weeks prior to a heart attack, and it may occur at random times.  She could be sitting at her desk and suddenly experience severe difficulty breathing, or find herself short of breath while walking up a flight of stairs that usually presents no problem.  Feeling short of breath right after waking up is also a sign something could be wrong.

Chest discomfort or pressure.  The most common phrase is "like an elephant sitting on my chest," but the discomfort may be more vague than that.  It may feel like squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of the chest.  It may even radiate to the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach.  The woman may experience pain in the back or the neck or the jaw, but not in the chest.  

Nausea.  A woman may experience nausea and vomiting and believe she has the flu.  Nausea may occur days or weeks before the heart attack.

Breaking out in a cold sweat.  Women in midlife may associate this symptom with perimenopausal symptoms.

Dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting.  In both women and men, this symptom can be a sign of a heart attack or cardiac arrest.  Bob Harper, a fitness trainer, experienced spells of dizziness and even fainting at the gym before he had a cardiac arrest.

Any of these symptoms should prompt a call to 9-1-1 for transport to an emergency room.  Women in particular may wait to call, thinking (hoping) it's not serious, but delay can put you in a life-threatening situation.  Making the 9-1-1 call early, as soon as you experience symptoms, can save your life.

Even More Vague Symptoms - The Silent Heart Attack

Women sometimes experience a heart attack and don't even know it has happened!  But the result is the same - heart damage has occurred.  This is the so-called "silent heart attack."  However, there are some signs.

Prolonged or Excessive Fatigue.  Either before or after a heart attack, a woman may feel excessively exhausted and unable to carry out her usual activities, as the heart muscle is deprived of blood and oxygen.

Indigestion that women may think is the flu, heartburn, an upset tummy, or gastric reflux.

And again, women may experience soreness or pain in the chest or upper back, neck, arm, or jaw that they attribute to a muscle pull.

Because the symptoms can be so vague, women (and their doctors) may think a silent heart attack is just caused by anxiety.  Studies indicate that women may experience more silent heart attacks than men, and the silent heart attack causes damage to the heart muscle that may be more dangerous because it is not detected early on.

Feeling of Doom - Many patients experience a feeling of "impending doom," that something is just not right.  If you are feeling any of these symptoms, see your physician and request a cardiac asssessment.

Learn more about Women and Heart Health in the Love Your Heart series.

Women and Heart Disease - Some Basic Definitions You Need to Know

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So just what is "heart disease"?  Actually, "heart disease" is a big umbrella term that covers a lot of diseases.  To make it easier to understand, let's start with some definitions.  We will get very basic here, because not everyone has a degree in a medical field, and health class was a long time ago.

Arteries - the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to all the cells in your body.  Your cells depend on the oxygen carried by this blood to function.

Veins - the blood vessels that carry blood back to the heart from all the parts of your body.  

The heart pumps oxygen-rich blood out through the arteries, and it travels throughout every part of your body, delivering oxygen and nutrients to the cells.  The cells take the oxygen and nutrients and exchange waste products like carbon dioxide.  The blood then enters the veins to travel back to the heart.  Once it reaches the heart, the blood is re-oxygenated by the lungs and the cycle starts over.  

As you can imagine, the heart has an easier time pumping all this blood around if the arteries and veins are clear and free of blockages.  

However, blockages do occur in the form of plaque and clots.

What is Plaque?

Plaque is a material made up of fatty substances, cholesterol, cellular waste, calcium, and fibrin (a material in blood that helps it to clot).  Plaque builds up inside the artery walls.  Recall that arteries are the vessels that take oxygen from the heart to the rest of your body.  When plaque builds up, it's kind of like sludge building up inside a plumbing pipe that slows down and could eventually stop the flow.  This narrowing of the arteries can keep vital oxygen from reaching the parts of the body downstream from the narrowing or blockage.

What is Atherosclerosis?

Atherosclerosis is the term for this build up of plaque in the artery walls.  Plaque begins building up in the arteries as early as childhood.  Scientists don't know exactly what causes atherosclerosis, but they do know what makes it worse:

  • High levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides in the bloodstream
  • High blood pressure
  • Cigarette smoking

If plaque breaks off or a blood clot forms at the area of a plaque, a complete blockage can occur in the artery.  Cells downstream that can't receive the oxygenated blood begin to die.

What is Arteriosclerosis?

Arteriosclerosis is sometimes called "hardening of the arteries."  Healthy arteries should be flexible and elastic, but as we age, they become stiff and inflexible.  Some arteriosclerosis is expected with aging, but build up of plaque makes it worse.

Now let's break down the umbrella term of "heart disease" into smaller categories.  To begin with, let's think in terms of three parts of the body:  The heart itself, the blood vessels in the rest of the body, and the brain.

What is Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)?

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) is the build up of plaque in the arteries in the heart that supply oxygen to the heart muscle itself.  Over time, the arteries become narrow and hardened, and the heart muscle gets less oxygen.  

What Is Angina?

Angina is a condition in which the heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen because of narrowed, hardened coronary arteries, causing pain and discomfort in the chest.  Other symptoms can include pain in the jaw, shoulders, arms, neck, or back.  Angina may feel like pressure, or even indigestion.  Symptoms in women can differ from those in men (and from the classic symptoms you might think of when you think of heart pain), especially in being more vague and less focused to a specific area. 

Over time, the lack of adequate oxygen can damage the heart, leading to more problems.

What Is a Heart Attack?

Heart attack occurs when an artery in the heart becomes completely blocked by plaque or a blood clot.  The heart muscle that is supplied by that artery is starved of oxygen and nutrients and begins to die if blood flow is not quickly restored.  This emergency condition can lead to death or serious disability.

What Is Heart Failure?

Heart failure is not the same thing as a heart attack.  Over time, a combination of high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries causes the heart muscle to have to work harder and harder.  As a result, the muscle can become larger, stiffer, and less efficient at pumping blood through the body.  A healthy heart would be like a beach ball with a valve in it. If you squeezed the beach ball, you could easily squeeze the water out.  But in heart failure, imagine the heart is now more like a basketball filled with water.  You could still squeeze the water out, but you would have to squeeze really hard. 

This condition is often also called "congestive heart failure."  Because blood is being inefficiently pumped through the body, the kidneys try to compensate by retaining fluid in the body.  This extra fluid leads to congestion in the lungs (pulmonary edema) and difficulty breathing, and swelling in other parts of the body, especially the legs, feet, and abdomen.

Now, let's talk about the blood vessels.

The Blood Vessels

When plaque builds up in arteries in the limbs, especially the legs and feet, blood flow is diminished.  This condition is called Peripheral Arterial Disease (PAD).  People with PAD may experience cramping pains during exercises such as walking because the muscles in the legs aren't getting the oxygen they need.  Continued poor blood flow can lead to poor wound healing and gangrene, and it not corrected, amputation.

In the Brain

What does the brain have to do with heart disease?  Well, I'm glad you asked!

Just like the arteries around the heart and in the limbs, the arteries supplying the brain can be narrowed or blocked by arteriosclerosis and plaques and blood clots.  

When a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked, the brain is starved of oxygen and experiences an ischemic stroke.  Just as in the heart, when the brain cells are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, they begin to die, and permanent damage can occur if circulation is not quickly restored.

You may have also heard of a "mini-stroke" or transient ischemic attack or TIA.  This condition is also caused by blocked blood vessels, but the symptoms usually last a very short period of time, without permanent impairment.  However, they are a risk factor for future ischemic strokes.

High blood pressure over time can also damage and weaken these arteries.  If a weakened artery bursts, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs.

Either type of stroke is a medical emergency and can lead to death or disability.

Now that you know the definitions of the major conditions under the "heart disease" umbrella, in the next few articles, we will learn the signs and symptoms for each one.

Thanks for reading this far, and be sure to share this Love Your Heart series with someone you love!



Women and Heart Disease - Introduction

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Today is February 1, and the start of Heart Health Month (or American Heart Month, or Heart Health Awareness Month or any of the other "heart health" names given to it).  Suffice to say, we'll be talking about heart health this month.  In this series of Love Your Heart articles, I'll specifically be writing about heart health in women in midlife.

The reason that heart health awareness is so important for women is that heart disease is the number one killer of women each year. Cardiovascular disease and stroke are responsible for 1 out of every 3 deaths in women - more than all cancers combined!

If you are a woman, you more than likely have one or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke - a whopping 90% of women have at least one risk factor.  Currently, 44 million American women are affected by cardiovascular disease.  What's more is that women may not recognize the signs of a heart attack, because often these signs and symptoms are different from those experienced by men, the ones we most frequently associate with a heart attack, such as chest pain.  Women may experience a "silent" heart attack, with few or minor symptoms.  And women are less likely to survive their first heart attack.

The good news is that we have the power to take control of our health.  A full 80% of heart disease and stroke events are preventable with lifestyle changes and education.  Beginning to make small changes now can lead to big improvements in your heart health - and could save your life.  

In this series, I'll go over the causes of cardiovascular disease and stroke, signs and symptoms of heart attacks in women, signs and symptoms of stroke, heart healthy nutrition, fitness tips, and lifestyle changes you can start now.  

For today, here is a great video from actress Elizabeth Banks and Go Red For Women called "Just A Little Heart Attack."  Banks survived a heart attack herself and now works to educate women on heart health.  

And be sure to visit the Go Red for Women website for more information and tips!



Go Red for Women

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Yes I Can Health is Going Red for Women in February for Heart Health month.  

I will be writing a series of articles this month on women in midlife and heart health called "Love Your Heart."  This group of articles will discuss every aspect of heart disease in women, from definitions to causes, signs and symptoms, and most importantly, what you can do to lower your risk.  

I'll also be adding articles on heart healthy foods and fitness tips, and a series on the DASH diet as I take up a 30-day DASH diet challenge.  I'll share exactly what I'm including in my meal plan, and my results at the end of the month.

Be sure to follow me on Twitter or Facebook to find out when I've posted up a new article.

And pop over to the Go Red for Women website for information on this campaign from the American Heart Association.  

The Clean Your Plate Fallacy and How to Overcome It

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

"You don't have to clean your plate."

I was sitting across a table from my husband in our favorite Mexican restaurant, finishing dinner.  He had finished before me.  After eating half his food, he had set his plate aside.  

Because I had been talking, I had been eating more slowly. 

I continued to talk and eat, waving my fork in the air to punctuate my sentences, while mindlessly scooping food into my mouth.

It wasn't a completely unhealthy meal.  Carne asada, rice, beans, guacamole.  Oh, and the three flour tortillas that come with it.  And cheese dip.  And tostada chips.  It was a big meal.

I was down to the last few bites.  

"You don't have to clean your plate," Joe said quietly.

My loaded fork, on its way to my mouth, paused in midair.  My first reaction was hurt.  My brain raced around a few thoughts:  "Seriously?"  "Are you saying I'm a pig?"  "How could you say that?!"  "How rude!" I thought to myself in indignation.

Fortunately, in that little pause, the cognitive part of my brain took control over the emotional part that wanted to lash out.

Calmly, I set my fork down, and pushed my plate aside.

"You're right," I said.  "I don't have to clean my plate.  That's just my programming."

"I know," he said.  "You can stop eating when you feel full.  You don't have to clean your plate.  I love you."

See, he knows that I've been focusing on portion control lately.  He knows that most of the time, I eat healthy, but the portions I eat are too large.  

I grew up in a "clean your plate" household.  "Clean your plate - there are starving children in China," my mom told me.  Or Africa.  Or Russia.  Or wherever the starving children happened to be that night.

Even as a small child, I knew her argument didn't make sense.  How would my cleaning my plate help those poor starving children?  A few times, I dared to say, "Well, then, how about you take this food and send it to them?"  But over the years, my mother's programming took hold in my brain and stuck there, as mom programming usually does.  Having grown up poor, the thought of wasting any food was abhorrent to my mother.  So she passed that mindset to me.

As a young mother myself, I found myself using the same arguments with my children.  Of course, they also asked why I didn't just send the food to the starving children in Africa.  "Because!  Now clean your plate!"  The same answer my mother gave me.

I often eat mindlessly, while working on some other task or talking or watching television or reading.  I barely taste the food.  I mindlessly clean my plate because that's my childhood programming.  

My husband's quiet reminder to me was that I can break with my programming.  Just because that's the program my brain has been following all these years, doesn't mean I can't change the program to a better one - a program that makes sense, that isn't borne from a lifetime of scarcity.  

You, too, may have been brought up with the "Clean Your Plate" fallacy.  You, too, may have found yourself mindlessly cleaning your plate because that's what you grew up with and it feels somehow "wrong" to waste food.  If so, here are some tips to change the program, or trick the program if you just must clean the plate.

1.  Practice eating mindfully. 

In other words, when you are eating, focus on eating.  Not on reading, watching TV, playing computer games, or all the other things we do when we are eating (but do engage in conversation with family and friends if you are eating in a social group - we don't want to be anti-social!)  Actually taste the food you are eating, pay attention to how much you are eating, and how you feel as you eat.

2.  Stop When You Are Full

It sounds so simple, right?  Just stop and push the plate aside.  This technique does take mindfulness and willpower.  First, you must learn to recognize when you are full.  Not so full that if you take another bite, you will explode like the fellow on the Monty Python skit who ate "just a thin mint."  No.  Just comfortably full.  You have to learn when you've eaten enough that you feel nourished and comfortable for the next several hours.  And then, you need to not pay attention to the uneaten food on the plate.  When you have grown up with the "clean your plate" mentality, it is hard to see food left on a plate and wasted.  It disturbs you.  It distracts you.  It calls to you - "Eat me!"  Don't listen to the siren song - remove the plate from the table, and dispose of the food.  Either throw it away (it gets easier) or put it in the fridge for the next meal if you can't stand to see it go to waste.  Remind yourself that it's okay not to eat it.

3.  If You Absolutely Must Clean Your Plate

If you're programming is so strong that you just must clean your plate, no matter what, then we have to trick the programming.  There are two ways to do just that.  The first way is to use a smaller plate.  Downsizing your plate will automatically downsize your portion size.  Use a saucer, instead of a full-size plate, and do not go back for seconds.  The other way to trick your programming is to change what you put on your plate.  Load a larger portion of your plate with green leafy vegetables which will add bulk and fiber and many fewer calories.  Add a healthy protein, a healthy fat, and if your diet allows, and healthy carbohydrate such as a bit of sweet potato.  Consider using the Healthy Eating Plate created by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Harvard School of Medicine as a guide for choosing your foods.


Remember, we do not have to be slaves to our childhood programming.  We have the power to choose ways of eating that help us to be healthy.

Do you have any tips to overcome the Clean Your Plate mentality?  Share them in the comments below.